Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 On Kenya’s Coast, a Struggle for the Sacredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:58:31 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141260 In addition to being the caretakers of sacred forests, the Mijikenda community in southern Kenya practice agriculture and engage in livestock rearing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

In addition to being the caretakers of sacred forests, the Mijikenda community in southern Kenya practice agriculture and engage in livestock rearing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
KAYA KINONDO, Kenya, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Travel into the heart of Kenya’s southern Coast Province, nearly 500 km from the capital city of Nairobi, and you will come across one of the planet’s most curious World Heritage Sites: the remains of several fortified villages, revered by the indigenous Mijikenda people as the sacred abodes of their ancestors.

"If you have evil intentions within this forest, a curse will befall you and we believe that you may not even come out alive.” -- Rashid Bakari, a member of Kenya's Mijikenda community
Known locally as ‘kaya’, these forested sites date back to the 16th century, when a migration of pastoral communities from present-day Somalia is believed to have led to the creation of several villages covering roughly 200 km across this province’s low-lying hills.

Having thrived for centuries, developing their own language and customs, the kayas began to disintegrate around the early 20th century as famine and fighting took hold.

Today, although uninhabited, the kayas continue to be worshipped as repositories of ancient beliefs and practices.

Thanks to careful nurturing by the Mijikenda people, the groves and graves in the kayas are all that remains of what was once an extensive coastal lowland forest.

But they are under threat.

The discovery in the last three years of large deposits of rare earth minerals in this region has marked the kaya forests out as targets for extraction, development and displacement of the indigenous population.

As property developers and resource explorers eye these ancient lands, locals are squaring off for a fight in what the World Bank has called one of the fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.

‘Bound to our forests’

Mnyenze Abdalla Ali, a representative of the Kaya Kinondo Council of Elders, which represents a kaya forest in Kwale County at the southern-most tip of the province, tells IPS that the Mijikenda people “consider themselves culturally and spiritually bound to their forests.”

Numbering some 1.9 million people, according to the most recent census, the Mijikenda community comprises nine distinct tribes who nevertheless share a language and culture.

Each tribe has its own unique kaya, which simply refers to ‘home’ or to a village built in a forest clearing, Ali explains.

Because the forests are believed to hold the secrets and spirits of ancestors passed, the community is vigilant about their protection. According to one resident of Kaya Kinondo, Hamisi Juma, “Nothing can be taken out of the forest – not even a fallen twig can be used as firewood in our homes.”

She tells IPS that forest debris is only used during rituals and traditional ceremonies, “when we slaughter goats and use twigs to lit the fire. This happens within the forest and only for the purposes of the ritual.”

As a result, some 50 kayas spread throughout Kwale County, Mombasa County and Kilifi County in the Coast Province are home to an exceptionally high level of biodiversity.

Kenya’s own ministry of environment, water and natural resources has declared the region a biodiversity hotspot and pledged to allocate the necessary funds and resources to its protection.

But it is more than just a rich ecological belt.

The local community carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The local community carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) decided to add the kaya forests to its prestigious World Heritage List of over 1,000 protected sites back in 2008, it referred to the area as “an outstanding example of traditional human settlement […] which is representative of a unique interaction with the environment.”

UNESCO also noted that the kaya represent a “fundamental source of the Mijikenda people’s sense of ‘being-in-the-world’ and of place within the cultural landscape of contemporary Kenya.”

Furthermore, the forests are highly prized as a repository of medicinal plants and herbs, according to Eunice Adhiambo, project manager at Ujamaa Centre, a non-governmental organisation founded on the philosophy of “building social capital, not capital accumulation” as put forward by Tanzania’s first independent leader, Julius Nyerere.

Dedicated to empowering exploited communities in Kenya, the Ujamaa Centre supports the Mijikenda’s struggle to preserve these “unblemished and very unique landscapes”, Adhiambo tells IPS.

“Although kaya forests constitute about five percent of the remaining closed-canopy forest cover of Kenya’s coast, 35 percent of the highest conservation-value sites are found here,” she adds.

“If developers have their way,” she says, “we will lose so much of the richness that Mother Nature has given us. We have the responsibility of conserving this gift because we cannot buy it anywhere.”

But not all residents of this country of 20 million people share this view – particularly not economists, investors and policymakers keen to realise a forecasted economic growth rate increase from 5.4 percent in 2014 to six or seven percent over the 2015-2017 period.

Rare earth minerals – a tempting opportunity

Kenya’s profile as a potential top rare earth minerals producer rose significantly when, in 2012, mineral explorer Cortec Mining Kenya Ltd. announced it had found deposits worth 62.4 billion dollars.

At the time, the mineral exploration company planned to sink between 160 million and 200 million dollars into a drilling operation at its Mrima Hill prospect, also home to kaya forests.

The corporation projected initial output of 2,900 to 3,600 tonnes of niobium, an element used in high-temperature alloys for special kinds of steel, such as is used in the production of gas pipelines, cars and jet engines.

Experts estimated the deposit at Mrima Hill to be the sixth largest in the world, with a mine life of 16-18 years.

Fully exploited, it would put Kenya among the ranks of the major niobium exporters; in 2012, Brazil accounted for 95 percent of the world’s combined annual niobium production of 100,000 tonnes, while Canada followed at a distant second place.

As environmental groups and civil society organisations concerned about the impact of mining on sensitive ecological and cultural sites mounted a huge challenge, the government revoked an initial 21-year license granted to the company – though it did not cite environmental causes for its decision.

In early 2015, the government upheld a court decision to revoke the license, and announced plans to bring mineral exploration under state control.

On Mar. 20, Mining Minister Najib Balala stated in a press release, “Not […] Cortec or any other company will be allowed to do exploration at Mrima. It will be handled on behalf of the people of Kenya and especially the people of Mrima and Kwale County as a whole.”

This news has not, however, been met with much optimism from indigenous communities, who continue to view Kenya’s ambitious economic development agenda with trepidation.

Both the extractive and real estate sectors have emerged as major drivers of the country’s growth in the coming decade, and deposits of rare earth minerals could be a huge boon for the country.

Ernst & Young say demand for rare earth minerals is rising, with their market share estimated at between four and six billion dollars in 2015.

While China currently meets 90 percent of global demand, Kenya – along with other African nations like Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia – could crack the Asian giant’s monopoly.

In addition, discoveries of oil and natural gas in 2013 in Turkana County, on Kenya’s border with South Sudan, together with news that explorers had tapped into titanium deposits along the 500-km coastline, re-ignited fears of massive encroachment and destruction of kaya forests.

According to Kenya’s 2015 National Economic Survey, “The overall value of mineral production rose by 6.1 percent to stand at KSh 20.9 billion [about 212 million U.S. dollars] from KSh 19.8 billion [201 million U.S. dollars] in 2013, mainly on account of production of Titanium ore.”

The Ujamaa Centre says that some indigenous communities are beginning to give in to the pressures of extractive industries and the lure of quick money from real estate developers.

Kaya Chivara, located in Kilifi County, for instance, is completely degraded as a result of human encroachment, while others – particularly those in mineral-rich Kwale Country – are at high risk.

“Imminent niobium extraction will certainly degrade the forest,” Ujamaa’s Adhiambo predicts, stressing that the Mijikenda people are now poised to play a major role in halting any potentially destructive development.

‘A curse or a blessing’

So far, despite developers of all stripes hungering after the land – with some property developers even buying up tracts that encroach into protected areas – Kaya Kinondo remains in safe hands.

Some kaya forests, particularly in Kilifi County in Kenya’s Coast Province, have been heavily degraded due to extractive industries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some kaya forests, particularly in Kilifi County in Kenya’s Coast Province, have been heavily degraded due to extractive industries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The Council of Elders has been vigilant about protection of the forest, and the community has fallen back on their belief in powerful rituals to ward off bad omens.

Mijikendas say that two pillars govern the spirit of the kaya forests: either a curse or a blessing.

Rashid Bakari, a kaya guide who works with youth from the community to bring visitors into the forests, tells IPS, “If you have evil intentions within this forest, a curse will befall you and we believe that you may not even come out alive.”

For those who do not subscribe to his convictions, the Kenyan constitution is also proving to be a source of protection, with Article 44 providing for community participation in the resolution of disputes over customary land.

The Ujamaa Collective, which works to enhance popular participation in socio-economic processes and supports community based decision-making and governance, believes the government must be held accountable to these clauses.

Adhiambo also tells IPS that her organisation is “encouraging communities to work with the local governments to help them preserve what is left of their natural heritage.”

She says that community discussions with Josephat Chirema of the County Assembly Committee of Culture and Development has borne fruit, with the committee member promising to introduce debate in the Kwale County Assembly to establish and obtain detailed information about kayas – and the need to work with indigenous communities for their preservation.

Now, caretakers of several other kayas are working closely with the Kaya Kinondo Council of Elders, for lessons on how to salvage what is left of their hallowed heritage.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Smart Phones New Tool to Capture Human Rights Violationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:31:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141263 Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

The widespread use of digital technology – including satellite imagery, body cameras and smart phones – is fast becoming a new tool in monitoring and capturing human rights violations worldwide.

Singling out the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Christof Heyns says: “We have all seen how the actions of police officers and others who use excessive force are captured on cell phones and lead to action against the perpetrators.”“We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen.'" -- Christof Heyns

Billions of people around the world now carry a powerful weapon to capture such events in their pockets, he said.

