By Miroslav Lajcák (President of the UN General Assembly)
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2018 (IPS) – First, I want to talk about how we got here.
It was nearly 100 years ago, when indigenous peoples first asserted their rights, on the international stage. But, they did not see much progress. At least until 1982 – when the first Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established.
And, in 2007, the rights of indigenous peoples were, finally, set out in an international instrument.
Let us be clear here. Rights are not aspirational. They are not ideals. They are not best-case scenarios. They are minimum standards. They are non-negotiable. And, they must be respected, and promoted.
Yet, here we are. More than a decade after the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. And the fact is, these rights are not being realized.
That is not to say that there has been no progress. In fact, we heard many success stories, during yesterday’s opening of the Permanent Forum.
But, they are not enough.
Which is why, as my second point, I want to say that we need to do much more.
Last September, the General Assembly gave my office a new mandate. It requested that I organise informal interactive hearings – to look at how indigenous peoples can better participate at the United Nations.
So, that is why we are all sitting here. But, before we launch into our discussions, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
I know that many of you were disappointed, with the General Assembly’s decision last year. After two years of talking, many of you wanted more than these interactive hearings.
We cannot gloss over this. And that is why I want to address it – from the outset. But I must also say this: Things may be moving slowly. But they are still moving.
When our predecessors formed the first indigenous working group, in 1982, their chances were slim. Many doubted whether an international instrument could be adopted. And, frankly, it took longer than it should have. But, it still happened.
So, we need to acknowledge the challenges, and frustrations. We cannot sweep them under the rug.
But we also cannot let them take away from the opportunities we have, in front of us.
And that brings me to my third point, on our discussions today.
This is your hearing. So, please be blunt. Please be concrete. Please be innovative.
Like I have said, we should not pretend that everything is perfect. Major problems persist – particularly at the national level. And, we need to draw attention to them. Today, however, we have a very specific mandate. And that is, to explore how we can carve out more space, for indigenous peoples, on the international stage.
That is why I ask you to focus on the future of our work, here, at the United Nations. And to try to come up with as many ideas and proposals as possible.
In particular, we should look at the following questions:
Which venues and forums are most suitable?
What modalities should govern participation?
What kind of participants should be selected?
And how will this selection happen?
We should also try to form a broader vision. This will allow us to better advise the General Assembly’s ongoing process to enhance indigenous peoples’ participation.
Finally, next steps.
As you know, this is our very first informal, interactive hearing. There will be two further hearings – next year, and the year after.
Then – during what we call the 75th Session of the General Assembly – negotiations between governments will start up again.
Turning back to today, the immediate outcome of our hearing will be a President’s Summary. But, I am confident that the longer-term outcome will be yet another step, in the direction of change.
So, this is where I will conclude. My main job, now, is to listen.
March 29, 2018 | RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A Brazilian priest who risked his life campaigning for the landless has been arrested for sexual harassment and extortion but his lawyer said the charges are a ruse to stop his work.
Jose Amaro Lopes de Sousa, known as Padre Amaro, is regarded as the successor to American nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang, who was murdered in 2005, an emblematic case for the many conflicts over land use in resource-rich Brazil.
A police statement said that Amaro was arrested on Tuesday in the city of Anapu in northern Para state, home to a vast Amazon rainforest reserve, following a court order and eight months of investigations.
“For us, there is no doubt that behind this investigation there is a ranchers’ conspiracy aiming to make Padre Amaro’s work unfeasible,” the priest’s lawyer, Jose Batista Afonso, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Wednesday.
“Padre Amaro personifies nun Dorothy’s work … He has been receiving death threats for a long time.”
Stang often criticized cattle ranchers for seizing land illegally and destroying the rainforest, highlighting tensions between farmers and environmentalists in the top global beef exporter. Local landowners were jailed for ordering her death.
The ranchers’ union in Anapu said they had nothing to do with Amaro’s arrest, adding that about 400 police reports, including videos and witness testimonies, support the charges.
“(Amaro) held meetings in the dead of night, encouraging people to invade land and then had an illegal trade in these invaded lands,” Silverio Albano Fernandes, head of Anapu’s ranchers union, said by phone.
“He was making profit from these sales as he kept a percentage. Everybody knows it here.”
London-based campaign group Global Witness said that Brazil was the world’s most dangerous nation for land rights activists in 2016, with about 50 people killed.
About a dozen land activists have been murdered since 2005 in Anapu, where Amaro is based, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), set up by the Catholic Church to combat violence against the rural poor.
Amaro’s opponents could not kill him because of the international outcry following Stang’s shooting, and because some are still in jail, said Afonso, who works for CPT.
“Of course, the way chosen to try to nullify the priest’s work would be different,” he said.
Afonso said he will file for habeas corpus, which requires Amaro be brought to court and released unless lawful grounds can be shown for his detention.
