COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION DISCUSSES SITUATION IN VIET NAM AND CANADA WITH NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
20 February 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an interactive dialogue with non-governmental organizations from Viet Nam and Canada. The reports of those two countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Viet Nam raised a number of issues concerning discrimination against the Montagnard Degar people in Viet Nam including arbitrary detention for men, forced sterilization among women, land confiscation without compensation and the unlawful imprisonment of 400 individuals for their Christian faith and exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Speakers also noted the racial discrimination against the Khmer Krom indigenous people in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam whose ancestral lands were confiscated by the Government and whose religious freedom was denied on the grounds that these minorities were a threat to society.
Yong-an Huang, the Committee’s Rapporteur for Viet Nam, asked why the Khmer Krom referred to themselves as indigenous people rather than as an ethnic minority, the term used by the Vietnamese Government, and noted that the accusations of extermination against indigenous people were extreme and amounted to racial cleansing. Other Committee Experts asked the status of the creation of an independent human rights institution and the inter-linkages between discrimination against the Montagnard Degar people on the basis of ethnicity and religion.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Canada said that African Canadian people consistently faced extreme marginalization and exclusion, including racial profiling. Many speakers noted the disproportionate level of violence faced by indigenous women and their high rates of incarceration, with a 131 per cent increase from 1998 to 2008 in the number of indigenous women serving federal sentences. Speakers noted the failure by the Government to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for human rights violations against indigenous people outside of Canada and that there was a glaring abuse of indigenous people’s rights taking place through the Government of Canada’s support for and licensing of corporations to carry out oil extraction from tar sands mining in Northern Alberta. Speakers raised the issue of the huge socio-economic gap between indigenous people and the rest of Canadian society and urged that the gap be addressed through the direct and full participation of indigenous peoples in all resource development.
Anwar Kemal, the Committee’s Rapporteur for Canada, asked why valuable resources were not shared between the Government and indigenous people when extracted from their land in the tar sands and the potash mines. A Committee Expert said a central issue which appeared to run through all the presentations on Canada was the question of proof of title, especially in land acquisition cases, and asked about the structural and cultural questions behind proof of title.
Speaking during the discussion were representatives from Montagnard Foundation, Inc, Khmers Kampuchea Krom Federation, Unrepresented Nations and People Organization, Viet Nam Committee on Human Rights, Montagnard Human Rights Organization, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Canadian Friends Service Committee, The Grand Council of the Crees, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International, International Indian Treaty Council, Indigenous Bar Association, International Indian Treaty Council, ITTC and Dene Nation, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Treaty 4 Nations (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and Assembly of First Nations.
The next meeting of the Committee will take place this afternoon, Monday, 20 February at 3 p.m. when the Committee will begin consideration of the twelfth to fourteenth periodic reports of Portugal (CERD/C/PRT/12-14).
Statements on Viet Nam
Montagnard Foundation, Inc said that the Montagnard Degar indigenous people had lived in the central highland of Southern Indochina for thousands of years. Although the Vietnamese people had prospered since the end of the war 30 years ago, the indigenous people of the Degar had suffered from the Government’s inherent discriminatory mentality against tribal people. Most of the men were wrongly accused, arrested, sent to prison and tortured to death while many women experienced forced sterilization as a policy of controlling and destroying the Degar people. Land was confiscated without compensation. The Montagnard Foundation called on the Vietnamese Government to stop the mistreatment of the indigenous Degar people and the destruction of their homeland.
Khmers Kampuchea Krom Federation said there was racial discrimination against the Khmer Krom indigenous people in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam. Khmer Krom students were not allowed to learn their indigenous language and people were living in fear with their ancestral lands confiscated by the Government. Khmer Krom people were detained on politically motivated charges as a result of land disputes and it was impossible for a Khmer Krom to hold senior positions in the Government. The religious freedom of the Khmer Krom was threatened and Buddhist monks who refused to join Vietnamese Buddhist associations were arrested. The speaker urged the Vietnamese Government to respect the Khmer Krom culture, language and religion and to stop using article 87 of the Vietnamese penal code to arrest Khmer Krom on the grounds that they were a threat to society.