“The fact that this is well-known can be a significant deterrent to abuses,” Heyns said, in a report to the 29th session of the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began its three-week session in Geneva June 15.

Heyns said the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

In his report, Heyns urged the U.N. system and other international human rights bodies to “catch up” with rapidly developing innovations in human rights fact-finding and investigations.

“The digital age presents challenges that can only be met through the smart use of digital tools,” he said.

Javier El-Hage, General Counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS that HRF can corroborate the special rapporteur’s findings that ICTs, like cellphone cameras or even satellite imagery, play a key role in documenting extrajudicial executions.

From democratic societies like Germany or the United States where ‘civilian witnesses’ documenting instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions create an effective check on law enforcement abuse, to societies under competitive authoritarian regimes like Kazakhstan or Venezuela where witnesses themselves can face extrajudicial execution for filming police brutality, ICTs play a huge role in documenting this egregious type of human rights violation, he said.

“Even in North Korea, the world’s most repressive and tightly closed society, satellite imagery has long helped determine the exact location and population estimates of prison camps, and recently helped uncover a disturbing case of executions by firing squad, where executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns.”

In his report, Heyns told the Human Rights Council the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

He said various organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger.

“New information tools can also empower human rights investigations and help to foster accountability where people have lost their lives or were seriously injured,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The use of other video technologies, ranging from CCTV cameras to body-worn “cop cams”, can further contribute to filling information gaps.

Resources such as satellite imagery to verify such videos, or sometime to show evidence of violations themselves, is also an important dimension, he noted.

But despite the many advantages offered by ICTs, Heyns said it would be short-sighted not to see the risks as well.

“Those with the power to violate human rights can easily use peoples’ emails and other communications to target them and also to violate their privacy,” he said.

The fact that people can use social media to organise spontaneous protests can lead authorities to perceive a threat – and to over-react.

Moreover, there is a danger that what is not captured on video is not taken seriously. “We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen,’” he stressed.

El-Hage told IPS his Foundation also agrees with the special rapporteur that ICTs are a double-edged sword because through them governments can “easily access the emails and other communications” of law-abiding citizens, especially political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders, “to target them and violate their privacy.”

HRF has recently denounced the cases of targeted surveillance and persecution against pro-democracy activists Hisham Almiraat in Morocco and Waleed Abu AlKhair in Saudi Arabia, and was among the organisations that submitted a white paper to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to inform his own report on the way ‘encryption’ and ‘anonymity’ can protect both the rights to privacy and free speech.

In his report, Heyns also cautioned that not all communities, and not all parts of the world, are equally connected, and draws special attention to the fact that “the ones that not connected are often in special need of protection.”

“There is still a long way to go for all of us to understand fully how we can use these evolving and exciting but in some ways also scary new tools to their best effect,” Heyn said pointing out that not all parts of the international human rights community are fully aware of the power and pitfalls of digital fact-finding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: G7 Makes Commitment on Climate … to Climate Chaoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 07:07:19 +0000 Lucy Cadena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141083 Is the G7 commitment to an energy transition that aims to gradually  phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change just hot air? Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

Is the G7 commitment to an energy transition that aims to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change just hot air? Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

By Lucy Cadena
LONDON, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

One of the promises made by the leaders of the world’s seven richest nations when they met at Schloss Elmau in Germany earlier this week was an energy transition over the next decades, aiming to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change.

Let us be clear: a target of zero fossil fuels by 2100 puts us on track for warming on an unmanageable scale. The only commitment made by the G7 this week was a commitment to climate chaos.

Putting our faith in as-yet-underdeveloped technology fixes such as ‘carbon capture and storage’ and ‘geo-engineering’ to save us in the next 85 years, while the solutions to the climate crisis – renewable technology and community energy systems – exist here and now, is senseless.“The only way to avoid the worst of climate change is to act now, with urgency and ambition. Not by 2100, nor 2050. We need real commitment to real solutions – and the best place the G7 can start is by taking its money – public money – out of dirty energy”

The only way to avoid the worst of climate change is to act now, with urgency and ambition. Not by 2100, nor 2050. We need real commitment to real solutions – and the best place the G7 can start is by taking its money – public money – out of dirty energy.

While the G7 gathered on Jun. 7 and 8, this was the message from people from around the world, who are calling for a ban on all new dirty energy projects and an end to the financing of dirty energy.

The G7’s role in upholding the current dirty energy system is not limited to the subsidies they pour into fossil fuels daily.

G7 countries also directly finance – and profit from – dirty energy projects, particularly in the global South, and in regions where poverty and limited energy access devastate families.

These include projects affecting communities deeply reliant on clean air, water, and land that is polluted and stolen from them, projects among populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and projects where people face harassment and human rights violations for speaking out.

France

Last week, France, host of the 30 November-11 December 2015 Paris climate summit – the U.N. gathering to set the agenda for global climate commitments in the next decades – announced that two of the summit’s key sponsors will be EDF and ENGIE (formerly GDF-Suez).

The French state holds 84 percent and 33.3 percent of shares in these companies respectively. Both are involved in the construction of several very controversial, polluting projects across the world.

EDF is currently planning the destructive Mphanda Nkuwa mega-dam on the Zambezi River in Mozambique, in the face of fierce opposition from local communities and environmental organisations.

A letter from civil society reminds French President François Hollande that these and other projects place EDF and ENGIE among the top 50 companies that contribute the most to global climate change.

With 46 coal-fired power plants between them, EDF and ENGIE are responsible for emitting 151 million tonnes of CO₂ a year – which amounts to about half the total of France’s overall emissions.

Italy

The Italian state owns a considerable number of shares – almost one-third – in oil and gas company ENI. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, last year alone ENI reported 349 oil spills in the Niger Delta from its own operations.

The figure is remarkable – almost unbelievable. Each spill triggers a human and ecological crisis. The scale of the devastation and ENI’s failure to safeguard communities and ecosystems begs the question: is this sheer incompetence, recklessness, or simply utter indifference to the welfare of local communities?

Japan

Japan, the next offender on the G7 list, is the number one public financier of coal plants globally among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Japan has 24 coal-powered projects either under construction or planned, many of them in Indonesia, Vietnam and India, where the more vulnerable local populations live under the cloud of plants’ toxic emissions.

Emissions of deadly sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal plants are currently highest in Indonesia, where the planned Batang coal power plant is set to become the largest ever Japanese-financed plant in Southeast Asia.

United States

A report by Oil Change International indicates that the United States government alone provides 5.1 billion dollars in national subsidies to fossil fuel exploration each year – that’s 5.1 billion dollars into seeking out new sources of civilisation-destroying energy sources.

Canada

Likewise, Canada’s expanding oil sector (caused by the growth in dirty tar sands production, known as ‘the biggest industrial project on Earth’) continues to reap the benefits of massive national subsidies.

United Kingdom

The U.K. government spent 300 times more supporting dirty energy overseas than it contributed towards renewable energy projects during its last term.

The 2012-2013 annual report of UK Export Finance, the country’s export credit agency, announced spending on projects such as a 147 million pounds (228 million dollars) guarantee to support oil and gas exploration by Petrobras in Brazil and 15 million pounds (23 million dollars) in guarantees to a loan for a gas power project in the Philippines.

Domestically, the government is prioritising drilling for new oil and gas, which will require huge subsidies. Hailing carbon-emitting gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ towards a cleaner energy system, the government is delaying investment in renewables to push fracking onto a population that vehemently opposes the dash for gas.

Germany

Meanwhile, Germany – the host of the G7 meeting – has been much lauded for its ‘Energiewende’ (‘Energy Revolution’), with a rapidly increasing use of renewable energy compensating for its nuclear phase-out in recent years.

However, German euros still make their way into the dirty energy machine – through sizeable tax exemptions afforded to fossil fuel producers’ exploration activities – allowing such companies to go further and dig deeper to uncover more carbon that needs to stay in the ground.

G7 Must Catch Up

The G7 countries have done the most to cause climate change. According to the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, they are responsible for 70 percent of historical carbon emissions, while hosting only 10 percent of the global population.

A commitment to a phase-out of fossil fuels in eight decades’ time is not a commitment. It is an easy promise for a politician, who probably will not even be in power in the next decade, to make. It is an easy promise for a rich nation, whose citizens are not the most vulnerable, to make.

G7 societies have grown rich by exploiting the human and natural world. They owe an enormous ‘climate debt’ to developing nations – yet they can barely scrape together the money they promised to the developing world via the Green Climate Fund.

Whether it’s an oil spill in Nigeria, a mega-dam in Mozambique or a coal plant in Java, the sources of our publicly-owned dirty energy are always sites of ecological and social devastation.

Access to energy is a right, but it should not come at the cost of other people’s rights – to clean air and drinking water, to land and food sovereignty, and to sustainable societies.

The international movement for climate justice is building, and will keep up pressure on governments to take money out of dirty energy and reinvest it in democratic renewable solutions that benefit everyone.

The global shift towards a just energy transformation has long been under way. Now, it’s snowballing. People from around the world are showing the way and implementing community-owned renewable energy solutions.

There is a hunger for change, despite continued inaction from governments. G7 leaders, take note: you are trailing far behind and have a lot of catching up to do!

