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AUA - Participation in the U.N. Sub-commission on Protection Of Minorities

Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2000 at 01:40 PM CT

Participation in the Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection Of Minorities Working Group on Indigenous Populations Eighteenth Session
24-28 July 2000

The Assyrian Universal Alliance (“AUA”) has been participating for years in the United Nations meetings. This participation has become more effective since AUA joined the International organisation known as the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO).

Since 1996 AUA Australian Chapter has made many representations at the meetings of the Working Group on Minorities. This year AUA participated for the first time in the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The Working Group on Indigenous populations was set up in 1982, and is a working group of the Sub-Commission on Prevention and Protection of Minorities. It is composed of five experts of the Sub-Commission, who represent the five regions of the world.

This year more than 1000 participants took part in the session. The indigenous issues are varied yet they all share in the one common struggle, that of removal from their land. The relationship to land and the natural environment is very significant and unique to the indigenous peoples. This relationship is the basis for the survival of indigenous peoples. There is an increasing momentum in the struggle for justice and in addressing the historical issues impacting on Indigenous Peoples.

On August 9-10, 1999, some 300 Indigenous people from different parts of the world gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to commemorate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. The 1999 theme, "Indigenous Peoples and their Relationship to Land" was very timely, for the Indigenous Peoples' movement the basic issue is the gross violation of their right to own and control their territories and resources. Another theme that emerged from the practice of (alternative) indigenous education is the demand of Indigenous Peoples for the right to speak their own language, for "language is the soul of the Indigenous Peoples. It is linked to our cultural environment where the world of meanings is stored". Indigenous Peoples want to ensure that their children are not alienated from their cultural identity. Consequently the struggle to speak the mother tongue becomes at once political. It cannot be divorced from the struggle for self-determination and ancestral land and domain. For if the material bases of culture (ie. land, people and resources) are gone, how else will language and all its artistic expressions flourish?

AUA’s representatives at the meeting of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which took place between 24-28th July 2000, were Senator John Nimrod (Secretary General of AUA from USA), Miss Suzy David (the International legal adviser to the Secretary General) and Mr. Hermiz Shahen (AUA Secretary - Australian chapter). Suzy David and Hermiz Shahen also attended the preparatory meeting of the Indigenous Populations held on 22 and 23 July 2000 at the premises of the World Council of Churches, Geneva.

The United Nations meeting of the Working Group commenced on 24 July and ended on 28 July 2000. The Agenda items in respect of which the Assyrian Universal Alliance presented interventions were:

Review of developments pertaining to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. Principle theme: "Indigenous children and youth", General statements, including land issues, education and health, Standard-setting activities including a review of indigenous peoples, relationship with natural resource, energy and mining companies, World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, including the second preparatory meeting in May 2001.

Miss Suzy David, an experienced and successful lawyer delivered four interventions during the year 2000 session all of which were overwhelmingly well received by the participants. There were a number of representatives from various countries as well as non-government organisations and academics who asked for copies of the submissions presented. Lengthy discussions were entered into with some of these persons and officials in an attempt to commence and implement projects that would serve various Assyrian causes. The week was also very successful in the networking that was achieved with various other indigenous groups and government and non-government officials. In response to this the Iraqi representative denied the allegations against Iraq. Iraq accused the Assyrians and Kurdish of being militia groups fighting each other, and denied that they are the indigenous peoples of Iraq.

It is crucial for the Assyrians to be heard at these meetings. Indeed, it is the intention of the AUA to continue its active involvement at such international forums in the future. Only in this way, can we draw the world's attention to the significant needs of our people.

Hermiz Shahen
Assyrian Universal Alliance - Australia P.O. Box 34
Fairfield, NSW. 1860. Australia

On the indigenous children and youth:
Madam Chair

I am attending this working group as a representative of the Assyrian people. They are the indigenous people of the land presently known as Iraq. They are also indigenous to parts of the lands within the countries currently comprising Turkey, Iran and Syria. The largest population of Assyrians is within Iraq, where it is estimated that 2 million of our people reside. A further 1.5 million Assyrian people reside outside Iraq, in about 35 various countries, most of which are far from our homeland.

