Remarks at a UN Third Committee Meeting on Agenda Item 69: Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Jason Mack
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
October 11, 2019


Thank you Mr. Chair. Under the agenda item “Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” it is appropriate to call attention to the continuing violence, discrimination, persecution, and human rights abuses that indigenous peoples face around the world. Indigenous peoples themselves are outspoken critics of these abuses, while also being subject to attempts to discredit indigenous human rights defenders. For example, at this past spring’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII), Dolkun Isa of the World Uighur Congress criticized the Chinese government’s policy of ending bilingual education in Xinjiang. In response, the Chinese delegation made unfounded and inappropriate accusations against him. We see this as part of a disturbing pattern in which China seeks to suppress the voices of religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples. They should be able to stand before the United Nations and other international fora to share their experiences without intimidation or harassment.

The Chinese government has continued its highly repressive campaign against its indigenous populations – including Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang. We estimate that since April 2017, the Chinese government has detained over one million individuals in internment camps for periods of months to years. They are forced to renounce their ethnic identities, religious beliefs, or cultural and religious practices, and are subjected to forced labor, torture, inhumane conditions, and even death. China’s assertion that detention is necessary to counter violent extremism is not credible in light of known facts, and its policies are likely to fuel the very resentment and radicalization to violence the policy proportedly seeks to avoid. Chinese authorities harass Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other members of Muslim minority groups abroad, in order to compel them to return to Xinjiang or to keep silent about the human rights situation there. China is also pressuring governments to return asylum-seekers belonging to these groups.

We ask those governments who have asylum-seekers in custody belonging to these groups to give the UN office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to them, in order to assess their protection needs and provide assistance.

We are also concerned about the ongoing abuses against indigenous peoples in Venezuela. According to a July report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), there are abuses of indigenous peoples’ collective rights to their traditional lands and resources. Their traditional lands have been militarized, and in recent years the state’s presence has led to violence, insecurity, illness, and environmental degradation. Often-illicit mining operations in Venezuela’s indigenous communities have disproportionately affected indigenous women and girls, who are at increased risk for sexual assault, exploitation, and human trafficking. State actors have threatened and attacked indigenous authorities and leaders, including women. In Bolivar State, Pemon communities – particularly indigenous authorities and leaders – who oppose the Maduro regime face targeted repression by State actors. OHCHR has documented seven deaths of indigenous individuals under violent circumstances in 2019. The regime must cease such attacks on Venezuela’s indigenous community and respect the human rights of all people in Venezuela.

Thank you.