Edited by Phil Harris

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Native Communities in Mexico Demand to be Consulted on Wind Farmshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/native-communities-in-mexico-demand-to-be-consulted-on-wind-farms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-communities-in-mexico-demand-to-be-consulted-on-wind-farms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/native-communities-in-mexico-demand-to-be-consulted-on-wind-farms/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 07:32:40 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140947 A wind park in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where local communities and indigenous people are fighting the installation of wind turbines in their territory. Credit: Courtesy of the International Service for Peace (SIPAZ)

A wind park in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where local communities and indigenous people are fighting the installation of wind turbines in their territory. Credit: Courtesy of the International Service for Peace (SIPAZ)

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

“It hurts us that our land is affected, and the environmental impacts are not even measured. Wind farm projects affect streams and hurt the flora,” said Zapotec Indian Isabel Jiménez, who is taking part in the struggle against the installation of a wind park in southern Mexico.

The 42-year-old healer says the turbines endanger medicinal plants, which are essential for her traditional healing work in the city of Juchitán in the state of Oaxaca, 720 km south of the capital.

“We are right, we know the truth,” Jiménez told IPS. “That’s why we are resisting this, and exercising our rights.”

The Zapotec indigenous woman is one of the leaders of the opposition to the Energía Eólica del Sur (Wind Energy of the South) company’s plans to build a wind park in the area to generate 396 MW that would feed into regional power grids.

Jiménez belongs to the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo Juchiteco – the Juchiteco People’s Assembly – founded in February 2013 to protect the rights of native communities in the face of the introduction of wind farms in their territories.

They are protesting the ecological, social and economic damage caused by wind parks.“They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads. We don’t want any more wind turbines; they have to respect our territory because it is the last land we have left.” – Isabel Jiménez

In addition, they are complaining about incompliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which requires prior, free and informed consent, and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which have been ratified by Mexico.

In November an inter-institutional technical committee made up of delegates of local, state and federal governments began a consultation process with regard to the wind park, and decided to conclude the informative phase in April despite the objections raised by local communities, and move on to the deliberative phase to discuss the viewpoints of the different parties.

Local inhabitants worry that the procedure followed will be used as a model for future projects forming part of the country’s energy reform, whose legal framework was enacted in August 2014, opening up electricity generation and sales, including renewables, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

“The problem is that there has been no consultation process to obtain free, prior and informed consent,” Antonio López, a lawyer with the non-governmental Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project (PRODESC), told IPS. “They are trying to speed up these processes, and the conditions are created to hold a certain kind of consultation process favourable to the projects.”

PRODESC advises local communities in the area in defence of their rights.

On Apr. 24, Zapotec communities filed a lawsuit in federal court against the consultation process that was carried out. The ruling is expected to be handed down shortly.

Juchitán is located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a windy narrow land bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca where a large proportion of the country’s wind energy projects are being developed.

The isthmus, which is 200 km wide, is now home to 21 wind farms, including 12 in Juchitán, according to the Mexican Wind Energy Association.

Renewable energies, not including large hydropower dams, account for seven percent of electricity generation in Mexico. Wind power generates 2,551 MW a year, and the plan is to scale that up to 15,000 MW by 2020.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, there are 11 million indigenous people, distributed in 54 different communities, in this country of 120 million people. But that figure is considered an underestimate because it only includes people over five who speak a native language.

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is mainly inhabited by Zapotec, Huave, Zoque, Mixe and Chontal Indians.

“There have been many problems with the application of the consultation process, such as a lack of information and attacks on community leaders and rights defenders,” Andrea Cerami, a lawyer with the defence and public policies section of the non-governmental Mexican Centre for Environmental Law (CEMDA), told IPS.

He said that when a state plans infrastructure works or other projects in native territories without due consultation, it violates the rights of communities, which are protected by international treaties and national laws.

Mexico’s laws on fossil fuels and the power industry, which form part of the country’s energy reform, stipulate that local communities must be consulted. But the law on fossil fuels does not offer a way out for the owners of land, who must reach an agreement with the public or private companies in question or accept an eventual court verdict.

Civil society organisations complain that the planned energy projects would overlap rural indigenous territories – a source of conflict that makes properly conducted consultation processes essential.

Since January, Rarámuri indigenous communities in the northern state of Sinaloa have blocked the construction of a gas pipeline between Sinaloa and the U.S. state of Texas across the border, until a consultation process is carried out to obtain their free, prior and informed consent.

The Yaqui Indians in the northern state of Sonora are likewise fighting the Acueducto Independencia, a pipeline that has carried water from Sonora to the northern city of Hermosillo since March 2013, despite several victories in court by the native communities.

In Oaxaca, Mixe indigenous groups had to go to federal court to see their right to consultation enforced before the National Water Commission, with respect to the use of wells on their land.

“They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads,” complained Jiménez, who has practiced traditional healing since 1993. “We don’t want any more wind turbines; they have to respect our territory because it is the last land we have left.”

Energía Eólica del Sur has a history of conflicts. Until 2013 the company was named Mareña Renovables, which tried to build a 396 MW wind farm in the town of San Dionisio del Mar, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

But the wind park, with a projected investment of 1.2 billion dollars, including 75 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), has been stalled since 2013 as a result of court verdicts in favour of the local communities that would have been affected. As a result, Energía Eólica del Sur decided to move to Juchitán.

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM), regarding the loan.

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. It has been investigating the case since December 2014, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

“This is an opportunity to make sure people are informed in the future,” López said. “We want to give the legal system a chance to respect human rights.”

Cerami, whose organisation, CEMDA, advises the Yaqui Indians in their struggle, said the consultation process helps defuse conflicts.

“Already existing social and environmental conflicts can be exacerbated, and they can escalate in intensity and trigger other kinds of actions,” he said. “The consultation is a mechanism for dialogue that should favour broad participation and help parties with different interests reach understandings.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Voices Ignored in Financing Panamanian Dam Projecthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/indigenous-voices-ignored-in-financing-panamanian-dam-project/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-voices-ignored-in-financing-panamanian-dam-project http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/indigenous-voices-ignored-in-financing-panamanian-dam-project/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 07:38:18 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140922 By Kwame Buist
AMSTERDAM, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the impact of a hydroelectric project in Panama were not consulted despite national and international human rights obligations to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, according to a just-released report.

Acting on behalf of communities in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous territory, the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M-10) had filed a complaint with the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) of the Dutch FMO and German DEG development banks alleging that the Barro Blanco dam project which the banks were financing would lead to the flooding of the communities’ homes, schools, and religious, archaeological and cultural sites.

The two banks were accused of failing to adequately assess the risks to indigenous rights and the environment before approving a 50 million dollar loan to GENISA, the project’s developer.

The independent panel’s report, released May 29, found that the “lenders should have sought greater clarity on whether there was consent to the project from the appropriate indigenous authorities prior to project approval,” adding that “the lenders have not taken the resistance of the affected communities seriously enough.”

“We did not give our consent to this project before it was approved, and it does not have our consent today,” said Manolo Miranda, a representative of the M-10.  “We demand that the government, GENISA and the banks respect our rights and stop this project.”

According to the ICM’s report, “significant issues related to social and environmental impact and, in particular, issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples were not completely assessed.”

The environmental and social action plan (ESAP) accompanying the project “contains no provision on land acquisition and resettlement and nothing on biodiversity and natural resources management. Neither does it contain any reference to issues related to cultural heritage.”

Ana María Mondragón, a lawyer at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), said: “This failure constitutes a violation of international standards regarding the obligation to elaborate adequate and comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments before implementing any development project, in order to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent, information and effective participation of the potentially affected community.”

In February this year, the Panamanian government provisionally suspended construction of the Barro Blanco dam and subsequently convened a dialogue table with the Ngöbe-Buglé, with the facilitation of the United Nations, to discuss the future of the project.

The Barro Blanco project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism, a system under the Kyoto Protocol that allows the crediting of emission reductions from greenhouse gas abatement projects in developing countries.

“As climate finance flows are expected to flow through various channels in the future, the lessons of Barro Blanco must be taken very seriously,” said Pierre-Jean Brasier, network coordinator at Carbon Market Watch. “To prevent that future climate mitigation projects have negative impacts, a strong institutional safeguard system that respects all human rights is required.”

The ICM will monitor the banks’ implementation of corrective actions and recommendations, while M-10 said that it expects FMO and DEG to withdrawal their investment from the project and ask that the Dutch and German governments show a public commitment to ensuring the rights of the affected Ngöbe-Buglé.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Australia’s ‘Stolen Generations’ Not a Closed Chapterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/australias-stolen-generations-not-a-closed-chapter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=australias-stolen-generations-not-a-closed-chapter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/australias-stolen-generations-not-a-closed-chapter/#comments Sat, 30 May 2015 09:35:32 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140877 An Aboriginal activist shouts slogans during a march in Brisbane, Australia, to stop the cycle of ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

An Aboriginal activist shouts slogans during a march in Brisbane, Australia, to stop the cycle of ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
BRISBANE, May 30 2015 (IPS)

Every year since 1998, Australia has marked ‘National Sorry Day’ on May 26, a day to remember the tens of thousands of indigenous children who, between the 1890s and 1970s, were forcibly removed from their communities by government authorities and placed into the care of white families or institutions to be assimilated into settler society.

