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NEWS RELEASE · 24th May 2012
Craig Benjamin - Amnesty Int.
Amnesty Annual report: serious concerns over rights of Indigenous peoples

Hul'qumi'num elders outside the Inter American Commission on Human Rights Amnesty International’s Annual Report, covering human rights concerns in 155 countries between January and December 2011, notes "serious concerns" over the human rights of Indigenous peoples, in Canada and around the world.

In a roundup of developments in the Americas, the report notes, "In many cases, Indigenous Peoples were denied their right to meaningful consultation and free, prior and informed consent over large-scale development projects, including extractive industry projects, affecting them. Despite the fact that all states in the region had endorsed the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the rights it sets out were still far from being respected."

The report goes on to note, "The failure to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples had a negative impact not only on livelihoods, but also resulted in communities being threatened, harassed, forcibly evicted or displaced, attacked or killed as the drive to exploit resources intensified in the areas where they live. In Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, Indigenous Peoples were forced off their lands, often violently. Excessive use of force against those demonstrating for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and against development projects was reported in Peru and Bolivia. Spurious charges against Indigenous leaders were a concern in Ecuador and Mexico."

The 2012 Annual Report entry on Canada highlights the following areas of concern where Amnesty International took action in 2011:

-the failure to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive response to the very high rates of violence faced by First Nations, Inuit and Metis women;

-the failure to provide adequate child protection for First Nations children;

-the persistent failure to uphold Indigenous peoples’ land rights in the face of large-scale resource development;

-the alarming number of First Nation communities that do not have access to safe drinking water; and

-the lack of progress in implementation of key recommendations from the Ipperwash Inquiry, with related concerns raised by excessive police response to land rights protests in the Tyendinaga Mohawk territory.

Canadian government action on these concerns is important for many reasons:

Because of the harm and suffering caused by inaction;

Because discrimination is never acceptable;

Because Canada’s international human rights obligations require action at home and abroad;

Because Canada’s ability to influence other states to improve their human rights records depends on being able to demonstrate that Canada uphold these standards at home.

Since the period covered by Amnesty International’s report, Canada’s human rights record has been reviewed by two United Nations human rights bodies, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee Against Torture.

Canada has also been visited by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has announced its intention to investigate Canada’s response to the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women.

Canada’s response to these international human rights mechanisms has been dismissive. Canadian officials have claimed that concerns raised by Aboriginal peoples’ organizations and human rights groups are already addressed by domestic legal mechanisms and by government spending in various program areas.

At the same time, Canada has continued to fight against Indigenous peoples’ efforts to use one of those crucial domestic mechanisms, the ability to file complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act, to shine the light on whether a vital area of government funding, funding for First Nations child protection services, is either equitable or adequate.

In April 2012, the Federal Court ruled that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was in error when it refused to examine evidence of whether a well-established pattern of federal underfunding of child welfare and child protection services in First Nations reserves is discriminatory. In doing so, the Court firmly rejected the federal government’s arguments that the issue was effectively outside the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

It was hoped that the court decision would finally clear the way for a full hearing into a five-year-old discrimination complaint filed on behalf of First Nations children by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. Last week, however, the federal government announced that it was appealing the decision.

Amnesty International Annual Report 2012

Indigenous peoples in the Americas

Annual report entry on Canada

Update on First Nations child welfare case 

Amnesty International Website