Inter Press ServiceIndigenous Rights – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 19 Oct 2018 23:38:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Latin American Rural Women Call for Recognition and Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/latin-american-rural-women-call-recognition-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-rural-women-call-recognition-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/latin-american-rural-women-call-recognition-policies/#respond Fri, 12 Oct 2018 13:39:07 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158128 This article forms part of IPS coverage of International Rural Women's Day, celebrated Oct. 15.

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Yolanda Flores, an Aymara indigenous woman, speaks to other women engaged in small-scale agriculture, gathered in her village square in the highlands of Peru's southern Andes. She is convinced that participating in local decision-making spaces is fundamental for rural women to stop being invisible and to gain recognition of their rights. Credit: Courtesy of Yolanda Flores

Yolanda Flores, an Aymara indigenous woman, speaks to other women engaged in small-scale agriculture, gathered in her village square in the highlands of Peru's southern Andes. She is convinced that participating in local decision-making spaces is fundamental for rural women to stop being invisible and to gain recognition of their rights. Credit: Courtesy of Yolanda Flores

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Oct 12 2018 (IPS)

Rural women in Latin America play a key role with respect to attaining goals such as sustainable development in the countryside, food security and the reduction of hunger in the region. But they remain invisible and vulnerable and require recognition and public policies to overcome this neglect.

There are around 65 million rural women in this region, and they are very diverse in terms of ethnic origin, the kind of land they occupy, and the activities and roles they play. What they have in common though is that governments largely ignore them, as activists pointed out ahead of the International Day of Rural Women, celebrated Oct. 15."They play key roles and produce and work much more than men. In the orchards, in the fields, during planting time, they raise the crops, take care of the farm animals, and disproportionately carry the workload of the house, the children, etc., but they don't see a cent." -- JulioBerdegué

“The state, whether local or national authorities, neglect us,” Yolanda Flores, an Aymara woman, told IPS. “They only think about planting steel and cement. They don’t understand that we live off agriculture and that we women are the most affected because we are in charge of the food and health of our families.”

Flores, who lives in Iniciati, a village of about 400 indigenous peasant families in the department of Puno in Peru’s southern Andes, located more than 3,800 metres above sea level, has always been dedicated to growing food for her family.

On the land she inherited from her parents she grows potatoes, beans and grains like quinoa and barley, which she washes, grinds in a traditional mortar and pestle, and uses to feed her family. The surplus is sold in the community.

“When we garden we talk to the plants, we hug each potato, we tell them what has happened, why they have become loose, why they have worms. And when they grow big we congratulate them, one by one, so our food has a lot of energy when we eat. But people don’t understand our way of life and they forget about small farmers,” she said.

Like Flores, millions of rural women in Latin America face a lack of recognition for their work on the land, as well as the work they do maintaining a household, caring for the family, raising children, or caring for the sick and elderly.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) urges governments in the region to assume a commitment to reverse the historical disadvantages faced by this population group which prevent their access to productive resources, the enjoyment of benefits and the achievement of economic autonomy.

“Depending on the country, between two-thirds and 85 percent of the hours worked by rural women is unpaid work,” Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS.

Women engage in subsistence agriculture at more than 3,300 metres above sea level in the highlands of the southern department of Cuzco, in the Andes of Peru, in the municipality of Cusipata. With the support of nongovernmental organisations, they have built greenhouses that allow them to produce a range of vegetables despite the inclement weather. Credit: Janet Nina/IPS

Women engage in subsistence agriculture at more than 3,300 metres above sea level in the highlands of the southern department of Cuzco, in the Andes of Peru, in the municipality of Cusipata. With the support of nongovernmental organisations, they have built greenhouses that allow them to produce a range of vegetables despite the inclement weather. Credit: Janet Nina/IPS

Berdeguè, who is also deputy director general of FAO, deplored the fact that they do not receive payment for their hard work in agriculture – a workload that is especially heavy in the case of heads of families who run their farms, and during growing season.

Public policies against discrimination

María Elena Rojas, head of the FAO office in Peru, told IPS that if rural women in Latin American countries had access to land tenure, financial services and technical assistance like men, they would increase the yield of their plots by 20 to 30 percent, and agricultural production would improve by 2.5 to 4 percent.


That increase would help reduce hunger by 12 to 15 percent. "This demonstrates the role and contribution of rural women and the need for assertive public policies to achieve it and for them to have opportunities to exercise their rights. None of them should go without schooling, healthy food and quality healthcare. These are rights, and not something impossible to achieve," she said.

“They play key roles and produce and work much more than men,” the official said from FAO’s regional headquarters in Santiago. “In the orchards, in the fields, during planting time, they raise the crops, take care of the farm animals, and disproportionately carry the workload of the house, the children, etc., but they don’t see a cent.”

“We say: we want women to stay in the countryside. But for God’s sake, why would they stay? They work for their fathers, then they work for their husbands or partners. That’s just not right, it’s not right!” exclaimed Berdegué, before stressing the need to stop justifying that rural women go unpaid, because it stands in the way of their economic autonomy.

He explained that not having their own income, or the fact that the income they generate with the fruit of their work is then managed by men, places rural women in a position of less power in their families, their communities, the market and society as a whole.

“Imagine if it was the other way around, that they would tell men: you work, but you will not receive a cent. We would have staged a revolution by now. But we’ve gotten used to the fact that for rural women that’s fine because it’s the home, it’s the family,” Berdegué said.

The FAO regional representative called on countries to become aware of this reality and to fine-tune policies to combat the discrimination.

A global workload greater than that of men, economic insecurity, reduced access to resources such as land, water, seeds, credit, training and technical assistance are some of the common problems faced by rural women in Latin America, whether they are farmers, gatherers or wage-earners, according to the Atlas of Rural Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, published in 2017 by FAO.

But even in these circumstances, they are protagonists of change, as in the growth of rural women’s trade unions in the agro-export sector.

Afro-descendant Adela Torres (white t-shirt, front), secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintraingro) in the banana region of Urabá, in the Colombian department of Antioquia, sits on the floor during a meeting of women members of the union. Credit: Courtesy of Sintrainagro

Afro-descendant Adela Torres (white t-shirt, L-C, front), secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintrainagro) in the banana region of Urabá, in the Colombian department of Antioquia, sits on the floor during a meeting of women members of the union. Credit: Courtesy of Sintrainagro

With the increased sale of non-traditional products to international markets, such as flowers, fruit and vegetables, women have swelled this sector, says another regional study, although often in precarious conditions and with standards that do not ensure decent work.

Trade unions fight exploitative conditions

But trade unions are fighting exploitative labour conditions. A black woman from Colombia, Adela Torres, is an example of this struggle.

Since childhood and following the family tradition, she worked on a banana farm in the municipality of Apartadó, in Urabá, a region that produces bananas for export in the Caribbean department of Antioquia.

Now, the 54-year-old Torres, who has two daughters and two granddaughters, is the secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintrainagro), which groups workers from 268 farms, and works for the insertion of rural women in a sector traditionally dominated by men.

“When women earn and manage their own money, they can improve their quality of life,” she told IPS in a telephone conversation from Apartadó.

Torres believes that women’s participation in banana production should be equitable and that their performance deserves equal recognition.

“We have managed to get each farm to hire at least two more women and among the achievements gained are employment contracts, equal pay, social security and incentives for education and housing for these women,” she explained.

She said rural women face many difficulties, many have not completed primary school, are mothers too early and are heads of households, have no technical training and receive no state support.

In spite of this, they work hard and manage to raise their children and get ahead while contributing to food security.

Making the leap to positions of visibility is also a challenge that Flores has assumed in the Andes highlands of Puno, to fight for their proposals and needs to be heard.

“We have to win space in decision-making and come in as authorities; that is the struggle now, to speak for ourselves. I am determined and I am encouraging other women to take this path,” Flores said.

Faced with the indifference of the authorities, more action and a stronger presence is the philosophy of Flores, as her grandmother taught her, always repeating: “Don’t be lazy and work hard.” “That is the message and I carry it in my mind, but I would like to do it with more support and more rights,” she said.

With reporting by Orlando Milesi in Santiago.

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Excerpt:

This article forms part of IPS coverage of International Rural Women's Day, celebrated Oct. 15.

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Why does the emperor have no clothes?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/emperor-no-clothes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emperor-no-clothes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/emperor-no-clothes/#respond Sat, 29 Sep 2018 15:07:42 +0000 Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157931 America has had a fairly inscrutable history. Haven to the oppressed in the European continent, its early settlers, while relishing the fruits of freedom, pretty much exterminated its indigenous inhabitants. At the same time, as a reaction to absolutist monarchies elsewhere in the world it created pluralist institutions. In this “New World” the Lord did […]

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SOURCE: TWITTER

By Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Sep 29 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

America has had a fairly inscrutable history. Haven to the oppressed in the European continent, its early settlers, while relishing the fruits of freedom, pretty much exterminated its indigenous inhabitants. At the same time, as a reaction to absolutist monarchies elsewhere in the world it created pluralist institutions. In this “New World” the Lord did not supposedly anoint Kings investing them divine rights, but imparted them directly to the people through the Constitution. While their leaders penned and pronounced praises to liberty (in the “Federalist Papers” written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, for instance), notions of equality were not extended to their black African slaves. While they were explicit in expressions of their new world coming to the aid of the old, their entry into the Great Wars of the twentieth century was actually effected only when their interests were directly threatened. They initiated the use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction in warfare, only to champion their elimination when others, particularly not of their ilk, sought to acquire them. While their intelligence agents relentlessly worked towards regime-changes in other countries, they themselves reacted adversely when others allegedly sought to do the same in theirs. So, how was it that America, such a bundle of contradictions, able to project itself as a beacon of morality on the international scene over such a sustained period of time?

The answer perhaps lies in what Americans have always excelled in: effective marketing. About 1775-76, Thomas Paine had published the “Common Sense”. The historian Gordon Wood saw it as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era”. It marshalled the arguments for the fight for liberty of the 13 American colonies against the British. The fact that the American Revolution almost coincided with the French counterpart helped. Indeed the French political scientist Viscount de Tocqueville in his two works, Democracy in America (in the 1830s) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856) extolled American values. He viewed them as a healthy relationship between the market and the State. Soon America was being projected as the “City on the Shining Hill”, with a “manifest destiny” to expand territorially and ideologically. Eventually a political culture evolved that stressed America’s “exceptionalism”.

Doubtless American support to allies helped defeat German Nazism and Japanese imperial might. The establishment of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions on American soil aided the perception of America as the leader of the “free-world”. It saw itself charged with the responsibility of “containment”, a term coined by the diplomat George Kennan, of Soviet expansionism and Communism. When Karl Marx’s theories were turned on its head and instead of “capitalism” it was “communism” that collapsed due to its inner contradictions, America emerged as the unchallenged superpower. With it came a sense of hubris. Its ultimate evidence was the 2003 invasion of Iraq under President George Bush. President Bush understandably made no claims to higher enlightenment. However, his administration was moved by some who did. They were the Neo-conservatives or the “neo-cons”, people like Paul Wolfowitz, Charles Krauthammer, and Doughlas Feith. They were disciples of Professor Leo Strauss, the German-American thinker who was deeply influenced by the Classical Greek philosopher, Plato.

