Courtesy U.S. Mission Geneva/Eric Bridiers
Keith Harper, Cherokee Nation citizen and U.S. Human Rights Ambassador to the United Nations. (www.flickr.com/photos/us-mission)

US Ambassador Keith Harper: Violence Against Indigenous Women ‘Global Scourge’

Gale Courey Toensing
6/24/14

Describing violence against indigenous women and girls as a “global scourge,” Keith Harper, the United States ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, called on the world peace organization to use everything in its toolbox to address the problem and urged the upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to raise awareness of it throughout the U.N. system.

“As we prepare for the upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, we express great concern that indigenous women and girls often suffer multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and poverty that increase their vulnerability to all forms of violence. We also stress the need to seriously address the high and disproportionate rates of violence, which takes many forms, against indigenous women and girls worldwide,” Harper said on Tuesday (June 24) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. ”Indigenous women and girls have the same human rights and fundamental freedoms as everyone else, and a common recognition of those rights must underpin efforts to address violence against indigenous women and girls.

The remarks were delivered in a Joint Statement on Eliminating Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls on behalf of 35 of the council’s 47 member states – Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Congo, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, St Kitts and Nevis, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Harper and his team led the effort to draft the statement, working with the 35 different countries to come up with a statement that all of them agreed on, a staff member at the U.S. Mission said. Since the U.S. led the process, the U.S. ambassador read the statement before the council, the staff member said.

One of the key elements to stopping violence against indigenous women and girls is providing access to justice systems, Harper said. “Improving access to justice and empowering Indigenous Peoples are critical to this effort,” he said. Given that access, Indigenous Peoples themselves may well be in the best position to combat violence against indigenous women and girls, Harper noted. “They are closer and better able to address the issue when provided with tools and the legal capability to stop the violence. We will strive to, and encourage other states to, where appropriate, enable and empower Indigenous Peoples to better address these issues themselves by providing resources, adopting legislation and policies, and taking other necessary steps in an effort to stop the cycle of violence that affects them,” he said. He also stressed the need for coordination and dialogue between state and indigenous justice institutions to help improve indigenous women and girls’ access to justice and bolster awareness campaigns, including ones directed at men and boys.

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