Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defender Network re-launched: Advancing our collective rights, defending our communities

In a bid to strengthen the work of indigenous human rights defenders in Asia, Indigenous Human Rights Defenders (IPHRD) Network was re-launched by developing a new campaign strategy plan and adopting “the Declaration of the Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders (IPHRD) Network in Asia” after a four-day regional training of trainers on human rights documentation organized by Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) from 16-19 October 2013 at Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Twenty-four indigenous human rights defenders representing 17 indigenous organizations from nine countries in Asia participated in the training. Participants, after thorough deliberation, affirmed that indigenous peoples in Asia continue to face serious challenges especially on the recognition and exercise of their individual and collective rights.

Among the challenges faced by many indigenous communities is the influx of projects such as mining projects, energy projects, mega-plantation projects, economic land concessions and other forms of land use conversion in the region. Their assertion of their collective rights and resistance to the exploitation of their lands, territories and resources without their free prior and informed consent are often meet with repression, intimidation, arrests,  death threats and extra-judicial killings.  Indigenous women and children are not spared as they also face multiple forms of abuse and discrimination.

There is also the implementation of national security laws and military operations in indigenous territories such as the Operation Plan Bayanihan in the Philippines and the Operation Greenhunt and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in India. In the reports from the participants, these laws and policies are being used by States to curtail the rights of its citizens.

“The blood of my people is not for sale,” said Thomas Jalong, President of the Indigenous Peoples Network in Malaysia (JOAS), in his inspirational talk as he shared that many hydropower companies are trying to bribe indigenous leaders in Sarawak to give their lands for the construction of hydropower projects.

With all these, indigenous human rights defenders who attended the training resolved to continue the struggle. Their commitments are embodied in the Declaration of the Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders (IPHRD) Network in Asia adopted during the re-launching of the IPHRD Network last October 19.

According to Falguni Tripura of the Kapaeeng Foundation in Bangaldesh, her life is dedicated not only to indigenous peoples but also to indigenous women.

A quote from Markus Bangit, an indigenous leader and a staunch human rights activist from the Cordillera, Philippines who was killed by unidentified men in 2006, served as an inspiration to the participants….”Until our right to self-determination is recognized, the struggle will not end. Even if it means the sacrifice of our lives to achieve freedom, then so be it!”

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