Plato believed that it is only a handful of individuals, who truly understood the essence of what is great and good. He called them “Philosopher Kings”. He lauded “empiricism” over “abstraction” and “shadow-learning”. This was characterised perhaps the world’s most famous apologue in philosophy, in his “allegory of the cave”. It is not just that new ideas have ancient roots. All “true history” is really “contemporary” as Benedetto Croce observed. Alas, ancient sources are also often distorted to justify current unsavoury acts. Even if the neo-cons were pushing their interpretation of Platonism, they were in contrast to the founding fathers who derived inspiration from the study of Constitutions by Plato’s student, Aristotle. And for the record, Aristotle had famously said “Amicus Plato sedmagisamicaveritas” “dear is Plato but dearer still is the truth”!

Fast forward to the present. The supposed leadership role of America came with a heavy price. America was made to play the very role that traditionally the founding fathers had been chary of: searching for monsters to destroy abroad. While they won the Cold War because of the implosion within the adversary camp, they either drew or lost many fights like Korea or Vietnam, or became mired in an unending conflict like Afghanistan. They were the strongest power in the world. But situation that meant little because their power derived from weapons that they could never use. Sometimes unfairly to the Americans, others fuelled their ego of leadership of the free world, in the words of the current President Donald Trump, ripped them off in trade and commerce! Newer powers were emerging. Some had acquired the dreaded nuclear-weapon retaliatory capacity. China was rising. Not just militarily, but also economically. In the contemporary digital world, it was catching up with America in Artificial Intelligence. It had the capacity to feed the machine more mass-data, and algorithms to improve products and services and invent new ones. A “Thucydides Syndrome” was in the making. The sage of that name had observed that when Athens grew strong there was great fear in Sparta. History is replete with rising powers challenging established ones.

Trump is the product of exhausted America. He represents the viewpoint that the so-called leadership role with its high-price tag is not worthwhile. To him, the United States should be like any other nation that should act only in pursuance of its narrow self-interest. Recently at the United Nations, he rejected globalism and embraced patriotism. Many, like the Europeans, may think patriotism delinked from multilateralism could lead to nationalism. In Europe in the past it has in turn resulted in war. But Trump thinks differently. And right now he is the President. This thinking may be in many ways germane to contemporary American ethos. Some may argue that the idea of an intellectual restraint to the proliferation of such predilections might be in order. So has the time come for the “containment” of America by others in an ironical reversal of history? Opinion will be divided .The Emperor, in this case represented by the power of America, may not be wearing the clothes as the pretentious monarch in the fairy tale, which the clever and deceitful tailor had claimed were too fine for the human eye to see, but it is only because now he has chosen not to.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is a former foreign adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and is currently Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Indigenous Peoples Link Their Development to Clean Energieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/indigenous-peoples-link-development-clean-energies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-link-development-clean-energies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/indigenous-peoples-link-development-clean-energies/#respond Thu, 20 Sep 2018 00:27:51 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157687 Achuar indigenous communities in Ecuador are turning to the sun to generate electricity for their homes and transport themselves in canoes with solar panels along the rivers of their territory in the Amazon rainforest, just one illustration of how indigenous people are seeking clean energies as a partner for sustainable development. “We want to generate […]

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United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines (3rd left), calls for the full participation of indigenous communities in clean energy projects during the forum Our Village in San Francisco, California. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines (3rd left), calls for the full participation of indigenous communities in clean energy projects during the forum Our Village in San Francisco, California. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA , Sep 20 2018 (IPS)

Achuar indigenous communities in Ecuador are turning to the sun to generate electricity for their homes and transport themselves in canoes with solar panels along the rivers of their territory in the Amazon rainforest, just one illustration of how indigenous people are seeking clean energies as a partner for sustainable development.

“We want to generate a community economy based on sustainability,” Domingo Peas, an Achuar leader, told IPS. Peas is also an advisor to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, which groups 28 indigenous organisations and 11 native groups from that South American country.

The first project dates back to the last decade, when the Achuar people began to install solar panels in Sharamentsa, a village of 120 people located on the banks of the Pastaza River. Currently they are operating 40 photovoltaic panels, at a cost of 300 dollars per unit, contributed by private donations and foundations."Communities have to be at the centre to decide on and design projects that help combat poverty, because they allow electricity without depending on the power grid, and they strengthen the defense of the territory and benefit the people. It's about guaranteeing rights and defining development processes." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The villagers use electricity to light up their homes and pump water to a 6,000-litre tank.

“There is a better quality of services for families. Our goal is to create another energy model that is respectful of our people and our territories,” Peas said.

The Achuar took the next step in 2012, when they started the Kara Solar electric canoe motor project. Kara means “dream” in the Achuar language.

The first boat with solar panels on its roof, with a capacity to carry 20 people and built at a cost of 50,000 dollars, began operating in 2017 and is based in the Achuar community of Kapawi.

The second canoe, with a cost of 35,000 dollars, based in Sharamentsa – which means “the place of scarlet macaws” in Achuar – began ferrying people in July.

The investment came partly from private donations and the rest from the IDEAS prize for Energy Innovation, established by the Inter-American Development Bank, which the community received in 2015, endowed with 127,000 dollars.

The Achuar people’s solar-powered transport network connects nine of their communities along 67 km of the Pastaza river – which forms part of the border between Ecuador and Peru – and the Capahuari river. The approximately 21,000 members of the Achuar community live along the banks of these two rivers.

“It was an indigenous idea adapted to the manufacture of canoes. They use them to transport people and products, like peanuts, cinnamon, yucca and plantains (cooking bananas),” in an area where rivers are the highways connecting their settlements, said Peas.

The demand for clean energy in indigenous and local communities and success stories such as the Achuar’s were presented during the Global Climate Action Summit, convened by the government of the U.S. state of California.

A solar panel exhibit in San Francisco, California, during the Global Climate Action Summit, which showed the expansion of solar and wind energy and micro hydroelectric dams to provide electricity to small communities. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A solar panel exhibit in San Francisco, California, during the Global Climate Action Summit, which showed the expansion of solar and wind energy and micro hydroelectric dams to provide electricity to small communities. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The event, held on Sept. 13-14 in San Francisco, was an early celebration of the third anniversary of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in the French capital in December 2015.

Native delegates also participated in the alternative forum “Our Village: Climate Action by the People,” on Sept. 11-14, presented by the U.S. non-governmental organisations If Not US Then Who and Hip Hop Caucus.

Right Energy Partnership

The Indigenous Peoples' Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), made up of 50 organisations from 33 countries, launched the Right Energy Partnership in July. In Latin America, organisations from Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and five regional and global networks are taking part.

The consortium seeks to ensure that alternative projects are aligned with respect for and protection of human rights and provide access by at least 50 million indigenous people to renewable energy by 2030 that is developed and managed in a manner consistent with their self-determination needs and development aspirations.

This would be achieved by ensuring the protection of rights to prevent adverse impacts of renewable energy initiatives on ancestral territories, strengthen communities with sustainable development, and fortify the exchange of knowledge and collaboration between indigenous peoples and other actors.

The Alliance decided to conduct a pilot phase between 2018 and 2020 in 10 countries. The first countries included were Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Nicaragua, and Australia, the United States and New Zealand could also join, as they have indigenous groups that already operate renewable ventures and have success stories.

In addition to Ecuador, innovative experiences have also emerged from indigenous communities in countries such as Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Guatemala, Malaysia, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and the United States, according to the forum.

For example, in Bolivia there is an alliance between the local government of Yocalla, in the southern department of Potosí, and the non-governmental organisation Luces Nuevas aimed at providing electricity from renewable sources to poor families.

In Yocalla, a municipality of 10,000 people, mainly members of the Pukina indigenous community, “755 families live in rural areas with limited electricity; the national power grid has not yet reached those places,” project consultant Yara Montenegro told IPS.

Thanks to the programme, which began in March, 30 poor families have received solar panels connected to lithium batteries, produced at the La Palca pilot plant in Potosí, which store the fluid.

Each system costs 400 dollars, of which the families contribute half and the organisation and the government the other half. The families can connect two lamps, charge a cell phone and listen to the radio, replacing the use of firewood, candles and conventional batteries.

The development of clean sources plays a decisive role in achieving one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Goal seven aims to establish “affordable and non-polluting energy” – a goal that also has an impact on the achievement of at least another 11 SDGs, which the international community set for itself in 2015 for the next 15 years, within the framework of the United Nations.

In addition, the success of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All), the programme to be implemented during the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All 2014-2024, which aims to guarantee universal access to modern energy services, and to double the global rate of energy efficiency upgrades and the share of renewables in the global energy mix, depends on that progress.

But most of the groups promoting an energy transition do not include native people, points out the May report “Renewable Energy and Indigenous Peoples. Background Paper to the Right Energy Partnership,” prepared by the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG).

That group launched a Right Energy Partnership in July, which seeks to fill that gap.

For Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot people, who is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, energy represents “a problem and a solution” for indigenous people, she told IPS at the alternative forum in San Francisco.

“The leaders have fought against hydroelectric dams and I have also seen projects in the hands of indigenous peoples,” she said.

Because of this, “the communities have to be at the centre to decide on and design projects that help combat poverty, because they allow electricity without depending on the power grid, and they strengthen the defense of the territory and benefit the people,” she said.

“It’s about guaranteeing rights and defining development processes,” she summed up.

Examples of projects that can be replicated and expanded, as called for by the U.N special rapporteur, are provided by communities such as Sharamentsa in Ecuador and Yocalla in Bolivia.

Sharamentsa operates a 12 kW battery bank that can create a microgrid. “A power supply centre is planned that allows the generation of value-added products, such as plant processing,” Peas said.

In Yocalla, the plan is to equip some 169 families with systems in December and then try to extend it to all of Potosí. But Montenegro pointed out that alliances are needed so that the beneficiaries can pay less. “In 2019 we will analyse the impact, if the families are satisfied with it, if they are comfortable,” she said.

This article was produced with support from the Climate and Land Use Alliance.

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Preservation of the Klamath River – a Life or Death Matter for the Yurok Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/preservation-klamath-river-life-death-matter-yurok-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=preservation-klamath-river-life-death-matter-yurok-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/preservation-klamath-river-life-death-matter-yurok-people/#respond Thu, 13 Sep 2018 16:48:29 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157602 Fishermen are scarce in the Klamath River delta, unlike other fishing season, because climate change has driven up water temperatures which kills off the salmon, the flagship species of this region in northern California. The increase in temperatures favours the proliferation of lethal fish diseases and the absence of fish has devastating effects on the […]

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Yurok lawyer Amy Cordalis (L) explains the impacts of climate change on the Klamath River, such as the drop in the number of salmon, a key species in the traditions and economy of this Native American tribe in the western U.S. state of California. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yurok lawyer Amy Cordalis (L) explains the impacts of climate change on the Klamath River, such as the drop in the number of salmon, a key species in the traditions and economy of this Native American tribe in the western U.S. state of California. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KLAMATH, California, USA , Sep 13 2018 (IPS)

Fishermen are scarce in the Klamath River delta, unlike other fishing season, because climate change has driven up water temperatures which kills off the salmon, the flagship species of this region in northern California.

The increase in temperatures favours the proliferation of lethal fish diseases and the absence of fish has devastating effects on the Yurok, the largest group of Native Americans in the state of California, who live in the Klamath River basin.

