Indigenous Peoples: In Defense of our Collective Rights Statement on the Commemoration of International Human Rights Day

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On  6th December, just four days before the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day, Pedro Tinga, a leader of the Mansaka Tribal Council of  Malamodao Barangay, Maco, Compostela Valley Province, in the island of Mindanao,  Philippines was brutally killed by unidentified elements of the 71st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army while he was tending his farm. Five days earlier, Rolen Langala, a Higaonon leader of PANGALASAG  in Opol Municipality, Misamis Oriental Province in the same island, was fatally stabbed a number of times and shot twice on the head allegedly by a local government official.  Just over a year ago, Gilbert Padorada, then a chairperson of PANGALASAG, met the same fate and his case remains unsolved to this day. Pedro and Rolen are only the latest of the 38 indigenous human rights defenders who were summarily killed for working for the human rights of their peoples and communities since the Aquino government in the Philippines came into power.  They are known to have worked for the right to life of their peoples against the entry and operations of a mining company and an oil palm plantation that will deprive them of their source of sustenance.

In Cambodia, indigenous peoples human rights defenders (IPHRDs) and their communities continue to face inaction despite repeated reports, petitions, demonstrations, and self-defense actions like patrolling forests, to protect their livelihoods, spirit forests and waters against land grabbers who come in the guise of economic land concessionaires. Many face threats not only from company guards but also from police and local authorities who are often in cohorts with the company.

In Central India, IPHRDs working to assert community rights to forests are slapped with legal cases to prevent them from exercising their rights under national laws. Villagers have demonstrated, set up barricades and met with authorities from the local to the national levels working to make it known that their right to land, territories and resources are being trampled on in favor of business.

Among IPHRDs and their communities, asserting their rights often results to human rights violations. This year alone, the IPHRD Network (IPHRD Net) reported at least 97 cases of human rights violations (HRVs) committed against indigenous peoples in nine countries in Asia.  At least 4,344 individuals have faced threats, harassment and intimidation, extra-judicial killings, abduction, arbitrary arrests and detention, and physical assaults. Most of these victims are IPHRDs themselves struggling to protect their lands, territories and resources from destructive projects. Of deep concern are the increasing labeling of activists of legitimate indigenous peoples’ movements as “terrorists”, declaring indigenous peoples’ territories as “disturbed areas” to legitimize full-scale military operations, permitting unlawful killings and other human rights violations through legal or quasi-legal arrangements, known variously as “Operation Greenhunt”, “Operation Cleanheart”, “Operation Conflagration”, “Operation Upliftment”, or “Oplan Bayanihan”.

Indigenous peoples lands, territories and resources continue to be exploited for development projects such as mega-dams, mining, plantations, etc., without the free, prior and informed consent of the affected indigenous peoples. The ASEAN Investment Plan

reveals an aggressive plan for these types of extractive projects that would heavily impact indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources as they gear up to achieve an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.  Land grabbing, which is in direct violation of the right to lands, territories and resources and the requirement for the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples, tops the cases reported in 2013, resulting to the forced eviction and displacement of Indigenous communities.

The targeted vilification by the military and paramilitary elements of indigenous organizations, leaders and their communities are aimed to divide and rule communities defending their collective rights in order to facilitate easier entry and implementation of destructive projects and resulting to an escalation of violence and human rights violations.

Despite all the violence they face, IPHRDs and their communities all over the region continue to work for their rights as indigenous peoples most especially against the imposition of destructive projects.

As we commemorate International Human Rights Day, we shall also include the urgent call of indigenous peoples across Asia for the full recognition and respect of their distinct identities, dignity and collective rights as indigenous peoples.  States should abide by their international human rights commitments and obligations that include indigenous peoples rights. This is very critical in achieving non-discrimination, equity and social justice for the more than 200 million indigenous peoples in Asia.

The Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders Network therefore calls on all Asian Governments to:

  1. Engage constructively with indigenous peoples towards the legal recognition of indigenous peoples as distinct peoples with collective rights through constitutional and supportive enabling laws to facilitate the implementation of the UNDRIP.
  2. Provide effective mechanisms and procedures for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in matters that affect them and for the implementation of the free, prior and informed consent in development projects that affect indigenous peoples.
  3. Implement the state obligations under international human treaties that have been ratified, especially bringing in line domestic laws with the international treaties and ratify other core human rights treaties that are yet to be ratified such as the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
  4. Implement all recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other mechanisms and procedures of the United Nations especially in strengthening human rights protection and recommendations relating to improving the situation of indigenous peoples.