Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 30 Sep 2016 19:22:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Two years on, Peña Nieto cannot brush off Ayotzinapa stainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 14:15:56 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147095 43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

There are certain events that mark a turning point in a country. The way a government decides to handle them defines the way they will go down in the history books.

This week marks two years since 43 students from a rural school in southern Mexico were forcibly disappeared after a brutal confrontation with security forces.

The unresolved tragedy has become such a stain for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto that it is now shorthand for the Mexican authorities’ reckless approach to human rights in the country – where those responsible for crimes such as torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are rarely brought before the courts.

The catalogue of failures in the way the Ayotzinapa case has been handled is so long, it beggars belief.

Six months after the students were forcibly disappeared, Peña Nieto’s then Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam came out publicly with an official explanation of what they believed had happened. In a press conference, he said the students had been killed by a powerful local drug gang and that their bodies had been burned in a dumpster.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

He called it the “historic truth”.

His speech caused such havoc and indignation – particularly after a team of international forensic experts said the explanation was scientifically impossible – that Murillo Karam was effectively forced to resign. But still, neither he nor the government ever retracted his theory.

A few months later and in a bid to show action was being taken to shed some light onto the tragedy, the Mexican government agreed to allow a team of world renowned experts appointed by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights to look into the case.

But a year into their investigation, and after two damning reports pointing at a catalogue of failures by the authorities in the way the investigations had been handled, they were invited to leave the country.

The Peña Nieto administration had been embarrassed internationally and it did not like it.

Authorities promised they would take the inquiries forward, they promised justice. They said international help was no longer needed, that Mexico could take on the task of determining the students’ fate and whereabouts.

Few believed them.

And they were right not to.

As was expected, in a country with an atrocious human rights record, progress on the Ayotzinapa investigation has reached a standstill.

As international pressure decreased and the world’s attention moved on, pressure lifted on the Peña Nieto administration.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

The scandalous revelation by the group of experts that Tomas Zerón de Lucio, a public official who had been in charge of the investigation, tampered the crime scene in a bid to show a piece of bone belonging to one of the students had been found in the banks of a local river in late October 2014 has also gone unpunished. A shallow investigation into the accusation has not led to any concrete results and Zerón was moved from the Attorney General’s Office to a higher position in the Council of National Security.

The Peña Nieto administration’s barefaced denial of what happened to the Ayotzinapa students is so deep-seated the president no longer dares to utter the word in public.

And the disappearance of these 43 young men is emblematic of everything that is wrong in Mexico. Human rights are nothing but an illusion for the thousands of men, women and children who are tortured, murdered and disappeared every year and will continue to be so as long as the authorities insist on saying everything is fine.

The stories of the 43 Ayotzinapa students are a reminder of the more than 28,000 men, women and children who have vanished across Mexico over the last decade – most since Peña Nieto took office in 2012.

They are a reminder of the extent to which people are routinely tortured into “confessing” crimes they did not commit in a vile attempt to show the government is actually taking action against the brutal criminal gangs terrorizing the country.

Time and time again we have heard the stories of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of those who have simply “vanished into thin air” and have no one to turn to in their desperate search for truth and justice.

On 29 July 2016, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights approved a mechanism to follow up on the findings and recommendations of the group of experts, with the aim of determining the whereabouts of the students

But without any real support from the Mexican authorities, there is no mechanism that will shed any light onto these crimes or ensure that those responsible will face justice.

The Peña Nieto administration seems to be relying on Mexico’s short-term memory; it hopes people will forget about the 43 students and many other human rights violations this country has seen over the decades have been forgotten.

What they are not counting on is the millions across this country, and around the world, who have had enough of empty promises. We will continue to fight, side by side, with all the brave human rights defenders and organizations who are not giving up hope to hold the Mexican authorities accountable and to ensure they fulfill their international obligations to protect human rights.

The time for political maneuvers is over. The relatives of the 43 young men of Ayotzinapa will never give up their fight until truth and justice for their children is achieved.

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Militarised Conservation Threatens DRC’s Indigenous People – Part 2http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-2/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 20:20:50 +0000 Zahra Moloo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146950 A group of young Mbuti men from Biganiro, DRC, sit in front of their houses, which consist of makeshift structures made of wood and plastic sheeting. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

A group of young Mbuti men from Biganiro, DRC, sit in front of their houses, which consist of makeshift structures made of wood and plastic sheeting. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

By Zahra Moloo
MUDJA/BIGANIRO, Sep 15 2016 (IPS)

The Bambuti people were the original inhabitants of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the oldest national park in Africa whose boundaries date back to 1925 when it was first carved out by King Albert of Belgium. But forbidden from living or hunting inside, the Bambuti now face repression from both park rangers and armed groups.

Other communities in the park accuse the DRC’s National Park Authority (ICCN) of expropriating land without their consent and without providing compensation, but park authorities say that rangers must undertake “legitimate defense” and take action when people in the park “recruit armed groups to secure the land.”Virunga National Park is considered a sensitive zone for the government because of potential oil exploration, mining and rebel groups.

Compounding the difficult relationship between communities and conservationists is the park’s location. According to researchers, it lies at the epicenter of an ongoing conflict and is affected by cross-border dynamics between Rwanda and Uganda.

Indigenous knowledge versus imposed development

Without access to the forest and to their ancestral lands to hunt and gather, the Bambuti have trouble surviving. Many depend on daily contractual labour from surrounding communities, such as cutting trees for wood that is sold in Goma. Seventy-year-old Muhima Sebazungu, one of Mudja’s community leaders, said that they are starting to forget their traditional knowledge of plants and medicines.

Patrick Kipalu, of the NGO Forest People’s Program, believes that the park and government’s exclusion of the Bambuti from conservation efforts is a waste of the immense amount of knowledge indigenous communities have about forest ecosystems. One solution, he said, would be to recruit them as rangers in protecting the park.

The ICCN’s Jean Claude Kyungu said that there are “specific criteria” for recruiting rangers, which the Bambuti do not fulfill, including having a diploma from the state.

Norbert Mushenzi, the ICCN’s deputy director of the Virunga National Park, said that the Bambuti have an “intellectual deficiency” and one way for them to benefit from the park is to “sell their cultural products and dances to tourists.”

His view is not unusual; many people, including those directly involved in advocating for the Bambuti, believe that they are inferior to Bantu communities. Although official policy under Mobutu’s regime aimed to ‘emancipate’ indigenous people and to consider them no different from other communities, in practice this meant promoting a sedentary lifestyle and agriculture.

A group of women from Mudja, DRC. Elders worry that the community is beginning to lose their knowledge of traditional medicine and plants. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

A group of women from Mudja, DRC. Elders worry that the community is beginning to lose their knowledge of traditional medicine and plants. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Doufina Tabu, president of a human rights organization, the Association of Volunteers of Congo (ASVOCO), works with Bambuti communities living outside the park whose land has been stolen.

“In Masisi there was a pygmy who was arrested because someone tricked him into giving up his field. He did not have a title deed so he was accused of illegal occupation, even though it’s his own land,” Tabu said. “He was arrested one year ago and we are still trying to get him out.”

While Tabu advocates for the Bambuti to secure land, he also believes that they must integrate into society, “so they can live like others.”

“There are things in their culture that we must change. They can’t continue to stay in the forest like animals,” he said.

A report by Survival International states that forcing “development” on indigenous people has “disastrous” impacts and that the most important factor to their well being is whether or not their land rights are respected.

According to Kipalu, the living conditions of the Bambuti are far worse now than when they were in the forest. “Being landless and living on the lands of other people means that they end up being treated almost as slaves,” he said.

The Bambuti from Biganiro do not understand why they cannot access basic services and still be able to return to the forest.

18-year-old Shukuru from Biganiro completed two years of primary school and wants to drive a motorbike, but does not know where to begin. “It’s around 20 dollars just to learn,” he said. “And we barely find enough to eat everyday.”

Legal avenues and long-term solutions

Around Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which like Virunga, is classified as a World Heritage Site, the organization Environment, Natural Resources and Development, ERND, together with the Rainforest Foundation Norway, filed a legal complaint in 2010 for the Batwa, another indigenous group, to receive compensation for the loss of their lands inside the park.

