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Survival International Spotlights Tribal Rights Abuses

  • Kim Lewis

An Omo woman and her children outside their home on the banks of Ethiopia’s Omo River

An Omo woman and her children outside their home on the banks of Ethiopia’s Omo River

December 10 was U.N. Human Rights Day, marking 63 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global expression of the rights of all human beings.

One of the groups that works for human rights is Survival International, which focuses its attention - and the spotlight - on tribal peoples worldwide.

The organization is observing the occasion by releasing a list ten tribal rights abuses, including the theft of children, executions, massacres, denial of voting rights and denial of access to water.

It says these abuses are systematic and many occur far from the public eye.

“Because these kinds of societies are often quite small in numbers, they very often don’t get the publicity and press attention that more well-known ones do, which generally involve much larger numbers of people,” said Jonathan Mazower, head of research and advocacy for Survival International.

In addition, said Mazower, tackling some of the human rights abuses of tribal people can take years because some of the issues are so complex.

“What nearly all tribal people have in common is that they have very rich resources either on their land or under their land that governments or outside corporations want. Either it’s timber, mineral wealth, oil wealth, under the ground, or it might be damming their rivers for hydro-electricity,” said Mazower.

An example of a human rights issue that has taken years to resolve is the long battle by Africa’s Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert with governments wanting their land for commercial development. With the help of Survival, the Bushmen finally won their right to return to their ancestral homeland.

“They had to endure a further court battle to actually get the right to water,” said Mazower.
A diamond mining company on the land has funded some of the drilling of boreholes for water for the Bushmen.

But Mazower says it is dismaying that the Bushmen have been left on their own, forced to seek help from mining companies, when the governments should be filling that most basic service.

Click on audio to hear entire interview.