United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Professor James Anaya’s Closing Remarks from the “Consultation with the United Nations Expert on the Desecration of Hmong Graves”
I want to thank all those who provided testimonies. It’s been very moving and in addition to enlightening and I must say, disturbing. Disturbing while the same time encouraging to see the courage and the determination by the people to have their rights respected and the violation of their rights vindicated. It’s inspiring really, and so I want to thank you for that and those of you who testified. I also want to thank the students who just presented arguments about the legal aspect of this situation and arguments that assert a violation of human rights law and thus then if those arguments are accepted it attach international legal responsibility to the Thai Government. What I have heard are accounts that are very serious and accounts of assault to culture, assault to a people, that can only be fully understood in light of the kind of testimonies I’ve heard that reveals the particular significance of death, the passing of life, the funeral ceremony, the grave itself, and the ongoing spiritual connections that people have to that grave and to the life that that grave represents. I do understand the seriousness of these allegations, certainly not fully. I think in order to fully understand them, one must actually live the Hmong culture. It’s impossible for an outsider like me to understand it. But that only puts greater responsibility on me to look upon the Hmong, as I am called upon and must look at other cultures with full respect, understanding that there are differences. With those differences come limitations and understanding. With that understanding of our limitations in our understandings, we must then take extra care when matters of cultural integrity are at stake.
What will I do with this information? I am called upon by the United Nations Human Rights Council to do precisely what I have been doing here today, investigate allegations of human rights violations by talking to the people affected in addition to engaging with the governments who are the subjects of such allegations. So this is a very meaningful opportunity for me to hear directly from the people affected, to hear their accounts of what has happened. I must say that I did my best to learn about this situation by reading the documents that were presented to me but there is no substitute for hearing directly from the people concerned.
I want to thank you for your courage and coming and testifying and for your forthrightness and for those who had worked so hard to provide this opportunity. My mandate comes from the United Nations Human Rights Council which many of you know is the main organ of the United Nations system charged with promoting the human rights of all. It is an intergovernmental body, it is a political body. It is made up of U.N member-states. They appoint Special Rapporteurs in a number of
subject areas in order to act as an independent source of inquiry and of recommendations; an independent source of interactions and dialogue on matters of human rights. The understanding, I think, underlying this system is that this political body, this body made up of states, needs independent perspectives. And so it relies, on principle at least, on the system of Special Rapporteurs to provide an independent perspective, independent from any state, independent from any political agenda, independent of the directors of any particular interested party. That is what this independence is about, so it relies on the system of Special Rapporteurs to provide this independent perspective. So that’s what I’m hear trying to do, access the situation on an independent basis and on that basis then precede to make any appropriate recommendations and take any appropriate actions. Pursuit to my mandate, I must act appropriately when I encounter human rights violations, that includes communicating them to the government concerned or to the parties concerned. Already, as you know, as I think most of you or many of you know, this matter has gone to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through my predecessor Dr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen who was before me the U.N Special Rapporteur on indigenous people. Communication about this situation was submitted to him in 2006 or 2007 I believe it was, no, it’s 2006. And in fact, there has been the response by the Thai Government. But this, this information will be the basis for further interactions with the Thai Government. That is something I commit to do, to raise these concerns with the government and after hearing from them, I will formulate an opinion, views, and communicate those views to the government and to the Human Rights Council in a report that will be made public and available for you. That is something, that is something I commit to do.
Furthermore, I will to the extent possible, engage the Thai Government in our discussion that I hope could lead to some appropriate measure that could, if not, entirely resolve the situation and indeed as I’ve heard it’s impossible to completely resolve this situation, it’s impossible to heal the pain, entirely heal the wounds. And if not doing that, at least take measures that will help restore some level of dignity and some level of trust and perhaps some level of understanding, mutual understanding, between the Hmong people and the rest of the Thai society and the rest of the society in this world. I don’t think that the Thai Government should be singled out for this kind of thing. Of course, it is the government in this territory where this has happened and if these allegations are true than there’s some level of responsibility. But we’re talking about a phenomenon as you know that is world wide, the phenomenon of discrimination against indigenous people which included desecration of burial sites that has happened, as it’s been mentioned before, not just regard to the Hmong people but it has happened to indigenous people across the globe, including indigenous people in this country. And it is part of a pattern of discrimination, a part of a dehumanization of indigenous people as it has occurred overtime. Part of that simply disregard for the humanity of indigenous people that is an unfortunate consequence of encounter between cultures in many instances when one tries to dominate the other. And it is unfortunate when those things continue to happen. It’s one thing for them to have happened in the past and to leave lasting wounds but another thing for those things to happen in very resent memory and to continue to happen. So, this is a matter of concern that you can rest assure that I will address.
Let me just conclude by again expressing my admiration for those who testified and also my admiration for those who helped put this together. And to the public officials who have intervened in a way that I think has been exemplary and essential and I could only wish that this kind of interaction among people who are affected by human rights violations, the academic world and the world of public service could be repeated. If that were the half of it we wouldn’t have human rights violations, at least not as many, if we saw this kind of interactions that is occurring here. So I heard about this legendary exemplary cooperation that happens in Minnesota to promote human rights, not only hear at home but around the world and I want to applaud that and encourage, and I will mention that as well in my report to the Human Rights Council, and encourage it to be replicated in other parts of the world. And encourage this kind of public, academic, private, indigenous cooperation interaction. And finally, thank you again for inviting me to be here. It’s truly been a privilege and an honor. Thank you.
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