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18 May, 2014

UN Indigenous Peoples Forum Day 4: Govts Put Economic Interests over Respect for Traditional Cultures

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is holding its 13th session at UN Headquarters in New York between May 12-23, 2014. The UN Department of Public Information published daily reports on key points of the proceedings. In view of the importance of indigenous peoples to the culture and heritage of the global travel & tourism industry, Travel Impact Newswire is honoured to pass on the reports to readers.


Day Four Report, 15 May 2014: Governments Put Economic Interests over Respect for Traditional Cultures

Asia had the highest concentration of indigenous and tribal peoples in the world — more than 150 million — yet many were disproportionately vulnerable to poverty, marginalization and human rights violations, as Governments prioritized economic development over respect for traditional cultures, lands and identities, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today during a half-day panel discussion on the region.

The panel featured presentations by Joan Carling, Forum member from the Philippines; Sumshot Khular, Community Action and Research for Development; Antolenna Cordone, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); Sochea Pheap, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; and Indira Simbolon, Asian Development Bank. Forum Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough acted as moderator.

Introducing the panel, Ms. Carling recalled that two thirds of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples lived in Asia. Among pressing concerns were legal reforms, compliance with land rights and reports of extrajudicial killings in some countries. While the current level interaction with indigenous peoples, Governments and United Nations agencies needed to be bolstered, positive steps had been taken, including Japan’s recognition of the Ainu as an indigenous group and a recent decision by a Nepalese court to include indigenous people in shaping the Constitution. Climate change was another area of concern, with events such as last year’s Haiyun typhoon, which left indigenous groups outside the aid net.

Focusing on South Asia, Ms. Khular said the subregion was home to 160 million indigenous peoples, yet only a few countries recognized them, with some claiming there were none. In Nepal, where a new constitution would be promulgated and ratification of International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 had taken place — the indigenous were campaigning for self-government to gain control over their social, cultural and political development. In India, the 1958 Armed Forces Special Powers Act had been used to subdue indigenous peoples’ movement for self-determination, resulting in arbitrary killings, cruel and degrading treatment and forced disappearances. She urged recognition of the right to self-determination and the repeal of laws that allowed the militarization of indigenous territories.

Ms. Cordone said IFAD’s investment in Asia, its largest, stood at $1.87 billion, financing 62 projects in 19 countries. Thirty-five of those projects supported indigenous peoples in 10 countries. The Fund’s policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples recognized their cultural heritage and right to free, prior and informed consent. There was also the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility, which financed projects designed and implemented by them. By titling community forests, the Fund aimed to improve indigenous peoples’ right to access to and management of those areas. To increase the Fund’s effectiveness, she urged the inclusion of well-being indicators in its projects; capacity building for project-implementing agencies and indigenous communities alike; and a focus on indigenous food systems.

Next, Mr. Sochea said indigenous peoples faced non-recognition of their identity as distinct peoples with collective rights. While all Members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had voted in favour of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, those peoples remained invisible in the bloc’s Human Rights Declaration. Indonesia’s Constitution, for example, respected customary rights only when they were in line with State principles, while Malaysia’s recognition of indigenous peoples was incomplete, as in the case of Sarawak natives, and non-inclusive, as in the case of the Orang Asli. Dialogues with indigenous peoples should be initiated at local, national and regional levels to improve their legal recognition. The Declaration should be incorporated into national legal frameworks, and mechanisms should be established to ensure indigenous peoples’ participation in matters affecting their lives.

Ms. Tauli-Corpus said extractive-industry investments often negatively affected indigenous peoples and their territories. Some States had halved poverty in line with the Millennium Development Goal at the expense of indigenous peoples, driving up their poverty rate, as was the case in Viet Nam. Poverty eradication efforts must be more sensitive to indigenous peoples’ needs and dialogue with Governments must focus on a balance between bolstering economic growth and protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, while finding sustainable solutions to climate change. Calling on States and United Nations agencies to support disaggregated data to show a clearer picture of the realities and role in sustainable development, she said indigenous peoples were one solution to the problem.

Rounding out the panel, Ms. Simbolon said the Asian Development Bank had approved loans for many projects that were in some way linked with indigenous communities. As such, the Bank had focused its efforts on addressing concerns raised by indigenous peoples themselves. Considerations were made in assessing the impact on their communities, since more than one third of over 300 projects in 2013 had affected them. In addition, the Bank had held workshops for clients and had implemented other innovative initiatives, including reviews of education curricula to reflect indigenous groups. Strengthening the capacity of clients and Governments was among the tools used to improve understanding of the issues.

When the floor was opened for debate, indigenous speakers said traditional lands, territories and resources in Asia were systematically exploited in the name of economic development, and that the process of free, prior and informed consent had been denied. A representative of the Asia Caucus said “our land has been the continuous victim of commercial gains”, emphasizing that, in Viet Nam, ethnic Thai had been removed to make way for a hydroelectric dam, while in Cambodia, land grants of forests for mineral extraction had forced many to relinquish their traditional livelihoods. In the Philippines, indigenous peoples who objected to mining projects had been met with militarization of their areas.

