I always had an odd fascination by monsters. Ever since I was a little girl I loved horror stories (Stephen King being one of my oldest heroes) and I had thought until recently this morbid obsession had to do with carrying around a lot of anger. My college thesis on the exploitation of women and girls in American youth cultures was rife with an overwhelming wrath and violence that is inherent from the first chapter. Part of that thesis was an exercise in feminist anthropology, using story-telling to detail an ethnographic account of the southern California rave culture as well as the pervasive misogyny in America on a more general level. At that time, with my self-righteous fury, I felt that the most appropriate way to detail the stories of so many women, as well as my own, was through the genre of horror. And that I did maybe too effectively even for my own liking these days. In the last few years, since the start of my work with indigenous peoples of the world, I have begun leaving behind my rage in the abandoned ghost towns of my past and moving forward with a lighter heart and more joyous spirit. I always thought that the reason I decided to frame my thesis with horror, monsters and violence was because of the overwhelming anger I carried with me proudly at that time, as if there was no other way to live and there was no such thing as forgiveness.
But now that I am a much less angry girl, I am surprised that during these meetings at the UN’s Commission on Human Rights I am still seeing monsters everywhere. This makes me think that maybe monsters are a part of life and it is not necessarily because of an angry gaze that we see them and experience their presence in our lives. Certainly these days, I am better equipped to deal with the monsters that surround me, and I will tell you that I spend much of the day in the Commission praying for the participants. And especially for the monsters, something I never would have thought I was capable of doing especially considering whom some of them are and what they have done to destroy lives, peoples and Mother Earth. I know now that the only way to combat monsters is with love, and I take these opportunities in the Commission to breathe in the violence and do my best to transform it in my heart so that I can breathe out love. There are too many monsters for my simple breathing to make much of a difference, but I continue anyway.
Today’s session discussing the Right to Development saw the entrance of a new monster into Room 17, and this would be the colossal Hollow Discourse that consumed agenda item 7. This in the horrific wake of the Red Lake Indian Reservation Massacre, in Minnesota, USA today. I would really like to report to you what was discussed during these 5+ hours, but sadly there was very little of substance. Governments and NGOs alike discussed the Right to Development as a fundamental right, one that assures the enjoyment of all other human rights, especially for governments and peoples living in the economic south, Third World, or underdeveloped nations of the world. People discussed the negative impacts of trade restrictions, how First World nations exploit the resources of Third World nations and exclude them from benefiting from said resources. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action were invoked in detailing the Right to Development. Several delegates noted that developed nations need to accept responsibility for their roles in the underdevelopment of the majority of the world, especially with regards to the incredibly high external debts of poor countries as well as their encouraged lack of sustainable development. Several people gave conceptual statements on the importance of moving away from intellectual debates of the Right to Development and rather focus on the concrete implementation of this right. Ironic, I know, I thought so too.
The USA was the only country who does not believe that a Right to Development exists and they stated that development equals the personal (read: individual) enjoyment of civil and political rights, participation and human growth. For this government, the Right to Development is a human right and thus cannot be applied to Nation-States, who have sovereign rights. Of course, they appeased, the USA is wholeheartedly committed to development and they advised that States must protect rights in the form of an individual’s development of civil and political rights. They stand by their belief that there is no such thing as Economic, Cultural or Social Rights of an individual or a Nation. I will contain the numerous and scathing comments I could make on this highly problematic statement, but will go so far as to note that part of this denial of Economic, Cultural and Social rights pertains to the protection of the USA’s continued abuse and genocidal policies of indigenous peoples and minorities. I would go so far as to say that the American government’s denial of development as a right has a great deal to do with the killings in Red Lake, as it is common knowledge that Native Americans live in Third World conditions within the opulent borders of the USA. In fact, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany interrupted today’s Commission session and mentioned the importance of indigenous peoples and the Right to Education. I think that was the closest the Germans (or any of the Fearful governments) could come to criticizing American treatment of their indigenous populations and implying that this tragedy occurred on account of a severe lack in the United States.
It was eerie how the Hollow Discourse beast edged its way into most every intervention and ate away at its substance like The Nothing from The Neverending Story. I had to keep a strong heart so it wouldn’t get me too, and I felt its tentacles reaching closer and closer.
NGOs also spoke on a range of issues having to do with general statements on the Right to Development as well as discussing specific cases in countries around the world. But it was hard for me to concentrate because I was asked by the International Institute for Peace to read a statement on their behalf and got unbelievably nervous. For brief descriptions of what each NGO stated please visit the UN Briefing at www.ohchr.org.
The intervention read as follows:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for permitting me to speak on Item 7 on behalf of the international institute for peace.
The right to development, Mr. Chairman, cannot, and must not, be restricted to the creation of material prosperity. True development encompasses all facets of existence. It is only through the creation of balanced individuals that society can progress in a manner ensuring that the welfare of all citizens is taken care of. Peace and harmonious coexistence, rooted in tolerance, are a prerequisite for the creation of conditions where a collaborative effort ensures sustained development.
