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  United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, 18th Session,
July 24 - July 28, 2000
Agenda item 4:  "Indigenous Children and Youth”  
Oral Intervention by the International Indian Treaty Council  
Presented by Elisabeth Garrett, IITC Youth Program Coordinator

Thank you Madame Chair.   In keeping with the overall theme of this session of the Working Group, the IITC would like to address the devastating human rights impacts of toxic contamination on the health of our children, youth and future generations.  

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), currently a focus of standard setting by the UN Environmental Program, and a focal point of discussion within the framework on the Convention  on Climate Change, are man-made, carbon-based chemical compounds which bioaccumulate in the tissues of living organisms.  They persist for long periods of time in the environment and the food chain before they decompose.  

POPs include industrial chemicals like PCBs, pesticides like DDT and by-products of industrial manufacturing and waste disposal, such as dioxins.  A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that POPs are among the most toxic substances ever created, with proven adverse impact on humans'  abilities to have children by limiting the normal growth of the reproductive organs.  Clinical health effects include a marked increase in diabetes, hormone-based disorders, behavioural and learning disabilities, central nervous system damage, cancers, and diseases of the immune system.  

The widespread proliferation of POPS in the atmosphere and ecosystems presents a particularly critical threat to Indigenous peoples, whose cultures, health and well-being is based on subsistence ways of life such as hunting, fishing, gathering and traditional farming throughout the world.    POPs tend to deposit in the colder regions of the world where the air is denser.   They store in the fatty tissues of fish, marine and land mammals, which form a large part of the diet of Arctic Peoples.  The Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report prepared by all eight Arctic nations showed that levels of POPs in some Inuit is ten to twenty times greater than those tested in warmer temperate regions.  Residues of POPs, such as PCBs, DDT, and dioxins were found in blood, fat and mother's breast milk.  

POPS pass directly through the mother's placenta to her unborn child.  Research on children and women who regularly eat large amounts of POPs -  contaminated fish from Lake Michigan of the Great Lakes of North America resulting from dumping of industrial wastes, found observable and measurable behavioural effects and learning deficits passed on from one generation to the next.   In the United States and Canada where the Mohawk Indian Peoples traditionally consume large amount of fish, Mohawk women have today been found to carry over 10,000 parts per million of PCB in their bodies that is passed on to their future generations in the womb and through breast milk. In the warmer climates of Mexico and Central America, DDT and other hazardous commercial pesticides banned for use in northern industrialized countries are still being imported and used in agricultural practices, which in many countries still include aerial spraying exposing workers and surrounding communities directly.   In 1997 in Sonora, Mexico, a study was conducted by a University of Arizona scientist in homelands of the Yaqui Indians, an area targeted by the so-called  “ green revolution”   policies of the Mexican Rural Bank for high pesticide and chemical fertilizer use since the late 1940' s.  Here again, children are the most seriously affected.  This study detected high levels of multiple pesticides in the cord blood of newborns and in mothers'  milk.  The study found severe learning and development disabilities in Yaqui children living in farming areas where years of high pesticide use contaminated water and soil, compared to children from the hillside areas with less intensive or no exposure.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 24, recognizes the right of children to the enjoyment of the highest standard of health and mandates that state parties “ shall pursue full implementation of this right ”  and take appropriate measures to combat disease and malnutrition… “ through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution”.   The IITC urges the members of the Working Group to call upon state parties to this Convention to seriously reflect upon their responsibilities in this regard.

In additional to toxics known as POPs, other form of industry - created contaminates also specifically target children and the unborn in communities dependent on the natural surroundings for their subsistence.   Earlier this month in the United States, the National Academy of Sciences released a study concluding that an estimated 60,000 babies born each year in the US face serious threats of leaning disabilities and other forms of neurological damage due to mercury contaminations.   The primary cause is consumption of contaminated fish by pregnant women living in the Great Lakes, Northeast and other regions of the country.  The Academy concluded that there is "little or no margin of safely”   for the consumption of mercury, which has been freely released into rivers and lakes by coal-fired power plant emissions, by women of childbearing age.

Cleary, the impacts of the continued production and proliferation of Persistent Organic Pollutants and other industrially produced toxins prevent Indigenous Peoples from the full enjoyment of the highest attainable human rights standards recognized by existing international instruments, either by depriving them of their means of subsistence or by putting their health and the viability of their future generations at serious risk.  The threat to the quality of life, health and reproductive capability of our future generations is no less than genocidal.  Meanwhile, corporations and state governments continue to make deliberate decisions to contaminate our communities and eco-systems based on self-serving economic factors, which put our lives and futures at serous risk.

Madame chair, our delegation requests the members of the WGIP to inform the upcoming session of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights about the serious ongoing human rights impacts of POPs and other toxic contaminates on Indigenous communities, especially upon our children and the unborn.  We call upon the Subcommission to recognize these devastating impacts and to encourage further in depth study as to how this serous human rights concern can be most effectively addressed.    
Thank you, for all our relations.


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