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BIODIVERSITY AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Johannesburg, September 3, 2002

Words of wisdom

Intervention of Rigoberta Menchú Tum at the
ROUND TABLE ABOUT

Written by Rigoberta Menchú Tum
(Translation by Martha E. Gutierrez)

Your excellence, Mr. President and friend, Jacques Chirac,
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen:

I have assisted to this expected event not with optimism but with hope. I celebrate the opportunity to share with you the spiritual energy that allows nurturing the necessary political will to put an end to the irrational voracity that is wiping off the lives of the planet.

The UN Secretary General has invited us to focus the attention of this summit on five key issues: water, energy, agriculture, health and biodiversity, and president Mbeki has asked us to do so taking into account the prosperity of people and the planet.

I want my first words to point out the importance of organizing this round table around an issue that, in my perspective, summarizes and brings precision the objectives of this summit: žbiodiversity and cultural diversityÓ. To me, they are not interrelated things, they are the same thing..

In our Mayan cosmovision, each town, each culture is the mirror of the natural world they live in. Nobody could imagine a polar bear in the Amazon, as much as it is difficult to imagine the Maasai People living in Greenland. The cultural diversity is the mirror of natural diversity. The creation is the unity of diversity, where all lives coexist in a harmonious balance. Each time a forest is devastated, a form of life is threatened, a language is lost, a form of civilization is slashed, and a genocide is committed.

For millennia, the indigenous peoples have learned from nature how to live in harmony with all its constitutive elements. The earth does not belong to us, we are part of her and the balances that make life possible in her womb.

For centuries, we the indigenous people have lived maintaining those balances, and those others that relate us with the whole universe, and which make us co responsible of what happens in the infra-world and the supra-world, as in the tree of life that we inherited from our grandparents, where the leaves cannot be understood without knowing the roots, the stem and the branches.

These relationships, vast and complex, contain for us the deepest knowledge and spirituality, and for that they are unchangeable. That is how our peoples have understood it through the centuries, and that is how the Nations community seemed to understand it 10 years ago in Rio, by recognizing the interconnection and reciprocal dependency of all the elements that make sustainability of development and life.

The theoretical and normative arsenal that emerged from Rio, constitutes the most significant intellectual and political advance that the changing debate on development has produced in contemporary history. Rio marked a definite inflection point in the concepts, giving development a globalizing focus, establishing the inter relation between the economical, social, environmental and cultural dimensions in the connecting instruments and the Agenda 21. The biggest insufficiencies were, maybe, the institutional and financial dimensions, which have left this process free to the political will of inter related governments, corporations and organizations.

Nevertheless, Rio was different due to the impressive intervention of social movements, civil organizations, humanistic intellectuality and compromised academia. In Rio, hope was globalized. The participation of these actors sealed its legitimacy and opened a new era so that žwe, the people÷Ó can be the real protagonists in the definition of the global politics that affect us.

The Rio Summit was an ethical and political pact to redistribute power, resources and opportunities amongst the countries and inside them but, confronted by the reality data, it is hard not to lose patience. Ten years ago, a pact was made for development and equity. Today, the concept of security seems to have substituted these and all other values that inspired the Rio agreements, putting diversity as its main threat.

Free trade and the increasingly visible hand of a market open for some and closed for most, cannot keep destroying the economies. The scandal-provoking accountable frauds of the biggest corporations in the world have demonstrated that the invisible hand of the market has destroyed with one hit the credibility of the citizens, not only on those corporations, but also on the state mechanisms created to prosecute them. The security cannot go on being the excuse for aggression, neither the war can keep on being the locomotive of economy and growth. The world order of the 21st century cannot be hunger and desperation of the four fifths of global population, standing the opulence and waste that characterize the production, consumption and lifestyle of the resting fifth part.