“The river level is dropping at a time when it shouldn’t. The water warms up in summer and causes diseases in the fish. This changes the rhythm of the community and has social effects,” lawyer Amy Cordalis, a member of the tribe, told IPS during a tour of the watershed.

Cordalis stressed that the community of Klamath, in Del Norte county in northwest California, depends on fishing, which is a fundamental part of their traditions, culture and diet.

The Yurok, a tribe which currently has about 6,000 members, use the river for subsistence, economic, legal, political, religious and commercial purposes.

This tribe, one of more than 560 surviving tribes in the United States, owns and manages 48,526 hectares of land, of which its reserve, established in 1855, covers less than half: 22,743 hectares.

Conserving the forest is vital to the regulation of the temperature and water cycle of the river and to moisture along the Pacific coast.

The Yurok – which means “downriver people” – recall with terror the year 2002, when the water level dropped and at least 50,000 salmon ended up dead from disease, the highest fish mortality in the United States.

The Yurok are working to conserve and restore the Klamath River basin, to which they are spiritually and economically linked. Part of the restoration involves placing logs in the river, such as these ones that have been prepared on its banks, to channel the water and retain sediment and thus recreate the habitat needed by salmon, the species that is key to the Yurok culture. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Yurok are working to conserve and restore the Klamath River basin, to which they are spiritually and economically connected. Part of the restoration involves placing logs in the river, such as these ones that have been prepared on its banks, to channel the water and retain sediment and thus recreate the habitat needed by salmon, the species that is key to the Yurok culture. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

And in 2015 no snow fell, which affects the flow of water that feeds the river and is fundamental for the fishery because in March of each year the salmon fry come down from the mountain, Cordalis said. This species needs cold water to breed.

The federal government granted the Yurok a fishing quota of 14,500 salmon for 2018, which is low and excludes commercial catch, but is much higher than the quota granted in 2017 – only 650 – due to the crisis of the river flow that significantly reduced the number of salmon.

The migration of fish downriver has also decreased in recent years due to sedimentation of the basins caused by large-scale timber extraction, road construction, loss of lake wood and loss of diversity in the habitat and fishery production potential.

As a result, the number of chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) and Pacific lamprey (Lampetra tridentata) have dropped in the Klamath River, while Coho or silver salmon (O. kisutch) are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Klamath River in California, the natural and spiritual sustenance of the Yurok people, is facing threats due to climate change, such as reduced flow and increased temperatures, which kill salmon, a species that requires cold water for breeding. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Klamath River in California, the natural and spiritual sustenance of the Yurok people, is facing threats due to climate change, such as reduced flow and increased temperatures, which kill salmon, a species that requires cold water for breeding. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A reflection of this crisis, in Cordalis’ words, is the ban on commercial fishing for the third consecutive year, with only subsistence fishing allowed.

Faced with this, the Yurok have undertaken efforts for the conservation of the ecosystem and the recovery of damaged areas to encourage the arrival of the salmon.

In 2006, they began placing wood structures in the Terwer Creek watershed as dikes to channel water flow and control sediment.

“We had to convince the lumber company that owned the land, as well as the state and federal authorities. But when they saw that it worked, they didn’t raise any objections. What we are doing is geomorphology, we are planting gardens,” Rocco Fiori, the engineering geologist who is in charge of the restoration, from Fiori Geo Sciences, a consulting firm specialising in this type of work, told IPS.

Tree trunks are placed in the river bed, giving rise to the growth of new trees. They last about 15 years, as they are broken down and begin to rot as a result of contact with the moisture and wind.

But they generate more trees, giving rise to a small ecosystem. They also facilitate the emergence of vegetation on the river ford, explained Fiori, whose consulting firm is working with the Yurok on the restoration.

Salmon is basic to the diet of the Yurok people, who live in northern California. But the catch has fallen drastically due to a lower water flow in the Klamath River and the increase in water temperature. In the picture, a member of the Yurok tribe seasons fish for dinner on the riverbank. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Salmon is basic to the diet of the Yurok people, who live in northern California. But the catch has fallen drastically due to a lower water flow in the Klamath River and the increase in water temperature. In the picture, a member of the Yurok tribe seasons fish for dinner on the riverbank. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Starting in the fall, this strip is flooded every year, which favours the abundance of organic matter for the salmon to feed on, allowing them to grow and thrive in the new habitat.

In addition, four of the six dams along the Klamath River and its six tributaries, built after 1918 to generate electricity, will be dismantled.

The objective is to restore land that was flooded by the dams and to apply measures to mitigate any damage caused by the demolition of the dams, as required by law.

The Copco 1 and 2, Iron Gate and JC Boyle dams will be demolished in January 2021, at a cost of 397 million dollars. The owner of the dams, the PacifiCorp company, will cover at least 200 million of that cost, and the rest will come from the state government.

“The removal of the dams is vital. It’s a key solution for the survival of salmon,” biologist Michael Belchik, of the Yurok Tribe Fisheries Department, who has worked with the tribe for 23 years, told IPS.

The four reservoirs hold between five million and 20 million cubic metres of sediment, and their removal will provide 600 km of suitable habitat for salmon.

It is estimated that salmon production will increase by 80 percent, with benefits for business, recreational fishing and food security for the Yurok. In addition, the dismantling of dams will mitigate the toxic blue-green algae that proliferate in the reservoirs.

Water conservation projects exemplify the mixture of ancestral knowledge and modern science.

For Cordalis, salmon is irreplaceable. “Our job is not to let (a tragedy) happen again. The tribe does what it can to defend itself from problems and draw attention to the issue. We continue to fight for water and the right decisions. Our goal is to restore the river and get the fish to come back,” the lawyer said.

The Yurok shared their achievements and the challenges they face with indigenous delegates from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico and Panama in the run-up to the Global Climate Action Summit, convened by the government of California to celebrate in advance the third anniversary of the Paris Agreement, reached in Paris in 2015. The meeting will take place on Sept. 13-14 in San Francisco, CA.

This article was produced with support from the Climate and Land Use Alliance .

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Equality and Territory: the Common Struggle of Indigenous Women in the Andeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/equality-territory-common-struggle-indigenous-women-andes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=equality-territory-common-struggle-indigenous-women-andes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/equality-territory-common-struggle-indigenous-women-andes/#respond Tue, 04 Sep 2018 18:57:59 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157456 This article is published ahead of the International Day of Indigenous Women, celebrated September 5, which marks the execution of indigenous guerrilla leader Bartolina Sisa.

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The post Equality and Territory: the Common Struggle of Indigenous Women in the Andes appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is published ahead of the International Day of Indigenous Women, celebrated September 5, which marks the execution of indigenous guerrilla leader Bartolina Sisa.

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Land, Water and Education, Priorities for Chile’s Mapuche Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/land-water-education-priorities-chiles-mapuche-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-water-education-priorities-chiles-mapuche-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/land-water-education-priorities-chiles-mapuche-people/#respond Thu, 30 Aug 2018 23:16:26 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157417 The right to land and water, as well as to multicultural education, are the top priority demands of Mapuche leaders working with their communities in the Araucanía region and in Santiago, Chile’s capital. “We, the entire Cheuquepán Colipe family, are originally from communities in Lautaro (649 km south of Santiago). We’re here today because our […]

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Indigenous Peoples Least Responsible for the Climate Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/indigenous-peoples-least-responsible-climate-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-least-responsible-climate-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/indigenous-peoples-least-responsible-climate-crisis/#comments Thu, 09 Aug 2018 07:43:06 +0000 Jamison Ervin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157153 Jamison Ervin is Manager, UNDP’s Global Programme on Nature for Development

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Photo - UNDP/ PNG-Bougainville People celebration

By Jamison Ervin
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2018 (IPS)

Indigenous peoples, who comprise less than five percent of the world’s population, have the world’s smallest carbon footprint, and are the least responsible for our climate crisis. Yet because their livelihoods and wellbeing are intimately bound with intact ecosystems, indigenous peoples disproportionately face the brunt of climate change, which is fast becoming a leading driver of human displacement.

In Papua New Guinea, for example, residents of the Carteret Islands – one of the most densely populated islands in the country – have felt the effects of climate change intensify over recent years. With a high point on their islands of just 1.2 meters above sea level, every community member is now at risk from sea level rise and storm surges.

Moreover, the community depends almost entirely on fishing for their food and livelihoods, but the health of sea grass beds and coral reefs has gradually deteriorated from warming waters and coral bleaching.

The residents of these islands faced a stark choice – to be passive victims of an uncertain government resettlement program, or to take matters into their own hands. They chose the latter. In 2005, elders formed a community-led non-profit, called Tulele Peisa, to chart their own climate course. In the Halia language, the name means “Sailing the Waves on our Own,” an apt metaphor for how the community is navigating rising sea levels.

In 2014, the initiative won the prestigious, UNDP-led Equator Prize, in recognition for their ingenuity, foresight and proactive approach in facing the challenges of climate change, while keeping their cultural traditions intact.

Earlier this month, Jeffrey Sachs published an article entitled “We Are All Climate Refugees Now,” in which he attributed the main cause of climate inaction to the willful ignorance of political institutions and corporations toward the grave dangers of climate change, imperiling future life on Earth. 2018 will likely be recorded as among the hottest year humanity has ever recorded.

Yet a slew of recent articles highlight that we are not on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. We have not shown the collective leadership required to tackle this existential crisis.

Carteret Islanders have been broadly recognized as the world’s first climate refugees, but they are not alone. Arctic indigenous communities are already facing the same plight, as are their regional neighbors from the island nation of Kiribati.

According to the World Bank, their plight will likely be replicated around the world, with as many as 140 million people worldwide being displaced by climate change within the next 30 years or so.

But the Carteret Island leaders are more than just climate refugees. They have done something precious few political leaders have done to date – they recognized the warning signs of climate change as real and inevitable, they took stock of their options, and they charted a proactive, realistic course for their own future that promised the most good for the most people. Therefore, they could also be called the world’s first true climate leaders.

Let’s hope that our world’s politicians and CEOs have the wisdom, foresight and fortitude of the elders of Carteret Islanders. Because like it or not, we will all be sailing the climate waves on our own, with or without a rudder and a plan.

The post Indigenous Peoples Least Responsible for the Climate Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Jamison Ervin is Manager, UNDP’s Global Programme on Nature for Development

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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States Must Act Now to Protect Indigenous Peoples During Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/states-must-act-now-protect-indigenous-peoples-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=states-must-act-now-protect-indigenous-peoples-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/states-must-act-now-protect-indigenous-peoples-migration/#respond Wed, 08 Aug 2018 19:13:13 +0000 UN experts on Indigenous Peoples http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157142 States around the world must take effective action to guarantee the human rights of indigenous peoples, says a group of UN experts. In a joint statement marking International day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the experts say it is crucial that the rights of indigenous peoples are realised when they migrate or are displaced from […]

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Indigenous men and women of Nuñoa in Puno, Peru, spin and weave garments based on the fiber of the alpacas. Credit: SGP-GEF-UNDP Peru/Enrique Castro-Mendívil

By UN experts* on Indigenous Peoples
GENEVA/NEW YORK, Aug 8 2018 (IPS)

States around the world must take effective action to guarantee the human rights of indigenous peoples, says a group of UN experts. In a joint statement marking International day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the experts say it is crucial that the rights of indigenous peoples are realised when they migrate or are displaced from their lands:

“In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples have become migrants because they are fleeing economic deprivation, forced displacement, environmental disasters including climate change impacts, social and political unrest, and militarisation. Indigenous peoples have shown remarkable resilience and determination in these extreme situations.

