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US New Enemy: Indigenous Peoples

Published: February 23, 2010, Author: MHirch

The US Supreme Court heard arguments today reported by the news media as an issue of US Constitutional First Amendment Rights. The Courts decision will have much larger implications if it decides in favor the US Justice Departments arguments that seek to enforce the US Government’s Patriot Act (hastily enacted by the US Congress after nineteen Saudi Arabian nations crashed two civilian passenger jets into the symbol of US Capitalism–World Trade Towers–in September 2001) against the Humanitarian Law Project.  If the court agrees with the US government lawyer, anyone who attempts to assist indigenous peoples’ organizations listed by the US Department of State as terrorists shall be considered in violation of provisions of the Patriot Act.

The case before the court involves the Humanitarian Law Project that has worked to promote non-violent effort by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an indigenous Kurdish organization seeking separation from Turkey, to bring before the United Nations human-rights complaints against the government of Turkey.  The argument is that such assistance by human rights workers and attorneys constitutes “training” of persons identified by the US Department of State as terrorists–an act prohibited by the US Patriot Act.  The Humanitarian Law Project also had the temerity to offer similar help to another indigenous group–the Tamil Eelam–seeking to file a human rights petition to the UN.

If the court decides in favor of the US government’s position, many individuals, organizations and even governments will be designated as giving aid to terrorists when they attempt to arrange peaceful solutions to state and indigenous conflicts where the US government has itself designated the indigenous group a “terrorist organization.” (It should be noted that the US government does not actually have a consistent criteria for listing organizations.)

In 2001 I became deeply worried when the US Department of State under the George Bush Administration began compiling a list of “terrorist organizations.”  This list originally had only one organization–al Qaeda.  It was later amended to include Hamas and then eventually even the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This list is the equivalent of a “witch hunt list” or “red communist” list of the 1950s.  It is borne from hysteria … not clear, well thought out policy.  The Tamil Eelam never threatened the United States government.  It is and was an organization originally created to defend the Tamil from the majority Sri population.  Tamil Nadu–just across the straits in India–is a large population of Tamils with a distinct culture that reaches deep into the ancient past clearly related to Tamil Eelam.  The Kurds have never threatened United States security either directly or indirectly.  Despite the fact that both are indigenous groups fighting or seeking separation or self-determination in relations with a state created on top of them the US government has unwisely chosen to invoke its laws to prevent peaceful solutions to longstanding disputes.

The US Supreme Court risks creating a new legal regime that effectively outlaws political self-determination. In the instance of Uygurs in China, Kurds in Turkey and Iran, Baluchis and Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan and hundreds of others seeking to elevate their political status under the universally recognized principle of self-determination, the United States Administration and judiciary stand perilously close to undermining international law and the fundamental rights declared in both the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  If the court chooses to ignore international law and instead favor the application of an hysterically conceived domestic law the decision will undermine the US Constitution and the United States place as a lawful member of the international community.

The United States will make indigenous peoples its enemy instead of allies. The United States government should be working to find peaceful solutions to self-determination disputes instead of punishing those who work to apply human rights principles, the rule of law and non-violence.

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