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Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999 00:58:59 -0400
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Human Rights in an Interdependent World

A speech by Rigoberta Menchu,
Thursday 28 September 1995

Introduction: Will U.N. Honour Be Mere Lip Service?

By Diego Cevallos, 27 January 1996

Mexico CITY, Jan 26, 1995 - The United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Peoples will depend more on the ongoing struggle of native organisations than governments' participation, according to Nobel Peace Prizewinner Rigoberta Menchu.

The Guatemalan indigenous leader said, we will demonstrate that we are flourishing cultures, and are changing the 'cultural pollution' we are submitted to and the image of backwardness and poverty that has been thrust upon us.

The United Nations proclaimed the International Decade of the Indigenous Peoples of the World on Dec. 10, calling on governments to address the problems of native populations.

It was not increased government awareness that led to the declaration of the decade, but rather action and campaigns by the indigenous peoples themselves. Governments are not interested, and this must be acknowledged, Menchu said.

She explained that the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, a campaign against an agrarian law in Ecuador and native protests in Bolivia were responsible for raising the profile of indigenous issues.

Last year, Menchu and 19 other Latin American indigenous leaders created the Indigenous Initiative for Peace, a list of goals for the decade with a demand that the United Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS) issue declarations on indigenous rights.

They also stressed the importance of strengthening links between the indigenous cultures of North and South America, calling for research and other promotional projects.

The United Nations' Indigenous Rights document has remained in draft form since the 1980s.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee will review the final version in February, but Menchu said, we are not very optimistic of its chances of approval....Several countries, like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia and the United States are completely intransigent on the issue.

'They do not want to recognise indigenous peoples' rights and value, or our (right to) legal, educational and territorial self determination, she said, adding that governments have created the myth that such a declaration would lead indigneous people to rise up against whites and other races.

An estimated 75 million native people were killed during the first 200 years of colonisation, while 80 percent of the 41.7 million indigenous people in the Americas today live in poverty.

Human Rights in an Interdependent World

I am truly very surprised, I am surprised to see so much power in this room, I am talking about political power, economic power, scientific power, academic power. I see many women here, I see women power too, but I also see the youth power. I think this is how we can go about changing the world. It is truly significant that we can have such an extraordinary meeting as this one. Many years ago this type of a meeting would have been next to impossible, especially before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and especially during the decade of the 80's. I would like to say to you that I am not going to come here and fill you heads with statistics, and I am not going to tell you how many millions of women die each year, how many millions of children die. I am not going to talk about how many women have been raped, in armed warfare, and I am not going to bring you statistics either regarding how many frustrated youths throughout the world. And I am not going to talk about destruction of our countries, and the conflicts that we have in each one of our countries.

Rather, I would like to dream together with you. I would like to dream about the future because all of this statistical data, I think at least , you know all of these statistics very well.You have evaluated them, you have analyzed them, and I think you have tried to find a significance of what all of this world uncertainly is, and means, in which we all share. The most important thing is not only to have a passive hope we cannot just say, oh, I have great hope in the future, as if this would be the utopia, a very far away utopia. Rather, I would like to share with all of you, the need that we all have to dream in a concrete way, in a very direct manner. To find out how we can resolve the great challenges that we face today. There is an ancient old thought amongst indigenous people. This is a thought that has given us life, and has given us strength over many thousands of years. I am talking about the value of the community of the collective human group. Many times I heard about the community, I hear people talking about the community, and I stop and think and I feel that we each use a different language.Community means balance. How do we balance between good and evil? How do we balance success and triumph? How do we balance it off against the great failures that bring so much pain to humanity? Therefore, you must be much more objective, we must be more objective with our own reality and with our own knowledge. This way we will be bringing forth, we will be seeding, we will be planting, a truly realistic vision to our youth and to all those women who will take our place along the road in a very short time. We know that in the last few years the gap has grown wider, the gap between the rich and the poor, this enormous gap between the mutual respect and the corruption and corrupt power, and the loss of so many values. What should we do, and what can we do so that those great losses can be once again reseeded in a more humble people, and in a more open heart, and in a more open mind for the future?

