By Athili Sapriina, 2013-2014 Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia
I first became aware of Rotary Peace Fellowships during a trip to the Rotary Peace Center at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US, in 2008. I had previously attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City and over the years witnessed an increased involvement of Rotary with indigenous peoples issues. I am honored to be the first Naga to be awarded a Rotary Peace Fellowship.
The three million Nagas are indigenous peoples of the mountainous frontier between India and Burma. Since the end of British colonialism, Nagas have fiercely defended their independence resulting in the death of thousands — Indians, Burmese and Nagas.
The peace fellowship gives me a chance to build on current peace initiatives to resolve one of the longest running disputes in the world. Nagas seek the reunification of their homeland, which is divided between India and Burma. Within India, Nagas are further segregated into four states reducing them to minorities in their own land.
In 1994, I participated in the first World’s Indigenous Peoples Day held at the YMCA in New Delhi, India. Since then, globally there has been major advancements through the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, an Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Working toward peace necessitates continuous dialogue. I find it fascinating that indigenous leaders, support groups, and national governments continue to engage on these issues even where agreement is lacking on how the UN declarations apply. For example, some states do not acknowledge they have indigenous peoples within their territories, and therefore do not recognize a responsibility under the declaration. Achieving peace, understanding, and justice is a work in progress.
Still, in September, the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is expected to reiterate the important and continuing role of the UN in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
As a print journalist, I plan to use my skills to work for peace, justice, and greater tolerance, while branching out into radio and current media platforms. My peace fellowship has increased my capacity to contribute meaningfully to this important issue.
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is 9 August. Watch a live webcast of the commemoration at the UN on 8 August and learn more about how you can support the Rotary Peace Centers program.