Unrepresented Nations and People Organization said it was concerned with the Vietnamese Government’s failure to implement the provisions of the Convention as it continued to discriminate against indigenous people on the basis of their ethnicity. Indigenous people suffered from discrimination through disproportionately poor land allocations and forced relocation. Special actions by the police to detain and arrest indigenous people who wished to freely leave Viet Nam and to force them to return to Viet Nam violated international refugee laws including the principle of refoulement. There was no provision of early education in indigenous languages and indigenous people faced discrimination from teachers and were charged prohibitive educational fees.
Viet Nam Committee on Human Rights said it was deeply concerned about the grave violations of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. Viet Nam’s periodical report had listed extensive legislation adopted by the Government to ensure minority rights; however, there was a wide gap between the adoption and enactment of legislation. Viet Nam should urgently reform its legal system to effectively combat racial discrimination. Ethnic and religious minorities suffered serious violations of their political and economic rights including expropriation from ancestral lands, forced population displacement, religious persecution and arbitrary arrest and disappearances. Discrimination was rooted in political factors with no private media, trade unions, civil society organizations or independent judiciary. There had been no effort by the Government to integrate the principles of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination into domestic legislation resulting in ethnic minorities being detained and tortured on the basis of security laws. Viet Nam must reform its legal system.
Montagnard Human Rights Organization said that since 2001 more than 350 Montagnards had been sentenced to long prison sentences because the police and Government had accused them of being a threat to national security. Policies based on racism and discrimination restricted the development and education of the tribal peoples. Among 15,000 Vietnamese students sent by the Government to study in the United States, not one scholarship or study opportunity was offered to the indigenous Montagnard people. The Vietnamese Government must stop the policies of discrimination and ethnic cleansing in Viet Nam which had resulted in extreme poverty for indigenous peoples. The United Nations should negotiate the immediate release of over 400 Montagnard prisoners who had been unjustly imprisoned for their Christian faith and their right to exercise peaceful assembly.
Questions by Experts
YONG-AN HUANG, Country Rapporteur for Viet Nam, asked why the Khmer Krom preferred to refer to themselves as indigenous people rather than as an ethnic minority, the term used by the Vietnamese Government, and was there a legal distinction between these two terms. Mr. Huang noted the accusations of extermination against indigenous people which amounted to racial cleansing and asked the speakers to confirm that the case was this extreme.
Committee Experts asked if the State registry of Viet Nam permitted the use of the name Montagnard in official documentation. In the report, the Government noted it had contacted a number of international organizations. Had any of the organizations present today been contacted by the Government? Could the speakers provide informaiton on what was the status of the creation of an independent human rights institution in the country and were they optimistic about its ability to improve human rights? Experts asked about the inter-linkages between discrimination against Montagnard on the basis of their ethnicity and religion.
Response from Non-Governmental Organizations
In reply to the question on the degree of dialogue that had occurred between the Government of Viet Nam and non-governmental organizations, a speaker said that the Vietnamese Government had established walls blocking dialogue with non-governmental organizations. The Government had created cosmetic window dressing, such as the proposed human rights commission, which would neither be independent or effective because there was a lack of free speech. Concerning the link between religious and racial discrimination, the Montagnard were repressed not only because they were indigenous but also because they were Christians.
The Khmer Krom people had indeed suffered racial discrimination to the point of ethnic cleansing. The distinction made between indigenous and minority people was important because indigenous people were considered the original inhabitants of the land as opposed to an ethnic minority who had come from another place.
Statements on Canada
African Canadian Legal Clinic said that African Canadian people had, since their forced arrival in Canada, consistently faced extreme marginalization, exclusion and disadvantage, including restricted access to housing and health care, racial profiling by police, lower access to education, criminalization, overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, high levels of unemployment, under representation in institutions and organizations of influence and power and disproportionate and extreme poverty. For example, African Canadian males between the ages of 15 and 24 in Toronto were two and a half times more likely to be stopped and documented than white males their age.