The case landed at the Supreme Court in Kinshasa in 2013 where it has remained. In May 2016, the organizations submitted their complaint to the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights, but have yet to receive a response from the Congolese government.

Mathilde Roffet, from Rainforest Foundation Norway, said that even if the court rules in favour of the Batwa, they will still have to deal with UNESCO and the park’s status as a world heritage site. She hopes that the case can set a precedent for other national parks.

Virunga, however, is a different scenario and according to Kipalu, “a really sensitive zone for the government because of potential oil exploration, mining and rebel groups.”

At the national level, the Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autothtones (DGPA), a network of organizations that works on the rights of indigenous people in the country, have been working on a new law recognizing their rights.

Although the DRC voted to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007, the country’s constitution, 1973 land law and the 2002 Forestry Code make no reference to the rights of indigenous people.

The proposed law includes the protection of their traditional medicine and culture, as well as access to land and natural resources. Article 42 specifically states that indigenous people have the right to return to their ancestral lands and be fairly and adequately compensated if they have to relocate.

Since 2014, its adoption has been stalled. “They keep saying ‘we will discuss it next week, next month’ but the country is going through a lot of political changes, so they are giving a priority to other political issues first,” said Kipalu.

In the meantime, the network is working with the ICCN and the government on road map for the short term, which includes ensuring that indigenous people have access to education and healthcare.

“We do want the communities to go back to their land eventually. Some want to go back to the forest, but others are ready to accept parcels of land outside. It’s going to take many years,” said Kipalu.

The ICCN’s Jean-Claude Kungu said that the ICCN has been trying to improve relations with communities around the park through different initiatives.

“We have proposed initiating development activities like hydroelectric projects, water delivery, and other projects in favour of the population,” he said.

In the meantime, the Bambuti of Mudja and Biganiro will have to remain where they are. Giovanni Sisiri who was attacked by a park guard, brings out a bow and arrow and aims it at the forest. “We will have to start a rebellion one day!” He said, laughing. “We first want peace. But if the provincial and central governments do not find a solution for us, we will have to fight for it.”

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation

 

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Militarised Conservation Threatens DRC’s Indigenous People – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 13:56:53 +0000 Zahra Moloo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146904 A man from the community of Mudja holds out his arm to show where he was injured by a park ranger. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

A man from the community of Mudja holds out his arm to show where he was injured by a park ranger. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

By Zahra Moloo
MUDJA/BIGANIRO, Sep 14 2016 (IPS)

It is late afternoon when a light drizzle begins to fall over a group of young men seated together in Mudja, a village that lies approximately 20 kilometres north of Goma on the outskirts of the Virunga National Park. Mudja is home to a community of around 40 families of indigenous Bambuti, also known as ‘pygmies.’*

One of the men holds out his arm to show an injury he received from a park ranger. Others chime in.“When the colonialists left the country, the people who managed those protected areas were trained by the Belgians that conservation should be done without people, in the old-school way." -- Patrick Kipalu of the Forest People's Program

“Just the day before yesterday, they shot at me when I was looking for honey and firewood,” says Giovanni Sisiri. “I abandoned everything, took my tools, and ran.”

Armed paramilitary rangers from the Virunga National Park are tasked with protecting the park from poachers and trespassers, often at risk to their own lives. In Congolese law, human habitation and hunting within the park is forbidden, including for the Bambuti, its original inhabitants.

The Bambuti living in Mudja said that at times they defy these laws, venturing inside to collect wood, hunt small animals and gather non-timber products, but recently it has become more difficult.

“A pygmy cannot live without the park. Before, they could enter secretly,” said Felix Maroy, an agronomist and livestock farmer who works with Bambuti communities. “Since January 2015, the guards are always patrolling the area. And there are other armed groups too, like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).”

Imani Kabasele, a resident of Mudja and the head of the local branch of an NGO, Program for the Integration and Development of the Pygmy People (PDIP), said that two years ago, a Mbuti resident of a neighbouring village, Biganiro, went to look for honey and disappeared for three days. His body was later discovered, cut up by a machete. Kabasele believes it was someone from the FDLR that killed him.

Imani Kabasele, the head of the branch of a Congolese NGO, PDIP, said that the Mbuti know the forest far better than any other communities, but is it is dangerous for them to venture inside. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Imani Kabasele, the head of the branch of a Congolese NGO, PDIP, said that the Mbuti know the forest far better than any other communities, but is it is dangerous for them to venture inside. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Militarisation and colonial conservation policies

The initial demarcation of the Virunga National Park boundaries dates back to 1925 when it was first created by King Albert of Belgium.

The oldest national park in Africa, it was later expanded to include over seven thousand square kilometres of land. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, it is now managed by a private-public partnership between the National Park Authority of the DRC (ICCN) and the EU-funded Virunga Foundation, and is home to about a quarter of the world’s mountain gorillas. Congolese farmers living around the Virunga said that its colonial history creates the impression that it was “created by the Mzungu (white man), for the Mzungu.”

After independence, other national parks were established, including Maiko National Park, and Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu.  According to the Global Forest Coalition, the creation of national parks led to the eviction of thousands of indigenous people who neither gave their consent nor received compensation for their loss of land. It was, they state, “in violation of international law” and the country’s 1977 law on expropriation for public purposes.

Patrick Kipalu, the DRC Country Manager for the Forest People’s Program, said there is an active conflict between communities around the park, both indigenous Bambuti as well as agricultural Bantu, and “conservationists, park rangers and other NGOs working for conservation.”

“The old school of conservation in the colonial period was ‘people out of the forest’ and ‘it’s a protected area without anyone inside,’” said Kipalu. “When the colonialists left the country, the people who managed those protected areas were trained by the Belgians that conservation should be done without people, in the old-school way. They have kept the same strategies, though the ICCN is thinking of a conservation strategy which is supposed to include and involve communities.”

Jean Claude (18, right), poses with his friend Denis Sinzira.  Most of the youth in Biganiro, DRC go to school until they are 9 or 10 years old. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Jean Claude (18, right), poses with his friend Denis Sinzira. Most of the youth in Biganiro only go to school until they are 9 or 10 years old. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Last year, in a letter to Kipalu, a representative of the customary chiefs in Lubero on the west coast of Lake Edward said that the ICCN had expropriated land without the consent of the people living on it and without offering any compensation. The letter also accused the ICCN of destroying and setting fire to villages. A 2004 report by a consultant to the World Bank, Dr Kai Schmidt-Soltau, states that the ICCN, along with WWF, claimed to have resettled 35,000 people from an area south-east of Lake Edward through a voluntary process, but that in fact the resettlement was carried out “at gun-point.”

Aggressive conservation activities are part of a widespread trend toward what some researchers call the militarization of conservation,an approach to protecting nature in which conservationists could engage in repressive policies that are counterproductive.

Jean Claude Kyungu, who in charge of community relations for Virunga, said that the park’s relations with communities around the park are good in some areas, but not in others, and that guards only fire at people if there is “resistance” from the population, for instance when communities “recruit armed groups to secure the land.” He added that the Bambuti are only arrested when they have defied the law.

When asked about the repressive behavior of park rangers and officers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) towards civilians in and around the park, Norbert Mushenzi, the ICCN’s deputy director of the Virunga National Park, said that the officers are “undertaking legitimate defense.”

“We also try to educate communities to leave and find alternative solutions, for instance to go to the fields around the park. There were 350 families in one area that left voluntarily,” he said. “The problem is not land. It’s that people want to concentrate in the park and we don’t know why,” he said.

But leaving the park and finding other places to settle is not so simple. One problem, according to Kipalu, is that people living inside illegally have nowhere to go. “The park is so big that it takes the whole area where communities work on their traditional lands,” he said.

Compounding the issue are larger and more complex political dynamics.  According to a group of researchers, Virunga lies at the “epicenter of ongoing conflict since 1993-4” and is “strongly affected by cross-border dynamics with both Rwanda and Uganda.” It is also a hideout for numerous armed domestic and foreign groups.

Communities who enter the park often do so with the protection of armed actors, and links between them are further strengthened by politicians who take advantage of the widespread sentiment that the park expropriated people’s ancestral lands, leading these politicians, in some cases, to “finance armed groups operating in the park.”