‘National Sorry Day’ was set up following publication in 1997 of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report, the result of the first national inquiry which collected testimonies of ‘stolen’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and criticised the racist policies that allowed their systematic separation from their families.

The report played a central role in highlighting the plight of the so-called ‘stolen generations’ but it took a further 11 years until the government formally apologised for this ‘blemished chapter’ in Australia’s history. Only in 2008 did then Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd take the unprecedented step.“If you listen to someone from the older age group of stolen generations and the younger ones, the essence of what they say is the same. They never met mother, they never met grandma. They feel they don’t belong anywhere. How they feel inside is the same” - Auntie Hazel, founding member of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR)

“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations (…) we say sorry,” he said on that occasion, before going on to envision a future in which “Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.”

Despite the apology, indigenous activists maintain that the ‘stolen generations’ is hardly an isolated chapter, let alone a closed one. “From the first few weeks of the invasion in the 1780s, they started removing our children and breaking down our families,” Sam Watson, a prominent Aboriginal leader and activist, told IPS. “And there are more children being removed now than ever before,” he added.

A recent report by the Government Productivity Commission, titled ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage’, corroborates Watson’s interpretation. Indigenous children in out-of-home-care numbered 5,059 in June 2004 and 14,991 in June 2014. Barely five percent of the population under 17 is indigenous and yet, the report shows, 35 percent of all children removed are Aboriginal and Strait Islanders.

Mary Moore is founder of the Legislative Ethics Commission and has followed many cases of indigenous and non-indigenous child removal. She calls Australia the ‘child-stealing capital of the world’.

Many jobs depend on this ingrained practice and laws are passed to legitimise it, she says. “Removal and adoption are counter-intuitive strategies,” she told IPS. “They ignore the damaging lifelong consequences on children and they are far more costly than supporting families to remain united.”

Authorities justify removals in the name of ‘child protection’ and point to a context of ‘neglect’ and possible ‘risk’ as justifying factors. But the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander minority, overly represented at the bottom of most socio-economic indices, wants to know whose ‘neglect’ and racist policies have contributed to the widespread poverty, soaring incarceration numbers or high mental illness rates affecting their communities.

Although federal government talks of “closing the gap in indigenous disadvantage”, critics say that, often enough, in order to end ongoing state of neglect of Aboriginal communities, the only gap to bridge is between government’s promises and its actions.

In February 2015, at a speech marking the anniversary of the 2008 national apology, former Prime Minister Rudd, while not ignoring the staggering 400 percent increase in removal of indigenous children since 1998, called the crisis a “new type of stolen generation” rather than an unresolved and continuing crisis.

For Auntie Hazel, a founding member of the grassroots pressure group Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), there is no difference between what happened then and what happens now. “If you listen to someone from the older age group of stolen generations and the younger ones, the essence of what they say is the same,” she told IPS.

“They never met mother, they never met grandma. They feel they don’t belong anywhere. How they feel inside is the same,” she said.

GMAR was founded in New South Wales (NWS) in January 2014. NSW has the worst track record in child removals explains Auntie Hazel and GMAR was a way to say “enough is enough”. Just a year later, it had grown into a nationwide movement made up of self-organising charters throughout Australia’s affected communities.

The National Aboriginal Strategic Alliance to Bring the Children Home (NASA) now brings together GMAR and other like-minded groups. Protests, round-tables, marches and sit-ins have taken place across Australia and an international solidarity network is growing rapidly.

“We are all one and fighting for the same thing,” said Auntie Hazel. “It’s only when the little ones can nurture their spirit inside that they can become proud Aboriginal people.”

Ultimately, GMAR seeks to achieve self-determination in the care and protection of indigenous children and end the “power and control” that governments hold over the indigenous minority.

At the moment, many in the community complain, children are taken away with worrying ease, sometimes on the basis of unfounded and unchecked hearsay.

Anyone, Auntie Hazel explained, can call a hotline anonymously and say things about you. “Then maybe one day your child spends the lunch money on sweets so the teacher, a mandatory reporter, tells the Department of Community and Social Services (DOCS) that the child had no money for food. And so on until there is a case against you and you just don’t know.”

One of GMAR’s proposals to end this cycle is the establishment of an ‘Aboriginal expert committee’. Made up of health specialists, the committee will work with families deemed “at risk” by the DOCS before the children are removed.

Such a committee would have spared Albert Hartnett, one of GMAR’s male members, much anguish. In 2012 his 18-month-old daughter Stella was removed without warning. “DOCS officials escorted by police officers knocked on my door one Friday morning,” he recalls, still emotionally shaken.

“They said the child was at risk. They asked me ‘where is the dog?’ but I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. We had no dog.” Although DOCS did not find any of the “risks” mentioned in their documents, such as dog excrement on the floor, they still took the child.

Friday removals are a practice being fought by GMAR because it puts DOCS at an advantage by leaving families without support for a whole weekend. “They tell you ‘you are an unsuitable parent’ and it is easy to fall into a downward spiral,” Hartnett said.

With no faith in the system, Hartnett attended the consultations the following Monday and in the evening received a surprise phone call from DOCS asking to assess his home. “It happened backwards,” the father of five told IPS. “First they took the child and then they came to assess.” The child was restored to the family but everyone, said Hartnett, has remained scarred by the experience.

“After the [2008] apology,” Auntie Hazel told IPS, “our community felt disempowered. We were suffering in silence.”

The truth was out about removals and instead “government stigmatised us,” Hartnett told IPS, referring to the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention when, citing unfounded allegations of child abuse, federal government seized control of a number of indigenous communities.

Olivia Nigro, a social justice campaigner and researcher for GMAR told IPS that in this context, what GMAR has achieved is mobilisation from within. “GMAR has galvanised families in affected communities. It has really generated the political confidence to talk about this issue and demand redress for the people.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read other articles in the series here.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Minorities Threatened More by Governments than Terrorist Groups, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 19:52:59 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140729 Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2015 (IPS)

In the conflict-ridden Middle East, minority groups continue to be threatened, attacked and expelled from their home countries by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Still, a new study released Wednesday by the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says populations in the region were more at risk from their own governments.Threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - increased significantly both last year and this year.

The minorities under attack include Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, ethnic Kurds, and both Coptic and Assyrian Christians.

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s executive director, told IPS the threat to minorities around the world from terrorism is very real, “but it is generally not as great as the threat from their own governments.”

From Sudan to Myanmar to the Russian Federation, he pointed out, minorities have suffered systematic attacks from the governments that are supposed to protect them.

In Syria, while many minorities now live in government-held enclaves, the civilian death toll as a whole is highest from attacks by the government side, he added.

With over 200,000 people now dead in the conflict, and up to half of the population forced from their homes, the crisis in Syria continues to worsen.

For the first time, the Syrian crisis tops the annual ‘Peoples under Threat’ table.

Extreme sectarianism has now infected much of the country, with nearly all the remaining Christian communities living in enclaves in government-held areas, the report noted.

Only in the Kurdish-held regions of the north has there been a serious attempt at establishing an inclusive democracy, says MRG.

According to the report, threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan- increased significantly both last year and this year.

Asked what the United Nations can do to protect minority rights, Lattimer told IPS thousands of U.N. staffers around the world work hard to protect minority communities.

But the U.N. as a whole often takes a reactive approach, only taking notice once violations of minority rights become extreme.

Enormous improvements could be made if minorities were routinely included in development projects, if minorities were able to participate fully in public life and if minority communities were represented around the table at peace talks, he added.

Iraq headed the table when the Peoples under Threat index was first published in 2006 and it has never been far from the top of the index in the intervening years.

Over 14,000 civilians were killed in 2014, many of them in massacres perpetrated by ISIS as it expelled minority communities, including Yezidis, Shabak, Chaldo-Assyrians and Turkmen, from Mosul, Sinjar and the Ninewa plain.

Thousands of Yezidi women and girls remain in ISIS captivity, and the risk remains acute for Shi’a communities threatened by ISIS and Sunnis at risk of retaliation from Iraqi Security Forces and allied Shi’a militias, according to MRG.

Conflict in the Central African Republic, which has risen four places this year, to occupy number 10 in the ranking, continued between the largely Muslim former Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka militias comprised mainly of Christians.

Upwards of 850,000 people – nearly one-fifth of the country’s population – were refugees or internally displaced at the end of 2014, and many tens of thousands more fled their homes in the first months of 2015.

A controversial peace agreement was signed in April 2015 between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka leaders in Nairobi.

Egypt rose another three places in the index this year, according to the study.

Ongoing fighting and toughening security measures have affected the lives of Sinai Bedouin, who have long suffered political and economic marginalisation.

Human rights activists also continued to criticise the government for doing too little to provide security for Coptic and other Christian communities, especially in Upper Egypt, where individuals, their homes and places of worship regularly came under attack.

In China, which has risen a dramatic 15 places in the table, there was a severe escalation in the tactics used by Uighur militants seeking independence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Over 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks, hundreds detained in mass arrests and dozens of death sentences handed down.

Little has been done, says MRG, to address the legacy of under-development and exclusion of Uighur communities that lies behind the unrest, and the government’s strategy of labelling Uighur human rights activists as terrorists has forestalled attempts to improve the situation.

The return of a more autocratic style of government in the Russian Federation, which occupies position 16 in the table, has coincided with rising xenophobia in Russian society against migrants, whether from abroad or from the Caucasus, says MRG.

