11 August 2014
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon was briefed by non-governmental organizations from El Salvador and Peru on the situation of racial discrimination in those countries.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations from El Salvador spoke about discrimination faced by indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women. The lack of disaggregated data was raised, as well as the lack of access to traditional medicines for indigenous peoples. The organizations said coordination mechanisms with indigenous peoples were needed in order to avoid imposing programmes and policies on them from above, without consultation to find out their actual needs.
Non-governmental organization representatives speaking about Peru raised concerns including the impact of the man-made drought in the Andes upon indigenous communities. Other issues of concern included that the Constitution of Peru did not recognize all indigenous peoples, particularly agricultural communities. The lack of established consultation processes regarding the exploitation of natural resources, particularly through mining projects, was also raised.
The following non-governmental organizations spoke in today’s meeting: Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas, Commissiona Juridica de los Pueblos Originares Andinos, Legal Commission for Indigenous Peoples, Comite de America Latina y El Salvador Caraibe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer and the Centre for Indigenous Peoples in Peru.
The report of El Salvador will be reviewed by the Committee at 3 p.m. on Tuesday 12 August, concluding at 1 p.m. on Wednesday 13 August. The report of Peru will be reviewed on Thursday 14 and Friday 15 August. Both meetings will take place at the Palais Wilson.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 12 August, at 10 a.m. for an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations from the United States. This meeting, and the Committee’s review of the report of the United States later this week, will exceptionally take place in Room XVIII of the Palais des Nations.
Statements on El Salvador
A representative of Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas said the organization worked with women of indigenous origins on aspects relating to education, healthcare and other important issues. Woman faced double discrimination, as indigenous persons and as women. The organization asked the Committee to recommend that El Salvador focus on implementing a statistics system. The organization expressed dissatisfaction with the constitutional reform process, which included recognition of indigenous persons. It was not enough simply to recognize them – public policies had to be implemented that complied with institutional requirements. El Salvador needed to ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169, the speaker said, as had been recommended by all human rights treaty bodies. However, despite repeated requests the Government had not ratified it. The representative regretted the lack of access to traditional medicines for indigenous women. She also said several educational programmes, including one to get elderly indigenous women involved in pre-school indigenous language teaching, were commendable but lacked preparation and implementation. The disparity in school drop-out rates needed to be remedied, she said, noting that it seemed that El Salvador had not ratified the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on combating discrimination in education.
A representative of Commissiona Juridica de los Pueblos Originares Andinos said rather than revisiting the historical context of indigenous peoples’ struggles in El Salvador and across Central America more generally, she would speak about their current situation. On a positive note, the issues of indigenous peoples had now come to the fore, and were very much a part of public dialogue. From being the poor neighbour who needed help, issues affecting indigenous peoples were now in the mainstream. However, there were still problems in the access to public services. The representative hoped that the Committee would recommend that the State party improve its regulation on policies relating to indigenous people. There were many programmes and projects being implemented, but indigenous people were not being informed about them – they were not being rolled out properly. The organization also said it would like the establishment of a dispute settlement system. It urged the Government to also set up coordination mechanisms with indigenous peoples in order to avoid imposing programmes and policies on them from above, without consultation to find out their actual needs.
Questions by Experts
Were all indigenous groups in El Salvador recognized, an Expert asked? Did the Government ensure all indigenous communities could access land and drinking water? An Expert asked for explanations of the sources of the estimate that 500,000 to 600,000 of El Salvador’s population were indigenous persons. Another Expert questioned the emphasis put by non-governmental organizations on access to traditional medicines for indigenous persons, asking whether traditional medicines were widely used in the country, or was it more aspirational? An Expert asked about the rate of sexual abuse of women from indigenous groups compared to women who did not belong to indigenous groups.
It seemed the principal human rights problems in El Salvador were the rather disgraceful treatment of women, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of children to the United States, and high levels of crime, said an Expert. None of those issues were mentioned in the statements of the El Salvador non-governmental organizations. As El Salvador was one of the least written-about countries in Central America, the Committee would have appreciated a wider view of the human rights problems there. What about bilingual education – and specifically bilingual intercultural education – an Expert asked?