The authors suggest that the park “adopt a more conflict sensitive approach to conservation”, and increase efforts to improve local communication. But Jean-Claude Kyungu believes that the park’s approach is not particularly repressive given the enormous challenges. “At Kibirizi, the population lives with the FDLR,” he said. “Do we let these people just go and make their own laws not just in a park, but in a country, that is not their own? People who do not respect the boundaries have to be removed.”

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation

*The word ‘pygmy’ has negative connotations and is used widely in the DRC. According to Survival International, it has been reclaimed by some communities as a term of identify.

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Without Indigenous People, Conservation Is a Halfway Measurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 19:18:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146793 Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

“You don’t convert your own house in a tourist site,” said Oussou Lio Appolinaire, an activist from Benin, wearing a traditional outfit in vivid yellows and greens. He was referring to opening up to tourists places that are sacred to indigenous people.

Appolinaire, who belongs to the Gun people in the West African country of Benin, heads the indigenous-led sustainable rural development NGO GRABE-Benin. He told IPS that “People suffer displacement from sacred sites. If we lose knowledge, we lose ourselves. The sacred is like life. Conservation is the respect of natural law, of every single element in nature.”“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people' rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected.” -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Thanks to the work of GRABE-Benin and other organisations, the government of Benin approved Interministerial Order No.0121 – the first law of its kind in Africa, which protects sacred forests, granting them legal recognition as protected areas that must be sustainably managed.

Benin has more than 2,900 sacred forests, only 90 of which have so far been formally protected.

Appolinaire’s demand for greater participation by indigenous groups in conservation is being voiced by indigenous representatives in the World Conservation Congress, running Sep.1-10 in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. Pacific Ocean state of Hawaii.

This year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

Indigenous representatives in Honolulu are focusing on problems related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the 20 points contained in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

An assessment carried out in May by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the CBD expressed concern over the scant progress made with respect to capacity-building and participation regarding the biodiversity targets among indigenous and local communities.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 14 states that “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.”

Target 18 refers to respect for “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.”

Target 11 is for “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,” to be conserved by 2020. But indigenous people are worried that this will run counter to respect for their rights in their traditional ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

“We agree with conservation, but what needs to be discussed is conservation with rights, exercised by indigenous people,” said Julio Cusurichi, the president of the Peruvian NGO Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and representative of the Shipibo-Conibo community.

“The government has created natural areas in our territories and they are limiting our activities,” he told IPS. “It would seem that indigenous people are obstacles and have to be removed from our territories.”

In the southeastern department of Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, 60 percent of the highly biodiverse territory is a natural protected area. It is also home to some 10,000 people belonging to seven of the country’s 54 indigenous groups.

One of the common problems is the tendency of governments to create protected areas in indigenous areas, without a proper consultation process.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, made up of governments and NGOs, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism. Of the 99 resolutions, only eight mention indigenous people.

“There is little participation in the implementation of conservation policies; just because an indigenous person heads up an office doesn’t mean indigenous people are participating,” complained Dolores Cabnal, a member of the Q’eqchí community who is director of policy advocacy in the Guatemalan NGO Ak’Tenamit Association.

Her NGO is active in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, where there are three natural protected areas that are home to both indigenous and black communities. In these areas, local residents depend on agriculture and fishing, which leads to clashes with the authorities because the law on nature reserves makes these activities illegal.

Activists and experts agree that it will be difficult to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets without the involvement of native peoples.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous people of the Philippines, complained that states are ignoring the role of native people.

In visits to Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, Paraguay and Sweden, Tauli-Corpuz found violations of the rights to free, prior, and informed consultation, traditional lands, participation, natural resources, compensation for damage, and cultural rights.

“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people’ rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected,” the special rapporteur said during a meeting with indigenous people in Honolulu.

An estimated 50 percent of the world’s protected natural areas have been established on indigenous lands. The proportion is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries like the Philippines, India and Nepal in Asia, and Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania in Africa.

“The problems of indigenous peoples are not only of one country, they’re global. We have to recognise indigenous law, we can’t change laws of nature,” said Appolinaire.

FENAMAD’s Cusurichi, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, calls for co-management by governments and local communities. “We need secure land tenure and it must include resource management and food security,” he said.

In Guatemala, indigenous organisations plan to present a draft law in Congress for the regulation of their rights, natural protected areas, and extractive activities.

Cabnal said the government should study which peoples are in natural protected areas, why they are there and what they need, rather than trying to drive them out.”

The concerns expressed in Honolulu will also be presented at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

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Honduras Still a Death Trap for Environmental Activists Six Months after Berta Cáceres’ Slayinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 14:23:21 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146746 Indigenous women during the March for the Water in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala in April, 2016. Credit: Amnesty International / Anaïs Taracena.

Indigenous women during the March for the Water in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala in April, 2016. Credit: Amnesty International / Anaïs Taracena.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
LONDON, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

Chills ran down Tomás Gómez Membreño’s spine when he first heard about the brutal murder of his renowned friend and ally, the Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, six months ago this week.

A fellow environmental activist and second in command at the Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Tomás feared he would be next.

Berta’s work was widely and globally acclaimed and had earned her international awards – if someone could violate the sanctuary of her home and shoot her dead, it was too frightening to contemplate what could happen to any of the country’s lesser-known human rights defenders.

Tomás also knew the hopes to have a proper investigation and to ensure the crimes against human rights defenders would not be repeated again were slim, in a country where authorities rarely condone attacks on activists.

Without land to grow food or clean water to drink, entire communities will simply be erased without a trace.

Tragically, he has a point.

Six months after two armed men walked into Berta’s home one evening and murdered her in cold blood, Honduras has become a no-go zone for anybody daring to protect natural resources such as land and water from powerful economic interests.

The numbers say it all.

According to a recent survey by Global Witness, Honduras and neighbouring Guatemala have the two highest rates of murders of environmental activists per capita.

An astounding 65% (122 out of 185) of the murders of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory or the environment registered across the world in 2015 were from Latin America. Eight took place in Honduras and 10 in Guatemala alone.

Berta’s killing marked a turning point for what was already a scandalous situation. But her tragic end was hardly surprising; it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Months before her murder, she had reported a number of serious threats related to her outspoken opposition of the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the community of Río Blanco, in north-western Honduras.

The local Lenca Indigenous community complains that they were not properly consulted over a plan that would threaten the flow of the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to them and provides them with food and drinking water. COPINH says that if built, it would force the community to relocate as life in the area would become virtually impossible.

But in resource-rich Honduras and Guatemala, it can be a deadly business to dare to defend natural resources that are highly valued in global commodity markets.

Both Central American countries have become ever-more attractive to powerful extractive industries, partly due to increasingly lax laws governing what companies can and cannot do. Meanwhile local communities are continuously squeezed out of the lands on which their survival depends.

The toxic cocktail of threats, bogus charges, smear campaigns, attacks, killings and crumbling judicial systems incapable of delivering justice has made the legitimate business of defending basic human rights a nearly impossible one.

Crimes against activists are rarely properly investigated, which perpetuate further violence. The authorities often blame their country’s weak institutions for the shocking injustice, but conveniently fail to ignore the fact that the absolute lack of political will to protect and support these activists is often what puts them in mortal danger in the first place.

After a great deal of international pressure, the Honduran government initiated an investigation into Berta’s murder and arrested five individuals – but the process is still marred with question marks over its fairness and impartiality. Meanwhile, members of COPINH and Berta’s lawyers continue to be threatened and harassed.

Tomás fears for what can happen to those linked to Berta. Other activists are so afraid they do not even dare to speak their names in public or discuss the threats they routinely face for protecting basic human rights.

But they say stopping their work is not an option. They are the last line of defence – no-one else will defend their communities and rights.

A country’s natural resources – as well as the people who bravely protect them – are among its most precious assets. This is not just for financial considerations. Without land to grow food or clean water to drink, entire communities will simply be erased without a trace.

The solutions to this profound crisis are not simple, but they cannot be ignored.

Investing time and resources in a much-needed overhaul of the Honduran and Guatemalan justice systems to ensure effective investigations into these crimes and putting in place proper protection for those at risk would go a long way to prevent the countries from losing more brave activists like Berta.

