Today, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, with the support of the U.S., determined that Australia's Kakadu National Park did not meet the conditions to be placed on its "In Danger" list. The U.S. also agreed that the "In Danger" listing was not appropriate. However, the committee will detail a series of measures Australia will have to undertake to protect Kakadu's cultural and environmental values and they want a progress report by April 15, 2000 on the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine. They also called for implementation of an impact study of the aboriginal people and more details of how the Australian government may limit the mining activities.
"The decision by the committee to require measures that address Kakadu's cultural and environmental values will force the mining companies to have a conscience," says McKinney.
While this is a positive step, Congresswoman McKinney is also concerned about the long term health affects to the indigenous people caused by over 20 years of uranium mining. Recently, an Australian Delegation visited the Congresswoman to discuss the Jabiluka mine, but when asked about the health affects of mining, they said they had not looked into that issue.
"It is clear that the health affects on the indigenous peoples is not being considered. This practice must change. If you are going to study Kakadu's cultural and environmental values, you should also look at what mining does to the health of the local people. Toxic waste flowing from the mines is estimated to remain radio-active for about 250,000 years. This will have a devastating impact on the local population for generations to come," says McKinney.
In the year marking the United Nation's 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, business interests prevail over the rights of oppressed indigenous people. The pre-eminent international human rights observer, Human Rights Watch (New York), recently published a disturbing report on the current misconduct of international corporations. In this report, 'Business and Human Rights -- The Bottom Line,' 1999, they reported that numerous major international corporations have been committing gross human rights violations against indigenous peoples.
"Nations need to honor the history and culture of the people who originally inhabited the land. All over the world native groups are being exploited by businesses and governments for fiscal gain. Right now in the U. S. the Navajo Tribe is battling a uranium mine being built on their land in New Mexico. The exploitation of native people has been an enduring tradition throughout the world. It is time for this practice to stop. The decision by the World Heritage Committee will be a lesson to the world in cultural sensitivity and respect for indigenous people and their rights," concludes McKinney.
The proposed Jabiluka mine site is situated inside the Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage area known for its rich biodiversity and cultural significance. The Mirrar people are the traditional aboriginal owners of the land and they have owned and occupied the Kakadu region for over 60,000 years. The Jabiluka mine will be the second uranium mine to be opened on their land despite their unanimous protests.
Kakadu National Park is one of only 20 sites around the world recognized
for both cultural and natural significance by UNESCO. Kakadu is home
to a treasure of Australian wildlife, including 900 plant species, 300
kinds of birds, 75 reptiles, 50 native mammals, 30 amphibians, a quarter
of all Australian freshwater fish and countless inspect species.
It occupies over three million acres in the northern part of Australia's
Northern Territory, making it twice as big as America's Yellowstone National
Park. The Kakadu region was made famous for providing breathtaking
scenes in the film "Crocodile Dundee."