The reason for such a disproportionate scatter of our people from Iraq is because the Assyrians face grave abuses of their most fundamental human rights. This is not only because they live in a country, recognized for its human rights violations but also because they are the uncontested indigenous people of that land. I do not seek to use this forum for reference to, or quoting chapter and verse of, the specific evidentiary reports dealing with such violations. However I do seek permission to state generally, that our people continue to be the victims of ethnic religious cultural and linguistic persecution and genocide. More significantly, Assyrians, according to United Nations and other reliable international sources are being forcibly expelled from their homes, and thus forced to become refugees in overwhelming large numbers.

Abuses of Assyrians’ human rights in Iraq, the persecution for practicing our religion and culture, the prohibition to speak our ancient language and to maintain our rich history, have led to two fundamental problems for Assyrians that are particularly pertinent to the theme of children and young people.

Firstly, the situation faced by our people inside Iraq has meant that it is increasingly dangerous for parents to teach their children Assyrian, and to raise their children in accordance with our traditions, culture and religion. Assyrian children are not permitted to identify themselves as Assyrians, not even to have an Assyrian name. Secondly such religious, linguistic and cultural persecutions have meant that there is a significant movement of Assyrians out of Iraq.

It is notable that, around one half of the world's Assyrians live outside their indigenous land. This exodus has serious implications for the long- term maintenance of our identity, language, history, religion and culture and may, in my respectful submission, result in the complete alienation of Assyrians from their indigenous land.

The consequences of these two factors on future generations are of grave concern to my people. While there is an obvious need to address the human rights violations within Iraq, I accept that such an outcome is beyond the means of this Working Group. However, I believe that there are some recommendations that this Working Group could make that would substantially assist in ensuring the survival and ongoing cultural and indigenous integrity of the Assyrian people as well as other indigenous peoples fleeing persecution from their homelands.

Firstly, I would like to respectfully suggest that the Working Group endorse a proposal to expressly recognize the unique status of indigenous peoples seeking refuge outside their traditional and indigenous lands.

To this end I recommend that the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, when passed, should be applied retrospectively such as to, interalia, require States to acknowledge and respect the ongoing and territorial rights of refugees and their descendants who are indigenous, in their country of origin.

Without such retrospective application and recognition, the children and grandchildren of those Assyrians who have been forced to leave Iraq could be legally denied the right to access or return to their ancient ancestral lands. Without such recognition the capacity of Assyrian people to participate in any possible future decision making with respect to their lands will be further diminished.

Secondly, I respectfully recommend that there be a specific obligation for those States receiving significant numbers of indigenous refugees to assist in the maintenance of their language, history, religion and culture. The effect of this should be to make the obligations of States towards their refugee indigenous peoples similar to those they hold with respect to their own indigenous peoples.

Thirdly, it has long been accepted that indigenous peoples’ common experience of dispossession often manifests itself in common social needs. I recommend that it be noted that it is as important for States to address the specific social needs of migrant indigenous peoples as it is to address the social needs of indigenous peoples within their land.

I am hopeful that while these recommendations will not directly address the human rights issues confronting Assyrian people in Iraq, they will assist the longevity of our language, culture, history, religion and traditional values, and ensure that our children do not grow up in permanent isolation from their origins. Otherwise this could mean for Assyrians, the ultimate extinction of one of the richest and most ancient civilisations.

Thank you Madam Chair.

Assyrian Universal Alliance
Suzy David B.Ec; LLM.

On the promotion and protection of human rights, land issues, education and health: Mr. Chairman

May I firstly congratulate you on your recent appointment as chairman of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

The Assyrians, Mr. Chairman are the descendants of the ancient Assyrian civilization, often referred to as the land of Mesopotamia. Today this is known as Iraq. Iraq, was formed in 1932 and in that process was required to sign the international Declaration of the Kingdom of Iraq. It was agreed that the said Declaration was to prevail over all current or future laws and regulations.

The Iraqi Declaration provides to all Iraqi inhabitants, guaranteed protection of life and liberty (Article 2.1) and the right to freely exercise their religion (Article 2.2). It also entitles Assyrians, to enjoy interalia, the right to maintain, manage and control schools and other educational establishments, with the right to use their own language (Article 5). More significantly the Declaration provides that in towns and districts in which live nationals whose mother tongue is not the official language, the Iraqi government would provide for adequate facilities for ensuring that in primary schools instruction would be given to such children through the medium of their own language (Article 8.1). It also provides that such nationals would be assured an equitable share in the enjoyment and application of public funds under the state, municipal or other budgets for educational, religious or charitable purposes (Article 8.2).

