Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Attawapiskat: could economic sanctions against Canada work?

Recently the James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued a statement Tuesday saying he wrote to the Harper government Canada to express my deep concern about the dire social and economic condition of the Attawapiskat First Nation, which exemplifies the conditions of many aboriginal communities in the country." More

NDP MP Charlie Angus has urged that Anaya visit Attawapiskat to view the living conditions there for himself. In an open letter to Anaya, he urges the rapporteur to visit some First Nations communities personally. Angus goes on to outline a long list of inequities and human rights violations that have plagued not only Attawapiskat, but other First Nations communities, everything from tainted water to chemical spills to inequities in access to education. His letter also outlines how differently the government responds to these crises in First Nations communities compared to how it has responded to similar crises in non-native communities.

But ultimately – even if Anaya visits, he cannot force sovereign governments to enact or change policies, and can only issue reports to publicly shame the government before the international community.

And the Harper government has so far dismissed Anaya’s letter as a publicity stunt.
The Harper government will never move on human rights issues for the sake of human rights.
In my fantasy world, I would love for the UN Security Council or even individual states to impose economic sanctions against Canada, targeting those resources extracted from First Nations traditional territory where no resource revenue sharing agreement is implemented. Diamonds, lumber products, oil all resources commonly extracted from traditional lands. Every year multinationals, provinces and federal governments earn millions of dollars, through revenues or tax revenues, while First Nations land claims remain unsettled, and the communities fall further into poverty and dependence.

It's only through settling these economic agreements that have cut First Nations from their traditional source of wealth, the land, and kept them from participating in the transition to the modern methods of extracting wealth that First Nations can ever escape poverty and dependance. First Nations know this. ANd to some extent they have gained support among some industries. Industries want certainty about thier ability to conduct business and do not want to be embarrassed or have people panning their products for human rights abuses. But it's not happeneing quickly enough, and the process gets little support from governments who seem determined to get the best deals for industry regardless of whose rights or what social/environmental concerns they must step on to get deals for thier buddies and their own take of the revenues.

It’s true that sanctions don’t always lead to a quick resolution of issues, but they do create internal and diplomatic pressures on governments. Whether it’s South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Libya, Haiti, or Iraq, sanctions may not bring about immediate compliance but they have been a first step in forcing dialogue and convincing governments to come to the negotiating table. Besides what else can you do with a government like Harpers that governs without a social or moral conscience besides hit its pocket books and those of its corporate friends?


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