Natural Recourses – item 6 – July 24-28, 2000

SubCommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection Of Minorities Working Group on Indigenous Populations

Eighteenth session
24-28 July 2000

Intervention for Agenda Item 6:
Standard-setting activities including a review of indigenous peoples’ relationship
with natural resource, energy and mining companies

Mr. Chairman
I am attending this working group as a representative of the Assyrian people. Presently an estimated half of our population lives outside our indigenous land of Iraq. This converts into about 2 million people who still live in Iraq. However due to the grave abuses of their most fundamental human rights and the significant dangers associated with the practice of preserving our language, religion and culture and due further to reports of hundreds of families being forcibly expelled from their homes, Assyrians have become refugees in great numbers.

According the UNHCR in 1998 there were 9, 892 recognized refugees from Iraq and 53, 881 applications for refugee status. There are no statistics regarding how many of these people are Assyrian, however, based on anecdotal evidence I am certain that this is a large proportion. Religious cultural and linguistic persecution have inevitably led to a significant movement of Assyrians out of Iraq and that those within Iraq are often afraid to identify themselves as Assyrian. This has serious implications for our capacity to ever be able to participate in any decision-making capacity or the management of our traditional lands and to contribute to the preservation of our archaeological sites.

Upon the Draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples being passed, and we share the general consensus of our indigenous brothers and sisters that it would be in its present form, two articles would become very relevant, namely articles 25 and 30.
Article 25 of the Draft Declaration states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual and material relationship with the lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

Article 30 of the Draft Declaration states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands, territories and other
resources, including the right to require that States obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands,
territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
Pursuant to agreement with the indigenous peoples concerned, just and fair compensation shall be provided for any such activities and measures taken to
mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

However notwithstanding the provisions of the Draft Declaration, I believe that the standards set therein should nevertheless apply if Assyrian people’s rights as indigenous people as reflected in the Draft Declaration are to be respected. To this end it is necessary for natural resource, energy and mining companies to ensure that they act in our best interests and consult with Assyrian people before entering into agreements with the Iraqi government regarding exploitation of natural resources.
Further, it is necessary for them to take responsibility for appropriate payment of compensation, particularly as rich indigenous Assyrian lands have been and continue to be taken from their Assyrian inhabitants and owners, without any consultation with or, compensation for the Assyrians. In order to do this it may be necessary for them to consult with Assyrian people outside Iraq, because those inside Iraq would not have the political opportunity of engaging in any such negotiations.
I respectfully submit that it is the responsibility of those states in which the natural resource companies originate to ensure that companies respect the rights of indigenous peoples regardless of the domestic laws of the countries in which the companies are undertaking their activities.
I therefore recommend that the Working Group endorse a proposal to require multinational companies to respect the rights of indigenous peoples in circumstances where those people are not in a position, due to domestic persecution, to ensure that their interests are respected.
Thank you Mr. Chairman
Assyrian Universal Alliance
Suzy David B.Ec; LLM.