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Indigenous Peoples

new internationalist
issue 249 - November 1993



Green deception
Malaysian groups protest at paraquat promotion

Consumer groups in Malaysia are incensed by a series of advertisements for the herbicide Paraquat placed in the local press by the UK chemicals giant ICI. Over a picture of a tropical paradise, the advertisements headline ‘Paraquat and nature working in perfect harmony... It’s a FACT. PARAQUAT is environmentally friendly.’

The President of the Consumers Association of Penang, SM Mohd Idris, says however that local environmental groups are ‘outraged by the “green” deception practised by ICI Agrochemicals’. The World Health Organization classifies paraquat as one of the world’s most deadly chemicals. The Pesticide Action Network, a global coalition of citizens’ groups who are opposed to the spread and misuse of poisonous pesticides, places paraquat on its Dirty Dozen list of the worst offenders.

A lethal dose for an adult is only one swallow (14 millilitres of a 40 per cent solution). The substance attacks the human liver, kidneys and lungs. Smaller doses can cause stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhoea and general muscle aches, while even at very low levels of exposure the skin can suffer dermatitis, burns and discolouration. There is no known antidote. More than half of all reported paraquat poisonings in Malaysia have been fatal.

Edward Block, a lung specialist at the University of Florida, pinpoints the problem: ‘Paraquat is probably the most effect-ive herbicide that exists right now on Earth. It is also one of the world’s worst poisons.’

Given these dangers, those who work with it require extensive and expensive protection. Paraquat is being promoted in Southern countries where worker protection is minimal and the essential protective clothing is unbearable to wear.

Its effects spread throughout the eco-system to humans. A report to the US Environmental Protection Agency found that yearling salmon exposed to paraquat were less likely to survive when placed in the sea water to which they migrate. At doses lower than those used for weed control, paraquat kills honeybees. It is also highly toxic to bird embryos.

The Consumers Association of Penang contends that the ICI advertisement violates the Malaysian Trade Description Act 1972. The Association wants the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs to prosecute ICI Agrochemicals and to ban the advertisement. Paraquat has been withdrawn from the market in Norway, banned in Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands and in Indonesia prohibited except for specific registered uses.

Utusan Konsumer, Mid-April, 1993.

Haute khaki
Not exactly Norman Schwarzkopf, but the new two-tone camouflage sported by AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) leader Eugene Terre’Blanche would not have looked out of place in Operation Desert Storm.

Apart from the brownish hues and blotches of the jacket, cap and trousers of the ranks, the leader’s outfit has an additional embellishment – gold braid on the cap. Conservative dark suits ruled in the early days of the AWB until Jani Allen – a celebrated exponent of haute khaki – reportedly told Terre’Blanche he looked ‘like a Jew’ in a suit. Khaki rapidly became the official style. But the average AWB member must be nostalgic for the days of Mussolini when all it took to become a reactionary was a black shirt and a Beretta. Full AWB uniform – white baton, boots, rucksack, compass-holder, water bottle and a choice of three different bullet-proof jackets – costs $600. Colour co-ordinated socks are extra.

from Weekly Mail, South Africa, 21 May 1993.



Slippery solution
Mabo case highlights aboriginal land rights.

Aboriginal leaders in Australia have rejected the Labor Government’s response to the controversial Mabo land-rights case. The High Court ruling in the case of Mabo vs Queensland in June 1992 overturned the assumption that Australia belonged to no-one before white colonization.

The Government’s 33-point response largely overlooks the Aborigines’ own eight-point charter for reform. Noel Pearson, director of the Cape York Land Council, described the response as ‘slimy’, attempting as it did to reduce the debate to an issue of land management. Mick Dodson, aboriginal social justice commissioner and former director of the influential Northern Land Council, has called for the debate to be centred clearly on human rights. He said the oppression of, and violence against, Aborigines had been perpetrated first by guns and strychnine, then by word-processors and bureaucrats.

The figurehead of the Mabo case was Eddie Mabo – the traditional leader of the Meriam people of Murray Island in Torres Strait – who died in January 1992 from cancer. Two other plaintiffs also died before the High Court handed down its ruling.

Central to the Government’s response is the proposal that each state should establish a tribunal system to decide aboriginal land claims. It would also validate all mining, farming and tourism leases granted before 30 June 1993. Aboriginal groups would be able to claim compensation, but would have no right of veto. Leases signed after 30 June would give Aborigines both native title claims and the right of veto.

A United Nations draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people, which went before its Human Rights Commission in July, would give strong support to the Mabo case if implemented. It proposes the right to self-determination, autonomy and self-government for indigenous peoples. It also states that indigenous peoples have the right to restitution or just and fair compensation where land has been ‘confiscated, occupied, used or damaged without their free and informed consent’.

Three Australian states have expressed concern that they might have to make huge compensation payouts, and suggest that economic recovery from recession could be seriously impaired by uncertainty over investment. Prime Minister Paul Keating endorsed Northern Territory legislation against an aboriginal land claim that would have stopped a proposed $250 million McArthur River mining project in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The conservative National Farmers’ Federation, as expected, has been strongly critical of the proposal that native title should be revived once a pastoral lease expires.

Meanwhile a health report released at the same time as the Government’s response to Mabo caused the Minister of Health, Senator Richardson, to admit that health standards have not improved among Aborigines, who still contend today with health problems that disappeared from the white Australian population in the 1890s.

