National security laws and measures: The impacts on indigenous peoples

The implementation of national security laws, measures, programs and policies results to serious and adverse impacts to the respect for and protection of the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples as enshrined in various international human rights instruments, national constitutions and laws.

After the U.S. government passed its Patriot Act in October 2001, most governments, including Bangladesh, India, the Philippines and Thailand, declared support to the US “War on Terror” and enacted more anti-terror laws or so-called “national security measures.” With these draconian laws, the experiences of indigenous peoples in these countries demonstrate a worsening trend of human rights violations. Among these violations are political killings, arbitrary arrest and torture, militarization of indigenous communities leading to massive displacements, and violence against women.

These national security laws are contrary to the international human rights obligations of states to uphold civil and political rights including freedom of expression, beliefs and legitimate political affiliation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly due process and equal protection of the law, and the right to a fair and free trial in competent courts.

These laws on national security legitimize warrantless arrests and the illegal detention of “suspected terrorists.” These result to physical, sexual and psychological torture and even death. Likewise, the collective rights of indigenous peoples such as their right to their lands and resources, as well as peace and security in their territories, are systematically violated. Indigenous communities are militarized; military operations and blockades targeting innocent indigenous peoples are conducted; curfews, restrictions to livelihood activities and evictions are enforced; and, sexual violence to indigenous women and girls are perpetrated by military elements all in the name of national security.

All four countries share similar histories of colonization. Bangladesh and India were directly colonized by the British while the Philippines was colonized by the Spanish and then the Americans. Thailand was an indirect colony of European powers. Having been colonized, these countries inherited unjust legal and political systems that perpetuate the systematic discrimination, oppression and subjugation of indigenous peoples.

Even prior to the “War on Terror” national security laws already existed in the four Asian nations. These are the 1974 Special Powers Act (SPA) of Bangladesh; the laws of India like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967, and the National Security Act, 1980; Republic Act 1700 (1957) and Presidential Decree 885 (1976) both Anti-Subversion laws of the Philippines; and Thailand’s Martial Law, 1914.

India, Bangladesh and the Philippines have repealed some of these draconian laws but have enacted new and wide ranging anti-terrorist legislation. The said countries’ governments have time and again implemented counter-insurgency programs and policies that have directly and adversely affected indigenous peoples in various periods of their histories up to this day.

Bangladesh has a continuing case of suppression of the indigenous Jumma peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region with the State employing the following laws, among others: Special Powers Act 1974, Arm Act of 1879, Forest Act of 1927, the Emergency Power Rules of 2007, and the de facto military rule Operation Uttoron (Operation Upliftment). Under Operation Uttoron, the military forces remain the supreme authority in the region. The military search operations, harassment, threats, intimidation, and repression in CHT are continuing. A vested group within the army continues to oppose any substantive progress on the implementation of the CHT Accord. The Army authority has also influenced the present grand alliance government against the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples.

In India, their extraordinary laws give broad powers to the State machineries. While several of these laws have been repealed, they remain effective for those who were charged, arrested, and detained for violations of the repealed laws when the said laws were still in effect. Furthermore, the continuing counter-insurgency programs against the armed group called Naxalites that operates in the areas known as the tribal belt have resulted to massive human rights violations of the adivasi or scheduled tribes. Many of the Indian military forces’ claims of encounters with Naxalites were in reality, attacks, killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of scores of innocent adivasis. Thousands remain in detention with no access to justice and their families are not provided with appropriate assistance for their very impoverished condition.

The Philippines’ human rights situation has worsened despite the repeal of the aforesaid antiquated anti-subversion laws. The enactment of the Human Security Act (HSA) is used against people’s movements, organizations and individuals including those of indigenous peoples that are critical of State policies and programs. The military has vilified these movements, organizations and their members, making them fair targets for repression and even physical elimination. To date, there are more than 43 political killings of indigenous peoples in the Philippines under President Benigno Aquino’s term. Impunity is prevalent despite the international attention on this serious breach of the human rights obligations of the Philippine government.

Thailand recognizes ‘traditional communities’ instead of indigenous peoples under the 2007 Constitution. The Constitution is likewise silent on citizenship rights. This is of serious concern as majority of the more than half a million stateless population in Thailand are indigenous peoples. Thailand has its Emergency Decree of 2005 and Internal Security Act of 2007 to counter people’s uprisings.

The Philippines, India, and Thailand have voted in favor of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the September 2007 UN General Assembly while Bangladesh abstained. Likewise, all these countries have ratified international human rights conventions such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

However, most of the human rights obligations of these states are not reflected or implemented properly in their respective national laws and measures. In particular, the governments of the Philippines and India have national laws relating to indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes respectively but these are not appropriately enforced or have been weakened or are being challenged in courts.

At the same time, the implementation of national security laws is in fact contrary to the laws and policies that respect the rights of indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes. It thereby results to ethnocide in certain areas due to massive evictions, weakening of, or the outright destruction of indigenous institutions as mistrust and fear are sown among the indigenous peoples. Killings or silencing of indigenous leaders add to the systematic violation of their civil and political rights.

This alarming situation needs urgent actions and measures at all levels from local to global in order to abate further human rights violations, attain genuine peace, social justice, non-discrimination, and sustainable development of indigenous peoples as equal to others.

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