There is no time to waste.

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Indigenous People Demand Shared Benefits from Forest Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 01:25:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146726 Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
GUADALAJARA, Mexico , Aug 31 2016 (IPS)

“Why don’t the authorities put themselves in our shoes?” asked Cándido Mezúa, an indigenous man from Panama, with respect to native peoples’ participation in conservation policies and the sharing of benefits from the protection of forests.

Mezúa, who belongs to the Emberá people and is a member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, told IPS that “the state should recognise the benefit of this valuable mechanism for long-term sustainability, as a mitigation measure unique to indigenous peoples.”

But little progress has been made with regard to clearly defining the compensation, said the native leader, in an indigenous caucus held during the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is being held Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Guadalajara, a city in west-central Mexico.

Mezúa’s demand will also be put forth in the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take place Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco."(Indigenous organisations) promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.” -- Edwin Vázquez

The idea is for it also to be taken into account on the agenda of the13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

“The viewpoints of local organisations should be taken into account in the implementation of any activity in their territory,” said Edwin Vázquez, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

The activist told IPS that indigenous organisations “promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.”

While indigenous organisations hammer out their positions with respect to the COP22 in Marrakesh and the CBD in Cancún, the statement they released in this Mexican city provides a glimpse of the proposals they will set forth.

The “Guiding Principles of Partnership Between Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) and Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities” demands that the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy must incorporate the “full and effective” participation of native peoples and local communities.

The declaration also states that “All initiatives, actions, projects and programmes led by the GCF that concern indigenous peoples and traditional communities must have the participation and direct involvement of local communities through a process of free, prior and informed consent.”

The measures must also “recognise and strengthen the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” it adds.

Furthermore, they will promote financing and benefits-sharing mechanisms to be applied in the context of these initiatives and actions.

“Systems of binding social and environmental safeguards will be included,” to help indigenous and local communities face the risks posed by these policies.

The GCF can serve as a laboratory for the performance of the CDB and COP22, because the emphasis of governors focuses strongly on REDD+ plans.

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

REDD+ is a plan of action that finances national programmes in countries of the developing South, to combat deforestation, reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to these ends.

It forms part of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and currently involves 64 countries.

The GCF, created in 2009, groups states and provinces: seven in Brazil, two in the Ivory Coast, one from Spain, two from the United States, six from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Peru.

Financed by various U.S. foundations and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the GCF seeks to advance programmes designed to promote low-emissions rural development and REDD+.

It also works to link these efforts to emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance plans.

More than 25 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the states and provinces involved in GCF, including more than 75 percent of Brazil’s rainforest and more than half of Indonesia’s.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots, which makes it essential to curb deforestation and avoid the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

“The conditions must exist for effective participation in the programme preparation stage,” Gustavo Sánchez, the president of the Mexican Network of Rural Forest Organisations, who is taking part in this week’s GCF debates, told IPS.

In their 2014 annual meeting in the northwestern Brazilian state of Acre, the governors assumed a commitment for their regions to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 through results-based international financing.

For example, Brazil’s GCF states would avoid the release of 3.6 million tons of GHG emissions a year.

From 2000 to 2010, CO2 emissions from deforestation totalled 45 million tons in Mexico.

To cut emissions, Mexico has adopted a zero deforestation goal for 2030. The five Mexican states in the GCF could reduce their CO2 emissions by 21 tons a year by 2020, around half of the total goal.

Peru has offered a 20 percent cut in its emissions, avoiding the release of 159 million tons by 2030 from land-use change and deforestation. The South American country could reduce emissions from deforestation between 42 and 63 million tons annually by that year.

The GCF manages a fund, created in 2013, aimed at guaranteeing and disbursing 50 million dollars a year, starting in 2020, for capacity-building and the execution of innovative projects.

But the GCF did not invite indigenous organisations to form partnerships until 2014.

The countries of Latin America have not yet shown mechanisms of how to use the emissions cuts to ensure results-based payments. But REDD+, criticised by many indigenous and community organisations, is still in diapers in the region, where only Costa Rica will soon start participating in the plan.

Mexico, for its part, is completing its REDD+ National Strategy consultation.

“We have always had traditional climate policies,” said Mezúa. “The GCF can come up with a more complete proposal, with partnerships between different jurisdictions.”

Sánchez said the goals would be met if the administrators of natural resources are included. “The reach will be restricted if we limit ourselves to REDD+ policies, which are still being designed. A mechanism that brings all efforts together is needed.”

Vázquez said it is “decisive” for the process to include “the establishment of safeguards, mechanisms for participation in decision-making and the implementation of action plans, and equal participation in the benefits.”

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Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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The Wild Cardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-wild-cards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-wild-cards http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-wild-cards/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 15:59:32 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146500 By Rafia Zakaria
Aug 10 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The Rio Olympics began with the signature fanfare that accompanies the Games every four years. However, unlike every year, the nature and size of the spectacle, the synchronised dancers, over-the-top fireworks and the millions spent brought a new set of disappointments with them.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Brazil is one of the BRICS nations, the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa constellation that is supposed to represent the hope of the global south — a discourse of globalism not centred on the West, standing up to the colonial underpinnings of so much of the world order.

Yet, if you were holding your breath to see any of this reflected in the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, you waited in vain. True, the indigenous tribes of the country, disenfranchised, marginalised and fetishised, were included in the ceremony; but they were forced into the same round of antics and acrobatics that could have belonged in any nation with less of an anti-colonial agenda. If anything, the tributes to all things specifically Brazilian melded in with the general rituals of pomp and pageantry.

A better Olympics, one that is not exploitative, may simply not be possible.

It is not Brazil’s fault and, in a sense, Brazil’s failure underlines the elusiveness of a decolonial discourse that recognises histories of oppression and exclusion, and yet imagines and believes in the possibility of participating in global discourse. Take, for instance, the parade of nations. Out of the 206 nations participating in the Rio Olympics, 75 have never won a medal. The meaning of this statistic is that for the vast majority of participants, this parade at the beginning of the Games was the single moment in which their participation and their nation had a fleeting moment of recognition.

In Rio this year, this moment was even more fleeting. In a noble effort to thumb their nose at the dominance of English, which can in some rough approximation be equivocated with the omniscience of the colonial worldview, this parade was held in the order prescribed by the Portuguese and not the English alphabet.

It was a great idea, one no doubt adding to what the local organisers may have deemed their moment of anti-colonial independence. Its actual consequence, sadly, was rather dismal. Many countries that do not speak Portuguese but may have had some bare familiarity with the English alphabet (admittedly only owing to the colonial excesses of the British) waited in vain and then abandoned altogether their wait for their nation’s moment.

Brazil’s use of the Portuguese alphabet may have been successful in thumbing its nose at America, but it also ended up excluding several hundreds of millions of others who could make little sense of the means via which the parade of nations was being conducted (not to mention that the Portuguese themselves were colonists, their language an export to Brazil).

The case of Brazil and the Rio Olympics, then, represents the larger problem inherent in decolonisation: the efforts of emerging powers to have it both ways. In this case, Brazil wants millions to watch and the millions spent on the opening ceremony are evidence of that. Millions earned, pro-Olympic Brazilians could argue, means more available to solve the problems of inflation, homelessness, epidemic diseases and all the rest that plague Brazil in its Olympic moment.

It is possibly because of just this that the general framework of Olympic largesse was replicated with such a lack of originality, such a seeming concern toward staying close to what has been done before.

This, it was probably estimated, would ensure an audience and, with the revenue from advertising and endorsements, guarantee the avalanche of cash that all Olympic host nations await. Homage to the uniqueness of Brazil, its efforts to recapture a pre-colonial past, to restore the dignity of its own indigenous people and to present the possibility of a discourse not dominated by imperial erasures, were to be fitted into the details.

The middle ground — a more cheerful anti-colonialism that courts capitalist spending while showing off its local colour, reclaims pre-colonial history without bitterness, shakes hands with former oppressors only to spit behind their backs — is rather marshy and inhospitable. In this sense, the tenacious protesters that picketed outside the selfie-ridden enforced cheer of the inside of the stadium are probably correct; there can be no “moderate exploitation of the poor” and no “thoughtful presentation of over-the-top spending”.