George Fisher

Eleven Navajos have died of a strange condition that fills their lungs with fluid and kills them within hours. When the news broke, Navajos throughout the American south-west found themselves shunned by people who were fearful of infection.

In Phoenix, Arizona, restaurant workers were afraid to touch plates used by them. In Gallup, where a young Indian girl had dropped dead at a party, Merle Haggard, a country-and-western singer, refused to leave his bus except to perform. In faraway Los Angeles a private Jewish school cancelled a visit by 27 nine-year-old Navajo pen-pals.

from The Economist, Vol 327, No 7815.



Kow-towing in Krakow
‘Clunker’ buses clean up

We citizens of Krakow, Poland, sometimes wonder why we see 20-year-old, worn-out Scania buses on the streets. Who decided about this and why? Who gains and who loses? Why is the same Scania clunker we consider a blessing worth minus $3,000 in Sweden?

No kidding! That’s what you have to pay in Sweden for having a single bus scrapped. So the Swedes took out a patent on a simple invention: find a naive Pole, thrust the junk upon him and play the role of benefactor. The Pole, in his turn, kow-tows to his Western benefactor, too embarrassed to refuse the subsequent offer of a new Scania for real money. A new Scania costs about ten times as much as a Polish or Hungarian-made bus. Inexpensive and efficient as these may be, they were produced during the ‘reddish’ period of Polish history – an unpardonable sin.

At night you can see buses all over the city with a handful of party-hoppers aboard. But there’s little sign of the Polish designed and made H6-02, a small bus with a fuel consumption of a mere 15 litres of diesel oil per 100 kilometres.

This is a result of our inalienable right to Western ‘democracy’. Which is why we don’t know the phone numbers and addresses of the people we’ve elected and their names are fading from our memories. This is a pity. We might have asked them how the city administration of Athens is dealing with the smog problem by converting all its buses to natural gas. But that might be asking too much.

Piotr Kosibowicz



Bhutanese refugees in the Maidhar camp, Nepal -- hopeless days ahead

Nepal and Bhutan at odds over Lhotshampas

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 60 per cent of its population living below the poverty line. Yet it is also playing host to large numbers of refugees from Bhutan.

As many as 100,000 Bhutanese of ethnic Nepalese origin have been fleeing into southern Nepal during the past two years with reports of torture and harassment. The genesis of the problem goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, when people from Nepal migrated eastwards to Bhutan. They came to be called ‘Lhotshampas’ by the Drukpas of Bhutan, and they settled in the largely uninhabited southern half of the country. More migrations followed. But there was little assimilation, and hostility developed between the Lhotshampas and Drukpas.

The Citizenship Act in 1985 and subsequent measures making the wearing of Bhutanese dress compulsory were designed to make life uncomfortable for the Lhotshampas. In 1990 the royal government began evicting ‘illegal settlers’ and ‘political activists’.

Nepal is now pressing Bhutan to take back the refugees. Talks between the two Governments have reached stalemate. Bhutan claims that the refugees in the camps in Jhapa are not ‘bona fide’. Nepal has asked India to intervene, but India has not responded.

Local residents of Jhapa complain that the refugee camps cause damage to the forest land and increase the price of essential commodities. Villagers resent the free food, piped water and shelter provided by the aid agencies that have sustained the refugees for the past two years. The seemingly hopeless days ahead threaten increasing unrest.

Patralekha Chatterjee

Safe secrets
Officials in Tachikawa, west of Tokyo, report they are recycling tons of top-secret documents with a state-of-the-art shredder. It shreds paper without destroying the fibre. But there’s no cause for concern – the shreds aren’t large enough to reveal classified information. City officials say they hope to produce 440,000 rolls of toilet paper annually from state secrets because ‘toilet paper is very close to everyone. It’s a good material to get people to think about recycling.’

from Down to Earth, Vol 2, No 3.

Hot water
The Bolivian government has embarked upon a campaign to popularize a herbal tea called mate de coca. If this pleasant infusion captured only five per cent of the global market for hot drinks, Bolivia would have a bigger foreign exchange earner than its present main export: natural gas. There is a major snag, though. The tea is banned under the Vienna Convention on Narcotic Drugs – even though it is harmless – because it is brewed from the leaves of the coca bush.

from The Independent, London, 24 January 1993

Counselling needs consultation in São Paulo.

ISER, a Rio-based aid agency, decided to launch an AIDS prevention program among Afro-Brazilians, prostitutes and transvestites in the city. The ISER team knew that more than 80 per cent of Afro-Brazilians were connected to the Candomble and Umbanda religions. So they turned to the priests and priestesses who not only wield authority but are also aware of the ritual importance of blood, sperm and saliva. At the same time, contact was also made with prostitutes and transvestites who revealed a strong interest in protecting themselves and promoting the use of condoms. These discussions resulted in two programs. One provides information to the Candomble and Umbanda priestesses and priests who pass it on when exercising their influence on people. A second has created a trade union of prostitutes and provides material on AIDS, devised and distributed by the prostitutes and transvestites themselves. These programs replace a failed government project that saw clinics opened and documentation distributed but where there was no consultation with the target groups. The clinics remained empty and the documentation prepared by health ministry officials unread.

from UNESCO, Sources, No 47.


‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’

Anaïs Nin, French writer (1903-1977)

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