Theme: “Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements”
Today, we commemorate the world’s indigenous peoples day with our fellow indigenous brothers and sisters across the globe. We gather in different places to celebrate the gains and achievements that we have had in the course of our struggles for the recognition, respect and protection of our rights as distinct peoples with collective rights. At the same time, we continue to address the challenges and emerging issues that seriously impact on our rights and wellbeing.
The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by the UN General Assembly in 2007 is a historic milestone for us as indigenous peoples. However, it remains a big challenge for most of us to have the provisions of the UNDRIP integrated in national laws and policies of States. At the same time, except for Nepal, states in Asia are yet to ratify ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
The key developments, in relation to laws and policies on indigenous peoples’ rights and welfare, are, likewise, progressing in some countries in Asia. In Indonesia, the Indonesian Parliament is currently reviewing a Draft Law for the Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Likewise, the Constitutional Court has ruled on the request of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) for a Judicial Review of Act No. 41/1999 on Forestry (Undang-Undang Kehutanan or UUK). The ruling of the court states that Customary Forest is not State Forest and that Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago will get back their rights over their customary forests seized by the State through UUK.
In Malaysia, the Court of Appeals in Sarawak has upheld the ruling of the Sibu High Court that the pemakai menoa (territorial domain) and pulau galau (communal forest reserve) are part of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land. This ruling sets a precedent to the more than 200 NCR land cases in Sarawak, Malaysia which are pending in the high court.
In the Philippines, a joint circular of the Department of Interior and Local Government and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) provides guidelines for local government units for the mandatory representation of indigenous peoples in the local sanggunians (legislative bodies of local government units at the municipal and provincial levels). Also, the Department of Education has adopted the National Indigenous People’s Education Policy Framework (NIPEPF) to address the basic education needs of indigenous peoples in the country. It has also allocated 100 million pesos (approx 2,300,000 USD) to implement this framework.
Awareness on the UNDRIP is increasing with the efforts of indigenous peoples’ organizations and allies in producing and using promotional materials on the UNDRIP such as info-posters, training manuals, videos, comic books and other popular forms. There is a sustained engagement with UN Agencies at different levels and sustained visibility of indigenous peoples in regional and global processes among others.
Despite these positive developments, we, the indigenous peoples in Asia continue to face serious challenges especially on the legal recognition and exercise of our collective rights as stipulated in the UNDRIP. Many Asian countries still claim that they do not have indigenous peoples or that everyone is indigenous. This very fundamental distinction shall have to be addressed with a sense of urgency in order to minimize conflicts and the escalation of the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Further, indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources continue to be exploited for “ development” projects such as mega-dams, mining, plantations, agro-business among others without the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples. The ASEAN Investment Plan reveals the widescale implementation of these kind of extractive projects that will adversely impact indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources among others, as they gear up to achieve an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.Militarization of indigenous communities and or repression have been intensified in areas where these kinds of projects (mining and dam) are being strongly opposed by indigenous peoples such as in Northeast India and Central India, Philippines and Malaysia, resulting to systematic human rights violations. Violent conflicts continue in Bangladesh as military elements facilitate the land-grabbing of indigenous territories in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In Nepal, the 40% indigenous peoples continue to be ignored by the ruling elite in political decision-making processes.
As we celebrate this day, we call on Asian governments to honor their international commitments to respect human rights through the enactment and or enforcement of laws polices and programmes for the recognition, promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in matters affecting them. States that have signed treaties, agreements and other constructive agreements relating to indigenous peoples rights shall be made to account for their obligations. We also call on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to review the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and include the respect for human rights of millions of indigenous peoples in ASEAN. We also call on the UN agencies, funds and programmes to step up their support to indigenous peoples by developing in a participatory manner, targeted interventions at the national level in addressing the needs of indigenous peoples in the region.
We also call on our indigenous brothers and sisters, not to waver in our struggle, like those before us who have fearlessly defended our lands, territories and resources. Let us honor their sacrifices and contributions as we strengthen our solidarity, cooperation and support for each other in advancing our struggles and aspirations for the respect of our rights, for peace, justice and sustainable development in our lands.