We wish to remind States that all indigenous peoples, whether they migrate or remain, have rights under international instruments, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

While States have the sovereign prerogative to manage their borders, they must also recognise international human rights standards and ensure that migrants are not subjected to violence, discrimination, or other treatment that would violate their rights. In addition, states must recognise indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination; lands, territories and resources; to a nationality, as well as rights of family, education, health, culture and language.

The Declaration specifically provides that States must ensure indigenous peoples’ rights across international borders that may currently divide their traditional territories.

Within countries, government and industry initiatives, including national development, infrastructure, agro-business, natural resource extraction and climate change mitigation, or other matters that affect indigenous peoples, must be undertaken with the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples, such that they are not made to relocate against their will. States must recognise that relocation of indigenous peoples similarly triggers requirements including free, prior and informed consent, as well as restitution and compensation under the Declaration.

We are concerned about human rights violations in the detention, prosecution and deportation practices of States. There is also a dearth of appropriate data on indigenous peoples who are migrants. As a result of this invisibility, those detained at international borders are often denied access to due process, including interpretation and other services that are essential for fair representation in legal processes.

We call on States immediately to reunite children, parents and caregivers who may have been separated in border detentions or deportations.

In addition, States must ensure that indigenous peoples migrating from their territories, including from rural to urban areas within their countries, are guaranteed rights to their identity and adequate living standards, as well as necessary and culturally appropriate social services.

States must also ensure that differences among provincial or municipal jurisdictions do not create conditions of inequality, deprivation and discrimination among indigenous peoples.

We express particular concern about indigenous women and children who are exposed to human and drug trafficking, and sexual violence, and indigenous persons with disabilities who are denied accessibility services.

We look forward to engagement in the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration regarding indigenous peoples’ issues.

On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we urge States, UN agencies, and others, in the strongest terms possible, to ensure indigenous peoples’ rights under the Declaration and other instruments, and to recognise these rights especially in the context of migration, including displacement and other trans-border issues.”

(*) The experts: The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a subsidiary body of the Human Rights Council. Its mandate is to provide the Council with expertise and advice on the rights of indigenous peoples as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to assist Member States in achieving the ends of the Declaration through the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples. It is composed of seven independent experts serving in their personal capacities and is currently chaired by Ms Erika Yamada.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Forum is made up of 16 members serving in their personal capacity as independent experts on indigenous issues. Eight of the members are nominated by governments and eight by the President of ECOSOC, on the basis of broad consultation with indigenous groups. It is currently Chaired by Ms Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine. 

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples was established by the General Assembly in 1985. The Fund provides support for indigenous peoples’ representatives to participate in sessions of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Human Rights Council, including its Universal Periodic Review, and UN human rights treaty bodies. Its Board of Trustees is currently Chaired by Mr. Binota Dhamai.

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World Day for Indigenous Peopleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/world-day-indigenous-peoples/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-day-indigenous-peoples http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/world-day-indigenous-peoples/#respond Tue, 07 Aug 2018 13:56:08 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157107 This video is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 7 2018 (IPS)

370 million self-identified indigenous peoples are spread across the world, but continue to face discrimination and marginalization.

Dispossessed of their lands, territories and ancestral resources, these people have increasingly been forced to give up their way of life, and have been pushed into unfamiliar worlds to survive.

In Latin America, for example, 40% of all indigenous peoples now live in urban areas – they account for 80% of those populations in some countries of the region.

Globally, they represent 5% of the world’s population, yet account for 15% of all of those in poverty.

Indigenous people have always sought recognition of their identities, their way of life and rights to their traditional lands. But, throughout history, they have been felled.

Today, they are arguably the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the world.

This year’s “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples” will focus on the current situation of indigenous territories, root causes of migration and displacement, with particular emphasis on indigenous people living in urban areas.

The observance of this day will explore ways forward to revitalize indigenous people’s identities and encourage the protection of their rights in or outside their traditional territories.

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Excerpt:

This video is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time/#respond Tue, 07 Aug 2018 10:47:33 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157097 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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The women of Macharawari Pallem, a village of the Yanadi indigenous people located some three hours from Chennai city in South India, finally re-claimed their land after being award it over two decades ago and losing it to landlords and village elites. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NELLORE DISTRICT, India, Aug 7 2018 (IPS)

Under the blazing midday sun, a tractor moves slowly along a dirt trail in Nacharwari Pallem, a village of the Yanadi indigenous people located some three hours from Chennai city in South India. Atop the tractor, women of the village – 36 in all – sit expectantly, ignoring the heat. Squeals of excitement fill the air as the tractor slowly halts near a stretch of rice fields.  

The women scramble to get down and make a beeline to the nearest rice field, a pink piece of paper tightly held in each of their hands. This is the official document that declares ownership of a plot of land.  

Once at the rice field, the women stand in a circle and in a ritual-like manner, clap and break into laughter. The moment is historic: after the struggle of a lifetime, the  Yanadis finally have rights to the land that they have cultivated for generations. 

Yanadi – a tale of poverty and oppression 

There are roughly three million Yanadis in India today, spread over four districts in Andhra Pradesh state, and divided into four clans. The Reddy or ‘Good’ Yanadis have always worked for the Reddy’s or the rich men of the villages, while the Challa Yanadis had menial jobs only, which included scavenging. In return for their work they were paid only with leftover food–a clear indication of their exploitation. “There are so many odds, but for my people, standing together can be the best way to overcome them all." -- Gandala Sriramalu, Yanadi village elder.
 

The Kappalla Yanadi who catch fish and also often frogs, make up the third clan. And finally, there are the Adavi Yanadi, who live in the forests as hunter gatherers. 

While the clans live in different areas and traditionally take on different types of work, what is common among all four is the cycle of utter poverty and deprivation that they have been subjected to.  

At least 60 percent of Yanadi do not own a home and live in makeshift thatched huts, with the majority labouring hard in other people’s homes as domestic workers or on farms as labourers for little or no wages.  

Only 14 percent of Yanadis are literate despite the fact that Andhra Pradesh state has an average literacy rate of 67 percent.  

And despite the large size of their population, this group of indigenous people still have no political representative in either the National Parliament or the Assembly (the provisional legislature). In addition, save barely two to three percent, the entire people are landless. 

Much of their current condition is a result of their semi-nomadic lifestyle, says Sheikh Basheer who heads the Association for the Rural Development (ARD), a non-governmental organisation that has been working for the rights and welfare of the Yanadis for nearly 30 years.  

These indigenous people initially lived in the forests and near small waterbodies like rivers, streams and ponds, catching fish and small animals. However, as resources dried up slowly, they moved away from this type of life and had to begin working as manual labourers to survive. But while they worked for people in villages, they continued to live in their isolated huts, and unlike their village counterparts they did not own land or settle down to a more organised village life. As a result, they were left out of village affairs, and became seen as pariahs who lived in isolation. 

But most damaging to the Yanadis and their way of life has been their bondage–a form of slavery where the village elites who employed the Yanadis also decided their present and their future. “The Reddy’s [elites] employed the whole family as one labour unit. This means only one person was paid—not with cash, but in food grains—while the entire family, including the children, worked hard,” Basheer tells IPS.   

“Above all, the employment would continue for generations and the family could not leave until the employer let them go. So, these people have lived in silence with no knowledge of their rights,” Basheer, who has helped free over 700 Yanadis from slavery, says.

Landlessness and exploitation 

Gandala Sriramalu is a community elder who is one of the lucky few to have received an education and been employed in government job. Now retired, Sriramalu spends his time visiting his community and making them aware of their rights as well as the opportunities available to them, including free education for their children.  

The problem, he tells IPS, is that the Yanadis have never learnt to think or act on their own. So, when aid is given from the government and other agencies like NGOs, they are unable to make use of the opportunities.  

The ownership of land is one such issue. For the past two decades, the government has been distributing land rights to the Yanadis. But, it is extremely rare to see a community member actually utilising the land. In most cases it is his employer who enjoys the landrights.  

“The employer uses the Yanadi as a puppet, cultivating the land and consuming the produce. The Yanadi does not speak because he is either scared of losing his job or of being beaten up,” Sriramalu explains. 

There are roughly three million Yanadis in India today, spread over four districts in Andhra Pradesh state, and divided into four clans. Many still live in abject poverty in makeshift thatched huts, with the majority labouring hard in other people’s homes as domestic workers or on farms as labourers for little or no wages. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The case of Nacharwari Pallem is an example of this. Here, each of the Yanadi families received rights to half an acre of land about 20 years ago when the government assigned it to them through the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), a special agency mandated to work for indigenous peoples.  

However, while the Yanadis had ownership of the land here, it was in truth firmly under the control of a village elite. It took five years for ARD to convince the Yanadis to claim back their land rights and to assure them they need not fear any consequences from the village as the law was on their side. 

Chinni Hemalatha, 32, tells IPS that her family waited several years for their land even after initially receiving formal ownership sometime back.  

“It’s only last year that we finally got access to our land. When the rains come [in January], I am going to sow rice,” she says with a smile. 

Malli Pramila, another Yanadi woman, is yet to obtain her ownership rights. But seeing others get theirs has excited her.  

“I am so happy it is happening in our community at last,” she tells IPS. 

Challenges before the government 

Kamala Kumari is the joint collector in Nellore and a senior government official. Known for her clean image, Kumari was earlier a project officer at the ITDA and is known to have a high level of awareness on the issues facing indigenous peoples, including the Yanadis.  

In an interview with IPS, she says that the government has a host of welfare schemes for the Yanadis that aims to provide them with housing, education and a livelihood.  

However, she also admits that changes are extremely slow to come into effect. “There are so many challenges. The biggest one is a lack of sufficient funds. Last year, we had 6.5 million rupees [USD94,500] which was grossly inadequate for such a large population. This year, I have asked for two billion rupees [USD29 million], but we have to see how much of it is actually cleared.” 

The Yanadis way of living in isolated pockets and a lack of community representatives who can speak on behalf of their community also poses a challenge, she says.  

Self-help is the way forward 

Unaware of the challenges of government officials, the Yanadis are taking small steps to claim their rights.  

In dozens of villages in Nellore—one of the four districts where the Yanadis are a majority—these indigenous people have begun joining Yanadai Samakhya, a network created by Sriramal with the help of ARD.  

Currently, there are about 12,000 members in the network which looks into all the major issues faced by the Yanadis, with landrights, education, bondage and unpaid labour being some of them.  

Together, they have been winning small battles, including the right to use the mineral resources on their property. 

Ankaiya Rao of Reddy Gunta village, has been mining quartz stone since March, when his village first received rights to mine 159 acres of land that is rich in quartz deposit.   

Rao, who owns three acres, has been selling the stone to traders.   

“The business is good. For a ton, I get 80,000 rupees [roughly USD1,200]. I am happy and my wife is happy too,” he tells IPS. 

The father of two now dreams of giving his children a better childhood than his own. A few others in the village have also joined him in the mining of quartz, though on a smaller scale.  

