The brand of human rights the NATO Alliance is now defending in Yugoslavia is not guaranteed for Fourth World peoples. Indeed, as their armies enter and occupy the province of Kosovo, the states of Britain, United States of America and France are actively pursuing a course of action in the United Nations and in regional organizations aimed at denying the right of self-determination to hundreds of millions of Fourth World peoples. The United States of America is the most vigorous advocate of human rights and it has demonstrated this commitment by organizing an economic blockade against South Africa to defeat apartheid. The U.S. sent troops to Panama to arrest a head of state regarded as a violator of human rights and other crimes including drug trafficking. United States forces defended Kuwait and exercises control over the airspace in northern and southern Iraq in part to protect the human rights of peoples in that country. Now, the United States leads the NATO Alliance in defense of human rights for the very first time using direct air force attacks on an independent state. Clearly the United States is ratcheting up the price states must pay for violating human rights. Displaying a firm commitment to human rights in its actions, the United States government remains slow in its willingness to adopt international human rights laws as a part of its own laws. While the U.S. ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) in only the last ten years and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966) in 1992 it has still not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Yet with all this activity—militarily and diplomatically—the United States of America remains ready to deny these rights to Fourth World peoples. The U.S. Department of State has for more than twenty years actively working to prevent indigenous peoples from having internationally guaranteed protection for their territories, natural wealth, traditional knowledge and their social, economic and political rights. The Clinton Administration is carrying out the same policies first instituted under the Carter Administration and vigorously advanced by the Reagan and Bush administrations. The single most significant agency in the U.S. government pressing the agenda to deny indigenous peoples internationally guaranteed rights is the Office of Legal Affairs in the Department of State. The individual now authorized to represent the U.S. government to indigenous peoples is one of the strongest opponents to the self-determination of Fourth World nations: Mr. Michael Dennis an attorney from the Office of Legal Affairs.
The Unambiguous Right to Choose
Self-determination is a right guaranteed under international law to all peoples seeking to freely choose their social, economic, political and cultural future without external interference. It is a human right written into the United Nations Charter, it is a guarantee written into human rights conventions and treaties, and it is a right for which the United States and other European states have committed their lives and treasures. Simply stated, the principle as written into the Convention on Civil and Political Rights ratified by the United States in 1992 asserts:
All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of the right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development
The United States government agreed to the principle slightly modified as it appeared in the Helsinki Act of 1975.
all peoples always have the right, in full freedom, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development.
The principle is unambiguous in its application to peoples having the collective right to freely choose their own future. The right to choose is what the United States and other states like France, Britain and Canada seek to deny Fourth World peoples.
In response to this slightly more than eighty-year-old principle of international law empires have crumbled, states have lost direct control over vast resources and hundreds of millions of peoples became citizens of new states. One might suggest that the principle of self-determination is responsible for the creation of perhaps as many as 160 of the world’s 193 states. Even as these new states were created over the last eighty years they enclosed hundreds, if not thousands of indigenous nations that did not freely choose to be within the state. They became nations captive inside often hostile states.
The United States President Woodrow Wilson gave birth to this self-evident principle of self-determination in international literature in 1919 as a part of his famous 14 Point Plan designed to settle World War I. Recognition of the right of all peoples to freely choose how they live applied to the peoples formerly controlled under the Ottoman Empire—the Hungarians, Croations, Slovenians, Serbians, Montenagrans, as well as the Bosnians. The principle stood for freedom for the Moravians and Bohemians as well as the Slovaks. The self-determination principle stood for the right to choose without external influences for the peoples of Moldova too. It is a stunning fact to consider that just as the United States, France, England, Germany, Russia and Italy roll their troops into Kosovo to preserve the peace and secure human rights and self-determination, these same states have become active leaders in the drive to rewrite international law denying self-determination to Fourth World nations all around the world. Curiously, the United States Department of State (and specifically the Office of Legal Affairs) has been the most vigorous manipulator of decisions in multi-lateral organizations to limit the social, economic and political scope of self-determination as it might be applied to indigenous peoples. The United States has actively worked to achieve a drastic narrowing of the term’s meaning in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the International Labour Organization, and in the Organization of American States. The U.S. Department of State’s success is written in the rewritten version of the International Labour Organization’s 1957 Convention “tribal and semi tribal populations” in the form of the ILO’s 1989 Convention 169. It is written in the Commission on Human Rights stalled consideration of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A Trogan Horse in the OAS
The U.S. is further demonstrating its commitment to rewriting international law and limiting the legal and political meaning of the principle of self-determination when applied to Fourth World peoples by quickly pushing through an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the Organization of American States. As the author and principal advocate, the U.S. government wishes to portray itself as the champion of Fourth World peoples in the OAS, but the reality is that the Department of State is attempting to create a “legal Trojan Horse.” Hidden in the developing American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is restrictive language that prevents indigenous peoples from fully enjoying the right of self-determination. The language will work to prevent indigenous peoples from exercising their collective right to govern themselves and practice their culture as they choose. The new Declaration under consideration at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. is now being written to lock indigenous peoples under the permanent control of states’ governments. Drafters of the new convention hope to have OAS adoption in the Fall of 1999.
The purpose of this expedited approach at the OAS is to establish an agreement between western hemispheric states designed to maintain state dominance over indigenous people, their territories and natural wealth. The strategy is to write and adopt language for a regional declaration without scrutiny or participation by indigenous peoples (the UN drafted declaration involved perhaps thousands of indigenous representatives) and then proclaim it as the model for rewriting the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Together, a rewritten UN Declaration and the OAS Declaration can then be used to author new and restrictive international legislation that controls the social, economic and political life of Fourth World nations—denying indigenous peoples the opportunity to freely choose their social, economic and political future. Fourth World nations will be left to commit war to achieve their chosen political status or sit in silence and suffer the loss of freedom because the door of peaceful political change will have been closed.
The U.S. State Department’s Legal Affairs Office has a strangle-hold over the U.S. government’s foreign policy when it comes to Fourth World peoples. That office virtually controls whether international bodies accept or reject new laws guaranteeing their right to self-determination. Proof of the U.S. government’s opposition to indigenous peoples’ exercise of the right of self-determination becomes obvious with the designation of Michael Dennis from the Office of Legal Affairs as the primary contact person at the Department of State concerned with Fourth World peoples. For Mr. Dennis and others in the Department of State it seems there is a fine line between indigenous peoples as benign minorities and indigenous peoples as a threat to the State.
The U.S. government’s determination to prevent indigenous peoples from exercising the full right of self-determination (in all of its social, economic, political and cultural dimensions) is now focused in the Organization of American States, International Labour Organization and in the United Nations. Fourth World nations have taken a confused approach to dealing with this dramatic move in international organizations. This is especially true of Indian nations, Alaskan Native communities and the Hawaiians. Indian nations in particular have been utterly absent from international meetings concerning the subject of self-determination over the last twenty years. They have been informed, but remain oblivious to the international decisions aimed at denying their right of self-determination. Fourth World nations in the South Pacific, Melanesia, Africa, and South America have been most active, but they lack the influence on U.S. policy that American Indian nations have, but fail to use. Until Indian nations take up the task of addressing international legislation concerning indigenous peoples, the Principle of Self-Determination and other principles of international law beneficial to Fourth World peoples will continue to be distorted. Indigenous peoples will be the first fatalities.