It is perhaps the very framework of the Games, their crucial reliance on inducing awe in the onlooker, an effect that in turn relies essentially on power fitfully and thoughtlessly paraded, that is flawed. A better Olympics, one that is not exploitative, that truly respects and reifies marginalised narratives, may simply not be possible.

While it may not have been intentional, Pakistan’s minimal participation can be justified on the basis of these noble reasons, a disavowal of the Games as showcasing the rich and powerful and their attendant advantages. Pakistan sent perhaps its smallest Olympic squad ever to Rio, a majority of the members of its delegation participating only as wild-card entries. In reality, the small size of the delegation was a product of inattention to procedures: some athletes could not participate because they did not apply for Brazilian visas far enough in advance. This detail is admittedly the fault and product of the neglect-afflicted ranks of Pakistani sports (other than cricket), so commonplace and unsurprising that they no longer make the news.

If Brazil was in search of a real post-colonial gesture, it could have considered loosening its ever-tight visa regime to permit more athletes from poor countries to attend without being subject to the inefficiencies of their nation’s bureaucrats. Unlike white and wealthy others, these left-out athletes would not have worried about the Zika virus or the size of their quarters, relishing instead the very opportunity to compete. Brazil did not choose to follow this path and so the Olympic Games in Rio are a disappointment — a dimmer, more budget-conscious, more mosquito-infested, replication of Olympics past.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Education: An Elusive Dream for Cameroon’s Indigenous Peopleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 13:56:22 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146475 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/education-an-elusive-dream-for-cameroons-indigenous-peoples/feed/ 0 Indigenous Communities Risk Lives in Struggle for Self-determination in Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-communities-risk-lives-in-struggle-for-self-determination-in-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-communities-risk-lives-in-struggle-for-self-determination-in-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-communities-risk-lives-in-struggle-for-self-determination-in-education/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 06:31:59 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146427 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-communities-risk-lives-in-struggle-for-self-determination-in-education/feed/ 0 Right to Education Still Elusive for Native People in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 23:40:34 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146399 Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Education, the most powerful instrument in the struggle against exclusion and discrimination, is still elusive for indigenous people in Latin America who remain the most disadvantaged segment of the population despite their wide presence in the region.

Recognition of the growing need to provide greater access to quality education for indigenous people, which respects cultural differences and local native traditions, is still far from translating into real, long-term public policies, the mayor of the Chilean municipality of Tirúa, Adolfo Millabur, told IPS.

In Chile, for example, “everyone expresses a willingness, but this isn’t put into practice,” said Millabur, whose municipality, 685 km south of Santiago, is located in the region of La Araucanía, home to nearly half of the Mapuche population, the country’s largest indigenous community.

Millabur grew up in the town of El Malo, 35 km from Tirúa. He and his eight siblings would get up every weekday at 5:00 AM and walk 30 km to school, in the town of Antiquina. After a couple of hours in class, they would all set out on the long trek back home.

He doesn’t remember how he learned to read and says he had no idea how to sign a check when he became Chile’s first Mapuche mayor in 1996, at the age of 28.

The right to education is the theme of this year’s Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated Aug. 9.

Access to culturally appropriate education that recognises diversity and indigenous values and specific needs, including the necessity for native people to learn their mother tongue, is considered key to combating their vulnerability and exclusion.

According to figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 8.3 percent of the population of Latin America – 45 million of a total of 605 million people – is indigenous.

Of Bolivia’s population of 10.6 million people, 62 percent identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous community, making it the Latin American country with the largest proportion of native people, followed by Guatemala, where 41 percent of the population of 16 million identify themselves as indigenous.

Next in line is Peru, where 24 percent of the population is indigenous, and Mexico, where the proportion is 15 percent.

These are the official statistics, based on the way people self-identify in the census.

According to the 2014 study “Indigenous Peoples of Latin America”, published in Spanish by ECLAC, there are 826 distinct native groups in the region.

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

At one extreme is Brazil, with indigenous people making up just 0.5 percent (900,000 people) of the population of 200 million, divided in 305 different groups, followed by Colombia (102 groups), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine indigenous peoples each), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The Quechua, Nahua, Aymara, Maya Yucateco, Maya K’iche’ and Mapuche are the largest native groups in the region, according to the study.

Despite their large presence and strong influence in the region, the native peoples of Latin America still represent one of the most disadvantaged population groups, the ECLAC report says.

Indigenous people have not only suffered the systematic loss of their territory, with severe consequences for their well-being and way of life, but they are also the population group facing the highest poverty levels and the most marked inequality.

In this scenario, the right to education is essential to the full enjoyment of human and collective rights, and is a powerful tool in the battle to eradicate exclusion and discrimination.

“Indigenous peoples are among the big absentees from educational policies and curriculums,” said Loreto Jara, a researcher on educational policy with the Chile NGO Educación 2020.

“They are absent as historical subjects in the curriculums themselves, but also as social actors in the participatory processes involved in designing the curriculums,” she told IPS.

While progress has been made in recent years with regard to education for Latin America’s indigenous peoples, it is a mistake to see all of the processes as similar ”just because it is easier to work in a scenario of similarity than to address diversity,” she said.

She said education for any native group “has a different dynamic than that of our school system,” which means it is necessary to incorporate, for example, intercultural teachers in schools.

Jara cited the experience of Colombia, where there are “many different ethnic groups, which vary greatly among themselves, smaller groups, which speak specific dialects and are involved in a struggle to recuperate their territory and keep their cultures alive.”

She said that in Colombia, “indigenous cultures are gaining more recognition and understanding in rural areas…and rural schools are doing a great deal to revitalise indigenous languages.”

These efforts, also aimed at stemming the migration of young people from rural areas to large cities, are seen in some parts of Mexico as well, she added.

In the Chilean region of La Araucanía, there are 845 schools that teach Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche people, up to fourth grade of primary school.

Of these, 300 receive direct support from the Education Ministry and the rest rely on private funding, said María Díaz Coliñir, supervisor of the government’s Bilingual Intercultural Education programme.

Under Chilean law, all schools with more than 20 percent indigenous students must have bilingual intercultural education programmes that teach Mapudungun, Quechua, Aymara or Rapa Nui, depending on the region.

Although the programme does not guarantee that children learn their native languages, it does bolster their sense of identity. “A great deal of progress has been made in helping Mapuche children have a stronger sense of who they are, and strengthening their self-esteem,” Díaz Coliñir told IPS.

Jara concurred that efforts like these would have positive results for all indigenous groups in the region. “The assertion of their rights is based on language, because it represents their world view. Beneath indigenous languages lies the cultural wealth of each native group,” she said.

She said addressing the need to bring greater visibility to native peoples as social actors, teaching their history and their link to the broader history of this country, is one of the pending tasks in the area of education.

“Today people are demanding to participate in decision-making in many areas, and indigenous people are among the social actors who must be given the most attention,” Díaz Coliñir said.

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UN Spotlight for Dark Shadow over Civil Society Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Tor Hodenfield http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146372 Tor Hodenfield works on the Policy and Research Team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance - @Tor_Hodenfield]]> Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Tor Hodenfield
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

With more and more governments narrowing space for dissent and activism, the UN has emerged as a key platform to air concerns about acute rights violations and develop protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups.

The core freedoms that enable civil society to conduct its work are under threat across the world. A report recently released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries. Individual activists and journalists are also increasingly being targeted to prevent them from exercising their legitimate rights and undertaking their vital work. In 2015, Global witness documented the killing of three environmental activists per week – while the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 199 journalists who were behind bars at the end of 2015.

Worryingly, restrictions on the exercise of civil society freedoms are being experienced in democracies as well as authoritarian states. In the US, Black Lives Matter demonstrators are facing serious challenges to their right to protest peacefully both from overzealous law enforcement agents as well as from divisive right wing politicians. In South Korea, security forces have violently repressed popular protests and judicially harassed civil society and union leaders advocating for greater transparency of the government’s ongoing investigation of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. On July 4th, the President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in organizing the protests.