Along similar lines, a representative of the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network cited the extrajudicial killing of five women and six children in the southern Philippines — all in the struggle against extractive industries. A representative of the Asia Pacific Youth Network said the killing of an indigenous youth leader in the Philippines had shown how the military was undermining the right to life. He urged United Nations agencies to help stop large mining operations, and the World Bank to stop funding such projects.

Other speakers urged Governments to repeal laws and policies that did not recognize distinct indigenous identities. Still others sought recognition of indigenous peoples in reconstruction efforts following natural disasters, including a representative of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus who pressed United Nations agencies to monitor the situations of unrecognized indigenous peoples and collect data so as to monitor the flow of indigenous peoples into urban areas.

Government representatives, attending as observers, responded to those concerns and outlined national perspectives, with China’s delegate noting that, while his country did not have indigenous issues per se, it firmly supported the promotion and protection of basic human rights. Efforts to promote and protect indigenous peoples should be continuous, he said, adding that their concerns should be part of the post-2015 agenda in order to redress historical injustices.

The representative of Bangladesh said all citizens were indigenous in his country, emphasizing the importance of listening to the voices of all stakeholders in the Chittagong Hills Tract region, as the Government had to ensure its actions did not create an unwarranted divide or tension among different communities. Bangladesh took a “zero tolerance” approach to alleged violence against women in the region, added the speaker.

Malaysia’s delegate cited measures taken to widen indigenous peoples’ access to health, education and other services. Public hearings on land rights had allowed indigenous groups to reach out to the Government on the issue, and work was ongoing to ensure that all citizens were registered, especially in remote areas.

All ethnic groups in Thailand enjoyed equal rights, said that country’s representative, noting that the challenge of equal access to health and education was due, in part, to a lack of resources. The Government would try to address that and other issues raised today.

Viet Nam’s delegate discussed efforts to address concerns of the 54 ethnic groups in his country, among them, a policy to promote equality and mutual respect of all ethnic groups and laws that had been improving over time to meet the social and development national policies.

More broadly, Devasish Roy, a Forum member from Bangladesh, raised the issue of terminology, such as “ethnic minorities” and “bumiputra”, noting that the most important legal term was “indigenous peoples”. While ILO Convention Nos. 169 and 107 referenced both indigenous and tribal peoples, and used different indicators, rights applied equally to those groups.

In the afternoon, the Forum held a comprehensive dialogue with United Nations agencies and funds, with Nicola Brandt, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), introducing the report of the 2013 meeting of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues (document A/C.19/2014/9). Among issues discussed were efforts under way towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the post-2015 development process.

Following her presentation, indigenous speakers took issue with policies of the United Nations and other global organizations that, while aiming to support their rights, in fact harmed them. On that point, a representative of the African Caucus urged the World Bank, African Governments and the private sector to disclose all information about the creation of the Bank’s “Billion Dollar Map”, intended to map Africa’s mineral resources through aerial services, and include indigenous peoples in related decisions, as most of the continent’s mineral wealth was concentrated in their territories. The majority of African countries had supported the Declaration’s adoption, with no objection to the term “indigenous”, he added.

A representative of Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos y Bosques said Governments did not allocate sufficient funds, or earmark them specifically for indigenous peoples, pressing them to do so.

For their part, United Nations agencies, specialized groups and intergovernmental organizations, attending as observers, provided an overview of efforts and plans for future action. Traditional practices, such as pastoralism, must be recognized, said a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), IFAD and the International Labour Conference.

He said pastoralism — a sustainable practice long seen as a simple, archaic threat to the environment — had, in fact, proven more resilient to climate change than sedentary agricultural systems in dry and fragile ecosystems. The post-2015 agenda was an opportunity to harness pastoralism as a sustainable practice in a way that would recognize land access and rights, and fair trade, as well as raise awareness of differences between grain-fed and stable animals.

Government representatives described national efforts — including budget allocations — to address indigenous concerns, with some emphasizing that they took a human rights-based approach to such issues, and others conceding that discrimination, land grabbing and natural-resource exploitation were problems to be addressed.

Forum members also weighed in on how United Nations agencies and others could incorporate the value added by traditional knowledge and resources to various fields.

Also speaking were Forum members from Iran, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Russian Federation, Burkina Faso, Bolivia and Kenya.

Representatives of the following indigenous organizations also spoke: Asian Indigenous Caucus; Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas de Centroamerica y Mexico; Tebtebba; CAPDPI; MPIDO; International Indian Treaty Council; Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations; COINCABOL; American Indian Law Alliance; and Haudenosaunee.

Representatives of the following funds, programmes and agencies made statements: International Labour Organization (ILO); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); World Bank; United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).