Survival: Commonwealth must respect international law

March 13, 2006

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This Commonwealth Day (13 March) Survival International is calling for Commonwealth countries to put the genocide of tribal peoples behind them by signing up to international law. Only two Commonwealth countries – Fiji and Dominica – have ratified the key international law protecting tribal peoples' rights, International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169. 

Many Commonwealth countries have tribal or Indigenous peoples living within their borders – for example Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Guyana, India and New Zealand. The policies of others such as the UK have a direct impact on tribal peoples through development aid and their work at the UN. Yet all but two have refused to ratify the convention.

ILO Convention 169 states, ‘The rights of ownership and possession of the peoples concerned over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognised.' It obliges government to identify the lands and protect these rights. Seventeen countries have ratified the convention, including Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.

Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Imperial Britain was responsible for the destruction of countless tribes, wiped from the face of the Earth forever. That's in the past and cannot be undone. Nowadays the situation of many tribal peoples in the former colonies is much better than it was, but the destruction continues nevertheless. Botswana, for example, is on its way to destroying the Gana and Gwi Bushmen, and the British government looks on without a murmur of disapproval.

‘If the Commonwealth stands for human rights, as it's supposed to, then it's high time for all its members to respect the rights of the tribal peoples who have survived to the present. All members should ratify the international law on tribal peoples without waiting for more centuries to slip past carrying more tribes into eternal oblivion.'

For more information call Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]