“We need to wake up to the realities that are not always discussed in the main rooms of the Human Rights Council, “ urged Mr Adrien Zoller of Geneva for Human Rights and Global Training, referring to gross human rights violations perpetrated by States towards minority populations and indigenous people in their territory. Mr Zoller was moderating a panel discussion about on-going discrimination and state-supported violence against ethnic minorities in Asia.
Franciscans International (FI) and several partner NGOs hosted the discussion on March 15th at the UN, as a side event to the Human Rights Council, to give leading advocates and human rights defenders in Burma, Japan, and West Papua the opportunity to share their experience and analysis of state policies towards minorities, including indigenous peoples.
In all three countries, indigenous people and minorities have experienced arbitrary arrests and violence, including extrajudicial killings, with very limited (if any) access to justice. In Burma, for example, 600 human rights violations have been committed by the army alone, against the Kachin people in the North of the country, and not one case has been brought to justice. In Okinawa, Japan, the local indigenous peoples’ protests against the construction of a new American military base was met with excessive force and arbitrary arrests by the Japanese State, who has never recognised their right to self-determination and stripped them of their language and culture. In West Papua, 2015 holds the record in mass arrests and cases of ill-treatment. Young Papuans are regularly shot at by police forces during peaceful protests, or tortured as political activists, even if there is no proof of political activism. Anyone who criticises the government – indigenous journalists specifically - becomes a target for military violence. Cases are rarely investigated or brought to justice. The panellists agreed that governments should be pressured to putting an end to aggressive and violent measures against their minorities and indigenous peoples, and that close UN-monitoring of each of the three countries should continue.
Active for years in advocacy for human rights in West Papua, FI considers the debate as a further opportunity to expose the case of West Papua to the international community and policy makers present for the Human Rights Council. The event allowed indigenous voices to be heard at the UN, empowering grassroots advocates to share their experience and first hand information at international level, where the reality of human rights violations is not always presented so explicitly.