NYC April 24, 1999

On April 23, representatives of Yachay Wasi(NGO/DPI), The Wittenberg
Center(NGO/ECOSOC) and the International Romani Union(NGO/ECOSOC)
presented the human rights violations: “Desecration of Indigenous Burial
Sites and Display of Indigenous Remains” to the Human Rights caucus of
the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development CSD-7 meeting
currently at United Nations Headquarters in NYC.
The statement below was given and, as one of the topics of CSD-7 is
Sustainable Tourism, the issue of “display of Indigenous remains” was
approved by the Caucus to be included in its report at the conclusion of
CSD-7 on April 30.
It is a timely decision as the exhibit in Florida closes tomorrow.

Desecration of Indigenous Burial Sites and Display of Indigenous Remains
presented by Marie Samuel, Yachay Wasi (DPI) and International Romani
Union (ECOSOC) & Roberto Mucaro Borrero, Wittenberg Center (ECOSOC)

CSD-7 – Human Rights Caucus – April 23, 1999

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and
teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies;
the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their
religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of
ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of human remains.
States shall take effective measures, in conjunction with the
indigenous peoples concerned, to ensure that indigenous sacred places,
including burial sites, be preserved, respected and protected.”
Part III, Article 13 – Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous

” the social, cultural and spiritual values and practices of these
peoples (Indigenous Populations) shall be recognised and protected, and
due account shall be taken of the nature of the problems which face them
both as groups and as individuals;” article 5, parag. (a)
” The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own
priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives,
beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy
or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over
their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they
shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of
plans and programmes for national and regional development which may
affect them directly.” Article 7, parag. 1
I.L.O. Convention 169 – 27 June, 1989

“Cultural artifacts have been taken without permission from Indigenous
people and displayed in museums, in violation of their beliefs. One
recent controversy arose with the display at the National Geographic
Society in Washington, D.C., of the preserved remains of a teenage Incan
girl, who had been sacrificed on an Andean mountain top in Peru 500
years ago.”
Page 3 – Indigenous people: Challenges facing the International
Community – February, 1998
Press kit for the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights –

In 1996, one of these challenges has been coined the “Inka Challenge” by
Yachay Wasi, an Indigenous cultural non-profit organization based in New
York City and in Cuzco, Peru and NGO associated with the United Nations
Department of Public Information.
Alerted by a New York Times article (8 May, 1996) ” Archeologists in
Peru oppose loan of Inca Mummy to US”, Yachay Wasi initiated a petition
on May 10, 1996 against the National Geographic Society protesting its
planned May 21-June 19, 1996 “Peru’s Ice Maiden unveiled” public
exhibition at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The petition was mailed on June 14, 1996 to Reg Murphy, then President
of the National Geographic Society. The list of 110 signatures showed a
cross-section of residents of NYC, tourists, business peoples,
government scientists and NGOs. The American scientist and the two
Peruvian scientists involved were informed by letters of the protest.
Copies of documents were hand carried by Luis Delgado Hurtado, President
of Yachay Wasi, to his home in Cuzco, Peru.
The low key media and mailing campaign to Indigenous organizations,
tribal councils, cultural institutions, religious bodies and some UN
agencies was instrumental in starting the Phase 2 of the Inka Challenge
in October 1998. This time, Yachay Wasi was asked by the International
Indian Treaty Council, NGO/ECOSOC, to assist in the protest campaign
started in September 1998 by the Florida Indian Alliance, member of the
American Indian Movement, against the sensational exhibition “Empires of
Mystery: the Incas, the Andes and Lost Civilizations” at the Florida
International Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida from October 23 through
April, 25, 1999.

The exhibit displays 5 Indigenous Inka “mummies” and 3 skulls. Quote of
one page of the FIM website: “The exhibit opens on October 23 just in
time for Halloween”.

The commercial display of Indigenous remains in the name of science or
for so called cultural purposes directly results from the desecration of
the burial sites of these remains. Phase 3 of the Inka Challenge began
with the April 6, 1999 press conference revealing the find and
subsequent removal of the frozen remains of 3 young children from the
Andes mountains in Argentina.

Desecration of burial sacred sites is not only a violation of the human
rights of Indigenous Peoples but also a primary religious concern.
Yachay Wasi will submit information regarding this issue, which will be
sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in May

On April 20, 1999 a Multi-stakeholder Dialogue Segment on Tourism took
place at United Nations Headquarters titled: “Promoting Broad-based
Sustainable Development through Tourism while safeguarding the integrity
of Local Cultures and Protecting the Environment”. This issue was
included in the commentary on Ethical Principles. A quote from Press
Release ENV/DEV/502 20 April 1999:

“The spirituality of indigenous peoples must be taken into account by
the tourist industry, a speaker said. Symbols of genocide – such as the
remains of the Incas or other groups – should not be used to attract
visitors. ”

The Inka Challenge is not limiting to the Andean area. Roberto Mucaro
Borrero was that speaker and stated that the desecration of Indigenous
burial sites and the commercial display of Indigenous ancestral remains
are common place throughout the Americas. Further this practice is
linked historically to the genocide of Indigenous Peoples and their
cultures. Therefore any symbols of the genocide of Indigenous Peoples
should be outlawed. This would include monuments to early European
colonizers who promoted and practiced genocide of Indigenous peoples and
the Slavery of African Peoples.

The Inka Challenge’s strongest support has come from the North American
Native American community. Native American religions were outlawed in
December 1890 and in 1978 Native American Spiritual Leaders and Elders
decided to correct this situation. They mobilized their people and
supportive organizations into a huge cross country march from San
Francisco to Washington, DC “The Longest Walk”, to petition President
Carter and have their ancestral religions recognized. President Carter
complied by decree dated August 1978. On this basis, Native American
lawyers worked toward an official legal recognition and protection of
their spiritual and cultural heritage. This was sanctioned by the
January 23, 1990, Public Law 101-601 “Native American Graves Protection
and Repatriation Act”. Museums and institutions associated with the
Federal Government are obligated to negotiate the repatriation of all
Native American properties including old bones to be reburied.

We are presenting this issue to the Human Rights Caucus of the UN
Commission on Sustainable Development as the removal of human remains
from Indigenous Sacred Sites and transport, display and study of these
remains no matter how ancient, for whatever reason, especially as a
means to promote or generate tourism, must be stopped.

Approaching the mid-point of the United Nations International Decade of
the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we are urging the international
community to press for the adoption of the Draft Declaration for the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We also urge member states to follow the
example of the United states and enact transnational legislation
forbidding the desecration of Indigenous Peoples burial sites and the
display of Indigenous Peoples ancestral remains.

Roberto Mucaro Borrero e-mail

End – prIC99-2

Member of the NGO Committee on the UN International Decade of
the World’s Indigenous Peoples
Luis Delgado Hurtado, President
La Conquista # 3, Saphi
Cuzco PERU
Tel: 51-84-252618
Marie Samuel, VP
708 West 192nd St. # 6B
New York, NY 10040-2450 USA
Tel: 212-567-6447
“YACHAY WASI means House of Learning in Quechua”