But the threat is greatest in the North Caucasus itself, where regular clashes continue between Russian forces and Islamist separatists in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and, particularly, Dagestan, adds MRG.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 Opinion: Bangladesh’s Persecuted Indigenous Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 21:25:20 +0000 Julia Bleckner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140687

Julia Bleckner is a Senior Associate in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

By Julia Bleckner
NEW YORK, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The August 2014 killing of Timir Baran Chakma, an indigenous Jumma activist, allegedly in Bangladeshi military custody, was protested by his supporters. His death, and the failure of justice, like the plight of his people across the Chittagong Hills region, received little international notice.

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Representatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission came to New York this month to shed light on the dire situation in the border region between India and Burma. Describing the ongoing crisis to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, they expressed one clear and simple ask: to finally implement the terms of a peace accord established almost two decades ago between the government and local armed groups.

One member of the community told the U.N. that the Bangladesh government has taken “repressive measures and deployed heavy military,” adding that instead of ensuring their protection, the military presence “has only aggravated human rights violations.”

In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the indigenous groups—who mostly practice Theraveda Buddhism and speak local dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages—have a long endured displacement and suffering. In the late 1970s, then-president Ziaur Rehman instituted a government-run “population transfer programme” in which the government provided cash and in-kind incentives to members of the country’s majority Bengali community to move to the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population.

From 1977, the military moved into the region in response to the rise of local armed groups opposed to the “settlers” and the imposition of Bengali identity and language.The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

In the years following, there were credible reports of soldiers subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings. According to one source, more than 2,000 indigenous women were raped during the conflict from 1971-1994. The security forces were implicated in many cases of sexual violence.

The 1997 peace accord aimed to bring an end to this violence and officially recognised the distinct ethnicity and relative autonomy of the tribes and indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills region.

However, 17 years later, the terms of the peace accord still have not been implemented. Instead, the Jumma face increasing levels of violence from Bengali setters, with no effective response from the state.

Members of the CHT Commission, a group of activists monitoring the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, told Human Rights Watch that the settlers have attacked indigenous homes, shops, and places of worship—in some cases with the complicity of security forces. There are reports of clashes between the two communities.

The situation is so tense that even some members of the CHT Commission were attacked by a group of settlers in July 2014. The perpetrators are yet to be identified and prosecuted.

The peace accord specifically called for the demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hills area. But nearly two decades later, the region remains under military occupation. The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have failed to deliver the autonomy promised by the peace accord, representatives of the CHT Commission said. Instead the central government has directly appointed representatives to the hill district councils without holding elections as mandated by the peace accord.

With the tacit agreement of the military, Bengali settlers from the majority community have moved into the Chittagong Hills, in some cases displacing the Jumma from their land without compensation or redress.

The Kapaeeng Foundation, a foundation focused on rights of the indigenous people of Bangladesh, has reported that at least 51 women and girls suffered sexual violence inflicted by Bengali settlers and the military in 2014, while there have already been 10 cases as of May 2015.

Earlier this year a group of Bengali settlers gang raped a Bagdi woman and her daughter, according to the Foundation. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. In some instances, survivors—such as the Bagdi women—who file cases at the local police station have faced threats from the alleged perpetrators if they do not withdraw their case.

In an effort to block international attention to the plight of the Jumma, in January, the Bangladesh Home Ministry introduced a discriminatory directive which, among other things, increased military checkpoints and forbade both foreigners and nationals from meeting with indigenous people without the presence of government representatives.

In May, under national public pressure, the Home ministry withdrew the restrictions. But in practice, the government continues to restrict access by requiring foreigners to inform the Home Ministry prior to any visit.

The Jumma people have waited far too long to be heard. It’s time we listen. Implementing the Chittagong Hills peace accord would be an important first step.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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IACHR Tackles Violence Against Native Peoples in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 23:24:31 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140563 Members of the Bribri indigenous community during a February meeting with deputy minister of the presidency Ana Gabriel Zuñiga in the community of Salitre in southeastern Costa Rica, held to inform them of the government’s proposals for combating the violence they suffer at the hands of landowners who invade and occupy their land. Credit: Courtesy of the office of the Costa Rican president

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 11 2015 (IPS)

After years of violence against two indigenous groups in Costa Rica, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanded that the government adopt measures by May 15 to protect the life and physical integrity of the members of the two communities.

The IACHR granted precautionary measures in favour of the Bribri community living in the 11,700-hectare Salitre indigenous territory, who have been fighting for years to reclaim land that has been illegally occupied by landowners.

“The law gives us the right to defend our claim to our territory, and one of the things it allows us to do is take back the land that is in the hands of non-indigenous people who are not living on it,” the leader of the community, Roxana Figueroa, told IPS.

Besides seeking to protect the community of Salitre, the resolution is aimed at safeguarding the Teribe or Bröran community in Térraba, also in the southeast. Around 85 percent of the Teribe community’s land is occupied by non-indigenous people, which violates their collective title to their ancestral territory.

Salitre, Térraba and the other 22 indigenous territories established in this Central American nation all share the same problem: the occupation of their land by non-indigenous landowners, in violation of international conventions and local legislation.

Costa Rica’s indigenous law, in effect since 1977, declared native territories inalienable, indivisible, non-transferable and exclusive to the indigenous communities living there.

Non-indigenous people “have come here to exploit nature and have occupied our lands or acquired them through fraudulent means from indigenous people,” said Figueroa, who spoke to IPS from a farm that the Bribri people managed to reclaim from a group of outsiders who had invaded it.

Figueroa, 36, says that while the level of violence has gone down in the community, “it’s still there, looming. They have identified those of us who took part in recovering this land, and they know who are participating in the struggle.”

There are very real reasons to be afraid. The violent incidents documented by the IACHR include a Jan. 5, 2013 machete attack on three unarmed indigenous men. One was also tortured with a hot iron rod; another was shot; and the third man nearly lost two fingers.

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, 2014, fearing an attack by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, 2014, fearing an attack by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

In one of the latest incidents, a group of non-indigenous men sowed terror in Salitre, where they burnt down a house before fleeing – a common modus operandi of the thugs.

The precautionary measures granted by the IACHR came in response to complaints filed since 2012 by two lawyers with the Forest Peoples Programme, an international organisation that works with forest peoples in South America, Africa, and Asia, to help them secure their rights.

It represents a crucial step in order for the case to eventually to make it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in the Costa Rican capital, San José.

The Court and the Washington-based IACHR are the Organisation of American States (OAS) human rights system.

The IACHR resolution, issued Apr. 30, stressed that the situation is grave and urgent, and that the damage caused is irreparable. It gives the Costa Rican government 15 days to deliver a report on the implementation of the measures it called for.

Besides demanding guarantees for the lives and personal integrity of the members of the Bribri and Teribe communities, the IACHR ordered the government to reach agreement on the measures with the beneficiaries and their representatives, and to investigate the violent incidents.

“This is a preliminary stage that would precede an eventual trial; the IACHR issues precautionary measures while it decides whether the case has merits to be taken to the Inter-American Court,” Professor Rubén Chacón, a lawyer who is an expert on indigenous law at the University of Costa Rica, explained to IPS.

According to Chacón, either the resolution will have a real impact on domestic policies, or the status quo will remain unchanged, and “if the Court asks, the state will respond that the country has an efficient judicial system.”

In his view, the violence against indigenous people has waned, but the authorities are failing to take advantage of this period of relative calm to tackle the roots of the problem.

However Chacón, who represents Sergio Rojas, one of the leaders of the indigenous peoples’ effort to recover their ancestral territory, acknowledged that things have changed. “If it weren’t for the willingness that the government is currently showing to some extent, the threats would be worse now than they were two years ago,” said Chacón.

The IACHR precautionary measures have come on top of international calls for a solution to the violence plaguing the indigenous people in Salitre, Térraba and other communities in Costa Rica, where 2.6 percent of the population of 4.5 million are indigenous people.

During a July 2014 visit to the country, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon met with 36 leaders of different indigenous peoples, who described the hardships they suffer due to the authorities’ failure to enforce the laws that protect them and to take a hand in the matter.

In March 2012, then U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya visited the country, and Térraba in particular, drawing attention to the violence against Costa Rica’s indigenous communities.

According to Chacón, the visit played a crucial role because “in his report, Anaya outlined the extent of the confrontation between indigenous and non-indigenous people and the threats” in Térraba and Salitre.

The government of Luis Guillermo Solís has taken up the challenge of solving the conflict over land in Salitre and assigned the president’s deputy minister of political affairs, Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, as an intermediary in the conflict in Salitre.

Zúñiga told IPS that the government sees the IACHR’s precautionary measures as an endorsement of the work done since Solis took office in May 2014, which has included the launch of talks with the indigenous communities in the south of the country.

“They pointed out the positive things we have been working on,” said the deputy minister, who added that “the conflict has dragged on because the integral solution required is structural and has to counteract 30 years of institutional inertia.”

Although the IACHR specifically mentioned the violent incidents of the second half of 2014, Zuñiga argued that they were the result of a long-seated problem that cannot be solved in a few months.

“The conflict that broke out in July is due to a historical problem that has not been resolved. When we assess the situation, the most serious events occurred in 2012, like the branding with a hot iron rod,” she said.