However, there remains the constant fear of falling back into the trap of exploitation and losing the rights to a landlord, admits Basheer who had been instrumental in getting Reddy Gunta village its rights to mine quartz.  

“A number of powerful and politically-connected people are eyeing this land now and anyone could lure or intimidate a villager to sell his plot for a small bundle of cash. Once that happens, the entire community will eventually lose as landgrab is a common occurrence here,” he cautions. 

The answer is to stand united and vigilant against any possible landgrab efforts, says Sriramalu.  

“There are so many odds, but for my people, standing together can be the best way to overcome them all.” 

The post How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

The post How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Farmer-Herder Conflicts on the Rise in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/farmer-herder-conflicts-rise-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmer-herder-conflicts-rise-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/farmer-herder-conflicts-rise-africa/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 15:51:42 +0000 Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157073 Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu is a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who has done extensive work on land rights issues.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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The post Farmer-Herder Conflicts on the Rise in Africa appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu is a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who has done extensive work on land rights issues.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Helping Indigenous Peoples Live Equal Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/helping-indigenous-peoples-live-equal-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-indigenous-peoples-live-equal-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/helping-indigenous-peoples-live-equal-lives/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 10:51:37 +0000 Emily Thampoe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157067 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Mapuche indigenous peoples from Chile celebrate their new year. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

By Emily Thampoe
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2018 (IPS)

Although indigenous peoples are being increasingly recognised by both rights activists and governmental organisations, they are still being neglected in legal documents and declarations. Indigenous peoples are only mentioned in two of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and only seen in two of the 230 SDG indicators, says indigenous rights expert Chris Chapman.

According to Chapman, an indigenous rights researcher from Amnesty International, even recognition by governmental bodies is not enough to ensure that indigenous peoples are not left behind. But this recognition is a move in the right direction and securing land rights for indigenous peoples is being increasingly seen as an urgent and necessary global priority.“Indigenous peoples will be the moral measurement of achievement and nurturers of a new relationship with nature.” -- Joshua Cooper, director of the International Network for Diplomacy and Indigenous Governance Engaging in Nonviolence Organising for Understanding and Self-Determination.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions,” he tells IPS via email.

He adds that effectively helping indigenous peoples, “means empowering indigenous peoples to help themselves, ensuring that their voices are heard, and enabling them to set the agenda in terms of development. This is in accordance with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.”

At a side event titled ‘The Land, Territories, and Resources of Indigenous Peoples’, held during a two-week High-Level Political Forum on SDGs this July in New York, representatives from different nations spoke about the treatment of immigrants and the scarcity of resources available to them.

“Indigenous peoples will be the moral measurement of achievement and nurturers of a new relationship with nature,” shares Joshua Cooper, an activist and the director of the International Network for Diplomacy and Indigenous Governance Engaging in Nonviolence Organising for Understanding and Self-Determination.

“The 17 [SDGs] outline an opportunity to organise, to overhaul global governance, to be honest for future generations. [The goals are] rooted in a philosophy of ‘no one left behind,’ with a human rights blueprint dedicated to ‘furthest behind first.’”

The meeting was held and organised by the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), which aims to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples.

The group maintains that as well as helping with these rights, it is imperative that indigenous peoples are involved with, “the development, implementation, monitoring and review process of actions plans and programmes on sustainable development at all levels.”

According to a representative from the African branch of IPMG, across the continent different groups of indigenous peoples live according to their unique lifestyles. It is important for governments to recognise ways of life that divert from the norm of living in a family home—where indigenous peoples live in savannahs or deserts.

African Union’s African Agenda 2063 guidelines aim to help improve the state of the continent’s socio-economic climate over the next five decades. There are seven goals or aspirations that stress the importance of growth and sustainable development. These include a politically united continent; a continent that upholds the values of democracy and respects human rights; a continent that embraces its strong cultural identity and values and ethics; and a continent that uses its citizens to help create progress and develop society.

While discussing what is being done to help indigenous peoples in terms of the U.N.’s SDGs Joan Carling, the convenor of IPMG, said this of Africa: “In their national report they relayed that in Congo, indigenous peoples are subjected to land grabs and conflicts. There is no clear action on those issues.”

According to the Centre for Research on Globalisation agricultural companies are reportedly behind these land grabs that have prevented local communities from using land for farming and raising livestock—even on land that is no longer in use by the company.

During the meeting, a representative from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact shared that the continent is home to approximately 411 million indigenous peoples, who in their poignant words, “are the guardians of our nature”. The representative also shared that the following Asian countries legally recognise the presence and importance of indigenous peoples; the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Carling says that IPMG and other organisations working with indigenous peoples are hoping that, “more countries will implement the ideas of the sustainable development goals into their action plans and strategies.”

“We see some progress in certain countries where they have inclusion in reference to indigenous peoples, but these are the countries that were already supporting indigenous peoples in the past; they are now adding the element of SDGs,” she says.

In terms of helping indigenous peoples on a global scale, Carling stresses the importance of quality education.

“Education has to respect the use of [indigenous peoples’] mother tongue at the primary level. How can kids adjust when the language being used is completely alien to them? It doesn’t really help facilitate their learning at a higher level. In terms of land rights, change is important. Without land rights, we can not achieve sustainable development not only for indigenous peoples, but for the whole system,” she says.

It is also important to sample data correctly, in order to precisely determine the demographics of a society and their needs. This is a dire need, in Carling’s eyes, as more can be done if governments know how many indigenous peoples are not well off, for example. If information about lifestyles and certain ethnic groups are distributed, progress in terms of indigenous peoples rights will be more easily made.

The world is on the right path towards creating more sustainable societies that are fulfilling for all groups of people but in Carling’s words, nations need greater political will and attention at state level rather than focusing attention on the matter at global level.

The post Helping Indigenous Peoples Live Equal Lives appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as They are Forced to Move into Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/op-ed-protecting-rights-indigenous-peoples-forced-move-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-protecting-rights-indigenous-peoples-forced-move-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/op-ed-protecting-rights-indigenous-peoples-forced-move-cities/#comments Sun, 05 Aug 2018 19:18:15 +0000 Sopho Kharazi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157063 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Sharmila Munda, a woman from the Shantal indigenous community in Chatra, Bangladesh, collects wood for her livelihood. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker / IPS

By Sopho Kharazi
STEPANTSMINDA, Georgia, Aug 5 2018 (IPS)

On Aug. 9 the observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will take place in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, bringing together U.N. agencies and member states, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations.

This year’s day is themed “Indigenous Peoples’ Migration and Movement.” It examines conditions in the territories of indigenous peoples; causes of migration, trans-border movement and displacement; and how to reinvigorate the identities of indigenous peoples and protect their rights internationally.

In an event organised by the Secretariat of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a panel will focus discussion on indigenous peoples living in “urban areas and across international borders”.

Indigenous people have unique languages, follow diverse traditions, have a special relationship with their land and have different ideas about the concept of development. However, instead of nurturing and preserving the uniqueness of these people, they are being neglected by the governments and communities of the countries in which they live.

“Despite their cultural diversity and homelands across 90 countries, [indigenous peoples] share common challenges related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples. Three hundred and seventy million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the world’s population but account for 15 percent of the poorest,” Irina Bokova, director general of U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), said at last year’s event.

The situation is worsened by the fact that their identities and rights to “lands, territories and resources” are being challenged. All together, land dispossession or forcible removal of indigenous peoples from their land, “poverty, militarisation, natural disasters, lack of employment opportunities, and the deterioration of traditional livelihoods,” represent push factors leading to the migration of indigenous peoples to urban areas, according to the U.N.

One of the most vivid examples of land dispossession is the case of the Ogiek community from Kenya, east Africa.

In 2015, the Siemenpuu Foundation, a Finish non-governmental organisation (NGO) that supports environmental and democratic initiatives, interviewed Peter Kitelo, a Kenyan from the Ogiek community who lived in Mountain Elgon Forest.

The Kenyan government transformed some parts of the forest into “game reserves” while other parts of forest were sold as private property. All these actions led to the eviction of the Ogiek from their lands.

Migration from their land does not only mean the loss of property for the Ogiek. According to Kitelo, Ogiek people “don’t conserve the forest. They look at [a] forest as you look at [a] human being. Like it’s just there.”

These words, on the one hand, demonstrate the special relationship between indigenous peoples and their lands. On the other hand, they show how land dispossession underestimates identities and the sense of self-determination of indigenous peoples.

Today, approximately 40 percent of Latin America’s indigenous peoples live in cities, according to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Despite this, nobody talks about how indigenous peoples alter after migrating to urban areas. It is well-known that indigenous peoples face hardships integrating into society as they are frequently neglected, deprived of health services, education and proper employment. However, this still does not demonstrate the emotional and mental struggles of indigenous migrants.

In an interview with NGO Rio on Watch, José Urutau Guajajara, one of the key leaders in the movement for indigenous rights in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said that since the dominant culture within the city “is very strong, they [indigenous peoples] change.”

“The head changes and the person changes. Indigenous people don’t believe in themselves. They reject themselves. This rejection comes from the influence of the dominant culture, in all its forms: spiritual, ethnic, in the language, and the entire culture in general.

“It’s a psychological erasure, a complete erasure. It’s very difficult to practice your culture, especially in urban spaces and in the communities. You’ve got to be living with relatives, or else you don’t practice and you’re swallowed up by the dominant culture. So you can’t reject it,” Guajajara had said.

This idea is supported by Caroline Stephens, who examines impacts of urbanisation on indigenous peoples in her book State of the World’s Minorities. According to her, indigenous youth, who are sometimes victims of racism in cities, stop recognising themselves as indigenous as they consider their origin and distinct appearance the reason for their victimisation. This shows how marginalisation and discrimination forces indigenous peoples living in urban areas to consciously reject their self-identification.

In order to solve the problem accompanying indigenous migrations, the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has published some recommendations.

First, relevant states should cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to establish centres for them in urban areas. These centres should provide medical and legal assistance to indigenous migrants.

Second, relevant states should recognise the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and should help forcefully displaced indigenous migrants return to their communities.

Finally, the U.N. recommends that relevant states should cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to employ them and help them develop economically.

As Bokova stated, “this will not only be beneficial to indigenous peoples but for all of humanity and our planet.”

The post Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as They are Forced to Move into Cities appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

The post Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as They are Forced to Move into Cities appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Indigenous Peoples Recover Native Languages in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico/#respond Fri, 18 May 2018 09:22:22 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155818 Ángel Santiago is a Mexican teenager who speaks one of the variations of the Zapotec language that exists in the state of Oaxaca, in the southwest of Mexico. Standing next to the presidential candidate who is the favorite for the July elections, he calls for an educational curriculum that “respects our culture and our languages.” […]

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After More Than a Decade, Rights of Indigenous Peoples Not Fully Realizedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/decade-rights-indigenous-peoples-not-fully-realized/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decade-rights-indigenous-peoples-not-fully-realized http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/decade-rights-indigenous-peoples-not-fully-realized/#respond Wed, 18 Apr 2018 05:58:41 +0000 Miroslav Lajcak http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155326 Miroslav Lajčák, is President of the UN General Assembly

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A UN press conference on indigenous peoples. Credit: UN Photo

By Miroslav Lajčák
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2018 (IPS)

First, I want to talk about how we got here.

