Saturday, January 17, 2009

Climate Change, Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples: International Indian Treaty Council Submission

Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), NGO in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council

“From a traditional perspective, the health of our Peoples cannot be separated from the health of our environment, the practice of our spirituality and the expression of our inherent right to self-determination, upon which the mental, physical and social health of our communities is based.”

--- IITC Oral Intervention presented by Faith Gemmill, Gwich’in Nation Alaska
United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Geneva July 31, 1996 The

International Indian Treaty Council is pleased to provide this information relevant to the Council on Human Rights’ resolution 7/23 adopted on March 28th 2008, entitled “Human Rights and Climate Change”, responding to an invitation by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. We thank the UN Human Rights Council for their very timely and appropriate interest in this critical concern impacting a wide range of human rights within its mandate. We welcome this opportunity to present some perspectives, experiences, views and concerns of Indigenous Peoples for inclusion in the “detailed analytical study of the relationship between climate change and human rights to be submitted to the Council prior to its tenth session” as called for by the HRC resolution. We also hope that this submission will contribute to the development of a comprehensive and effective human rights framework through which the Council and the UN System as a whole can address this issue, emphasizing the inextricable link between human survival and the protection of the Natural Environment, is a fundamental underpinning of the world view of Indigenous Peoples around the world.

There is no doubt that Indigenous Peoples, together with the entire human family and the natural world, are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions, profoundly threatening our human rights and our survival as Peoples. This threat is Global Climate Change, or as many have called it, the “Global Climate Crisis”. Peoples around the world are experiencing its effects in increasingly severe natural disasters, negative impacts on traditional subsistence economies and food security, shifts and weather patterns, and dramatic changes in ecosystems including essential resources including water. We expect these effects to worsen in the coming years, with devastating effects on our human rights and survival. There is no doubt that the many signs we see around the world are harbingers of catastrophic impacts yet to come if the human family, including UN member states, fails to undertake the necessary decisive collective action required to reverse the present course.

For Indigenous Peoples, the air, waters, lands, plants and animals, seas and sea ice constitute the totality of the natural environments which have traditionally sustained life since time immemorial. These natural ecosystems provide the basis for their traditional subsistence economies (farming, hunting, gathering, herding and fishing), their physical health, and collective material survival and are a requirement for the exercise of their right to development. The sacred responsibility to maintain the health and integrity of the Natural World for future generations is also a central element of Indigenous Peoples’ spirituality, traditional ceremonial practices, religious expressions and ceremonial practice.

The causes, impacts as well as many of the proposed “solutions” to Climate Change result, and in many cases combine, resulting in violations of a wide range of internationally-recognized Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples around the world. These include, inter alia, the Rights of the Child, the Rights to Health, Food Security, Development, Physical Integrity, Security, Permanent Sovereignty over Land and Natural Resources, Treaty Rights, Free Prior and Informed Consent, Self-Determination, Cultural Rights, Religious Freedom and the Right of Peoples not to be Deprived of their own Means of Subsistence. In addition, the territorial integrity of Indigenous Peoples, along with that of many states, is increasingly threatened.

It cannot be stressed enough that that the Global Climate Crisis constitutes a growing threat to the right to life and survival itself. In our view this unprecedented crisis requires an urgent, significant and comprehensive response by all states, the United Nations as a whole and all of its bodies, including the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC, the UN Security Council and the General Assembly. The UN Human Rights Council has a very significant role and responsibility in this regard, based on its comprehensive mandate to protect and defend human rights.

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