Ethiopia’s totalitarian state apparatus has brutally suppressed grievances about access to land, adequate health services and education in the Oromia region, precipitating mass protests since November 2015. Over 400 protestors, including scores of children have been killed in one of the most egregious crackdowns on the right to protest in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century. In Bahrain, the absolute monarchy continues to imprison human rights defenders, revoke the citizenship of outspoken critics and prevent activists from attending UN human rights conferences.

Due to the narrowing of political space in many countries around the world, there are fewer and fewer avenues available to individuals and groups to express their grievances at home. This makes the United Nations (UN) an important arena to highlight the importance of rights and to articulate international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, which recently concluded its 32nd Session in Geneva, took a number of critical steps to address restrictions on human rights and expand protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups. Notably, over the course of this three-week session, the UN decided to appoint the first-ever independent expert to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity rights, renewed the appointment of a similar expert to report on violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and adopted a landmark resolution on the key principles necessary to protect and promote the work of civil society.

Last month at UN headquarters in New York, civil society, businesses and governments met to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 universal goals provide an important platform for civil society to frame their government’s development and policies for the next 15 years and mitigates against many government’s reluctance to engage with civil society at the national level. The design of the goals has been lauded for its unprecedented levels of public participation and the recognition that civil society must be a co-partner in the delivery of international development agreements.

However, despite the admirable steps taken by the UN to address civic space restrictions and create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to engage on important human rights issues, states are replicating repressive tactics to undermine the access and potency of civil society at the UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a civil society organisation mandated to document violations against press freedom, was recently granted consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which allows NGOs to formally address UN bodies and processes, only after a decision to block them for the fourth year running was overturned. In another worrying attempt to suppress civil society participation at the UN, weeks earlier dozens of member states blocked over 20 LGBTI advocacy groups from attending the UN Global Aids Summit.

While the UN has emerged as an increasingly vital nexus to ensure that civic society grievances are considered, concerted efforts among the UN, States and civil society need to be made to ensure that decisions and norms the UN develops reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The UN, and its allies in civil society, must work together to help demystify the work of the UN and ensure that countries across the world are domesticating and delivering on these important human rights initiatives.

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Fast-track Development Threatens to Leave Indigenous Peoples Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 20:26:39 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146115 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/feed/ 0 What can Development Banks do to Protect Human Rights?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 01:39:09 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146090 Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Phillip Kaeding
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2016 (IPS)

In a petition signed by 150 NGOs, the Coalition for Human Rights in Development have called for development banks to make sure that human rights are respected by their beneficiaries.

Multilateral development banks like the World Bank or the European Investment Bank (EIB) often work with governments and corporations planning mega projects in developing countries. For example, Dutch, Finnish and Central American banks had all funded the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, the same dam environmental activist Berta Cáceres, was murdered for protesting against.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Oxfam say that the financiers also bear responsibilities when local peoples’ rights are abused to help facilitate projects. The petitioners want the development banks to stand up for human rights in the regions where they fund projects.

The new petition states that “Global Witness identified 2015 as the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, with 185 killings across 16 countries.”

The prominent case of Berta Cáceres is no exception. Soleyana Gebremichael, Ethiopian blogger talked about the situation in her home country at a press conference on Thursday:

“For the last 10 years, the civil society space had been shrinking. Ethiopia enacted two laws in 2009: The first one is the civil society proclamation and the second one was the anti-terrorism proclamation. The civil society proclamation… basically limits the activities of civil society organisations by limiting their resources.”

Gebremichael, who received the International Press Freedom Award with her co-bloggers from Zone 9 in 2015, said that the development banks should work together with civil society organizations on the issues, as a way to work with governments without pressuring them directly.

Often, the banks argue that they do what they can,said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“In the case of Uzbekistan, we have been told by World Bank officials that they have behind those doors raised concerns with the government of Uzbekistan about the attacks against the independent human rights defenders that are monitoring forced labor and other human rights abuses linked to the agriculture sector. This had no impact whatsoever,” she said.

How does such a constellation emerge? Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at Civicus, blames entanglements between politics and the economy:

“States are increasingly outsourcing their responsibilities… This leads to an increased avenue to corruption due to collusion among elites. Civil society organizations, when they try to expose these corrupt links between elites, are attacked.”

“What we are seeing is that the multilateral development banks are continuing on business as usual rather than working with the human rights defenders themselves to put pressure on governments and others that are attacking them.” -- Jessica Evans, HRW.

The development banks, Tiwana argues, support growth-oriented development programs as in Ethiopia and therefore ignore other issues. He sees a neoliberal paradigm at the bottom of the problem.

More than the historical and political causes, the practical solution is what international NGOs are now interested in. The petition addressing all major multilateral development banks suggests seven steps:

First, the banks “should systematically analyze the environment for freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and the realization of other human rights critical for development. Once they have undertaken this analysis they should build it into their country development strategies,” said Evans.

Then, the Coalition emphasizes, policies to increase accountability and secure human rights considerations in every project must be implemented.

The agenda is quite ambitious. But according to Tiwana, it is essential to target the links between financial institutions and governments together with local civil society organizations.

“Development banks often work with large state-entities and state-entities often enable the participation of several private actors, some of them could be linked to very influential people.”

“So the public has a very important role to play in ensuring that the deals that are made… have gone through the constitutional and lawful discourse. And that’s why civil society is extremely important to shine a spotlight on these contracts and on these activities,” he says.

In many ways, the issued statement appeals to the conscience of Western bank managers and policy-makers. New conflict is likely to occur with multilateral banks from the East like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) entering the big stage of development financing. The AIIB is also addressed in the petition.

Months ago, Amnesty International and others pointed out that human rights standards are not the AIIB’s priority. A race to the bottom regarding human rights in development projects is a huge danger in the eyes of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development.

There is a “broader pattern which is emerging as the result of multilateral development banks failing to prioritize public participation in the work that they do and refusing to meaningfully work to prevent reprisals,” says Evans.

“What we are seeing is that the multilateral development banks are continuing on business as usual rather than working with the human rights defenders themselves to put pressure on governments and others that are attacking them.”

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Indigenous Villages in Honduras Overcome Hunger at Schoolshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:14:53 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146074 Students at the “República de Venezuela” School in the indigenous Lenca village of Coloaca in western Honduras, where they have a vegetable garden to grow produce and at the same time learn about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students at the “República de Venezuela” School in the indigenous Lenca village of Coloaca in western Honduras, where they have a vegetable garden to grow produce and at the same time learn about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
COALACA, Honduras, Jul 15 2016 (IPS)

Barely 11 years old and in the sixth grade of primary school, this student dreams of becoming a farmer in order to produce food so that the children in his community never have to go hungry. Josué Orlando Torres of the indigenous Lenca people lives in a remote corner of the west of Honduras.

He is part of a success story in this village of Coalaca, population 750, in the municipality of Las Flores in the department (province) of Lempira.

Five years ago a Sustainable School Feeding Programme (PAES) was launched in this area. It has improved local children’s nutritional status and enjoys plenty of local, governmental and international participation.

Torres is proud of his school, named for the Republic of Venezuela, where 107 students are supported by their three teachers in their work in a “teaching vegetable garden”. They grow peas and beans, fruit and vegetables that are used daily in their school meals.

Torres told IPS that he did not used to like green vegetables, but now “I’ve started to like them, and I love the fresh salads and green juices.”

Josué Orlando Torres, an 11-year-old student, dreams of becoming a farmer to ensure that children like himself have access to free high-quality food at this school in the indigenous community of Coloaca, where a sustainable school programme is beginning to overcome chronic malnutrition. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Josué Orlando Torres, an 11-year-old student, dreams of becoming a farmer to ensure that children like himself have access to free high-quality food at this school in the indigenous community of Coloaca, where a sustainable school programme is beginning to overcome chronic malnutrition. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“Here they taught us what is good for us to eat, and also to plant produce so that there will always be food for us. We have a vegetable garden in which we all plant coriander, radishes, cucumbers, cassava (yucca), squash (pumpkin), mustard and cress, lettuce, carrots and other nutritious foods,” he said while indicating each plant in the school garden.

When he grows up, Torres does not want to be a doctor, engineer or fireman like other children of his age. He wants to be “a good farmer to grow food to help my community, help kids like me to be well-fed and not to fall asleep in class because they had not eaten and were ill,” as happened before, he said.