It was nearly 100 years ago, when indigenous peoples first asserted their rights, on the international stage. But, they did not see much progress. At least until 1982 – when the first Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established.

And, in 2007, the rights of indigenous peoples were, finally, set out in an international instrument.

Let us be clear here. Rights are not aspirational. They are not ideals. They are not best-case scenarios. They are minimum standards. They are non-negotiable. And, they must be respected, and promoted.

Yet, here we are. More than a decade after the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. And the fact is, these rights are not being realized.

That is not to say that there has been no progress. In fact, we heard many success stories, during yesterday’s opening of the Permanent Forum.

But, they are not enough.

Which is why, as my second point, I want to say that we need to do much more.

Last September, the General Assembly gave my office a new mandate. It requested that I organise informal interactive hearings – to look at how indigenous peoples can better participate at the United Nations.

So, that is why we are all sitting here. But, before we launch into our discussions, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

I know that many of you were disappointed, with the General Assembly’s decision last year. After two years of talking, many of you wanted more than these interactive hearings.

We cannot gloss over this. And that is why I want to address it – from the outset. But I must also say this: Things may be moving slowly. But they are still moving.

When our predecessors formed the first indigenous working group, in 1982, their chances were slim. Many doubted whether an international instrument could be adopted. And, frankly, it took longer than it should have. But, it still happened.

So, we need to acknowledge the challenges, and frustrations. We cannot sweep them under the rug.

But we also cannot let them take away from the opportunities we have, in front of us.

And that brings me to my third point, on our discussions today.

This is your hearing. So, please be blunt. Please be concrete. Please be innovative.

Like I have said, we should not pretend that everything is perfect. Major problems persist – particularly at the national level. And, we need to draw attention to them. Today, however, we have a very specific mandate. And that is, to explore how we can carve out more space, for indigenous peoples, on the international stage.

That is why I ask you to focus on the future of our work, here, at the United Nations. And to try to come up with as many ideas and proposals as possible.

In particular, we should look at the following questions:

Which venues and forums are most suitable?

What modalities should govern participation?

What kind of participants should be selected?

And how will this selection happen?

We should also try to form a broader vision. This will allow us to better advise the General Assembly’s ongoing process to enhance indigenous peoples’ participation.

Finally, next steps.

As you know, this is our very first informal, interactive hearing. There will be two further hearings – next year, and the year after.

Then – during what we call the 75th Session of the General Assembly – negotiations between governments will start up again.

Turning back to today, the immediate outcome of our hearing will be a President’s Summary. But, I am confident that the longer-term outcome will be yet another step, in the direction of change.

So, this is where I will conclude. My main job, now, is to listen.

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Excerpt:

Miroslav Lajčák, is President of the UN General Assembly

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DR Congo’s Mai-Ndombe Forest ‘Savaged’ As Landless Communities Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/dr-congos-mai-ndombe-forest-savaged-landless-communities-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dr-congos-mai-ndombe-forest-savaged-landless-communities-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/dr-congos-mai-ndombe-forest-savaged-landless-communities-struggle/#respond Tue, 17 Apr 2018 16:10:51 +0000 Issa Sikiti da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155317 Thousands of logs loaded into makeshift boats at the port of Inongo at Lake Mai-Ndombe stand ready to be transported to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Inongo is the provincial capital of the Mai-Ndombe Province, a 13-million-hectare area located some 650 km northeast of Kinshasa. The logs have been illegally […]

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The DRC has the world’s second largest rainforest, about 135 million hectares, which is a powerful bulwark against climate change. Credit: Forest Service photo by Roni Ziade

The DRC has the world’s second largest rainforest, about 135 million hectares, which is a powerful bulwark against climate change. Credit: Forest Service photo by Roni Ziade

By Issa Sikiti da Silva
INONGO, Democratic Republic of Congo, Apr 17 2018 (IPS)

Thousands of logs loaded into makeshift boats at the port of Inongo at Lake Mai-Ndombe stand ready to be transported to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Inongo is the provincial capital of the Mai-Ndombe Province, a 13-million-hectare area located some 650 km northeast of Kinshasa. The logs have been illegally cut from the Mai-Ndombe forest, an area of 10 million hectares, which has some trees measuring between 35 and 45 meters.“Evicting the guardians of the forest risks losing the forest." --Marine Gauthier

Destined for overseas export

“We witness this kind of spectacle every day, whereby tons and tons of logs and timber find their way to the capital either via the Congo River or by road, where they will eventually be shipped overseas, or just sold to the black market,” environment activist Prosper Ngobila told IPS.

Mbo, the truck driver who brought the load, confirmed: “This stock and others that are already gone to the capital are destined for overseas export. I’m only a transporter, but I understand that the owner of this business is a very powerful man, almost untouchable.”

Thousands of logs cut from trees 20 meters in height are currently lying in the Mai-Ndombe forest waiting to be hauled off, while thousands more have been left there to rot for years, Ngobila added.

“It’s shocking to say the least,” he said.

Rich in natural resources

The forests of Mai-Ndombe (“black water” in Lingala) are rich in rare and precious woods (red wood, black wood, blue wood, tola, kambala, lifake, among others). It is also home to about 7,500 bonobos, an endangered primate and the closest cousin to humans of all species, sharing 98 percent of our genes, according to the WWF.

The forests constitute a vital platform providing livelihoods for some 73,000 indigenous individuals, mostly Batwa (Pygmies), who live here alongside the province’s 1.8 million population, many of whom with no secure land rights.

Recent studies also have revealed that the province – and indeed the forests – boasts significant reserves of diamond, oil, nickel, copper and coal, and vast quantities of uranium lying deep inside the Lake Mai-Ndombe.

Efforts to save the forests

The WWF and many environmental experts, who deplore the gradual destruction and degradation of these forests for their precious wood and for the benefit of agriculture, continue to plead and lobby for their protection.

The DRC has the world’s second largest rainforest, about 135 million hectares, which is a powerful bulwark against climate change.

In an effort to save these precious forests, the World Bank in 2016 approved DRC’s REDD+ programmes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fight forest’s deforestation and degradation, which it would fund to the tune of 90 million dollars annually.

The projects, which are currently estimated at 20, have since transformed the Mai-Ndombe Province into a testing ground for international climate schemes. And as part of the projects, indigenous and other local people caring for the forests and depending on them for their livelihoods were supposed to be rewarded for their efforts.

Flaws and fiasco

However, Marine Gauthier, a Paris-based expert who authored a report on the sorry state of the Mai-Ndombe forest, seems to have found serious flaws in these ambitious programmes.

The report, released a few days before the International Day of Forests on March 21 by the Rights and Resources’ Initiative (RRI)), cited weak recognition of communities’ land rights, and recommended that key prerequisites should be addressed before any other REDD+ funds are invested.

In the interim, it said, REDD+ investments should be put on hold.

Gauthier, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to stop the funding from doing more damage to the people of the forest, told IPS in the aftermath of the report’s release, “In DRC and more specifically in the Mai-Ndombe, the history of natural resources management has always been done at the expense of local communities.

“Industrial logging concessions have been granted on their traditional lands without their consent and destroyed their environment without any form of compensation, and protected areas have been established on their lands prohibiting them to access to the forest where they hunt, gather, conduct traditional rituals, hence severing them from their livelihood and culture – again, without their consent.”

Struggle for landless peasants

Under the DRC’s 2014 Forest Code, indigenous people and local communities have the legal right to own forest covering an area of up to 50,000 hectares.

Thirteen communities in the territories of Mushie and Bolobo in the Mai-Ndombe province have since asked for formal title of a total of 65,308 hectares of land, reports said, adding that only 300 hectares have been legally recognised for each community – a total of only 3,900 hectares.

Alfred Mputu, a 56-year-old small scale forest farmer who is among the people still waiting for a formal title, told IPS: “I have been working and living in this land for decades, but as long as I don’t have a formal title that gives me the right to own it, I wouldn’t say it belongs to me.

“What if the government decides to sell it to foreign companies or to some rich and powerful people? Where will we go to live?”

The consequences of these communities living in and around these forests with no secured land rights could be dire, according to experts.

Zachary Donnenfeld, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) senior researcher for African futures and innovation, told IPS: “They could have their land sold out from under them by the government, likely to a private multinational company.

“Even if they are allowed to stay on their land, the environmental degradation caused by this industry could cause a noticeable deterioration in the quality of life for people in the area.”

Pretoria-based Donnenfeld added: “My guess is that the government is more interested in selling these resources to multinationals than it in seeing it benefit the community.

“To be fair, the government could be trying to sort out competing claims among the local groups. There could have been some overlap, for example communities bidding for the best land, and the government could be deciding what’s fair based on historical use or something. That said, my guess is that communities won’t get most of this land – at least in a secured land rights sense.”

Poverty and conflicts

Gauthier pointed out that these situations create poverty and conflicts between project implementers and communities, as well as between communities.

“Instead, when communities get secured land rights and are empowered to manage their lands themselves, studies show that it is the best way to protect the forest and even more efficient than government-managed protected areas.

“REDD+ opens the door to more land-grabbing by external stakeholders appealed by carbon benefits. Local communities’ land rights should be recognised through existing legal possibilities such as local community forest concessions so that they can keep protecting the forest, hence achieving REDD+ objectives.”

Gauthier said if their land rights are not secured, they can get evicted, as has already happened elsewhere in the country, such as South Kivu in the Kahuzi Biega National Park where 6,000 pygmies were expelled.

“Evicting the guardians of the forest risks losing the forest, when enabling them to live in and protect the forest as they have always done is the best way to keep these forests standing.”

Many observers say situations such as these impact negatively on the most vulnerable – women and children – who are already bearing the brunt of a country torn apart by dictatorship, economic mismanagement, corruption and two decades of armed conflict.

Chouchouna Losale, vice-coordinator of the Coalition of Women for the Environment and Sustainable Development in the DRC, told IPS that a humanitarian crisis has ensued in the Mai-Ndombe Province after the savannahs donated to women were ‘given’ to an industrial logging company.

“There are now cases of malnutrition in the area,” Losale said.

The Coalition of Women for the Environment and Sustainable Development advocates for the recognition of rights and competence of women in general, and aboriginal women in particular, in the Congolese provinces of Mai-Ndombe and Equateur.

“I urge the government to advance the process of land reform in order to provide the country with a clear land policy protecting forest-dependent communities,” Losale said, adding that proper consultation with communities should be done to avoid conflict.

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The UN tells private enterprise leaders that “Business as Usual Won’t Work”.http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-tells-private-enterprise-leaders-business-usual-wont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-tells-private-enterprise-leaders-business-usual-wont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-tells-private-enterprise-leaders-business-usual-wont-work/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2018 17:42:20 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155241 As global citizens face an array of issues from unemployment to discrimination, affecting their livelihoods and potential, a UN agency called upon businesses to employ a new, sustainable, and inclusive model that benefits all. Business leaders from around the world convened at the United Nation’s 2018 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) partnership forum to hear […]

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By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 11 2018 (IPS)

As global citizens face an array of issues from unemployment to discrimination, affecting their livelihoods and potential, a UN agency called upon businesses to employ a new, sustainable, and inclusive model that benefits all.

2018 ECOSOC Partnership Forum. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Business leaders from around the world convened at the United Nation’s 2018 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) partnership forum to hear how the private sector can work with governments to improve global economic opportunities.