Canadian Friends Service Committee said that the position of the Government of Canada was that the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was merely an aspirational document representing an expression of political will and not a legal commitment. The Canadian Friends Service Committee urged Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that the country’s laws and policies were consistent with the principles in the Declaration.
The Grand Council of the Crees said that the Nagoya Protocol was a new international agreement on access and benefit sharing arising from the use of genetic resources. Genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge were crucial for indigenous peoples. Yet in regard to both access to and use of genetic resources in the Nagoya Protocol, only ‘established’ rights and not other rights based on customary use was applied. Canada should redress immediately the serious issue of established rights in a manner that eliminated all discrimination and fully respect indigenous peoples’ customary rights to genetic resources including the rights to free, prior and informed consent.
Native Women’s Association of Canada said that the aim of the organization was to achieve equality for aboriginal women in Canada who continued to suffer from human rights violations. Aboriginal women continued to suffer from extreme marginalization and inequalities due to their minority status. There should be a visit to Canada from the Committee for better understanding of the problems faced by indigenous women. Canada should follow recommendations made to the National Aboriginal Child Welfare System to redress the educational problems for indigenous peoples and there should be greater consultation with indigenous women to provide redress against the legacy of gender discrimination.
Amnesty International said that indigenous people in Canada faced a profound human rights gap which was not only an unresolved legacy of colonial history but also the direct product of contemporary policies that discriminated against indigenous peoples in the delivery of Government services and the protection afforded to their rights under domestic and international law, including land and resource rights. There was concern about a disproportionately high level of violence faced by indigenous women and the inadequate processes and procedures for negotiation of land disputes to redress violations of indigenous peoples’ land rights. Amnesty International called on the Government of Canada to adopt and ensure compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
International Indian Treaty Council said that indigenous people in Canada had experienced higher rates of abuse in childhood, rates of domestic violence, shorter life expectancies, lower birth rates, higher rates of disease, violence, death, infant mortality rates, suicide rates, rates of substance abuse and a range or other chronic health conditions. There was a lack of adequate State accountability for ameliorating these situations and injustices. Canada had rejected indigenous rights in the international arena and the imposed development of indigenous lands and territories had severely impacted the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. There were more aboriginal children in care in Canada today than in the past due to a legacy of residential schools and the pervasiveness of racism and discrimination against aboriginal families and communities.
Indigenous Bar Association said that there was systematic racism and overrepresentation of indigenous people in the Canadian criminal justice system. Between 1998 and 2008, there was a 131 per cent increase in the number of indigenous women serving federal sentences making indigenous women the fastest growing prison population in the country. The Indigenous Bar Association recommended removing mandatory minimums to ensure that alternatives to incarceration could be fully considered whenever an indigenous person was facing sentencing. It also recommended creating training programmes for judges and prosecutors in consultation with indigenous peoples on the Gladue principles and on alternatives to incarceration.
International Indian Treaty Council said that the Western Shoshone in Nevada, United States continued to suffer the impacts of gold mining carried out by Barrick Gold Corporation, the largest gold producer in the world based in Toronto, Canada. The mine, operated on Western Shoshone Treaty Lands since 1965, continued to destroy and desecrate the sacred Mountain Tenabo which was used for ceremonies and food gathering despite the Western Shoshone’s consistent opposition. Another case included the indigenous peoples in Guatemala who continued to be impacted by Goldcorp’s Marlin 1 open pit strip mine, a Canadian company which used highly toxic sodium cyanide for ore extraction. Local communities reported contamination of ground water affecting food production, chronic illnesses among children, persistent skin diseases and liver cancers and forced displacement of families and political repression of protestors. There was a failure by the Government to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for human rights violations against indigenous people outside of Canada.