The 48 schools scattered throughout Las Flores municipality, together with other schools in Lempira province, especially those located within what is called the dry corridor of Honduras, characterised by poverty and the onslaughts of climate change, are part of a series of sustainable pilot projects being promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and PAES is one of these.

The purpose of these sustainable school projects is to improve the nutritional status of students and at the same time give direct support to small farmers, by means of a comprehensive approach and effective local-local, local-regional and central government-international aid  interactions.

As a result of this effort in indigenous Lenca communities and Ladino (mixed indigenous-white or mestizo) communities such as Coalaca, La Cañada, Belén and Lepaera (all of them in Lempira province), schoolchildren and teachers alike have said goodbye to fizzy drinks and sweets, and undertaken a radical change in their food habits.

Parents, teachers, students, each community and municipal government, three national Secretariats (Ministries) and FAO have joined forces so that these remote Honduran regions may see off the problems of famine and malnutrition that once were rife here.

A family production chain was developed to supply the schools with food for their students, who average over 100 at each educational centre, complementing the school vegetable gardens.

Every Monday, small farmers bring their produce to a central distribution centre, and municipal vehicles distribute it to the schools.

View of Belén, a town that is the head of a rural municipality of the same name amid the mountains of western Honduras, in the department (province) of Lempira, where a programme rooted in local schools is improving nutrition among remote indigenous communities. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

View of Belén, a town that is the head of a rural municipality of the same name amid the mountains of western Honduras, in the department (province) of Lempira, where a programme rooted in local schools is improving nutrition among remote indigenous communities. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

Erlín Omar Perdomo, from the village of La Cañada in Belén municipality, told IPS: “When FAO first started to organise us we never thought things would go as far as they did, our initial concern was to stave off the hunger there was around here and help our children to be better nourished.”

“But as the project developed, they trained us to become food providers as well. Today this community is supplying 13 schools in Belén with fresh, high-quality produce,” the community leader said with satisfaction.

They organised themselves as savings micro-cooperatives to which members pay small subscriptions and which finance projects or businesses at lowinterest rates and without the need for collateral, as required by banks, or for payment of abusive interest rates, as charged by intermediaries known as “coyotes”.

“We never dreamed the project would reach the size it is today. FAO sent us to Brazil to see for ourselves how food was being supplied to schools by the families of students, but, here we are and this is our story,” said the 36-year-old Perdomo.

“We all participate, we generate income and bring development to our communities, to the extent that now the drop-out rate is practically nil, and our women have also joined the project. They organise themselves in groups to attend the school every week to cook our children’s food,” he said.

Rubenia Cortes, a mother and volunteer cook at the school in the remote village of La Cañada in the department (province) of Lempira, in western Honduras. They cook in a kitchen that was built by parents and teachers at the school. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

Rubenia Cortes, a mother and volunteer cook at the school in the remote village of La Cañada in the department (province) of Lempira, in western Honduras. They cook in a kitchen that was built by parents and teachers at the school. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

A 2012 report by the World Food Programmme (WFP) indicated that in Central America, Honduras had the second worst child malnutrition levels, after Guatemala. According to the WFP, one in four children suffers from chronic malnutrition, with the worst problems seen in the south and west of the country.

But in Coalaca, La Cañada and other nearby villages and small towns, the situation has begun to be reverted in the past five years. The FAO project is based on the creation of a new nutritional culture; an expert advises and educates local families in eating a healthy and balanced diet.

“We don’t put salt and pepper on our food any more. We have replaced them with aromatic herbs. FAO trained us, teaching us what nutrients were to be found in each vegetable, fruit or pulse, and in what quantities,” said Rubenia Cortes.

“Look, our children now have beautiful skin, not dull like before,” she explained proudly to IPS. Cortes is a cook at the Claudio Barrera school in La Cañada, population 700, part of Belén municipality where there are 32 PAES centres.

Cortes and the other women are all heads of households who do voluntary work to prepare food at the school. “Before, we would sell our oranges and buy fizzy drinks or sweets, but now we do not; it is better to make orange juice for all of us to drink,” she said as an example.

From Monday to Friday, students at the PAES schools have a highly nutritious meal which they eat mid-morning.

The change is remarkable, according to Edwin Cortes, the head teacher of the La Cañada school. “The children no longer fall asleep in class. I used to ask them, ‘Did you understand the lesson?’ But what could they answer? They had come to school on an empty stomach. How could they learn anything?” he exclaimed.

In the view of María Julia Cárdenas, the FAO representative in Honduras, the most valuable thing about this project is that “we can leave the project, but it will not die, because everyone has appropriated it.”

“It is highly sustainable, and models like this one overcome frontiers and barriers, because everyone is united in a common purpose, that of feeding the children,” she told IPS after giving a delegation of experts and Central American Parliamentarians a guided tour of the untold stories that arise in this part of the dry corridor of Honduras.

There are 1.4 million children in primary and basic secondary schooling in Honduras, out of a total population of 8.7 million people. Seven ethnic groups live alongside each other in the country, of which the largest is the Lenca people, a group of just over 400,000 people.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/ Translated by Valerie Dee

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Post-War Truth and Justice Still Elusive in Bougainvillehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 13:24:25 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145886 Buildings gutted and scarred by the Bougainville civil war are still visible in the main central town of Arawa. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Buildings gutted and scarred by the Bougainville civil war are still visible in the main central town of Arawa. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
ARAWA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

Almost every family in the islands of Bougainville, an autonomous region of about 300,000 people in the Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has a story to tell of death and suffering during the decade long civil war (1989-1998), known as ‘the Crisis.’

Yet fifteen years after the 2001 peace agreement, there is no accurate information about the scale of atrocities which occurred to inform ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts being supported by the government and international donors. Now members of civil society and grassroots communities are concerned that lack of truth telling and transitional justice is hindering durable reconciliation.

“I believe there should be a truth telling program here and I think the timing is right,” Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, a local non-government organisation, told IPS.

“It is nearly twenty years [since the conflict] and some people have moved on with their lives, while there are others who have just cut off all sense of belonging because they are still hurting.”

Bernard Unabali, Catholic Bishop of Bougainville, concurs. “Truth is absolutely necessary, there is no doubt it is an absolutely necessary thing for peace and justice,” he declared.“People have been accused of killing others during the Crisis and that has carried on in the form of recent killings." -- Rosemary Dekaung

In these tropical rainforest covered islands it is estimated that around 20,000 people, or 10 percent of the population at the time, lost their lives and 60,000 were displaced as the Papua New Guinean military and armed revolutionary groups fought for territorial control. The conflict erupted in 1989 after indigenous landowners, outraged at loss of customary land, environmental devastation and socioeconomic inequality associated with the Rio Tinto majority-owned Panguna copper mine in Central Bougainville, launched a successful campaign to shut it down.

“There is a lot to be done on truth telling. When we talk about the Crisis-related problems our ideas are all mangled together and we are just talking on the surface, not really uprooting what is beneath, what really happened,” said Barbara Tanne, Executive Officer of the Bougainville Women’s Federation in the capital, Buka.

Judicial and non-judicial forms of truth and justice are widely perceived by experts as essential for post-war reconciliation. The wisdom is that if a violent past is left unaddressed, trauma, social divisions and mistrust will remain and fester into further forms of conflict.

Failure to address wartime abuses in Bougainville is considered a factor in resurgent payback and sorcery-related violence, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports. A study of 1,743 people in Bougainville published last year by the UNDP revealed that one in five men had engaged in sorcery-related violence, while one in two men and one in four women had been witnesses.

Rosemary Dekaung believes that recent witchcraft killings in her rural community of Domakungwida, Central Bougainville, have their origins in the Crisis.

“People have been accused of killing others during the Crisis and that has carried on in the form of recent killings,” she said.

Stephanie Elizah, the Bougainville Government’s Acting Director of Peace, said that transitional justice is a sensitive topic with the ex-combatants due to the partial amnesty period which was agreed to apply only to the period of 1988 to 1995. However, she admits that many reconciliations taking place are not addressing the extent of grievances.