I have sat down and thought about this. Perhaps we have been the protagonist of the 20th century, and tomorrow we will all belong to last century, and it will be our youth that will have to value whatever good and evil we have done. What I wish to say today is that I am 100% convinced of the fact that we have a moral debt with all of humanity, we have a social debt with all of humanity, and how must we now begin to pay this debt? Not necessarily pay it as if in the last decades things have been paid for. How do we open the road so that this debt that some people are more guilty of it than other, but never the less, it is our debt. It is our total debt. I think that this is what unites us in this Forum, and therefore, I wish to congratulate from the bottom of my heart the Gorbachev Foundation, and I salute President Gorbachev because I am here sharing with you, and that he is here sharing with all of us and that he has been able to bring together all these different powers, and when I say powers, I mean powers because we have indigenous people here too, there are millions of us here on this continent.

And our people are probably waiting and hoping to have a more fraternal and a more just and fair world, but above all, we have to make the commitment to mother earth and we have to make a commitment toward the quality of life that all of us human beings want and need on this earth. I think that the hope today, and I am talking about not only thinking about what great thoughts man has emitted over the year and has been our guide for the future. I am talking about really thinking about this. Create a common language where all of us human beings will speak the same way, and therefore, we won't use so many languages , we have gotten to the point that we cannot even understand each other anymore. It is necessary to rescue the value of sincerity, of an honest word because then we will be able to dream about a future for all of us.

I am just a child when I compare the experience of all of you. First of all, I am not entrepreneurial, I am not a business woman, I don't even know how to manage a statistical data base from a company, I am not a politician, I have never negotiated, for example, whether the Bosnia war should stop or not or if Yugoslavia's war should stop. I am talking about those great responsibilities that I have never been apart of.Therefore, I would like to only give you a very simple testimony from all those humble people who perhaps were never heard, and who perhaps were also abandoned when great decisions had to be taken that would affect all of humanity.

I feel highly honored to be here with you because we the indigenous people are living and going on with our lives. This is despite racism, and despite exclusion ,and we have gone through many many things that humanity will never be able to compensate or make up for, the only compensation is, as I said before, to create the enthusiasm once again in our people. I see some problems that I think we should take up during this Forum.

First of all, the creditability of our institutions. Whom do we believe and whom don't we believe in the public institutions. I am talking about the context of all the tools in the world. I am talking about the lack of creditability. Many people have ask me in academic centers, in universities, students have come up to me and have asked very challenging questions. And they said Mrs. Menchu, you go to all these great world conferences, the Vienna World Conference in Copenhagen, in Beijing, and you were there with thousands of women who went to Beijing ,and they ask me, What were the agreement you reached?

And I stop to think and I say well, I start to give them a list of all the agreements and I realize that I was not really aware of all the agreements that were reach. And then what is more important, how to apply these agreements, how can we make sure that these are implemented in a simple manner that is approachable and that all of humanity can benefit? Therefore, this is the beginning of the process of a lack of creditability. How can we rescue the frustration of so many young people, of so many women? How are we going to rescue the frustration of so much of the population? And this is a population that is the majority of the population in the world.If we don't address this problem, we can suffer no conflicts, worse conflicts, because each conflict has always had a cause.

Many of us would like to hide what are the true causes of the conflicts around the world. But we know that all these are rooted in causes, and history has a memory. How can we avoid new conflicts? How and what can we do, so that in each one of our countries, we can have a renaissance of this citizen's enthusiasm and that the citizens can believe in the solution, dialogue in a rational solution for the problems. I think that at this point, we cannot resolve all the problems in the world, it should really be an act of faith towards the future. I came here as an act of faith. I said to myself this is a very important meeting. I hope that the different players, that the different actors that are playing in this, we have leaders here, we have leaders that hold a lot of power in their hands.

What can we do so that we can integrate all of these steps that are going to be taken, taking into the account the population, the feeling, etc. including the concepts of reconciliation. I can imagine the moment when we will begin this reconciliation.Which is the most important truths?What is the most important truth? How can we integrate all these different truths? When I speak about reconciliation, what I have in mind is the people of Yugoslavia, the people of Somalia, the people in Rwanda, and the people in Central America, in America and in this our continent. A great deal of injustice have been committed in this continent, too. And these injustices have to once again, have a fabric that can be woven together to strengthen the fabric of society. It would be an offense to try to catalogue these difference people or try to model them, or try to modify them at this moment. I understand that conferences such as these serve as a process of rashprosmont of humanity, especially as a process of re-construction, and this process will again have to go through many generations.