“The private sector is an indisputable partner in reducing global inequalities and improving employment opportunities for all” the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the audience.

Mohammed stressed that the private sectors contribution to development was essential if the world is to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, in order for this to happen Mohammed said that “business as usual simply won’t work.”

Instead, leaders were challenged to commit to align their business goals with the SDGs by investing in sustainable business models.

“I would also like to take the opportunity to challenge the business leaders present here today to make bold commitments to a more inclusive future for all,” said Marie Chatardova, president of the ECOSOC.

Chatardova reminded the leaders of the UN’s Business and Sustainable Development Commissions recent research that found that investment in sustainable models could create some $12 trillion dollars in economic opportunities by 2030.

“Investing in sustainable development goals – it’s a ‘win-win partnership,” she said.

Calling for Inclusion

Today, 192 million people are unemployed. Eight per cent of the global population live in poverty. There is a mounting youth unemployment crisis. Women, indigenous and disabled persons continue to face barriers to equitable and meaningful employment.

Attendees highlighted the importance of sustainable business models that prioritize diversity and inclusivity by getting women, youth, indigenous and disabled persons into the workforce.

In panel discussions, many business leaders spoke of their companies’ ongoing diversity programs.

Sara Enright, director of the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC), pointed to Impact Sourcing – an example of inclusive business practice.

Impact sourcing, Ms Enright told the forum is: “when a company prioritises suppliers who are hiring and providing career development to people who otherwise have limited prospects of formal employment.”

The GISC is a global network of 40 business that include – Google, Microsoft, Aegis, and Bloomberg – that have committed to impact sourcing.

In March, GISC members were challenged to hire and provide training to over 100,000 new workers by 2020. Enright said so far ten companies have responded to the challenge, pledging to hire over 12,000 workers across Kenya, Nepal, Cambodia and the United States.

Enright said she expected many more companies to sign up and stressed that the GISC would monitor and measure the outcomes.

The UN applauded GISC’s work as an inspiring example of the private sector working collaboratively and inclusively to meet the SDGs vision.

Curb Your Corruption

Another issue that arose during the forum was corruption in development.

Last year global development funding reached $143 trillion dollars, of which the UN estimates that over 30 percent of funds failed to reach their intended destinations.

The UN told business leaders that if they commit to using technology that better tracks where money goes in development, then it will help curb corruption.

Bob Wigley, chairman of UK Finance, encouraged businesses to invest in technologies like ‘Block Chain’.

Block-chain, or Distributed Ledger Technology, is a digitized public record book of online transactions that was developed in 2008 with the rise of online currency ‘bitcoin’.

It is an entirely decentralized means of record keeping, meaning it is operated on a peer-to-peer basis rather than one central authority.

Wigley said the technology allows the direct tracking of online payments, ensuring that it is delivered correctly.

“If I was the recipient of state aid or wanting to know where my funds are going exactly then I’d be using block-chain systems, not the antiquated bookkeeping that gives rise to potential corruption every time a payment trickles from one set of hands to another,” he said.

“Think of how embracing and enhancing block chain technology could ensure accountability and transparency – things that are critical to meeting the SDGs,” Wigley continued.

A Race to the Top

Whilst many businesses are committing to the SDGs and implementing sustainable initiatives, more still needs to be done to unlock the full potential of the sector.

Kristine Cooper from United Kingdom insurance company Avia said it is a question of creating ‘competition’ between business by tracking them in their commitment and delivery.

“Lots of companies are doing great things in diversity and SDG commitments and how they do business to meet these goals, but it’s hard to know who’s doing really well, there is no consistency with reporting,” Cooper said.

“The system lacks the incentives to make right decisions and make organizations live up their responsibility.”

Ranking companies and holding them accountable, Cooper said, would create a “race to the top” and in the process, truly unleash “the power of the corporate and private sector in meeting development goals”.

Discussion points from this meeting will be further discussed in ECOSOC meetings held in May 2018, as well as at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2018.

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Drowning for Progress in Cambodiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/drowning-progress-cambodia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drowning-progress-cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/drowning-progress-cambodia/#respond Tue, 10 Apr 2018 22:57:27 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155226 Suddenly the road ends. The cart track disappears under the water. A vast lake stretches out in front of me. I have to transfer from a motorbike to a canoe. “Tuk laang,” my guide says coolly. “The water is rising.” This started eight months ago, when the hydroelectric power station closed its gates for the […]

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The Cambodian village of Kbal Romeas is slowly vanishing beneath the rising waters of a lake formed by the Lower Sesan II (LS2) dam. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

The Cambodian village of Kbal Romeas is slowly vanishing beneath the rising waters of a lake formed by the Lower Sesan II (LS2) dam. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
KBAL ROMEAS, Cambodia, Apr 10 2018 (IPS)

Suddenly the road ends. The cart track disappears under the water. A vast lake stretches out in front of me. I have to transfer from a motorbike to a canoe. “Tuk laang,” my guide says coolly. “The water is rising.”

This started eight months ago, when the hydroelectric power station closed its gates for the first time. Ever since, the road to Kbal Romeas sinks a little deeper under the slow waves every day."Beware of the branches above your head," the guide says. "The pythons and the cobras have climbed into the trees."

According to the level gauge on the road, the water behind the concrete barrage has risen up to 75 meters, higher than the intended 68 meters. Nobody knows why, and the government doesn’t provide any information.

Three sturdy men are unloading planks from a canoe. The houses of flood refugees are being dismantled in order to sell the wood.

The village is a world away from Phnom Penh. In Cambodia’s capital, saffron-robed monks are tapping on their smartphones and purple Rolls Royces are negotiating hectic traffic. But 450 kilometers to the north, Kbal Romeas is hidden deeply in the jungle. Here no shops, restaurants or traffic lights are to be found. And for a few months now, no roads either.

I’m undertaking the journey with Vibol. He is studying in the provincial capital and returns home often. “My parents are having a hard time since our village is flooded. The government wants us to leave, but we will never do that,” he says.

The expansive forests of Stung Treng – a province as large as Lebanon with barely 120,000 inhabitants – are the home of the Bunong, the ethnic minority to which Vibol belongs. Their way of life has been in sync with nature for 2,000 years, while they’ve been fiercely resisting modern influences from outside. But the small community now risks being washed away, quite literally.

Concrete vs. water

A few kilometers from the village, a gigantic wall towers over the trees. The ‘Lower Sesan II’ (LS2) dam is a powerful symbol for the economic growth of Southeast Asia, but also for man-made disasters. In September the gates were closed, thus creating a lake that soon will expand over 360 square kilometers, the size of Dublin. The livelihood of a unique culture will be wiped out.

The ten-year-old son of my guide navigates the canoe that will bring me to Kbal Romeas. Skillfully, he avoids crashing into the trees of the submerged forest. “Beware of the branches above your head,” his father says. “The pythons and the cobras have climbed into the trees.” There’s a shorter way to get to to the village, via dry land, but that’s not an option for a foreign journalist. The army closed off the whole area. No snoopers allowed.

I have to take the long detour over water, a surreal two-hour trip through a drowned jungle.

“The trees still bear fruit, but soon they will die,” the guide says. There is also less fish and the water has become undrinkable. Since the dam unhinged their lives, the Bunong have to pay for water and fish. But money is an alien concept for animist forest dwellers who are used to living in complete harmony with nature.

My canoe floats gently into the main street of the village. Thanks to their stilts, the typical Cambodian dwellings are still dry, even if the road lays one meter beneath the water’s surface. It is dead quiet. Until some children appear in doorways. “Soë-se-dei!” “Hello!”

A villager from Kbal Romeas paddles between two partly submerged houses. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

A villager from Kbal Romeas paddles between two partly submerged houses. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

About 250 people still live in the flooded village of Kbal Romeas; about half of the original population. I clamber from the canoe into a house. The lady of the house offers me some rice and spiced pork.

“We used to have everything we need here. But since the water started rising, we have to go to the market,” says Srang Lanh, 49. She has the face of someone who has lived a hard life.

“During the dry season it takes us about three hours to get there. In the rainy season we can’t use the road at all.”

The government has built a new village, on higher ground. “But we do not intend to move,” says Vibol. “The Buddhist Cambodians don’t understand our religion. We can’t leave our cemetery.” He wants to show me the graveyard. Small corrugated iron roofs are barely above the water. They used to give shade to the late loved ones.

I ask the former cemetery supervisor how many people are buried here beneath the flood tide. His reacts emotionally. “Thousands! Everyone who has ever lived in Kbal Romeas is buried here.”

Every day another grave disappears into the tidal wave of progress coming from this Chinese dam. “The spirits of our ancestors can’t leave here. To abandon them would be a disgrace,” says Vibol. The Bunong believe they are protected by the ancestors. Leaving means disaster.

In Kbal Romeas, the cursed dam is called ‘Kromhun’, the Company. The Chinese group Hydrolancang invested 800 million dollars in the LS2 dam and will be operating it for the next 30 years. Theoretically speaking, a dam producing 400 megawatts might seem a good idea, as this country lives in the dark. Three quarters of the Cambodian villages are not connected to the electrical grid.

However, Kbal Romeas will never see one single watt of the Kromhun. Ninety percent of the electricity in Cambodia goes to capital city Phnom Penh and is used for air conditioners, neon publicity signs and garment factories.

Noah’s Ark

There’s a little ceremony for the visitor, the first foreigner since the army shut this area down in July. Ta Uot is the most important guardian spirit of Kbal Romeas. His temple is nothing more than a hut on poles, now surrounded by water. But since the patriarch told the Bunong through his visions where his shrine has to be put, it cannot be moved.

In the temple are some holy branches and rocks; from their canoes the attendees throw grains of rice towards them while they say prayers in the old Bunong language. They inform Ta Uot about the visit of a foreigner. They also mention the latest water level. A newly born child is being blessed. In spite of the upcoming flood, this is a lively village with a simple shed as a spiritual Noah’s ark.

Set Nhal, 89, has been living here his whole life. He remembers the French colonists, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese soldiers who came to chase away the genocidal regime. And now the Chinese. “We were always confident that the French and the communists would leave one day. But the Chinese will never go away; this dam will stay where it is,” he says.

Meng Heng, an activist of the outlawed NGO Mother Nature, knows Kbal Romeas very well. “The government succeeded in hiding a catastrophe,” he says. “As a result of the LS2-dam, one tenth of the fish population will disappear. The dam disrupts critical breeding migration routes for fish and the fish will become extinct.”

Not just a trifle, as 70 million people depend on the Mekong for their daily needs. As we speak, 200 dams are in use, being built or in preparation. LS2-dam is only one of them.
For the Bunong, a day in ancient times is as important as yesterday. But their days are numbered. Once the rainy season will start, in June, Kbal Romeas will be history.

After dark, a motorbike takes me back to the rest of the world, using a last scrap of dry land. The jungle is black as soot and the bouncing moto passes by a deserted army checkpoint, unmanned at night.

I’m dropped off at a gas station, an oasis of neon lights where they promise me there will be a bus soon. I ask Vibol if I can do something for him when I’m back in Phnom Penh.

“No one knows what’s happening here,” he says. “Tell our story.”

