Human Rights Day 2015: States must act on their commitments to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
10 December 2015 – This Human Rights Day, AIPP joins the global yearlong campaign “Our Rights. Our Freedom. Always.” for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[i]
AIPP strives to promote and raise awareness of the two Covenants, alongside the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), among indigenous peoples in Asia and other stakeholders and more importantly, calls on the States to ensure that indigenous peoples enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Though notable progress has been made, violations of those rights of indigenous peoples continue unabated. Those violations occur mostly as a result of continuing non-recognition by States of indigenous peoples as distinct peoples with rights over their lands, territories and resources and to free, prior and informed consent, traditional livelihoods and self-determination.
Indigenous peoples’ lands and resources are being appropriated and exploited, without their free, prior and informed consent, under worsening development aggression that involves massive resource extraction and infrastructure development, haphazard power and energy projects, mono cropping and agribusiness, among others. Likewise, imposition of conservation policies and projects and uncontrolled population migration are increasingly causing displacements of communities and disruption of their ways of life. The legitimate opposition by indigenous peoples to defend their lands and resources are often met with militarization and repression, resulting in more human rights violations.
An indigenous Chong community leader of Areng Valley in Cambodia, Ven Vorn has been in detention since October under the charges of collecting forest products without permission and tampering with evidence. He is the fourth activist to be jailed, linked with community opposition against a proposed Chinese hydropower dam project, which will likely flood the valley if constructed and thus threatens Chong people’s traditional way of life.[ii]
In April, an appeal court in Thailand upheld the conviction against 37 indigenous Pakayaw Karens for encroachment and illegal logging, while they claim they were using the wood for maintaining their homes. The court sent them to 1-7 years in jail or ordered to pay hefty fines. The conviction comes in the course of implementation of a new Forestry Master Plan of the Thai Government aimed to resolve problems of deforestation, state land encroachment and sustainable natural resource management but does not take into account the rights of indigenous peoples.[iii]
In Malaysia, while a luxury resort just outside the Royal Belum State Park promotes tourism to experience indigenous (Orang Asli) Jahai villages, the Jahai people have been dying in large numbers due to a mystery illness. Doctors have traced the disease to weakening of the immune system that has particularly affected Jahai children with child mortality shot up to as high as 50%. Total population of the Jahai people, who are traditionally nomadic but now forced to live in designated areas by the Park, has reportedly dropped to 400 from 600 while their access to culturally appropriate social services has not been guaranteed.[iv]
In central India, more than 200 Gond tribals, living in the vicinity of Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh face continued threat of forced evictions from their houses and lands due plans of expansion of the Reserve. In August, local authorities allegedly disconnected electricity lines and other facilities to the tribals and let loose elephants in their village to compel them to move.[v] In northeast India, the State Government of Manipur passed three laws in clear violation of the special protection of rights of indigenous/tribal peoples to their lands guaranteed in the Indian constitution. At least nine indigenous/tribal youths were killed and 34 injured when police opened fire to quell protests against laws passed without their full and effective participation.[vi]
In Bangladesh, the government’s failure to address rights to traditional lands has left tens of thousands of indigenous peoples across the country landless and trapped in the cycle of violent clashes with the majority Bengalis. In 2014, communal attacks and resulting insecurity from the Bengali land grabbers – backed by State security forces – drove sixty indigenous families to leave for India for safety. Indigenous women have been particularly affected with 82% increase reported in sexual violence against women from the previous year – 91% of those cases filed identified Bengalis as perpetrators but not a single case has led to prosecution.[vii]
A disturbing case against the resistance of indigenous peoples is the reported increasing role of paramilitaries and State forces in silencing indigenous leaders who lead defense of their lands and resources. In the Philippines, members of paramilitary troops and Armed Forces of the Philippines have allegedly killed at least thirteen Lumad human rights defenders and community leaders this year while there have been a total of around seventy extrajudicial killings under the current regime. Those killed are accused of being or supporting communist rebels while the underlying reason is their resistance against mining in their communities. Further, there are reports of hundreds of cases of harassments and arbitrary detentions, attacks against schools and displacement of thousands of Lumads now living in evacuation camps across the region.[viii]
The above cases only represent how States desperately fail against their obligations for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples under the two Covenants. AIPP recalls that States have reaffirmed their commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples in the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples held last year. They have also emphasized the responsibilities of all States, to respect, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in September.
It is thus now high time for States to act on those commitments and responsibilities to guarantee “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” We will not waiver in our struggles in pursuit of a just and peaceful society for our coming generations.
For further information and media inquiries, contact
Prabindra Shakya, Human Rights Campaign and Policy Advocacy Programme Coordinator, AIPP, [email protected], +66 (0)90 319 7751
[vi] Petition to Prime Minister of India, 24 September 2015, NPMHR et al; See also https://iphrdefenders.net/press-statement-on-the-3-bill-passed-without-peoples-consultative-consent/
[vii] Human Rights Report 2014 on Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh, Kapaeeng Foundation