The most important thing perhaps is to be aware of the fact that the world is full of uncertainty and all of us are uncertain about our future.Therefore, let us begin to invest. What would happen if all of the world's big companies and middle companies would dedicate a certain investment into social work? I am talking about building a very small village, a very small hospital, or building a great big hospital, and thus trying to achieve a balance, I think we have lost this balance. I have sworn and truly , I tell you the truth, I have sworn before many many people that I am not against science or technology, I value this as a great progress, and as a great quality for humanity. These are the wonderful wise things that humanity has discovered, but what I question is, this science and technology, is in whose hands? How is this science and technology used? Who is it favoring? Is it going to favor all of humanity? Yes or no? So if we are going to be critical about a certain subject it doesn't mean that we don't value what this really means for humanity.

About 2 weeks ago, I was in a small village in Guatemala, this is where I come from. And many many people came, a lot of people came from the small villages, and larger villages, and larger cities, there was a mass of people that congregated there, and spoke different languages. I felt a chill down my spine because in that area there has been a lot of war, there has been a lot of violence, and a lot of discord in the lives of all these people, but I had to bear this. And later, two women appeared, they came up to me, they said hello, I gave them their autograph and we had a very pleasant time. And them after that one of my brothers said to me, you know one of these ladies are the ones, these two women are the ones that told on our mother, and that why our mother was arrested and tortured and murdered.And to me this was very difficult, it was very difficult for me to look at these two women, and say they are alive, and mother is dead because they betrayed her. If I would have know this before, I probably would not have been as nice to them, I probably would not have wanted to say hello to them, or give them my autograph.

What I wish to point out by giving you this antidote, is that we have to face many, and much more concrete actions that have to be taken, so that we can really achieve the best for humanity I believe in education. I understand that most of us have a more global vision of humanity. We have a more ample vision of humanity, but I think all of us need a little more general education. I am talking about an education about the different experiences in today's world, and I think that thus we will be able to find the answer of our future. Therefore, I have come here to exhort you to work together.

Let us not think about the painful past, it is true, but let's not forget the past because that will always be a lesson that we have learned in our lives and in our work , but let us look about how best to unify our effort for the future. When I see in my country that elections are coming up, and something has to be done to make sure that people participate, to make sure that the ones that have never before participated in an election should do so now. When I see all this, I realize that in some areas there is 30% or 40% of women who have no identification, they aren't registered, their disenfranchised. And I tell the people, come and vote but they don't have the means. I think that it is very important to take into account that there are many many millions of us this world. The poor people have not always been the obstacle towards development, the obstacles have lain in many other areas where the great decisions are taken.

I wish this conference all the best in the world. It called my attention to see that this was the first such conference, the first State of the World Forum.This means that every time, more and more we will be able to come together and meet again. The indigenous people of America, the indigenous people of the world are alive and very hopeful and very willing to participate, and to try to show whatever knowledge we have and to share our experiences. This is all I want to say to you. I hope that none of you have gone to sleep. I hope that you enjoyed your lunch, and I wish to invite all of you to come to Guatemala, and hopefully we will be able to also visit the different people and countries where we can learn a lot by their life and their culture.

There is a theme here that I think is missing after listening to some of the presentation. I am talking about the challenge of diversity. The diversity issue has been discussed, but not in depth. I am talking about the cultural diversity, and the need of ideological diversity. We need the diversity of more participation of the youth, of the aged population, of different people, in order to construct and develop a future. Also, think about the diversity of our people, of our countries, we are all very diverse, we women don't want to be apart, something apart from humanity, I mean, we are women, and we women are the mother of the other half of the world population. So therefore, it seems to be very necessary to update this challenge of diversity.This way maybe we can take up the issue of racism which is rampant in our world today, but also in this manner, perhaps we might be able to find other rules of the game that will allow us all to live respectfully with each other.

The target of the international decade of indigenous people is to find new relations with indigenous people, and not indigenous people based on your total respect, and try to find new relationships based on respect, and not by one culture imposing itself on another culture. Therefore, we will only too happy to spoke in the workshops.We hope there we will be able to speak more in depth. The best of luck to you and I hope you all enjoyed your lunch.

Thank you very much.