Whilst the Declaration, does not specifically recognize indigenous rights of Assyrians and Kurds of Iraq, it does make positive provisions and order certain guarantees. If adhered to by Iraq, in conjunction with all its other international obligations as a member state, it would perhaps not have been necessary for us to be present at this meeting.

Instead, Mr. Chairman, Assyrians and Kurds have, due to the fact that they are indigenous, suffered massacres, persecutions, forced internal displacements and more recently forced migration out of the homeland. Assyrians have no right to equal citizenship, nor any political or indeed any form of representation, and according to the UN special Rapporteur on Human Rights, at more risk of summary, arbitrary and extra judicial executions. Iraq’s national census does not provide for any recognition of Assyrian existence. They are deprived of social security benefits and either precluded from tertiary education or expelled at will. The Assyrian people’s health has deteriorated and their life expectancy substantially reduced in comparison with other Iraqi nationals.

Attacks on ancient Assyrian ancestral lands and villages have also been ongoing in Iraq for decades. According to the Assyrian Human rights report, in the period 1976 to 1977, more than 200 Assyrian villages in northern Iraq were razed by the Iraqi government. All the inhabitants were forced to resettle in urban areas, in order to prevent the establishment of a concentrated Assyrian presence anywhere in the country. Since then another 252 villages have been confiscated. Under the current system Assyrians have no recourse to any form of legal justice. The occasional resistance to such land confiscation has been met with total retribution and often death, including death of entire families.

Assyrians have thus been robbed of their livelihood and removed from their sacred and ancient lands. These are the sites that bear testament to the ancient Assyrian history and heritage dating back to thousands of years, sites under which are still buried ancient treasures artefacts tablets statues reliefs temples and even ancient cities.

These lands are used by the government for housing and other developments including oil explorations, none of which are used for the benefit of Assyrians, nor by payment of any compensation. The removal of Assyrians from their land has also enabled plunderers and smugglers of Assyrian artefacts to flourish, particularly following the gulf war and the subsequent UN sanctions.

This has the consequence of destroying priceless amounts of historical artefacts. It also means the irreparable damage to proper future scholarly and scientific exploration and thus the suppression and / or manipulation of our history.

Assyrians, Mr. Chairman, do not have the political opportunity to enter into any dialogue directly and internally. So that the grave concerns I have put before you can be addressed, and so that some solution may be found for the complex Assyrian situation I respectfully make the following recommendations:

That the Iraqi government be called upon to comply with its international obligations including the very provisions of the 1932 Declaration that became the reason for its formation;

That Iraq be required to officially recognize the identity of the Assyrian people and their status as the indigenous people of Iraq;

That you, Mr. Chairman, pay a field visit to Iraq in an attempt to encourage dialogue between and among the Assyrian indigenous people and Iraq;

That the working group work with the country specific Special Rapporteur so as to incorporate therein, the indigenous issues as priority;

That Iraq be required to apply a proper and significant proportion of funds from export of oil, for the implementation of programs of education health and resettlement of Assyrians in their traditional villages;

That the international community do all that is necessary to ensure that the rights of indigenous people in the situation of Assyrians be recognized as ongoing rights, and not rights which can easily be stolen by violation of their most fundamental human rights.

Thank you Mr. Chairman

The Assyrian Universal Alliance
Suzy David B.Ec; LLM.

On indigenous peoples' relationship with natural resource, energy and mining companies: Mr. Chairman

I am attending this working group as a representative of the Assyrian people. Presently an estimated half of our population lives outside our indigenous land of Iraq. This converts into about 2 million people who still live in Iraq. However due to the grave abuses of their most fundamental human rights and the significant dangers associated with the practice of preserving our language, religion and culture and due further to reports of hundreds of families being forcibly expelled from their homes, Assyrians have become refugees in great numbers.

According the UNHCR in 1998 there were 9,892 recognized refugees from Iraq and 53,881 applications for refugee status. There are no statistics regarding how many of these people are Assyrian, however, based on anecdotal evidence I am certain that this is a large proportion.

Religious cultural and linguistic persecution have inevitably led to a significant movement of Assyrians out of Iraq and that those within Iraq are often afraid to identify themselves as Assyrian. This has serious implications for our capacity to ever be able to participate in any decision-making capacity or the management of our traditional lands and to contribute to the preservation of our archaeological sites.

