Working for indigenous recognition in French Guyana

For Aulagéa Therese, coming to Geneva has been an opportunity to learn how to connect indigenous activism with human rights.

“I really wanted to participate in that programme to learn about the different mechanisms at the UN level, so that as a young indigenous person I am more equipped to discuss important matters related to my people with French authorities” he said.

Therese, 25, was in Geneva recently as a participant of the 2016 UN Human Rights Office Indigenous Fellowship Programme.  The programme was launched in 1997 to offer indigenous youth the opportunity to learn more about the United Nations human rights system and how it can assist in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

When fellows return to their communities, they can use this knowledge to help promote and advance the human rights of indigenous peoples in their countries, said Estelle Salavin, who coordinates the programme.

 “The programme enables them to participate in sessions of human rights mechanisms, to build networks and alliances with the Office, other UN interlocutors, NGOs, indigenous peoples and to approach Government representatives in Geneva” she said. “They get inspired by one another, share experiences and common concerns. Many feel they are not alone, which gives them further strength to advocate for their rights.”

Therese reported that the Kali’na community living in French Guyana is confronted with illegal gold mining, which destroys forests, pollutes the environment and negatively affects indigenous children’s health. Lack of access to education and birth registration because of the remoteness of some communities remain of serious concern.  

“The struggle for indigenous rights in French Guyana started a long time ago,” Therese said. “But we noticed a regression in the respect and fulfilment of our rights, so we have had to rethink our strategies. My organization has asked me to make a link between the French legislative framework and the international human rights norms and jurisprudence related to indigenous peoples.   This is what motivated me to apply for this fellowship.”

He also added that his organization, the Fédération des Organisations Autochtones de Guyane (FOAG), was calling for the creation of a public institution dedicated to indigenous peoples.

When he returns home, Therese plans to host a series of workshops to pass on what he has learned with members not just of his organization but with others working for indigenous peoples’ rights in the region.

The story is one of a series to celebrate The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 9 August 2016. This year the celebration is devoted to the right of education, which is protected by a number of international human rights instruments.

12 August 2016

See also