Response from the Non-Governmental Organizations
While there were no statistics on the numbers of indigenous peoples in El Salvador, it was impossible to develop projects for them, a representative replied. The Committee must insist that the State party commit to carry out a census by 2017. The census was being carried out by consultants, but three years before it was due to be carried out, nothing had been drafted to ensure that indigenous communities could contribute to it. The shadow report included an official Government map which showed the distribution of indigenous peoples, she added.
The Constitutional recognition was not exactly what non-governmental organizations had wanted, a representative replied, but Article 133 of the El Salvador Constitution did recognize indigenous peoples and said the State was committed to strengthening the ethnicity, cultural identity, spirituality and traditional heritage of those peoples. Now civil society was fighting to ensure indigenous peoples were not generalized, i.e. that they were not seen as just the Mayans – there were in fact three distinct groups. There was a land programme for individuals, but collective land rights were desired, in order to strengthen collective indigenous rights.
Bilingual and inter-cultural education was not only about languages, but covered the whole indigenous educational system, a representative replied. Civil society was working on a draft bill on land and drinking water access with the National Assembly, but it was not followed up. The law on violence needed to be reviewed, as it currently allowed for corporal punishment. The organization was extremely concerned about the levels of sexual and domestic violence faced by indigenous women, who were extremely vulnerable. There was no disaggregated data between indigenous and other women, and the census should be able to facilitate the inclusion of indigenous women.
Statements on Peru
A representative of the Legal Commission for Indigenous Peoples said his organization aimed to legally defend the rights of indigenous peoples from eight countries across South America. The organization had brought the case of the indigenous peoples of Peru who since 1994 had been victims of the drought – the draining of water – in the Andes, which was a clear contravention of Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The representative of the Comite de America Latina y El Salvador Caraibe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer spoke about discrimination and racism faced by indigenous women, who were often targeted, she said. The representative spoke about media stereotypes, which perpetuated the discrimination, in particular a supposedly satirical primetime cartoon broadcast on national television which featured an indigenous woman. The representative asked the Committee to call on the State party to act against negative media stereotypes.
A representative of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples in Peru referred the Committee to the report, but said he wished to focus on three specific issues of concern. The speaker said his indigenous group was recognized in the Constitution of Peru as an agricultural community, but regretted the lack of established consultation processes with indigenous peoples, particularly regarding the exploitation of natural resources. Although there was a consultative process for protected areas of the country, including oil areas in the Amazon, and on inter-cultural health policies and the use of forests, nevertheless the list of 16 current ongoing consultations did not include mention of projects relating to mining which affected the 16,000 agricultural communities living in the Andes.
Questions by Experts
An Expert said he did not clearly understand whether indigenous communities were satisfied with the 2011 law on the right to prior consultation. Were there problems with the application of that law in the country? Another Expert asked about bilingual education for indigenous peoples, and whether in practice the Spanish language was predominate over indigenous languages. The Intra-American Commission on Human Rights was raised; did indigenous groups contact it with their cases?
Response from the Non-Governmental Organizations
In response to these questions, representatives of the non-governmental organizations said the Ministry of Culture was side-stepping its responsibilities, denying that certain groups were indigenous and instead claiming that they were “linguistic minorities”. There were modern methods to discriminate against indigenous groups, paving the way for multinational organizations to come to Peru, take away the best of the natural resources from their land, leaving behind toxic chemicals, and leaving indigenous people as the victims. That was a modern form of racism, said a representative, saying it was almost a form of genocide – by removing their water sources certain communities were dying a slow death.
A representative also spoke about people of African descent, who had come to Peru as a consequence of the slave trade; they were trafficked to the country with nothing more than the chains around their wrists. Indigenous communities welcomed them to the country, and fought together with them against slavery. Today there are Afro-indigenous people, and together they had brought a great deal to the musical and dance cultures of the Latin American States.
For use of the information media; not an official record