Tarlac, Philippines [25 March 2014]. Faced with persistent reports of human rights violations against indigenous peoples and their communities in Asia, the members of Human Rights Advocacy Committee (HRAC) declared that they will assist the Secretariat and members in whatever way they can in order to ensure that the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples are promoted and protected, and that human rights violations are addressed and remedied. The HRAC is the programme committee that advices the Human Rights Campaigns and Policy Advocacy (HRCPA) Programme of the Regional Secretariat of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP). Six members of the 12-member Committee from five countries met on March 11, 2014 in La Maja Rica Hotel in Tarlac City, Philippines to evaluate the implementation of the HRCPA Programme for the past year and to review the workplan for 2014.
One key area of discussion among the members was the need to sustain the capacity-building for indigenous peoples human rights defenders (IPHRDs) in order to monitor, document, and report on human rights violations happening wherever they are. Binota Dhamai from Bangladesh who presided over the meeting pointed out that quality information is necessary for evidence-based advocacy although some challenges and helpful factors impact on this. Language remains a barrier in the efficient and timely documentation and reporting of human rights violations. In many instances, the community-based IPHRDs have to go through at least 2 language translations before getting their information across. An added challenge is that often, the communities in struggle are in remoter areas where access to information technology and physical accessibility is difficult compounded by the lack of resources to overcome these challenge. Samin Ngach of Cambodia added “Indigenous peoples are not used to writing down what they see, what they hear, etc. For instance, we never measure the land because it is our territory and we know its boundaries. Documentation is a new experience but we are learning.”
Once information is completed and ready to be used for advocacy, indigenous peoples still face challenges even in accessing available domestic mechanisms. “There is declining interest in the national human rights institutions in the Philippines because these often can be the source of abuse and thus distrusted by communities as has been the experience with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines. We have some helpful experience with the national office of the National Human Rights Commission of the Philippines formed quick reaction teams to investigate some gross human rights violations, but on the whole, we cannot say this for the different regions in the country.” There is recognition though that there are also champions in these mechanisms but since there are no enforcement powers of these bodies, their findings and recommendations to redress human rights violations are often ignored. “The good thing is that these findings which are supportive can be used in campaigns. We also engage these bodies during the annual celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with other government representatives and we will continue to engage them and get their support in our lobby work”, reiterated Thomas Jalong of Malaysia. Despite these limitations, the HRAC recognizes the strategic need to continue engagement with the national human rights institutions and other relevant government bodies.
The regular meeting of the HRAC is part of strengthening the Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders Network (IPHRD Net), a platform for solidarity, coordination and support among indigenous human rights defenders and their organizations. The IPHRD Net is supported by the European Instrument on Democracy and Human Rights to support the IPHRD Net in its work for the promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples in Asia. [HRCPA]