Upon the Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples being passed, and we share the general consensus of our indigenous brothers and sisters that it would be in its present form, two articles would become very relevant, namely articles 25 and 30.

Article 25 of the Draft Declaration states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual and material relationship with the lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

Article 30 of the Draft Declaration states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands, territories and other resources, including the right to require that States obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources. Pursuant to agreement with the indigenous peoples concerned, just and fair compensation shall be provided for any such activities and measures taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

However notwithstanding the provisions of the Draft Declaration, I believe that the standards set therein should nevertheless apply if Assyrian people’s rights as indigenous people as reflected in the Draft Declaration are to be respected. To this end it is necessary for natural resource, energy and mining companies to ensure that they act in our best interests and consult with Assyrian people before entering into agreements with the Iraqi government regarding exploitation of natural resources.

Further, it is necessary for them to take responsibility for appropriate payment of compensation, particularly as rich indigenous Assyrian lands have been and continue to be taken from their Assyrian inhabitants and owners, without any consultation with or, compensation for the Assyrians.

In order to do this it may be necessary for them to consult with Assyrian people outside Iraq, because those inside Iraq would not have the political opportunity of engaging in any such negotiations.

I respectfully submit that it is the responsibility of those states in which the natural resource companies originate to ensure that companies respect the rights of indigenous peoples regardless of the domestic laws of the countries in which the companies are undertaking their activities.

I therefore recommend that the Working Group endorse a proposal to require multinational companies to respect the rights of indigenous peoples in circumstances where those people are not in a position, due to domestic persecution, to ensure that their interests are respected.

Thank you Mr. Chairman

Assyrian Universal Alliance
Suzy David

World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance: Meeting in May 2001:
Mr. Chairman

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Working Group on this agenda item.

At the outset may I state that the Assyrian Universal Alliance endorses the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

History has proven that racism can at its extreme become the cause of more serious outcomes and even lead to genocide. One such example is the genocide that occurred in the first quarter of the twentieth century, in which Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians were massacred with the intent of cleansing Turkey of all those three races. During this genocide, the Ottoman Turks wiped out two-thirds of the Assyrian population. Hundreds of Assyrian villages were confiscated and its indigenous Assyrian inhabitants either mercilessly killed or forcefully removed from their indigenous lands in which they had lived for thousands of years. Most of those that did escape were unable to complete their journey to a safe destination and perished along the way. The survivors, to this day, remain traumatised, and decades later continue to tell of the horror stories and of the loved ones they lost before their very eyes. They also lost their connection to their indigenous lands, the traditions they had preserved for thousands of years, their history and identity.

Today there may be but a few thousand Assyrians living in Turkey, albeit in lands, to which they are not indigenous. They do not identify themselves as Assyrians for fear of persecution and discrimination. They have been forced to assimilate, by name, culture and even religion, in order to survive the ongoing racism. Reports of such racism and racial discriminations in Turkey are well within your knowledge, Mr. Chairman and I will not take your time in providing specific details of same.

Incidences such as the Assyrian Genocide must be learnt about. It is through education that we as human beings can appreciate the severity of such acts. It is through education that we can ensure that future generations will not attempt such human atrocities. The seed of racism and xenophobia can only be destroyed if we realise their extremely destructive and dangerous outcomes. Genocidal events must not be denied. Their denial can lead to their repetition.

To this end, Mr. Chairman, I make the following modest recommendations:

That the World Conference should encourage all states, to set up and implement educational programs designed at teaching the history of genocide so as to deter future generations from such behaviour;

That the World Conference should encourage all countries in which genocide has occurred to admit to that history, as a genuine expression of that country’s resent towards such genocidal acts. To that end those countries should also carry out research on the effect that such acts have had upon survivors of the genocide and their families, particularly those who have been stripped of their indigenous rights;

That the World Conference encourage all states not to grant impunity to those guilty of genocidal acts and war crimes and indeed to take the positive initiative of enacting criminal laws against those guilty of same.

Only if we learn about a subject will we be able to realise its impact. What more a significant subject than human destruction? Only by admitting to violence, do we express regret. What more significant regret than that of destroying innocent human lives? Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Assyrian Universal Alliance
Suzy David B.Ec; LLM.

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