'Systemic racism' against Aboriginal communities is savaged at the United Nations

KLC Chair Anthony Watson at the United Nations

The Western Australian government’s plans to close up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities, and wind back state  Aboriginal heritage legislation, a form of "systematic  racism" that prioritises development over Aboriginal interests, has been savaged at a key United Nations forum on Indigenous issues. The [Aboriginal] Kimberley Land Council on 22 April addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, drawing support from international human rights organisations and NGOs against what it labels a “discriminatory and race-based erosion of Indigenous rights” in Australia.


KLC Chairman Anthony Watson and CEO Nolan Hunter addressed the international forum and met with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpus, and Australia’s representative, Professor Megan Davis, who chairs the forum.

Its submission calls for support for Aboriginal communities standing up against the controversial proposal, citing Australia’s signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the only international instrument that enshrines the rights of the world’s 370 million Indigenous peoples.

In the absence of any form of domestic instrument to protect Aboriginal rights, the UN Declaration is one of the few tools available. Australia reluctantly endorsed the declaration in 2009, but it is not legally binding and governments regularly contravene many of its articles.

The KLC submission to the UN said the forced community closures would be carried out with “complete discrimination”, “without a long term vision or alternative” and “with complete disregard to the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of the Indigenous people residing in them”.

“History shows us that these policies have resulted in the gradual disintegration of cultural standards and governance; it has resulted in fringe communities in urban areas, in alcoholism and youth suicides, and in disempowerment. And now the Australian Government is allowing it to happen again,” the submission said.

The internationally read online edition of The Guardian, an award winning British newspaper, had this take on the story: “Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and Professor Megan Davis, who was elected chairperson of the current session, were among those who supported the submission.

Watson, a Nyikina Mangala man and Hunter, a Bardi Jawi man, said they hoped the international awareness garnered by taking the issue to the UN would have some influence over domestic policy.

“Our calls in Australia for engagement, discussion and empowerment have fallen on deaf ears,” Watson said.

“We are being ignored by all levels of government. The United Nations provides an international platform for us to raise awareness about these racist and discriminatory actions.’’

Speaking to Guardian Australia before leaving for New York, Watson said: “Our message is clear: Aboriginal people want to be involved in all levels of decision-making and in the implementation of those decisions.”

“We understand our issues better than anyone else and we know the best way to address those issues. We want to be accountable; we want to be in charge of our own futures. We ask that governments stop dictating to us and start engaging with us.’’

Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio noted that Megan Davis is a “distinguished Indigenous lawyer and academic”.

"Megan Davis grew up with a picture of the UN General Assembly on her wall. She [said being elected to chair the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues] is a dream come true.


“It’s very exciting. It’s always a privilege to be elected by your peers to a body like this to be the chair,” said the professor of public law and international law at the University of New South Wales.

As the forum opened in New York the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, said
2015 would be a ‘critical year’ for the world's indigenous peoples. The two-week forum ends on 1 May.

Eliasson added that as the UN Declaration affirms the rights of indigenous peoples to health, education, clean drinking water and sanitation, it also states that such services be provided in ways that are "culturally appropriate."

Australian journalist and filmmaker,
John Pilger, made these observations: “Having reported on Aboriginal communities since the 1960s, I have watched a seasonal routine whereby the Australian elite interrupts its "normal" mistreatment and neglect of the people of the First Nations, and attacks them outright.

“This happens when an election approaches, or a prime minister's ratings are low [as they are now].  

“Kicking the blackfella is deemed popular, although grabbing minerals-rich land by stealth serves a more prosaic purpose. Driving people into the fringe slums of "economic hub towns" satisfies the social engineering urges of racists.”

Maori Television in New Zealand reported that
events are planned worldwide on May 1st to support Aboriginal communities.  

“Protests …. have spread far and wide across the globe both on
social media and on the ground.”

"The [opposition] New Zealand Labour Party
has sent a letter to the [opposition] Australian Labor Party outlining their concerns. Labour’s Maori caucus chairman, Peeni Henare, says they have received the full support of leader Andrew Little in initiating the letter.  

In Perth on 23 April Heirisson Island camp Indigenous protesters descended on the Western Australia state parliament over the ongoing Heirisson Island dispute, with one person believed to be arrested. It’s estimated about 50 protesters warned the City of Perth not to move them on from Heirisson Island, where they have set up camp over the past two months.  The rally turned ugly after police and protesters scuffled.

WGAR Background: Plans to close Aboriginal homelands / remote communities in WA and SA (last updated: 22 April 2015)
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