Human Rights Conference to Explore the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Stateless Persons

Webster Conference to Discuss the Lack of Political and Social Recognition Faced by Indigenous Peoples and Stateless Persons

ST. LOUIS, April 9, 2013 – The purpose of international human rights is to give every person the chance to live a dignified life. These rights include the right to a nationality, as well as freedom from discrimination and protections for culture and group identities. Despite these rights, approximately 12 million people around the world do not have legal citizenship to any country and are therefore stateless. Indigenous peoples also continue to struggle for recognition as distinct nations and protect their rights to self-determination, culture, and identity. In both cases, indigenous peoples and stateless persons seek recognition of their “right to have rights.”

Webster University's annual human rights conference, scheduled for April 18 and 19, will focus on these pressing human rights challenges. Conference participants include indigenous chiefs, scholars, activists, journalists, and people who have experienced statelessness firsthand. The conference will also include several representatives from Webster's worldwide campuses. The conference is sponsored by Webster's Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies. It is free and open to the public, but requires registration.
Human Rights Conference
“Statelessness has been described as a forgotten human rights crisis because many people are not aware of it or educated on what it means,” said David Carl Wilson, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “Both stateless persons and also indigenous peoples suffer from a lack of political and social recognition and their human rights are regularly threatened despite the existence of international legal protections.”

Many indigenous groups struggle to maintain their cultural traditions and self-determination even after the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.  Similarly, stateless persons are frequently deprived of even the most basic human rights despite two conventions related specifically to their status and protection.

Maureen Lynch, a humanitarian advocate and researcher who will present at the conference, says that while the two groups are different yet deal with similar issues.

“Stateless people and indigenous groups alike may find themselves marginalized on the territory where they were born,” said Lynch. “The basic difference between them can perhaps be summed up by the word ‘belong.' Stateless peoples are not considered nationals by any country in the world, not anywhere. Indigenous people are connected to a time and place, they belong somewhere.”

Conference topics include:

  • The Displaced People of Burma
  • Unrecognized “ghost” tribes in the United States
  • Anthropological Perspectives on Indigenous Rights
  • Israel & Palestine: Issues of Refugees & Stateless Persons
  • Indigenous Rights and the American Indian Movement
  • Experiencing Statelessness as a Banyamulenge
  • Photo Exhibition of “Nowhere People: The World's Stateless by Greg Constantine

“Every person has the right to a nationality, but statelessness is a serious rights abuse that is often overlooked,” said Lynch. “The value of conferences focused on issues such as the rights of stateless people should not be underestimated as avenues for raising awareness, strengthening advocacy networks and undertaking concrete action to end statelessness in the United States and around the world.” 

The conference subject was selected as part of the University's Year of International Human Rights theme, “The Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Stateless Persons.”

For more information on the conference speakers and a full schedule of activities, please visit the conference website.

Photos courtesy of Greg Constantine.