Development requires a community of interest and a collaborative effort between peoples and nations. The international human rights community has argued for decades that the ethos of equality and the inter-linkages and interdependence of diverse communities have to be recognized to enable a cooperative effort to determine the path of mankind’s progress. For this, it is essential that the international community take urgent steps to eradicate poverty. Poverty suffocates peoples. It deprives them of health, education and other requisites. All people require minimum standards to survive and bring into focus their inherent capacities.
After almost 20 years of the passage of the Declaration on the Right to Development, Indigenous Peoples and Nations of the world continue to be the most marginalized. These are the peoples whose understanding of living with the environment in the most sustainable manner possible must not be overlooked.
The right to development must also include the rights of Indigenous Peoples to live in manners whereby their cultural, social, spiritual and human developments are allowed to continue within their own understanding. Advanced technology does not necessarily mean advanced development.
Therefore, we ask the esteemed members of this Commission to remember the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as their lands and resources have been used to build the wealth of many states sitting here today. We are all members of the human family and must learn to live in peace on this small planet called Mother Earth.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman”
The first half of the statement was written by the International Institute for Peace and the second half by Charmaine White Face, the Spokesperson of the Black Hills Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council. It was an honour to read the statement, even though up until the moment I began speaking my heart was pounding so hard I really was worried I would have a heart attack! I read it okay and afterwards several people said it was the best intervention of the day. Hooray for the International Institute for Peace and Charmaine!
Item 7 was closed right after my intervention and Item 8, on the Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, was opened for the presentation of Mr. John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Although Mr. Dugard did make special mention of the various areas in which the peace process has been moving forward in the region, he was forced to note that the situation of extreme human rights violations by the Israeli government against the Palestinian peoples was grave and ongoing. He noted the illegal nature of the Israeli settlement policies and the construction of the ‘Security Fence’ (otherwise known as The Wall) in contravention of the International Court of Justice as well as international law and opinion. He also discussed the issue of illegal Israeli checkpoints and the humiliation involved in the denial of Palestinian’s freedom of movement, among many other things. It was noted that The Wall would not be so inappropriate and violently illegal if it were built on the recognized Israeli border, but the fact remains that its construction continues within Palestinian territories noted for their rich natural resources such as water. Mr. Dugard also stated that the enduring problem of Palestinian terrorism was in direct relation to the illegal occupation and settlement of their lands, and that this issue would surely resolve itself if Israel would withdraw from the occupied territories.
Israel, as a concerned country, criticized the mandate of Special Rapporteur as being prejudicial towards the Israeli’s and that he should be focusing on the human rights violations coming from Palestine as well. This seemed a bit inappropriate coming from the Occupying power of the region, although is the response the Israeli delegate usually brings to the Commission, including their justification of The Wall as a preventive measure against terrorism. The fact remains that no one would have a problem with their ‘Security Fence’ if it were on Israeli lands, but unfortunately it is not and therein lies the rub. Israel thanked Mr. Dugard for his positive comments, but stated that the statements made against Israel were misinformed. Israel also said that the recent comments of Kofi Annan regarding the ‘credibility deficit’ of the Commission is directly related to this agenda item and it should be abolished forthwith. Regrettably, I would see the credibility deficit of the Commission in the fact that very few nations comply with its resolutions or special procedures, and this is why the Commission is left these days with a reputation for ineffectiveness. To revamp the integrity of the Commission, and the United Nations in general, every government member would need to grow some political will and reconnect with honoring their responsibilities. I would recommend that a spiritual workshop be organized with Indigenous spiritual leaders and Elders who could assist these governments in remembering theirs and our common thread of humanity to reconsider their destructive impacts on the global family.
Palestine took the floor as the other concerned country to say that during Christian celebrations of Palm Sunday in Bethlehem were obstructed not only by The Wall but also by Israeli military forces who prevented the religious procession from completing its pilgrimage. They asked why the Israeli government continues its collective punishment of the Palestinian peoples in the form of attacks against civilian populations armed with nothing more than rocks, and mentioning how the soft words of the Israeli government do not match the reality of violence in these territories. Palestine also noted the recent confiscation and dispossession of Christian and Muslim holy sites, Bethlehem being one example of this, as well as the continued construction of The Wall and 34 thousand more illegal Israeli settlements.
During the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, the only government to pose questions to Mr. Dugard was Luxembourg on behalf of the European Union. They asked what were the concrete measures that must be taken for lasting peace as well as what are the thoughts of the Palestinian people on the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ on the ‘Security Fence.’
Mr. Dugard noted that the Palestinians are, of course, overjoyed that the international community found in their favor, which dismantles all of the Israeli legal arguments for the construction of The Wall, but at the same time disappointed that there has been no enforcement of this ruling as yet and The Wall grows. He further noted that the steps towards lasting peace would be for the Israeli government to address:
1) The status of Jerusalem in a concrete manner.
2) The issue of their illegal settlement policy.
3) The Wall, which is being visibly built.
4) Checkpoints and roadblocks.
5) Palestinian prisoners held by Israeli’s.
Mr. Dugard ended by stating that if these issues were not addressed soon, it was likely that the Palestinian militancy would return.
And on this the day’s session was closed. Whew. Intense one. The 50 Foot Hollow Discourse moved aside for agenda item 8, although I am sure that he will be back shortly. Take care of your heart and I hope this finds you smiling even amidst the madness of this world.
In honour of Tony Black Feather,