“We hope the arrest will be revoked,” he said.
Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.
ALTA FLORESTA, Brazil, Sep 19 2017 (IPS) – The deforestation caused by the expansion of livestock farming and soy monoculture appears unstoppable in the Amazon rainforest in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. But small-scale farmers are trying to reverse that trend.
Alison Oliveira is a product of the invasion by a wave of farmers from the south, lured by vast, cheap land in the Amazon region when the 1964-1985 military dictatorship aggressively promoted the occupation of the rainforest.
“I was born here in 1984, but my grandfather came from Paraná (a southern state) and bought about 16 hectares here, which are currently divided between three families: my father’s, my brother’s and mine,” Oliveira told IPS while milking his cows in a barn that is small but mechanised.
“Milk is our main source of income; today we have 14 cows, 10 of which are giving milk,” he explained. “I also make cheese the way my grandfather taught me, and I sell it to hotels and restaurants, for twice the price of the milk.”
But what distinguishes his farm, 17 km from Alta Floresta, a city of about 50,000 people in northern Mato Grosso, is its mode of production, which involves an agroforestry system that combines crops and trees, irrigated pastureland, an organic garden and free-range egg-laying chickens.
Because of its sustainable agriculture system, the farm is used as a model in an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) programme, and is visited by students and other interested people.
“We want more: a biodigester, solar power and rural tourism, when we have the money to make the investments,” said Oliveira’s wife, 34-year-old Marcely Federicci da Silva.
The couple discovered their vocation for sustainable farming after living for 10 years in Sinop, which with its 135,000 people is the most populated city in northern Mato Grosso, and which owes its prosperity to soy crops for export.
“Raising two small children in the city is harder,” she said, also attributing their return to the countryside to Olhos de Agua, a project promoted by the municipal government of Alta Floresta to reforest and restore the headwaters of rivers on small rural properties.
The financial viability of the farm owes a great deal to the support received from the non-governmental Ouro Verde Institute (IOV), which in addition to providing technical assistance, created a mechanism for on-line sales, creating links between farmers and consumers, Oliveira pointed out.
The Solidarity-Based Marketing System (Siscos), launched in 2008, is“an on-line market that allows direct interaction between 30 farmers and over 500 registered customers, zootechnician Cirio Custodio da Silva, marketing consultant for the IOV, explained to IPS.
Customers place weekly orders, the system chooses suppliers and picks up the products to be delivered to the buyers in a shop on Wednesdays.
Besides, Siscos supports sales in street markets, and the school feeding programme, which by law in Brazil buys at least 30 per cent of its food products from family farmers, and the women textile workers’ network, who make handcrafted textiles.
The IOV, founded in 1999 in Alta Floresta to drive social participation in sustainable development, especially in agriculture, has promoted since 2010 a network of native seeds, to encourage reforestation and crop diversification.
Seed collectors organised in a 115-member cooperative, with 12 seed banks, 200 selected tree species, and mainly oilseeds for agriculture, represent an activity that is also a source of income, said agronomist Anderson Lopes, head of that area at the IOV.
Initially, the interest of the farmers was limited to having access to agricultural seeds, but later it also extended to seeds of native tree species, for the restoration of forests, springs and headwaters, and degraded land, he said.
Silva and Lopes have similar backgrounds. Their farming families, from the south, ventured to the so-called Portal of the Amazon, a region that covers 16 municipalities in northern Mato Grosso, where the rainforest begins.
It is a territory with a rural economy, where one-third of the 258,000 inhabitants still live in the countryside, according to the 2010 national census.
It is a transition zone between the area with the largest soybean and maize production in Brazil, in north-central Mato Grosso, and the Amazon region with its dense, sparsely populated jungle.
This is reflected in 14 indigenous territories established in the area and in the number of family farmers – over 20,000 – in contrast with the prevalence of large soybean plantations that are advancing from the south.
The road that connects Sinop – a kind of capital of the empire of soy – with Alta Floresta, 320 km to the north, runs through land that gradually becomes less flat and favourable for mechanised monoculture, with more and more forests and fewer vast agricultural fields.
That tendency is accentuated towards Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people, 54 km west of Alta Floresta, which announces the last frontier of livestock farming and soy monoculture, at least through that south-north highway across Mato Grosso, the national leader in the production of soy.
Movements in favour of sustainability, such as the one supported by IOV, and the important presence of family farmers, are joining forces to help curb the invasion of the Amazon region by soy monoculture which dominated north-central Mato Grosso, creating a post-harvest desert-like landscape.
Another non-governmental organisation, the Center of Life Institute (ICV), also active in Alta Floresta and surrounding areas, has a Sustainable Livestock Initiative, with reforestation and restoration of degraded pastures.