The roughly 100,000 indigenous people in Costa Rica belong to the Bruca, Ngäbe, Brirbi, Cabécar, Maleku, Chorotega, Térraba and Teribe ethnic groups, according to the 2011 census, living in 24 indigenous territories scattered around the country, covering a total of nearly 350,000 hectares – around seven percent of the national territory.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Don’t Leave Indigenous Peoples Behind in SDGshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-dont-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind-in-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-dont-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind-in-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-dont-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind-in-sdgs/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 17:09:12 +0000 Victoria Tauli-Corpuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140549

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

By Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 2015 (IPS)

U.N. member states are meeting throughout the year to finalize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will set the global development agenda for the next 15 years. The goals are supposed to be universal and aspire to “leave no one behind.”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

But Indigenous Peoples, who are among the poorest and most marginalised people on earth, are all but invisible in the latest draft of the SDGs. As an indigenous woman and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, I am deeply concerned that almost all references to Indigenous Peoples have been deleted, as we have learned from experience that unless we are explicitly included, we are likely to be excluded.

Indigenous Peoples face systemic discrimination and exclusion in almost every country they live in. Without specific targets and indicators to measure and report on the realisation of their rights, this inequality is likely to continue in the 15-year implementation of the SDGs.

The Millennium Development Goals, which were also supposed to be universal, failed to address Indigenous Peoples’ poverty: Indigenous Peoples still make up just five percent of the global population but account for 15 percent of the world’s poorest people. If the SDGs aim to do any better, and achieve their aspiration to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere,” they must also address the unique development needs and challenges of Indigenous Peoples.Indigenous Peoples have been all but erased from the development agenda. Include us, so that we can protect our traditions and territories for our children and protect the planet’s biodiversity for all the world’s children.

Chief among these is that many Indigenous Peoples do not have legal title to the lands they have lived on for generations. This insecurity has resulted in encroachment by governments and corporations as well as forced evictions of countless communities from their ancestral lands.

Because Indigenous Peoples’ lives, livelihoods, cultures, and identities are intrinsically tied to their territory, this loss often deprives them of their income and self-sufficiency, and threatens their very identity and survival.

Securing legal recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights has other benefits too: it decreases poverty, supports food security, and encourages long-term economic and environmental benefits.  But despite progress in some regions, there has been a sharp slowdown in the overall global recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ and communities’ land rights since 2008.

The current SDG draft recognises the land rights of individuals (men and women) but does not take into account the estimated 1.5 billion Indigenous Peoples and forest-dwelling and forest-dependent local people who govern 6.8 billion hectares of land through community tenure arrangements.

Currently governments only recognise about 513 million hectares of these lands. The SDGs should therefore include an indicator to measure recognition of collective land rights, and reinstate a deleted provision requiring that governments obtain the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples before handing over their lands.

This is particularly critical given that “development” for many Indigenous Peoples has been more of a threat than a promise. An analysis of around 73,000 mining, agricultural, and lodging concessions in eight countries revealed that more than 93 percent of these developments involved lands inhabited by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Development projects in countries that lack strong safeguards often rob them of their lands and livelihoods—but rarely do they deliver on the promise of shared economic development.

In Indonesia, for example, palm oil corporations have engulfed over 59 percent of community forests in West Kalimantan, yet the industry contributes less than two percent to Indonesia’s GDP and has not increased rural employment. Inequality has risen, and Indigenous Peoples’ land rights have been transferred to corporations on a large scale.

The consequences of insecure land tenure extend beyond indigenous communities: Indonesia is now the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with almost 80 percent of emissions stemming from deforestation, land use change, and the draining and burning of peatland.

On the other hand, deforestation rates are dramatically lower in areas where Indigenous Peoples have legal recognition of their land rights. Despite suffering some of its worst impacts, Indigenous Peoples can actually offer some of the most promising solutions to climate change.

Community forest rights in Nepal, for example, improved the health of the forest to the point where it absorbed 180 million tons of carbon. It is no coincidence that traditional indigenous territories overlap to a large degree with biodiversity hotspots.

Indigenous Peoples’ natural resource management has sustained some of the world’s most intact ecosystems and holds important lessons for a planet that must change if it is to endure. They bring alternative thinking and perspectives to a development paradigm that has repeatedly put sustainability and human rights on the back burner and favored short-term profits.

Because many Indigenous Peoples live in rural areas and are politically and physically distant from the centers of power, it is all too easy for us to become invisible.

We fought for the global recognition of our rights in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We had to fight to be called “Indigenous Peoples,” a term that recognises us as peoples with distinct identities and cultures who have the right to self-determination.

As they stand now, the SDGs are a step backwards from these achievements. Indigenous Peoples have been all but erased from the development agenda. Include us, so that we can protect our traditions and territories for our children and protect the planet’s biodiversity for all the world’s children. Don’t leave us behind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Development Fairytale or a Global Land Rush?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-a-development-fairytale-or-a-global-land-rush/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-development-fairytale-or-a-global-land-rush http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-a-development-fairytale-or-a-global-land-rush/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 07:08:51 +0000 Karine Jacquemart and Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140527

In this column, Karine Jacquemart, Forest Project Leader for Africa at Greenpeace International, and Anuradha Mittal Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, argue that the land rush unleashed around the world to own and exploit Earth’s natural bounty is not only fierce and unfair, but increasingly fatal, with lands, homes and forests bulldozed and cleared for foreign investors and livelihoods shattered.

By Karine Jacquemart and Anuradha Mittal
PARIS/OAKLAND, California, May 11 2015 (IPS)

In our work at Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute around access and control over natural resources, we face constant accusations of being anti-development or “Northern NGOs who care more for the trees”, despite working with communities around the world, from Cameroon, to China, to the Czech Republic.

Karine Jacquemart

This name calling, aimed at discrediting struggles for land, water, and other natural resources in the Third World countries, hides an ugly truth.  The land rush unleashed around the world to own and exploit Earth’s natural bounty is not only fierce and unfair, but increasingly fatal.

Recent reports, including a Global Witness report titled ‘How many more?’ released in April 2015, document the increase in the assassinations of land and environmental activists globally – a shocking average of over two a week in 2014.

As individuals and groups in the frontline of struggles face intimidation, arrests, disappearances, and even death, it is an ethical imperative to support the struggles of the grassroots land defenders against corporations and governments. This is what unites organisations like Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute.

Over the last decade, an estimated 200 million hectares – an area five times bigger than California – has been leased or purchased throughout the world, through completely opaque deals in most cases.

Natural resources in Africa are some of the most sought after, hence the fact that Africa experiences more than 70 percent of the reported land deals.

Anuradha Mittal

Anuradha Mittal

Multinational companies with assistance from powerful partners – the World Bank Group and G8 “donor” countries – are moving in, chanting their “development” formula: facilitate foreign investment through large-scale land acquisitions and mega-projects to ensure economic growth which will trickle down to translate into development for all.

Our work reveals a very different and worrying reality on the ground. Local communities and indigenous peoples report lack of consultation; their lands, homes and forests bulldozed and cleared for foreign investors; their livelihoods shattered.

As one villager in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said, “I want to remain a farmer on my land, not a daily worker depending on a foreign company”, or in the words of a Bodi chief in Ethiopia, “I don’t want to leave my land. If they try and force us, there will be war. So I will be here in my village either alive on the land or dead below it.”

They, and countless more, are victims of the theft of natural resources, made invisible and voiceless by those who define what development looks like.“As individuals and groups in the frontline of struggles face intimidation, arrests, disappearances, and even death, it is an ethical imperative to support the struggles of the grassroots land defenders against corporations and governments”

As if destruction of lives and livelihoods were not enough, those who resist are harassed, even face violence, by governments and private companies.

A planned palm oil plantation by the U.S.-based Herakles Farms in Cameroon threatens to evict thousands of people off their land and destroy part of the world’s second largest rain forest.

The company’s former CEO, responding to criticism of the project, said in an open letter: “My goal is to present HF for what it is – a modestly-sized commercial  oil  palm  project  designed  to  provide employment and  social  development and improve  the  level  of  food  security, while incorporating industry best practices.”

What he failed to mention is how a Cameroonian activist, Nasako Besingi, who heads a local NGO, The Struggle to Economize the Future Environment (SEFE), learnt first-hand the consequences of opposing the project. Arrested in 2012 for planning a peaceful demonstration in Mundemba, Nasako and two of his colleagues languished in a jail for several days.

Soon after his release, while touring the area with a French television crew, he was ambushed and assaulted by men he recognised as employees of Herakles Farms. Instead of protection from this violence, Nasako and SEFE face legal battles, including one of the favorite corporate tactics – a defamation lawsuit, intended to intimidate him and the others who oppose.

Privatisation of land and theft of natural resources will be irreversible and will put people, forest, ecosystems and the climate at risk, if it goes unchecked. The time is now to choose a development path that prioritises people and the planet over profits for the rich. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Moving Indigenous Land Rights from Paper to Realityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/moving-indigenous-land-rights-from-paper-to-reality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moving-indigenous-land-rights-from-paper-to-reality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/moving-indigenous-land-rights-from-paper-to-reality/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 23:49:48 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140356 Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, addresses the Human Rights Council panel discussion on human rights and climate change on March 6, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, addresses the Human Rights Council panel discussion on human rights and climate change on March 6, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Frustrated with decades of marginalisation, and of seeing their rights respected only on paper, Indigenous peoples are calling for major recognition from the international community.

