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NEWS: Vancouver Island First Nations take case to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Oct. 28

Postmedia News reports, “The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, made up of six Vancouver Island First Nations (Cowichan Tribes, Lake Cowichan, Halalt, Penelakut, Lyackson and Stz’uminus), will have its human rights complaint heard Oct. 28 by the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The treaty group is accusing Canada of violating the human rights of its 6,400 members by ‘failing to recognize and protect their rights to property, culture and religion’. The commission’s decision to hear the case is unprecedented and a ruling in favour of Hul’qumi’num could affect treaty-making throughout Canada, said Robert Morales, the treaty group’s chief negotiator. …Among groups supporting the HTG petition are Amnesty International and the Assembly of First Nations.”

“At the heart of the complaint is more than 830,000 hectares on Vancouver Island’s east coast that was handed to the E&N Railway in 1884 as payment for constructing a line from Victoria to Comox. About 270,000 hectares of the land, most of which has now been developed or is owned by forestry companies, makes up the traditional territory of Hul’qumi’num bands. First Nations were allocated only small reserves but, even though there is little remaining Crown land in the area, the federal government says private lands are not on the table during treaty negotiations. …Robert Williams Jr., HTG lead counsel, said in a statement that a positive decision would prove that Canada’s ‘land claims policy needs to be scrapped in favour of a process that complies with international human rights standards’.”

With respect to the right to water, the Council of Canadians noted in a May 2011 blog that the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining were submitting a petition to the same OAS human rights commission over a uranium mine that would contaminate the drinking water for 15,000 Navajo residents in the area. The New York Times reported then that, “The New Mexico Environmental Law Center says, ‘It’s always been our client’s position that clean water is a human right.’ The United Nations also recognizes clean water as a human right…”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States. The IACHR is a permanent body, with headquarters in Washington, DC, and meets several times a year to examine allegations of human rights violations in the hemisphere. Its human rights duties stem from three documents: 1) the OAS Charter, 2) the American Convention on Human Rights; 3) the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (which predates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by less than a year).

Given the ongoing violations of the human right to water and sanitation in First Nations communities in Canada, and this Amnesty International and Assembly of First Nations backed challenge by a First Nation at the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, there may be merit to exploring this body as a way to advance the right to water and sanitation in Canada.