The “colonisation” process of the Portal of the Amazon was similar to that of the rest of Mato Grosso. People from the south came with dreams of working in agriculture, after previous waves of loggers and “garimpeiros” – informal miners of gold and precious stones – activities that still continue but have become less prevalent.
“Many of those who obtained land harvested the timber and then returned south,” because planting crops was torture, without roads, marketing or financial support, recalled Daniel Schlindewein, another migrant from Paraná who settled in Sinop in 1997.
Agriculture failed with coffee, rice and other traditional crops that were initially tried, until soy monoculture spread among the small farms, rented from the large producers.
But family farming has survived in the Portal of the Amazon.
“If the town of São Pedro didn’t exist, I would have to close the store in Paranaíta,“ Pedro Kingfuku, the owner of a chain of four supermarkets in the area, told IPS. He opened the stores in 2013 betting that the construction of the Teles Pires Hydropower Plant nearby would generate 5,000 new customers.
“But not even a tenth of what was expected came,” he lamented.
The 785 farming families who settled in São Pedro, near Paranaíta, saved the local supermarket because they mainly buy there, said Kingfuku, the son of Japanese immigrants who also came from Paraná.
“Among the settlers, the ones who earn the most are the dairy farmers, like my father who has 16 hectares of land,” said Mauricio Dionisio, a young man who works in the supermarket.
(September 1, 2017) VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Environmental destruction is a sign of a “morally decaying scenario” in which too many people ignore or deny that, from the beginning, “God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment,” said the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Marking the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for Creation, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a joint message.
They urged government and business leaders “to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”
Looking at the description of the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, the pope and patriarch said, “The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy.”
But, they said, “our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets — all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation.”
“We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession,” the two leaders said. “We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”
Ignoring God’s plan for creation has “tragic and lasting” consequences on both “the human environment and the natural environment,” they wrote. “Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.”
The pope and the patriarch said prayer is not incidental to ecology, because “an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.”
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989. In 2015, shortly after publishing his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis established the day of prayer for Catholics as well.
The object of Christian prayer and action for the safeguarding of creation, the two leaders wrote, is to encourage all Christians “to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”
Echoing remarks Pope Francis made Aug. 30 when the pontiff announced he and the patriarch were issuing a joint message, the text included a plea to world leaders. “We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized,” they wrote. No enduring solution can be found “to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew also highlighted how “this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people,” especially the poor, in a more pronounced way.
“Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures,” they said. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.”
Nearly four years after President Bashar al-Assad’s government promised to get rid of its stockpile of chemical weapons, gas attacks are still commonplace. What went wrong?
By Anthony Deutsch
Filed Aug. 17, 2017, 10 a.m. GMT | THE HAGUE – In the spring of 2015 a Syrian major general escorted a small team of chemical weapons inspectors to a warehouse outside the Syrian capital Damascus. The international experts wanted to examine the site, but were kept waiting outside in their car for around an hour, according to several people briefed on the visit.
When they were finally let into the building, it was empty. They found no trace of banned chemicals.
“Look, there is nothing to see,” said the general, known to the inspectors as Sharif, opening the door.
So why were the inspectors kept waiting? The Syrians said they were getting the necessary approval to let them in, but the inspectors had a different theory. They believed the Syrians were stalling while the place was cleaned out. It made no sense to the team that special approval was needed for them to enter an empty building.
The incident, which was not made public, is just one example of how Syrian authorities have hindered the work of inspectors and how the international community has failed to hold Syria to account, according to half a dozen interviews with officials, diplomats, and investigators involved in eliminating Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.
A promise by Syria in 2013 to surrender its chemical weapons averted U.S. air strikes. Many diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that promise was a ruse.
They suspect that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while appearing to cooperate with international inspectors, secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability. They say Syria hampered inspectors, gave them incomplete or misleading information, and turned to using chlorine bombs when its supplies of other chemicals dwindled.
There have been dozens of chlorine attacks and at least one major sarin attack since 2013, causing more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries. International inspectors say there have been more than 100 reported incidents of chemical weapons being used in the past two years alone.
“The cooperation was reluctant in many aspects and that’s a polite way of describing it,” Angela Kane, who was the United Nation’s high representative for disarmament until June 2015, told Reuters. “Were they happily collaborating? No.”
“What has really been shown is that there is no counter-measure, that basically the international community is just powerless,” she added.
That frustration was echoed by U.N. war crimes investigator Carla del Ponte, who announced on Aug. 6 she was quitting a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing,” she said. “We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.”
The extent of Syria’s reluctance to abandon chemical weapons has not previously been made public for fear of damaging international inspectors’ relationship with Assad’s administration and its backer, Russia, which is giving military support to Assad. Now investigators and diplomatic sources have provided telling details to Reuters:
– Syria’s declarations about the types and quantities of chemicals it possessed do not match evidence on the ground uncovered by inspectors. Its disclosures, for example, make no mention of sarin, yet there is strong evidence that sarin has been used in Syria, including this year. Other chemicals found by inspectors but not reported by Syria include traces of nerve agent VX, the poison ricin and a chemical called hexamine, which is used to stabilise sarin.