Speaking at U.N. Headquarters on Apr. 27 as part of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – which started last week and lasts through Friday – the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz expressed disappointment with the scant efforts to enshrine Indigenous People’s rights in the post-2015 development agenda.

“It is very regrettable that out of the 17 (Sustainable Development) Goals, there is no reference to Indigenous People. This does not speak well for the U.N. and its member states,” she said.

Taking Indigenous knowledge and traditional technology into account internationally could contribute to solving many of the world’s major crises in relation to the environment and climate change, and ultimately bring sustainable development, stressed Tauli-Corpuz.

“Data released by the Rights and Resources Initiative, part of the World Resources Institute, show that in Brazil forests maintained by indigenous people are 11 times less deforested than those maintained by the government. In Guatemalan Petén, indigenous forests are 20 times less deforested,” added Tauli-Corpuz.

Indeed, climate change, soil erosion, deforestation and land extraction are negatively affecting many Indigenous communities around the world.

According to the World Bank, there are around 300 million Indigenous people worldwide – about 4.5 percent of the world population, although they account for 10 percent of the world’s poor.

The right to land is a key issue for Indigenous People.

Recently Aboriginal communities in Australia have been forced to move outside their territories because the government decided to use the land for resource extraction activities, such as mining or oil drilling.

The Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition that works for the human and land rights of Indigenous People worldwide, says that, “When communities have rights to their land and natural resources, and rights to benefit from these resources through local enterprises and other activities, they can generate substantial income.”

This is also a relevant point raised at the U.N. briefing by Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations in Canada.

“We need to develop a long-term partnership between the government and Indigenous people, who are vital and strategic in developing and bringing wealth to the land, by protecting it at the same time for future generations,” he said.

A positive example comes from southern Belize, where Indigenous People have reached an agreement with the government after three decades of struggling to secure their land rights.

Christina Coc, director and co-founder of the Julian Cho Society, represented the Maya villagers of Toledo in their negotiations with the government of Belize.

She explained that, “The Maya people have suffered from soil exploitation, land and water seizure from the government in the past years, and so they were determined in getting their rights recognised not only on papers, but in concrete terms.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Anti-Terrorism Law Batters Cameroonians Seeking Secessionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/new-anti-terrorism-law-batters-cameroonians-seeking-secession/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-terrorism-law-batters-cameroonians-seeking-secession http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/new-anti-terrorism-law-batters-cameroonians-seeking-secession/#comments Sun, 26 Apr 2015 08:52:25 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140325 By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Apr 26 2015 (IPS)

Cameroon’s government under President Paul Biya is bearing down on a separatist movement fighting for the rights of a minority English-language region, using as its weapon a sweeping new anti-terrorism law introduced at the end of last year.

The separatist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) – which is demanding an independent Southern Cameroons made up of Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions – has been targeted under the new law, which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace.

Map showing location of Southern Cameroons (highlighted). Credit: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Map showing location of Southern Cameroons (highlighted). Credit: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

English-speaking Cameroonians make up over 22 percent of the country’s population of 20 million.

Long desired by Western powers for its beauty and natural resources, Cameroon was first occupied by the Germans in 1884. After the First World War, the French and British carved it up between them as League of Nations mandates – four-fifths went to France, the rest to the United Kingdom.

A federation was declared in 1961, followed by the annexation of the English-language region into the United Republic of Cameroon, with its capital in Yaounde in 1972. Dissension continues to seethe, however, in the English-speaking regions which resent the lack of control over their assets.

Over the years, Cameroon has downplayed its problems with the English-speaking regions, while making token placements of a few of their citizens in its administration.

Secessionists say this relationship of inequality has led to impoverishment of the territory and its population and a diminishment of their educational and cultural heritage, while feeding the flame of ethnic strife between the people of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

The extraction of oil and the expropriation of Cameroon’s substantial oil revenues is frequently cited as the touchstone for frustration and anger among those of the struggling south.The separatist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) has been targeted under Cameroon’s new anti-terrorism law, which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace

In this regard, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) gave Cameroon a “failing grade”, ranking it 47th out of 58 countries for such weaknesses as enabling environment, safeguards and quality controls, and reporting practices.

“Cameroon’s national oil company (SNH) dominates the sector,” NRGI reported. “It is directly controlled by the Presidency … The largest revenue streams are collected by SNH and transferred quarterly to the national treasury after subtracting the company’s operational costs – meaning that some oil revenues never reach the treasury.”

Aside from publishing environment impact assessments, Cameroon provides very little information on its extractive sector, noted NRGI, while it performed near the bottom of rankings on measures of budgetary openness and the rule of law.

Oil exploration, production and refining all take place in Southern Cameroons, while oil-derived revenues are paid to the state coffers directly in Yaounde.

Against this background, and since Cameroon’s President Paul Biya endorsed an anti-terrorism law in December 2014, the SCNC has not been able to organise any major gathering.

An attempt this month, on Apr. 3, ended with the arrest of Nfor Ngala Nfor, SCNC Vice National Chairman, and six others in Buea, Southwest Region.

Andrew Kang, who had hosted the SCNC leaders, told IPS from his hospital bed at the Buea Regional Hospital that security forces barged into his house while he and the guests were about to have a meal. “We were not even permitted to eat our food. They just beat us, ordered us to move and led us to the station. We spent four days in a prison cell and only regained freedom at about 5 pm on Apr. 6.”

Kang denied the government’s charges of promoting secession and rebellion which had been levelled against the group.

Talking to IPS, Martin Fon Yembe, a member of the SCNC and human rights activist, said that while the government made it seem that the new anti-terrorism law was designed to boost the fight against Boko Haram, the main aim was to stop the holding of SCNC meetings and gatherings.

“Everyone knows that law was put in place to hinder the activities of the movement and there is no gainsaying the fact that it poses a problem,” he said.

A U.S. State Department human rights report on Cameroon in 2013 referred to security force torture and abuse, denial of fair and speedy public trials and restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. “Although the government took some steps to punish officials who commit abuses in the security forces and in the public service, impunity remained a problem,” said the report.

Meanwhile, thousands of Southern Cameroonians are currently in exile in Europe and the United States and thousands more are on the run because of their support for the separatist movement.

The Biya administration, on the other hand, presents a picture of a country unswervingly headed for growth. In a document titled Cameroun Vision 2035, a long-term vision is described which envisages the consolidation of democracy, enhancement of national unity, economic development and increasing employment.

Under a three-year plan, unveiled in December, Cameroon will spend 1.75 billion dollars “to meet the immediate needs of the population,” focusing on sectors such as road infrastructure, health, agriculture, energy and security.

“The special programme, evaluated at 925 billion CFA francs, is financed through the mobilisation of the required resources from local and international financial institutions at sustainable rates,” Prime Minister Philemon Yang said without giving further details.

In the latest twist to the South Cameroons issue, a meeting this month of Cameroon’s English-speaking lawyers gave notice that an All-Anglophone Lawyers Conference would be held shortly in Bamenda, chief city of the Northwest Region, “to develop strategies at safeguarding the Common Law and to map out the way forward for the Southern Cameroons territory,” the Cameroon Concord reported.

The news online was met with over a dozen enthused readers. “Machiavelli Ayuk” of the University of Buea wrote: “This is the kind of action that the marginalised Anglophone people love to hear. At last we have some Educated Elites in the Anglophone zone…”

The comment was followed by “Fast Man”, a self-described fieldworker, who wrote: “I hope the lawyers use their intelligence and remember their oath. We will never go anywhere under French hegemony. God bless the Southern Cameroons and its citizens…”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Kenyan Pastoralists Protest Wanton Destruction of Indigenous Foresthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenyan-pastoralists-protest-wanton-destruction-of-indigenous-forest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyan-pastoralists-protest-wanton-destruction-of-indigenous-forest http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenyan-pastoralists-protest-wanton-destruction-of-indigenous-forest/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 11:43:44 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140319 Forest rangers putting out a fire at a charcoal burning kiln in Kenya’s Mau Forest. The future of the country’s indigenous forest cover is under threat but this has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Forest rangers putting out a fire at a charcoal burning kiln in Kenya’s Mau Forest. The future of the country’s indigenous forest cover is under threat but this has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
NAIROBI, Apr 25 2015 (IPS)

Armed with twigs and placards, enraged residents from a semi-pastoral community 360 km north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, protested this week against wanton destruction of indigenous forest – their alternative source of livelihood.

With climate change a new ordeal that has caused frequent droughts, leading to suffering and death in this part of Africa, the community from Lpartuk Ranch in Samburu County relies on livestock which is sometimes wiped out by severe drought leaving them with no other option other than the harvesting of wild products and honey.

“People here are ready to take up spears and machetes to guard the forest. They have been provoked by outsiders who are out to wipe out our indigenous forest to the last bit,” Mark Loloolki, Lpartuk Ranch chairman, who led the protesting community members told IPS.

They threatened to set alight any vehicle caught ferrying the timbers or logs suspected to be from their forests.Illegal harvesting of forest products is pervasive and often involves unsustainable forest practices which cause serious damage to forests, the people who depend on them and the economies of producer countries

Their protest came barely a week after counterparts from Seketet, a few kilometres away in Samburu Central, held a similar protest after over 12,000 red cedar posts were caught on transit to Maralal, Samburu’s main town.

