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United States: Eggs on its face

The United States' second and third periodic reports on the implementation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) came up for examination before the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2006. As expected, the US faced flaks from the Human Rights Committee on many issues including Abu Garaib and Guantamo Bay. International media was quick to highlight the eggs on the United States' face.

But Abu Garaib and Guantamo Bay are not the only issues. The Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations (CCPR/C/USA/CO/3/Rev.1) also expressed concern that “no action has been taken by the State party to address its previous recommendation relating to the extinguishment of aboriginal and indigenous rights”. The Committee expressed concerns that while the guarantees provided by the Fifth amendment of the US Constitution apply to the taking of land in situations where treaties were concluded between the federal government and Indian tribes, in other situations, in particular where land was assigned by creating a reservation or is held by reason of long possession and use, tribal property rights can be extinguished on the basis of the plenary authority of Congress for conducting Indian affairs without due process and fair compensation. Moreover, the concept of permanent trusteeship over the Indian and Alaska native tribes and their land as well as the actual exercise of this trusteeship in managing the so called Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts infringe the full enjoyment of their rights under the ICCPR.

The United States also failed to provide sufficient information on the consequences of the situation of indigenous Native Hawaiians of Public Law 103-150 apologizing to the Native Hawaiians Peoples for the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which resulted in the suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.

The HRC urged the US The State party should review its policy towards indigenous peoples as regards the extinguishment of aboriginal rights on the basis of the plenary power of Congress regarding Indian affairs and grant them the same degree of judicial protection that is available to the non-indigenous population. The US was asked to take further steps in order to secure the rights of all indigenous peoples under articles 1 and 27 of the ICCPR to give them greater influence in decision-making affecting their natural environment and their means of subsistence as well as their own culture.

Is the super power listening?

Australia: Extinguishing land rights of the aborigines

In another act of extinguishing land rights of the aborigines, in August 2006, the Senate of Australia passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006. Under the new regime, Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory will be offered low-interest loans and 99-year lease on their land to try to encourage private ownership and economic development.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act of 1976 provided for traditional Aboriginal owners to claim unalienated land in the Northern Territory. It established how land claims can be argued before an Aboriginal Land Commissioner and, if upheld, provided for title to the land to be granted to an Aboriginal Land Trust. It established Aboriginal Land Councils which managed communally on behalf of all Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006 was introduced to the House of Representatives on 31 May 2006 and passed with amendments on 19 June 2006. When it was introduced before the Senate on 20 June 2006, the Selection of Bills Committee recommended that the Bill be referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legal Committee to be reported by 1 August 2006. The Committee gave a little over two weeks to provide written submissions to be lodged by 12 July 2006. It held one public hearing in Darwin on 21 July 2006.

The Senate Community Affairs Legal Committee's Report stated that the time made available for this inquiry was totally inadequate. There was insufficient time for many groups to prepare submissions and one single public hearing prevented the Committee hearing from a number of witnesses.

The Committee, among others, recommended that the Government commit to further negotiations and dissemination of information on provisions which have not yet been the subject of the broad consultation processes, among others, with the Northern Territory government, Land Councils, traditional owners and communities likely to be affected by the Bill.

The Government failed to hold any discussion as it rammed through the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2006 in the Senate on 17 August 2006. The government made 63 amendments to the Bill but did not accept a single recommendation from the NGOs – meaning indigenous peoples views were thrown out.

The Bill received the Royal Assent on 5 September 2006 and became a law.

Moreover, before the Amendment Act came into effect on 1 October 2006, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs announced on 12 September 2006 the reconsideration of the permit system for entry onto Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. The Government released a discussion paper outlining proposed changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment Act and related legislation titled Access to Aboriginal Land under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act - Time for Change?

Those who are desirous of extinguishing aborigines' land rights were invited to comment by 28 February 2007.

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