– Syria told inspectors in 2014-2015 that it had used 15 tonnes of nerve gas and 70 tonnes of sulphur mustard for research. Reuters has learned that inspectors believe those amounts are not “scientifically credible.” Only a fraction would be needed for research, two sources involved in inspections in Syria said.
“Why, my God, three-and-a-half years later, has more progress not been made in clearing up the inconsistencies? If I was the head of an organisation like that, I would go to Damascus and I would confront these people.”
–Angela Kane, former U.N. high representative for disarmament
– At least 2,000 chemical bomb shells, which Syria said it had converted to conventional weapons and either used or destroyed, are unaccounted for, suggesting that they may still be in the hands of Syria’s military.
– In Damascus, witnesses with knowledge of the chemical weapons programme were instructed by Syrian military officials to alter their statements midway through interviews with inspectors, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international agency overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, conceded serious questions remain about the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s disclosures.
“There are certainly some gaps, uncertainties, discrepancies,” OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat, told Reuters.
But he rejected criticism of his leadership by Kane and some other diplomats. Kane told Reuters that Uzumcu should have turned up the pressure on Syria over the gaps in its reporting and done more to support his inspectors. Uzumcu countered that it was not his job “to ensure the full compliance” of treaties on chemical weapons, saying that the OPCW was mandated to confirm use of chemical weapons but not to assign blame.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, insisted that Syria was completely free of chemical weapons and defended the country’s cooperation with international inspectors.
“I assure you that what was called the Syrian chemical weapons programme has ended, and has ended with no return. There are no more chemical weapons in Syria,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Sharif did not respond to requests for comment about the incident at the warehouse.
On Aug. 21, 2013, hundreds of people died in a sarin gas attack in Ghouta, a district on the outskirts of Damascus. The colourless, odourless nerve agent causes people to suffocate within minutes if inhaled even in small amounts. Assad’s forces were blamed by Western governments. He has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and blames insurgents for the attack.
August 17, 2017 | TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Land rights campaigners have hailed a decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court to rule against a state seeking compensation for land declared indigenous territory by the national government.
Mato Grosso, a central Brazilian state with a powerful agriculture industry and simmering land-related violence, said the national government had illegally given away state land to indigenous people.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled unanimously against Mato Grosso, ordering the western state to respect territory demarcation for indigenous people, in a case followed closely by land rights activists and Brazil’s farm lobby.
“The lands were not owned by the state of Mato Grosso because they were traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples,” Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello wrote in the ruling.
Mato Grosso sought about $2 billion reais ($635 million) in compensation from Brazil’s authorities.
Litigation over demarcation of the land, including territory around the Xingu National Park, had been ongoing for more than twenty years.
A decision in the state’s favor would have reverberated far beyond Mato Grosso, activists said, leading other state governments to try and weaken indigenous land rights.
“It is a very important victory for our people, our family that is there in Mato Grosso suffering and fighting for health and territory,” indigenous activist Adilio Benites told the Brazilian web portal G1 after the court’s decision.
Mato Grosso was ordered to pay the federal government’s legal bill of about 100,000 reais, local media reported.
About 13 percent of Brazil’s land has been set aside for the country’s 900,000 indigenous people based on the territories they historically occupied.
Brazil is the world’s top exporter of coffee, sugar and soy and deadly conflicts over land between farmers and indigenous groups are common.
Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by Astrid Zweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org
After the signing Tuesday, more than 150 Tribes in the U.S. and Canada, including the Nations all along the KXL route in Alberta, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and now Nebraska, will have committed to standing together to stop Keystone XL and the other three tar sands pipelines: Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion through British Columbia and TransCanada’s Energy East.
“Along with our Indigenous allies all along the KXL route like the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) and all over Turtle Island (North America), we recognize the grave dangers in allowing this ‘Black Snake’ to enter our homelands,” said Chairman Larry Wright Jr. of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. “As the State of Nebraska stands poised to make a potentially life-altering decision about permitting this poisonous bitumen to be inflicted on its population, we stand poised to protect all life now and in the future.”
Following the signing of the treaty at the Graduate Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska, the chairmen of the Intertribal Coalition of Nebraska and other invited guests led a Prayer Walk to the State Capitol of Nebraska. This historic event took place amid the weeklong public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which is expected to make a final decision on the pipeline permit by the end of the year.
“We are standing together in prayer. We are aware of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and our Treaty Rights as they pertain to the permitting of the pipelines in our present and traditional territories,” added Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek on behalf of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. “In solidarity and with respect and love for our Mother Earth and future generations, we say NO to KXL.”