We must turn the Rio agreement into an Ethical Code, which guarantees the pacific co-existence and salvation of the planet. We cannot start from cero in each Summit. We cannot keep on adopting paper agreements without chronograms, without verifiable goals, without reliable accountability mechanisms. We, the social actors, cannot continue confined in the parallel events. We have obligations, we also want to execute our rights.

Some minutes ago, I was honored to make public Ůon the name of six Peace Nobel prizes- a call to the world governors, the political, social and corporate leaders, demanding to make a common cause with this campaign. I seize the opportunity to give you, Mr. President, a copy of this manifest to be shared here with all your colleagues.

On the frame of this Summit we have also subscribed and promoted an immediate demand of the profound reform of the international system structures. The post cold war world cannot be ruled by the same emerging order of the Second World War. A new sense of co-responsibility, which compromises us all, is necessary. The massive social participation that in Rio gave place to the riverbed of the civil society protagonism in the UN system decisions, must fully accomplish the institutionalization of incidence and co-responsibility mechanisms that, including the diversity of new actors that have been created during the last years on the militancy for life, must be the tonic that guarantees the redirection f the fight for justice and peace.

The states cannot continue assuming the exclusive responsibility of all decisions. In fact, they do not have it. Neither can they continue being the transmission and legitimacy threads for the interests of the powerful. Globalization does not mean the end of the particular sovereignties or responsibilities of the States. They are being modified, complemented and strengthened with the emerging protagonism of the social actors and the global and local institutions.

We, the indigenous peoples, demand the recognition of our diverse cultures and our right to free determination, in the same terms in which the international human rights agreements recognize them to all the peoples in the world. We demand that our relevant contribution to the preservation of the planet lives, as well as that of our sustainable development, be recognized and valued in this Summit. This implies the recognition to our right to enjoy our inalienable territories, the resources we have conserved and use ancestrally, and the collective rights we have on the knowledge of their properties, as established in the Article 8-j of the Biodiversity agreement.

We will not accept any restrictions to the current international standards, in particular, to the obligation of the principle to the žprevious and fundamented consentÓ for any action that affects our interests and resources, as well as to the principle or žprecautionÓ and žcommon but differentiated responsibilityÓ on a planetary level.

We do not accept the privatization of nature, earth, and life. We do not accept that the resources and knowledge that we have developed for centuries about its benign exploitation, be patented under the name of the States or, even worse, particulars. We demand that we are given the jurisdictional security over our collective intellectual patrimony. We demand the access to the benefits that could derive from their use, as well as the recognition of their integrity and the timeless ethics that characterize our relationship with them. We do not accept that unpunished commercial exploitation of our žgenetic resourcesÓ continues to impoverish and deprive us.

The values on which Indigenous people have constructed our complex systems are founded on cooperation and reciprocity of community life; on the authority of the elders and our relationship with their ancestors; on the intergenerational communication and responsibility; on the collective right to land, territory and resources; on austerity and self sufficiency of our production and consumption forms; on the ethical, spiritual and sacred nature of the relation between our peoples and the whole creation.

This summit must abolish the subsidies to food production in the developed countries that choke our economies, leave us with no jobs and make us dependent; it must guarantee the defense from the pollution of genetically modified elements in our traditional production systems, as well as fro the abuses that threaten them in the global commerce agreements.

These words cannot be interpreted as a whining complaint. Ours is an invitation to live with our eyes set on the common future of our humanity. We search to defend the rights of our children and their children so that tomorrow there is still a world for everyone. TodayŪs development compromises will define tomorrowŪs life, todayŪs deafness will be the road to destruction, to which we do not want to resign ourselves. In this enterprise for dignity and the compromise with life and the future, nobody is excessive. We demand from you Ůgovernments, international organisms, corporations, social movements and civil organizations- less rhetorics, less euphemisms, less papers and more action, more tangible results, more co-responsibility, more multilateralism to make decisions and have them respected, and more respect for those who have no money to make their voices heard.

Thank you very much,

Johannesburg, September 3, 2002

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