NEWS 2005


Will ILO Convention 169 on tribal people ever be adopted? 

6/17/2005 9:23:19 AM (GMT +2)

Last week I attended the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Right Livelihood Award, (RLA),in Salzburg, Austria as one of the 75 Award-winning guests of Salzburg’s dynamic lady governor. I won my award in 1981 for developing educational models for the third world majority in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

One of the other guests at the celebration, also an award winner, was Stephen Corrie of Survival International, one of our Government’s worst, current bete noires. I’d never met him and found him a decent and serious person, promoting an honourable and legitimate cause the survival of the world’s reportedly 300 million tribal peoples.

Survival holds that, contrary to popular belief, tribal societies are not static societies living in the past. They are adapting to changes around them - and most importantly, always have done just like any other culture. Notions that they live in the stone age should be rejected as false and racist.

Survival produced only a single-page document at the conference, held by Right Livelihood to mark its 25th Anniversary celebration. It aimed at securing international ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 which recognises that tribal peoples have ownership rights over their lands.

This is crucial for their survival, yet in many areas, tribes are being evicted from their lands which are taken over for mining, oil exploration, ranching, dams or tourism etc.

The Convention also supports tribal peoples‚ right to control the ways in which they adapt and change their ways of life, educational and health systems, beliefs and so forth, as their circumstances alter. Crucially, their right to be properly consulted before national laws are passed which affect them, and when development or other projects are proposed for their territories is also recognised.

The need for this, their paper notes, is demonstrated by the experience of inhabitants of Ecuadorian Amazonia who now suffer from the invasion of oil companies which have been active there for decades and which have destroyed and polluted much of the forest.

The only reference to Botswana in the document relates of course to the eviction of the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari, but in one sentence, only. I don’t quote it in case it contravenes the sub-judice rule, given that the case between them and the State, is still to be completed.

A number of documents were put forward by participants which they asked us to sign. I didn’t sign this one, making it clear that I preferred to confine criticisms of my country to making them at home, which I have done in several columns in this matter. Nor, by the way, do I defend my country abroad when I think it is wrong, and didn’t support it in any way, in this matter. Nor was there, in the event, in any case, any public discussion of Botswana’s unhappy dealings with the CKGR Basarwa.

I do personally support adopting the ILO Convention 169 and urge the Opposition Parties to do so. Sadly, it has been supported by only 20 countries. In Europe, only the Netherlands and Norway have done so.

The fate of tribal people is only one of a number of matters taken up by the RLA meeting, nearly all of which others I happily signed.

The theme of the RLA gathering in Salzburg, whose authorities are wholly sympathetic to the RLA goals, was WINNING ALTERNATIVES in Work, Culture and Human Dignity. With numerous projects often realised under the most difficult circumstances RLA recipients have impressed the world, offering proof that it is possible to implement visions and ideas into real initiatives.

According to the Founder, Jakob von Uexkull, the Right Livelihood Award aims to help the North find a wisdom to match its science and the South to find a science to match its ancient wisdom.

The Conference focussed on the necessity to support a new living quality regarding work, research and management the development of cultures and regions where people are able to build and secure their livelihoods in dignity and in an ecologically and socially acceptable way and justice among, and equal treatment of, regions, generations and gender.

I supported Amnesty International’s recommendations opposing the US Government’s use of torture at Guantanomo Bay, being mindful that the US hypocritically attacks Cuban socialism in the rest of the island. As I write, I take note of broadcast news that a US Senator also criticises the Bush Government torture.

Torture is still practiced in many countries in today’s world despite the UN Convention against it, and one of the papers that most participants signed urged the arrest of torturers who happened to visit countries that have ratified the Convention.

There was a call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the failure of the nuclear weapons states to honour the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The RLA is often referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize because it recognises and honours achievements in alternative, rather than mainstream, capitalist implementation and development.

Last year, the Nobel Prize, which is financially worth many times more than the RLA Prize, was awarded to an earlier RLA prize winner which suggests that the NOBEL judges are prepared to look at the need for, and value of, alternatives in today’s complex world.

Salzburg was the (not always happy) home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was historically a conservative Principality of the Roman Catholic Church, but is today a progressive state and city that has committed itself to political and material support for the lesser developed world, and has invited the RLA to establish a base there.