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Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

Indigenous Peoples’ Statement – ASEAN People’s Forum 2019

Photo source: Indigenous Media Network

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) clearly describes the collective and individual rights of indigenous peoples and the obligation of states to respect, protect and fulfill these rights. However, as noted below, the realities on the ground indicate that ASEAN member states have failed to implement the UNDRIP.

  1. Human Rights, Democracy and Access to Justice

Indigenous peoples’ human rights defenders throughout the ASEAN region face criminalization, harassment, threat and intimidation, killing and enforced disappearance. This is happening in many countries as in the case of enforced disappearance and murder of Karen activist Mr. Phorlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, Thailand; filing of trumped up charges, illegal arrest and detention of Datu Jomorito Goaynon and other indigenous leaders in Mindanao Philippines; the attempted assassination of human rights and environmental activist Brandon Lee in the Cordillera, among others. One of the underlying causes that our defenders and leaders are facing such consequences is the ASEAN governments do not effectively recognize and/or implement the rights of indigenous communities to their lands, territories and resources, including protection of our traditional land tenure and resource management systems.

  1. Trade, Investment and Corporate Power

Indigenous peoples in ASEAN countries are severely affected by corporate investments in large-scale extractive industries, energy and infrastructure projects. For instance, the impending coal mining in Omkoi, Thailand, the proposed uranium mining and nuclear power plant in Kalimantan, Indonesia and vast mining applications and operations in the Philippines and economic land concessions in Cambodia threaten to deprive indigenous peoples of our lands, territories and resources, without our free, prior and informed consent. Chinese loans and investments in mega-dam construction in Malaysia, economic land concessions in Cambodia, special economic zones and the Build Build Build program in the Philippines will displace indigenous communities and force the State as a whole into bankruptcy through onerous loan agreements.

  1. Peace, Security and Migration

The ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint aims to promote peace, stability, culture of peace, interfaith and intra-faith dialogue, respect for diversity and harmony among the peoples of the region.[1] However, peace and security are far from reality for indigenous peoples in the region. Corporate interests are being protected by state security forces through militarization that often leads to human rights violations and forced evacuation of indigenous communities. Combat operations by State military, police, paramilitary groups and private armed forces are causing wide-scale displacement and violations of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The violence and destruction of our natural resources undermine our identity and dignity as individuals and as communities. In case of some countries such as Myanmar, violent conflicts force indigenous peoples to leave their homelands and to move to other countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam or Laos. In Thailand, declaration of national parks, forest reserves and protected areas is causing massive forced relocation of indigenous communities.

  1. Decent work, health and social protection

Current economic priorities and policies of ASEAN further marginalize indigenous peoples by depriving us of our traditional livelihoods. For us, decent work means engaging in our sustainable traditional occupations such as farming, seed preservation, shifting cultivation, hunting, fishing, among others. These occupations ensure our food security, cultural diversity, health, and strengthen our social relations and institutions. Evidence indicates that indigenous food and farming systems, including agro-ecological farming and approaches that combine indigenous knowledge with multi-disciplinary science offer sustainable solutions to environment and health problems. However, national laws and regulations hinder the practice of our traditional occupations such as shifting cultivation, which is illegal in many ASEAN countries. Investment plans are focused on building mega-dams and extractive industries, mostly located in indigenous peoples’ territories. Corporate agribusiness expansion plans for palm oil, corn production and sugar plantations result in land grabbing and devastation of the economic base of indigenous peoples’ traditional occupations.

  1. Ecological Sustainability

Majority of the world’s remaining biodiversity and robust ecology systems can be found in the territories of indigenous peoples. Despite the many threats we face, our territories are among the last strongholds for ensuring future of life on Earth. This is because indigenous peoples have been conserving our lands, forests, rivers and seas for millennia through our customary laws and sustainable conservation practices. We can mention the traditional practice of Karen indigenous peoples of Thailand known as “Lue Thi” to conserve river and aquatic animals. In Malaysia, indigenous peoples practice a traditional system called “Tagal system” to protect, manage and promote sustainable use of rivers for fisheries, forest and watersheds. In Indonesia, indigenous peoples have customary rules called “Sasi Law” to manage natural resources including seas and rivers. However, ASEAN programs and policies are threatening the ecological sustainability in the region. Some cases in point include the planned nuclear power plant in Kalimantan, Indonesia, monocropping plantations and economics land concessions in Cambodia, the Kaliwa Dam in the Philippines, the Papar Dam in Malaysia, the mine concession and the Ayekyong protected area, whereby nearby villages have been affected due to logging of teak trees, in Southern Chin State, Myanmar. Multinational and domestic  private and state companies are proceeding with these projects without proper consultation and free prior and informed consent of the affected communities.

  1. Digital rights

People have the right to digital sovereignty. Digital technology is beneficial when used properly and in the interest of the people. However, digital technology is now often being used to spread misinformation, red-tagging and political vilification. Indigenous leaders and persons belonging to indigenous communities have faced reprisals for using social media to raise voices for their rights. New cybersecurity and media related laws have the potential to exacerbate such reprisals.


In above context, we recommend that:

  • ASEAN Member States respect the spirit of international human rights declarations and conventions and implement their obligations, including under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the ILO Convention 169, the ICCPR, the ICESCR, the Convention against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
  • Ensure legal recognition of indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources and traditional occupations of indigenous peoples.
  • Stop corporate investments that violate the rights of indigenous peoples to land, territories and resources. Ensure genuine Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples for any intervention in their communities.
  • Stop militarization, forced evacuation and relocation of indigenous communities that are being implemented by states in the name of development and nature conservation. Prevent conflict, especially horizontal conflict between indigenous peoples and local communities related with land, territories and resources
  • Stop the criminalization of traditional occupations and fully protect traditional livelihoods as decent work and provide appropriate basic social services to remote communities.
  • Ensure the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples, particularly regarding economic growth projects, plans and programmes affecting them.
  • Ensure ecological sustainable and equitable governance, management and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems through the recognition of Indigenous Peoples, our rights and responsibilities to our territories and peoples and our self-determined conservation initiatives
  • Respect digital privacy and security of individuals and refrain from using social media to violate the rights if indigenous peoples. Stop mis-information operations by government.


[1] Chapter A. Rules-based Community of Shared Values and Norms : A.1. Cooperation in Political Development, A.1.9. Promote peace and stability in the region


The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) is an annual forum of civil society organisations from ASEAN Member States held in parallel with the ASEAN Summit. The meeting is organised by civil society in the country that holds the ASEAN Chairmanship. As Thailand is the Chair of ASEAN for this year, ACSC/APF is hosted in Bangkok, Thailand on 10 – 12 September 2019.