Asia Regional Report on Indigenous Peoples and COVID-19: Challenges to Achieving the SDGS Submitted to Indigenous Peoples Major Group (IPMG)

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the world, posing a grave threat to life and peace of humanity. The health crisis accompanied by the socioeconomic effects caused by the confinement affecting mobility, livelihoods, income generation, and access to food is having adverse impacts disproportionately on Indigenous Peoples, Persons with Disability, and women across the world. The lack of trustworthy information in Indigenous languages also invokes fears amongst these already vulnerable groups. When solidarity and collaboration is most needed, records yet are showing intensified racial discrimination, criminalization, and human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples in various manners. Indigenous Peoples human security and political standings are deteriorating in the world, which is already in chaos. While their non-Indigenous counterparts are gradually recovering from the shock and adapting to the “New Normal”, Indigenous Peoples are still bearing the heavy burden of the erosion of livelihood and wellbeing coupled with rolling back of their rights.

Before the world became fully immersed in a global COVID-19 pandemic emergency, attention to the once invisible Indigenous Peoples have been brought to the fore through the collaborative efforts of indigenous leaders around the world with the United Nations and other relevant bodies and mechanisms hoping for better livelihood and equal social status for them. In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to continue the missions started by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in tackling the economic, social, and environmental challenges in order to achieve global sustainable development. In the 17 goals and 196 targets the SDGs highlighted with the tenet of “leaving no one behind”, many are directly or indirectly related to rights and well-being of Indigenous People. Five years into its implementation in 2020, however, review reports have revealed that aside from the fact that no country is on track in achieving all the SDGs, some key SDGs are even regressing. A report released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) states that Asia Pacific will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs by its 2030 target basing on its current trajectory. It further stated “ASEAN has moved backwards on decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), climate action (SDG 13), and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16), and areas requiring immediate action to reverse trends including a number of other social and environmental indicators.”

It is, therefore, imperative at this stage for the States and all other development actors to include genuine partnerships with Indigenous Peoples in good faith and through collaborative partnerships to tackle the challenges Indigenous Peoples are facing under the coronavirus crisis in sustainable manners. To provide sound response mechanisms, it is important to start by providing health services, information, and systems to ensure life security of Indigenous Peoples. Equally urgent is in addressing the socio-economic situation and provision of basic services and economic recovery mechanism, underlying that all interventions and actions must follow the process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), with UN agencies and Governments respecting Indigenous Peoples’ food sovereignty, land rights and acknowledging the importance of the unique biodiversity preserved in Indigenous territories. Central to the achievement of the SDGs for Indigenous Peoples is the compliance of States to their human rights obligations and commitments, undertaking transformative actions and democratization, recognition of the importance of equality and empowerment of and partnership with Indigenous Peoples and their communities. It is also vital to strengthen the macrolevel framework for the most vulnerable and foster sustainable development, in other words, we need systems that are tailored to the needs of Indigenous Peoples.

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