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Latin American Indigenous People Fight New Plunder of Their Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/latin-american-indigenous-people-fight-new-plunder-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-indigenous-people-fight-new-plunder-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/latin-american-indigenous-people-fight-new-plunder-resources/#respond Sat, 17 Mar 2018 18:14:20 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154868 Indigenous communities in Latin America, who have suffered the plunder of their natural resources since colonial times, are reliving that phenomenon again as mega infrastructure are jeopardising their habitat and their very survival. On the island of Assunção in Northeast Brazil, the village of the Truká indigenous people was split in two when the flow […]

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A street in the village of the Truká indigenous people, whose territory was divided in two by the diversion of the São Francisco River, on Assunção island in Northeast Brazil. Large-scale infrastructure projects, and the oil and mining industries have directly affected indigenous people in Latin America. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

A street in the village of the Truká indigenous people, whose territory was divided in two by the diversion of the São Francisco River, on Assunção island in Northeast Brazil. Large-scale infrastructure projects, and the oil and mining industries have directly affected indigenous people in Latin America. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
ISLA DE ASSUNÇÃO, Brazil , Mar 17 2018 (IPS)

Indigenous communities in Latin America, who have suffered the plunder of their natural resources since colonial times, are reliving that phenomenon again as mega infrastructure are jeopardising their habitat and their very survival.

On the island of Assunção in Northeast Brazil, the village of the Truká indigenous people was split in two when the flow of the São Francisco River was diverted.

“The Truká people have always been from this region. We are an ancient people in this territory. We have always lived on the riverbank fishing, hunting, planting crops. We did not need a canal,” lamented Claudia Truká, leader of the village in the municipality of Cabrobó, in the state of Pernambuco."However, the peasant and indigenous communities of the region - continually subjected to persecution, dispossession and defamation - have historically resisted, and continue to resist, encroachment." -- Luciana Guerreiro

The transfer, officially called the São Francisco River Integration Project, seeks to capture the river’s water through 713 km of canals, aqueducts, reservoirs, tunnels and pumping systems.

According to the government, the largest national infrastructure work of this type will ensure the water security of 12 million people in 390 municipalities in the states of Pernambuco, Ceará, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte and will benefit rural and riverbank communities.

But the project, according to what Truká told IPS, will hinder the process of demarcation of indigenous territories and will not bring them any benefits.

“The transfer will have many negative effects. It affects the vegetation and our animals, and it draws water from the river, not to bring water to those who are thirsty but to favour agribusiness. There are other ways to solve the lack of water,” she said.

“We were already colonised by the Casa de la Torre (an estate transformed into a sort of barracks from which ranchers conducted raids of indigenous lands in the seventeenth century), which together with the Capuchin (Cacholic Franciscan order) favoured that process. Once again the Truká people are going through a process of colonisation,” she said.

In the department of Madre de Dios, in the Amazon jungle in southeastern Peru, the Harakbut indigenous people are suffering the impacts of another megaproject.

In 2006, the U.S.-based Hunt Oil company was granted a concession to a plot of land for the exploration and exploitation of natural gas, overlapping with the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, in the ancestral territory of the Harakbut.

In 2017, the company handed over that land because it had obtained no conclusive results within the deadlines for the exploration. However, there are five other producers interested in resuming the megaproject, Andrea Cardoso, a professor at the Arturo Jauretche National University, told IPS from Argentina.

“The withdrawal of Hunt Oil from Harakbut territory does not mean that the problem has been solved, the impacts on the forest continue and have left their marks,” she said.

According to Cardoso “the presence of the oil company has generated divisions in the communities, even within families.”

“The company’s so-called public relations officers have convinced many indigenous people to work for them, or to accept goods or money. But other members of the communities continue to work on raising awareness about the oil industry’s irreversible impacts on the forests,” she said.

In addition, the camps of company workers “generate diseases and the breakdown of the social fabric,” Cardoso said.

An "oca", a traditional and ceremonial construction of the Truká indigenous people, where they celebrate their rituals, has a wooden cross on the outside, a vestige of the Portuguese Catholic colonisation, in the Truká village on Assunção island in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

An “oca”, a traditional and ceremonial construction of the Truká indigenous people, where they celebrate their rituals, has a wooden cross on the outside, a vestige of the Portuguese Catholic colonisation, in the Truká village on Assunção island in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

The oil industry activity there is being carried out at the headwaters of several rivers, “which are the only sources of water for more than 10,000 people, including indigenous people and non-native colonists,” she added.

For that reason, she said, “the rivers get polluted, with solid and liquid waste dumped directly into the forests and rivers, contaminating the soil and water and therefore also fish, one of the main sources of food for these communities.”

The researcher pointed out that the indigenous people of the Amazon basin, shared by eight South American countries, “know their territory better than anyone else. They are adapted to their environment and have great knowledge of the soils, flora and fauna, as well as their own technologies to take advantage of their natural resources, playing a role as guardians of the environment.”

According to Cardoso, the case of the Harakbut people must be analysed in a broader Latin American context.

Since the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, she said, “indigenous movements in Latin America have been at the centre of the political and social scene, in the framework of neoliberal practices implemented by different governments of the region,” with the influx of transnational capital for exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels.

“It’s in this context that there has been a loss of control over the common goods of nature and of indigenous peoples’ territories, as a consequence of the territorial dispossession, in a cycle of transnational extractivism that threatens our Americas,” she concluded.

In Ecuador, René Unda, from the Salesian Polytechnic University, highlighted the case of the Mirador-San Carlos Panantza Project, in the Condor mountain range, on the Amazonian western border with Peru, which plans to mine for gold, silver and copper “compromising several watersheds, nature reserves and forests that play a protective role.”

Unda said from Quito that one of the most affected indigenous peoples in the initial exploration stage are the Shuar, on both the Ecuadorian and Peruvian sides.

In a fragile ecosystem, a mining project of this scope “involves a profound transformation of their ways of life and their modes of survival,” he told IPS.

They are guardians of the environment “with their struggle and resistance. Not only against the coalitions that represent the interests of the government and of the corporations, but also against sectors of their own peoples who support the mining projects,” said Unda.

Luciana Guerreiro, an expert in indigenous autonomy processes at the University of Buenos Aires Gino Germani Research Institute, said that in Argentina, “one of the main threats to indigenous populations is the expansion of large-scale mining.”

One emblematic case is in Andalgalá, in Argentina’s northwestern province of Catamarca, where the Minera Alumbrera mining company has operated the first open-pit mine in Argentina for more than 20 years, currently in the process of closure and clean-up, she told IPS.

Guerreiro explained that “these ventures not only plunder the mineral resources and wealth of the territories they exploit, but also the water, a fundamental element in areas where it is scarce, leaving local people and their main traditional productive activities devastated and impoverished” and affecting their spirituality and their relationship with nature.

Another case is that of the Diaguita community of Aguas Calientes, in the north of the same Argentine province, which is fighting to keep out mining companies such as Buena Vista Gold.

“In these cases the only thing the communities can do is resist, protest and stop by their own means those who try to steal their land,” said the expert.

“The defence of the territories carried out by the Diaguita communities becomes a socio-environmental defence, since their territories also include the Laguna Blanca Biosphere Reserve, a protected natural area of great planetary importance for its biodiversity,” she said.

The Diaguita communities, she stressed, “maintain a close link with nature, which means protecting and respecting it; a spiritual relationship, with what they consider mother earth or ‘Pachamama’.”

According to Guerreiro, the “pattern of development” in Latin America “responds to the logic of the global financial markets…and keeps alive colonial relations, denying the specificity of territories and populations with their own ways of life, and recreating relations of subordination and exploitation.”

“However, the peasant and indigenous communities of the region – permanently subjected to persecution, dispossession and defamation – have historically resisted, and continue to resist, encroachment,” she said.

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Rohingya Crisis May Be Genocide, UN Officials Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say/#comments Wed, 14 Mar 2018 09:51:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154806 In the wake of persistent violence against the Rohingya community, UN officials have expressed growing fears that genocide is being incited and committed in Myanmar. Since violence renewed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Often arriving to limited food and shelter, refugees have brought […]

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A Rohingya refugee woman carries relief supplies to her makeshift shelter. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 14 2018 (IPS)

In the wake of persistent violence against the Rohingya community, UN officials have expressed growing fears that genocide is being incited and committed in Myanmar.

Since violence renewed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

Often arriving to limited food and shelter, refugees have brought with them stories of serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and the deliberate burning of entire villages.

“I am becoming more convinced that the crimes committed following 9 October 2016 and 25 August 2017 bear the hallmarks of genocide and call in the strongest terms for accountability,” UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

She expressed concern that the “repressive practices of previous military governments were returning at the norm once more.”

Spreading Hate through Social Media

Lee highlighted the toxic use of social media to incite violence and particularly pointed to the role of Facebook in spreading high levels of hate speech against the Rohingya minority in the Southeast Asian nation.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar…it was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” she said.

A UN fact-finding mission also recently found that social media had a “determining role” and was “substantively contributing” to the violence in Myanmar.

Most recently, Facebook suspended the account of Buddhist monk Wirathu who is known for his nationalist, anti-Muslim messages particularly disseminated through social media.

Though he has denied fueling violence in Rakhine, Wirathu recently claimed that the state was experiencing “terrorism of Bengalis,” a label implying that Rohingya are from Bangladesh rather than Myanmar.

“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast,” Lee said.

A Systematic Removal

Having been denied access to the country, Lee presented a report to the council this week based on her visits to neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Thailand which revealed the extent of Myanmar’s human rights violations.

Among the issues raised by refugees, the Special Rapporteur was especially saddened by the targeting of Rohingya children.

She estimates that at least 730 children under the age of five were killed in the first month of violence alone.

While approximately 60 percent of the refugee population is children, the UN estimates that up to 200,000 children are still in Rakhine.

Earlier this month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that Rohingyas who try to leave their villages “are taken away and never return” and found a “recurring theme” of women and girls being abducted.

The agency also found an ongoing systematic campaign of “terror and forced starvation” which are forcing Rohingya out of the country.

In a recent report, Amnesty International reported that forces are bulldozing land and building military bases where Rohingya villages were burned down.

Not only does this prevent refugees from returning, but it also hides authorities’ crimes.

“The bulldozing of entire villages is incredibly worrying. Myanmar’s authorities are erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult,” said Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan.

This has raised concerns for both Amnesty International and the Special Rapporteur over the Bangladesh-Myanmar arrangement to repatriate Rohingya refugees as they will return to find their homes gone and face continued discrimination.

“No one should be returned to Myanmar until they can do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity – something that is clearly not possible today,” Amnesty International said.

Accountability for Peace

In light of Myanmar’s denial that any atrocities were committed, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who also suggested acts of genocide may be taking place, called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“What we’re saying is…there are strong suspicions, yes, that acts of genocide may well have taken place. But only a court, having heard all the arguments, will confirm this,” he said.

In her report, Lee urged for steps towards accountability in order to bring long-lasting peace and stability in Myanmar.

“This must be aimed at the individuals who gave the orders and carried out violations against individuals and entire ethnic and religious groups…the government leadership who did nothing to intervene, stop, or condemn these acts must also be held accountable,” she told the Council.

Lee called for an impartial and comprehensive investigation not only in Myanmar, but also into actions by the UN system in the lead-up to and after the reported attacks in 2016.

“The external review should assess whether the UN and international community could have prevented or managed the situation differently,” she said.

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