Last year, students walked for four kilometres during International Ozone Day to protest against the wanton destruction of the same endangered forest tree species.

A report titled Green Carbon, Black Trade, released by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol in 2012,  which focuses on illegal logging and its impacts on the lives and livelihoods of often some of the poorest people in the world, underlines how criminals are combining old-fashioned methods such as bribes with high-tech methods such as computer hacking of government websites to obtain transportation and other permits.

Samburu County, in Kenya’s semi-arid northern region, hosts Lerroghi, a 92,000 hectare forest reserve that is home to different indigenous plants and animal species. Lerroghi, also called Kirisia locally, is among the largest forest ecosystem in dry northern Kenya and was initially filled with olive and red cedar trees.

It is alleged that unscrupulous merchants smuggle the endangered red cedar products to the coastal port of Mombasa for shipping to Saudi Arabia where they are sold at high prices.

“This is a business that involves a well-connected cartel of merchants operating in Nairobi and Mombasa,” said Loloolki.

In Kenya, the future of indigenous forest cover is under threat but has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood.

“This forest is our main water catchment source and home to wild animals such as elephants,” Moses Lekolool, the area assistant chief, told IPS. “Elephants no longer have a place to mate and reproduce or even give birth, with most of them having migrated.”

According to Samburu County’s Kenya Forest Service (KFS) Ecosystem Controverter Eric Chemitei, “as a government parastatal, we [KFS] do not issue permits for transportation or movement of cedar posts. However, we do not know how they get to Nairobi, Mombasa and eventually to Saudi Arabia as alleged.”

At the same time, Chemitei told IPS that squatters currently residing inside the forest are mainly families affected by insecurity related to cattle rustling, adding that their presence was posing a threat to the main water towers of Lerroghi, Mathew Ranges, and Ndoto and Nyiro mountains.

He further noted that harvesting of cedar regardless of whether forest was privately or publicly owned was banned in 1999, and that over 30,000 hectares – one-third of the Lerroghi forest – has been destroyed.

Reports from INTERPOL and the World Bank in 2009 and from UNEP in 2011 indicate that the trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative for criminal elements and has been estimated at 11 billion dollars – comparable with the production value of drugs which is estimated at around 13 billion dollars.

In a report on organised wildlife, gold and timber, released on Apr. 16, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “There is no room for doubt: wildlife and forest crime is serious and calls for an equally serious response. In addition to the breach of the international rule of law and the impact on peace and security, environmental crime robs countries of revenues that could have been spent on sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.”

According to the KFS Strategic Plan (2009/2010-2013/2014), of the 3.4 million hectares (5.9 percent) of forest cover out of the Kenya’s total land area, 1.4 million are made up of indigenous closed canopy forests, mangroves and plantations, on both public and private lands.

The plan also indicated that Kenya’s annual domestic demand for wood is 37 million cubic metres while sustainable wood supply is only around 30 million cubic metres, thus creating a deficit of seven million cubic metres which, according to analysts, means that any projected increase in forest cover can only be realised after this huge internal demand is met.

Last year, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment Judi Wakhungu said that KFS’ revised policy framework for forest conservation and sustainable management lists features including community participation, community forest associations and benefit sharing.

The policy acknowledges that indigenous trees or forests are ecosystems that provide important economic, environmental, recreational, scientific, social, cultural and spiritual benefits.

Nevertheless, illegal harvesting of forest products is pervasive and often involves unsustainable forest practices which cause serious damage to forests, the people who depend on them and the economies of producer countries.

Forests have been subjected to land use changes such as conversion to farmland or urban settlements, thus reducing their ability to supply forest products and serve as water catchments, biodiversity conservation reservoirs and wildlife habitats.

Meanwhile, the effect of forest depletion on women has been noted by Veronica Nkepeni , Director of Kenya’s Centre for Advocacy and Gender Equality, who told IPS that the “most affected are women in the pastoralist areas, trekking long distances in search of water as a result of the effects of forest depletion leading to water scarcity.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Giving African Artists Their Nameshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=giving-african-artists-their-names http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:18:28 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140219 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Apr 19 2015 (IPS)

Quick now, can you name a famous African sculptor from the 1800s or even the early 20th century?

Anyone able to answer positively is part of a select minority – most museum-goers have become used to seeing traditional African carvings without knowing the name of the artist.

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

But some experts are taking steps to change this, with the most extensive exhibition devoted to identifying Africa’s expert sculptors now on in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum – a venue devoted to the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas that is sometimes criticised for having “colonial undertones”.

The exhibition, titled ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’, features nearly 330 historical and contemporary works and artefacts, and runs until Jul. 26. It comes at a time when the market for traditional African art is at its highest in decades, with pieces fetching record prices, amid debate about whether these objects should be “returned” to Africa.

The show pays tribute to the remarkable artistry of the sculptors, who were often given the title of “master” in their homeland; and the timeless splendour of some of the objects will help to explain the current collecting craze. But the exhibition may also add fuel to the discussion about who should own works that reflect a region’s cultural heritage.

“Art really has no fatherland,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Eberhard Fischer, an ethnologist and Director Emeritus of the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The interest of the artist might not be the same as the interest of the nation. Museums are responsible to the artist, and should honour them in the right way,” he added. “African art, European art, Indian art should be seen all over the world. We’re in the 21st century.”

He told IPS that what was “special” about the exhibition is the attempt to reveal the creators “behind the masterpieces”, in contrast to the objects being presented in a general context as tribal art created by anonymous makers.“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill” – Notes to the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition

“My aim is to put these masters on a pedestal and to say ‘these were great men’,” Fischer said. “They were never given the same status as Western artists, and it’s time their individual skills were highlighted.”

In the notes to the exhibition, Fischer and co-curator Lorenz Homburger state that “African sculpture has a central place in the history of art”, and they indicate that the identification of traditional artists contributes to the recognition of this role.

“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill,” the curators stress.

The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) was one of the most important regions for African art production, and the exhibition “invites” visitors to discover the different “masters” of the various ethnic groups – artists who were held in “high esteem” by their communities. Some sculptors are designated only by their region, but many others do have names that are now becoming known.

Museum-goers will learn about Sra (“the creator”) who was born circa 1880 and died in 1955. He was the most famous sculptor of western Ivory Coast, according to the curators, creating “prestige objects and masks for many Dan and Mano chieftains in Liberia and for important members of the Dan and We community in Ivory Coast.”

Sra was renowned for his female figures, and visitors can admire these objects as well as his striking mother-and-child depictions. One of his contemporaries, Uopié, came from a different area but was also part of the Dan culture – in north-western Ivory Coast – and produced “bewitchingly beautiful” smiling masks, of the kind known as déanglé.

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Alongside the objects, the curators give verbal snapshots of the artists whom they have been able to name: Tompieme was a “small, rather athletic, cheerful man” who was a successful farmer as well as singer and musician; Si was a hunter and youth instructor who, for many decades “circumcised boys and led the initiation camp … where he showed his initiates the art of carving.”

Then there is Tame (circa 1900 to 1965), a “handsome young man, a successful wrestler and the lover of many women.” He was the nephew of Uopié, who taught him to carve.  While there is no picture to allow visitors to judge Tame’s purported good looks for themselves, the exhibition does provide a photo of Kuakudili, the first Ivory Coast artist to have his “own face” in the show.

A picture of this sculptor is available thanks to Hans Himmelheber, a German anthropologist, art collector and Fischer’s step-father, who met the artist in 1933. The photo shows Kuakudili as a thin, serious man. He carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people, and in his work, visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism.

Away from the exhibition, masks such as these and other objects from “African masters” are currently in great demand on the international art market, especially in Paris, New York and Brussels.

Jean Fritts, director for African and Oceanic Art at the Sotheby’s auction house, says that the median price for African art has doubled over the past decade.

“There has been tremendous growth since 1999,” she told IPS. “Part of this is related to a broader appreciation of African art.”

It is also related to some of the first collectors dying, and their heirs selling the objects, dealers have said. Many pieces have come from former colonialists in Belgium, for instance, and museums as well as private collectors are snapping up the objects that they believe were acquired by “honest” means.

Fritts said that 25 percent of the art on the market is being bought by collectors in the Middle East, with some of the works destined for the Louvre Abu Dhabi as well as the National Museum of Qatar, set to open in 2016.

In Africa, businesspeople such as Congolese entrepreneur Sindika Dokolo have also been buying on the market, with the aim of bringing some of Africa’s art back home. Dokolo had a representative at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Paris, where a coveted mask fetched 3.5 million euros (it went to another bidder).

Regarding the identity of the artists, Fritts and other dealers acknowledged that there is an “issue” because historically there has not been “much data collected about the carver”.

Given that provenance and exhibition history are important for art collectors (along with artistic quality and “rarity”), the Quai Branly show may help to add value to objects identified as being carved by a particular “master”. Fischer, the curator, sees no problem with that.

“A lot of these art pieces are sold as antiques and this is a wrong concept,” he says. “The market wants to keep them in some cloud of anonymity, but why shouldn’t African art fetch the same high prices that collectors pay for Western art? These artists have not been honoured enough.”

He sees the exhibition as the first step for these artists to have a place in prestigious museums such as the Louvre in Paris. Perhaps one day, Sra will be as internationally known as Picasso.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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