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Rights expert urges Denmark and Greenland to examine colonial legacy’s impact

Inuit children from Uummannaq in Greenland. (file)
UN Photo/Mark Garten
Inuit children from Uummannaq in Greenland. (file)

Rights expert urges Denmark and Greenland to examine colonial legacy’s impact

Human Rights

Denmark and Greenland must address the negative impact of a colonial legacy that has led to structural and systemic racial discrimination against the indigenous Inuit community, an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said on Friday. 

The development would represent a key measure to tackle past injustices and create a more inclusive society, said UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Cali Tzay, in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the two countries. 

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Inuit people comprise nearly 90 per cent of the population of Greenland, an autonomous dependent territory of Denmark that was a colony up until 1953. 

They still face barriers to fully enjoying their human rights, according to Mr. Cali Tzay. 

Women forcibly sterilized 

“I was particularly appalled by the testimonies of Inuit women who reported that Danish healthcare providers had inserted intrauterine devices (IUDs) without their knowledge or consent. Some of them were as young as 12 years old," he said

Mr. Cali Tzay recalled reports of Inuit women living in Denmark whose children had been taken from them without their knowledge and consent and placed in Danish foster care. 

He urged Denmark to review its procedures for assessing out-of-home care for Inuit children and address structural bias within care services. 

Abuse, poverty and suicide 

Meanwhile, Greenland still faces numerous social challenges that relate to poverty and lack of adequate housing, appropriate quality education and scarce mental health support, he added.  

“Around 20 percent of children in Greenland are estimated to have been exposed to violence and sexual abuse,” he said, adding that the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. 

During his mission, the Special Rapporteur observed a lack of established mechanisms to implement the Inuit people’s right to free, prior, and informed consent, including when allocating tourism concessions, implementing business projects, and adopting legislative and administrative acts in Greenland. 

Consult Inuit people 

“I urge Greenland's government to consult with the Inuit people whose traditional livelihoods will be directly affected by plans to expand mining, tourism and infrastructure,’’ the UN expert said. 

He also hailed Greenland's extensive self-governance as “an inspiring example of an indigenous self-government in practice and a peaceful process towards self-determination for Indigenous peoples worldwide.’’  

About UN Rapporteurs 

Special Rapporteurs like Mr. Cali Tzay receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

They are appointed to monitor and report on either specific thematic issues or country situations. 

These experts operate in their individual capacity and are independent from any government or organization. 

They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.