ITTC and Dene Nation said that a glaring abuse of indigenous people’s rights was taking place through the Government of Canada’s support for and licensing of corporations to carry out oil extraction from tar sands mining in Northern Alberta. Extracting the oil from sand and clay was a highly industrialized process affecting very large areas of land, resulting in the destruction of entire ecosystems. Tar sands mining was a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a major contributor to climate change and global warming. Tar sands developments had effectively placed significant limitations on the ability of indigenous peoples to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights to their lands and territories now and in the future.
Confederacy of Treaty 6 First nations and Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said that the Government of Canada had not consulted with any Treaty Nations on the process of upholding and enforcing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the country. The Confederacy recommended that the right to water was sacred for them and therefore they questioned the validity of legislative initiatives on water by Canada and Alberta without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples.
Treaty 4 Nations (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) said that Treaty 4 was entered into between the Crown of Great Britain and the Nahkaw, Nakaota and Plains Cree Indigenous Nations in 1874 whereby it agreed to share 75,000 square miles of traditional territory in exchange for reserve lands, agricultural provisions, protections for hunting, trapping and fishing, schools and annuities. This land area had 52 per cent of the world’s potash, an essential production of fertilizer which the world’s people need to grow food. There were several mines and pipelines throughout the Treaty territory and none had been developed with the direct involvement or consent of the indigenous peoples who lived in third world poverty conditions. There was a huge socio-economic gap between First Nations people in Canada and the rest of Canadian society, a gap that should be addressed by the direct and full participation of indigenous peoples with the Government and industry in all resource development.
Assembly of First Nations said that systematic discrimination continued to be prevalent in Canada’s justice system; indigenous people made up four per cent of the general population and nearly a quarter of the prison population. The Federal Government’s getting tough on crime platform, Bill C-10, would result in arbitrary and inflexible sentences that would be unjust in many cases. First Nations children were entering child welfare care at increasing rates due to reports of neglect driven by poverty, poor housing and caregiver substance misuse. Canada’s narrowing of the Canadian Human Rights Act could have serious consequences for First Nation children and peoples as there would be no preventive recourse against the Federal Government or any effective remedy.
Questions by Experts
ANWAR KEMAL, Country Rapporteur for Canada, asked why valuable resources were not shared between the Government and indigenous people when they were extracted from the land of indigenous people, for example the tar sands and the potash mines. Concerning the criminal justice system the Rapporteur was concerned that there could be a problem of discrimination if special measures were taken for incarcerated indigenous people and asked for more information on Bill C-10.
A Committee Expert said that one issue which appeared to run through all the presentations on Canada was the question of proof of title, especially in land acquisition cases, and asked about the structural and cultural questions behind proof of title. Could the speakers elaborate on the distinction between established and customary rights for indigenous people and what were the factors that had led to such high incarceration rates among indigenous women in Canada?
Committee Experts noted that the major issues for African descendants and indigenous people in Canada were the same as those shared in Latin America in terms of overrepresentation in prisons and low economic status, yet Canada had one of the highest development indicators and was a global reference for multiculturalism. What was the education system for indigenous people; were there indigenous universities where native languages were used and what process was ongoing for reconciliation among the main population and indigenous people?
Response from Non-Governmental Organizations
In response to the questions, the speakers said that established rights could be grouped into three categories: genetic disposition, agreement or treaty, and legislation. The customary use of genetic resources was based on traditional use and occupation. However, the Government of Canada had stated that there were no customary use rights which meant that any strong, traditional knowledge practices would not be considered as established rights and indigenous people would have no claim to that traditional knowledge. A speaker agreed with the Committee that the fundamental problem in the sharing of resources was the disagreement on whether the Government or indigenous people had title and jurisdiction rights over their land.
There was insufficient information on the living conditions of African Canadians because of the lumping of data and speakers urged the Committee not to be misled by the high human development index in Canada because of the outliers among indigenous peoples. Multiculturalism was a superficial concept as practiced in Canada and it should not serve as a model for the rest of the world. The criminal justice system was fundamentally racist against African Canadians and indigenous peoples at all levels.
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