Indigenous peoples in Asia are raising alarm on the worsening violation of their collective rights. With Asia becoming the new economic hub for extractive industries and foreign investments, landgrabbing of indigenous lands is now becoming the order of the day such as in India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. The growing physical and economic displacement of indigenous peoples is being ignored inspite of the protests and objections of indigenous communities. Projects such as dams, mining, bio-fuel and agricultural plantations are being implemented in indigenous territories without the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected indigenous communities. Thousands of indigenous peoples have been displaced by these projects with little or no compensation. Some were moved to resettlement areas with clinics but no medicines, schools but lacking teachers and small plots of land that are barely enough for the communities to utilize for their livelihood.
The systematic violation of the rights of indigenous peoples especially to their lands, territories and resources is leading to conflicts and resulting to intimidation, threats arbitrary arrests and detention; and killings among others. Instead of addressing the legitimate concerns of indigenous communities, militarization has been the common response by governments to be able to impose their own development agenda and targets. This action is backed by national security measures and policies such as the “Oplan Bayanihan” in the Philippines, “Operation Green Hunt” in India and the “Operation Uttaran” in Bangladesh among others.
In the Philippines, 33 cases of extrajudicial killings were recorded during the last 2 and a half years of the Aquino administration. Sixteen (16) of these were active members of peoples organizations who were defending their rights against mining and other imposed projects in their territories. Children were not also spared in this as among those 33 recorded cases, four (4) of them were children. Some are also being used as human shields by State forces.
Indigenous women suffer from these violations more severely. They bear the brunt of the loss of livelihoods and are particularly impacted by extractive industries operations as they are frequent victims of sexual harassment and abuses. Access to justice for indigenous women has been very difficult both within their communities and with the State’s legal system given the patriarchal nature of societies and the long tedious processes of courts. Displacement has also a special impact on indigenous women. They lose their means and status while not having access to job opportunities, which makes them vulnerable in either sex work or domestic work in nearly slavery conditions.
Indigenous peoples though are not taking these violations sitting down.
Amidst all these violations, indigenous peoples have initiated actions within their communities to defend their right to their lands, territories and resources. These actions in combination to sustained lobby work of indigenous leaders at the UN level have resulted to the adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was voted favorably by most of the the states in Asia. However, its incorporation and implementation at the national level remains a huge challenge.
At the regional level, the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is a welcome albeit disappointing development. The adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) in November 2012 does not at all provide hope for indigenous peoples who contribute to the acclaimed diversity of the ASEAN. There is no mention at all in the AHRD on indigenous peoples nor any reference to their rights.\
At the national level, indigenous peoples welcome and appreciate the increased attention and engagement of national human rights institutions with indigenous peoples. The incorporation of indigenous peoples rights in the work of national human rights institutions is a very positive development towards the respect, recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Much has yet to be done but indigenous peoples will persevere in asserting for the recognition and respect of their rights as enshrined in the UNDRIP.
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