“From feedback from communities that have gone through reconciliation we know that it has not truly addressed a lot of the issues that individuals have….the victims, the perpetrators, those who have been involved in some form of injustice to the next human being; some of them have been allowed to just go and be forgotten,” Elizah said.

International law endorses the rights of any person who has suffered atrocities to know the truth of events, to know the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives and see justice done.

In 2014 the Bougainville Government introduced a new missing persons policy, which aims to assist families locate and retrieve the remains of loved ones who disappeared during the Crisis, but excludes compensation or bringing perpetrators to justice.

It is yet to be implemented with three years to go before Bougainville plans a referendum on Independence in 2019.

“A truth commission must be established so people can tell the truth before they make their choice for the political future of Bougainville. Because when we decide our choice, problems associated with the conflict must be addressed,” Alex Amon Jr, President of the Suir Youth Federation, North Bougainville, declared.

Hakena believes there are repercussions if transitional justice doesn’t occur.

“It is happening now. Elderly people are passing on their negative experiences to their sons, who have not experienced that, and who will continue to hate the perpetrator’s family. Years later some of these kids will not know why they hate those people and there will be repercussions,” she elaborated.

The government is planning a review of its peace and security framework this year during which there will be an opportunity to explore people’s views on transitional justice, Elizah said.

The benefits of establishing a truth commission include a state-endorsed public platform for everyone to have their stories heard, give testimony of human rights abuses for possible further investigation and for recommendations to be made on legal and institutional reforms.

At the grassroots, people also point to the immense potential of implementing more widely customary processes of truth telling that have been used for generations.

“We do have traditional ceremonies where everybody comes together, the perpetrators and the victims and all others who are affected and they will thrash and throw out everything. That is very much like a truth commission, where, in the end, they say this is what we did,” Rosemary Moses at the Bougainville Women’s Federation in Arawa said.

Unabali agreed that durable peace should be built first on traditional truth telling mechanisms, which had widespread legitimacy in the minds of individuals and communities, even if a truth commission was also considered.

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Civil Society Under Serious Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-under-serious-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0 The Environment: Latin America’s Battleground for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 00:12:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145737 Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jun 22 2016 (IPS)

2015 was the deadliest year on record for the killings of environmental activists around the world, according to a new Global Witness report.

The report, On Dangerous Ground, found that in 2015, 185 people were killed defending the environment across 16 countries, a 59 percent increase from 2014.

“The environment is becoming a new battleground for human rights,” Global Witness’ Campaign Leader for Environmental and Land Defenders Billy Kyte told IPS.

“Many of these activists are being treated as enemies of the state when they should be treated as heroes,” he continued.

The rise in attacks is partially due to the increased demand for natural resources which have sparked conflicts between residents in remote, resource-rich areas and industries such as mining, logging and agribusinesses.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world." -- Billy Kyte.

Among the most dangerous regions for environmental activists is Latin America, where over 60 percent of killings in 2015 occurred. In Brazil, 50 environmental defenders were killed, the world’s highest death toll.

A majority of the murders in Brazil took place in the biodiverse Amazon states where the encroachment of ranches, agricultural plantations and illegal loggers has led to a surge in violence.

The report stated that criminal gangs often “terrorise” local communities at the behest of “timber companies and the officials they have corrupted.”

The most recent murder was of Antônio Isídio Pereira da Silva, the leader of a small farming community in the Amazonian Maranhão state. Isídio suffered years of assassination attempts and death threats for defending his land from illegal loggers and other land grabbers. Despite appeals, he never received protection and police have never investigated his murder.

Indigenous communities, who depend on the forests for their livelihood, particularly bear the brunt of the violence. Almost 40 percent of environmental activists killed were from indigenous groups.

Eusebio Ka’apor, member of the Ka’apor indigenous tribe living in Maranhão state, was shot and killed by two hooded men on a motorbike. He led patrols to monitor and shutdown illegal logging on the Ka’apor ancestral lands.

One Ka’apor leader told Survival International, an indigenous human rights organisation, that loggers have said to them that it is better to surrender the wood than let “more people die.”

“We don’t know what to do, because we have no protection. The state does nothing,” the leader said.

Thousands of illegal logging camps have been set up across the Amazon to cut down valuable timber such as mahogany, ebony and teak. It is estimated that 80 percent of timber from Brazil is illegal and accounts for 25 percent of illegal wood on global markets, most of which is sold to buyers in the United States, United Kingdom and China.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world,” Kyte stated.

Kyte also pointed to a “growing collusion” between corporate and state interests and high levels of corruption as reasons for the attacks on environmental defenders.

This is reflected through the ongoing corruption case involving the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam which continued despite concerns over the project’s environmental and community impact and was used to generate over $40 million for political parties.

Even in the face of a public scandal, Kyte noted that environmental legislation has continued to weaken in the country.

The new interim Brazilian government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has proposed an amendment that would diminish its environmental licensing process for infrastructure and development mega-projects in order to revive Brazil’s faltering economy.

Currently, Brazil has a three-phase procedure where at each step, a project can be halted due to environmental concerns.

Known as PEC 65, the amendment proposes that industries only submit a preliminary environmental impact statement. Once that requirement is met, projects cannot be delayed or cancelled for environmental reasons.

The weakening of key human rights institutions also poses a threat to the environment and its defenders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose goal is to address and investigate human rights issues in Latin America, is currently facing a severe funding deficit that could lead to the loss of 40 percent of its personnel by the end of July, impacting the ability to continue its work. It has already suspended its country visits and may be forced to halt its investigations.

Many countries in Latin America have halted financial support to the commission due to disputes over investigations and findings.

In 2011, IACHR requested that Brazil “immediately suspend the licensing” for the Belo Monte project in order to consult with and protect indigenous groups. In response, the Brazilian government broke off ties with IACHR by withdrawing its funding and recalling its ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), which implements IACHR.

“It’s a huge crisis,” Kyte told IPS.

While speaking to the Human Rights Council in May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also expressed concern over budget cuts to IACHR, stating: “When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court…then do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unravelling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests – strategic and commercial – operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?”

He called on member states to defend and financially support the commission, which he noted was an “important strategic partner and inspiration for the UN system.”

In its report, Global Witness urged Brazil and other Latin American governments to protect environmental activists, investigate crimes against activists, expose corporate and political interests that lie behind the persecution of land defenders, and formally recognize land and indigenous rights.

Kyte particularly highlighted the need for international investigations to expose the killings of environmental activists and those responsible for them.

He pointed to the murder of Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous leader in Honduras, which gained international attention and outrage.

“It’s a positive step that because of international outrage, the Honduran government was compelled to arrest these killers,” he said.

“If we can push for an international investigation into her death, which I think is the only way that the real criminal masterminds behind her death will be held to account, then that could act as an example for future cases,” Kyte concluded.

In March, Cáceres, who campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot in her home by two armed men from the Honduras’ military.

A whistleblower alleges that Cáceres was on a hit list given to U.S.-trained units of the Honduran military.

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Bougainville Women Turn Around Lives of ‘Lost Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:08:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145600 Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
HAKO, Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea , Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Finding a sense of identity and purpose, as well as employment are some of the challenges facing youths in post-conflict Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

They have been labelled the ‘lost generation’ due to their risk of being marginalised after missing out on education during the Bougainville civil war (1989-1998), known locally as the ‘Crisis’.

But in Hako constituency, where an estimated 30,000 people live in villages along the north coast of Buka Island, North Bougainville, a local women’s community services organisation refuses to see the younger generation as anything other than a source of optimism and hope.

“They are our future leaders and our future generation, so we really value the youths,” Dorcas Gano, president of the Hako Women’s Collective (HWC) told IPS.“There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened." -- Gregory Tagu, who was in fifth grade when the war broke out.

Youth comprise about 60 percent of Bougainville’s estimated population of 300,000, which has doubled since the 1990s. The women’s collective firmly believes that peace and prosperity in years to come depends on empowering young men and women in these rainforest-covered islands to cope with the challenges of today with a sense of direction.

One challenge, according to Gregory Tagu, a youth from Kohea village, is the psychological transition to a world without war.

“Nowadays, youths struggle to improve their lives and find a job because they are traumatised. During the Crisis, young people grew up with arms and knives and even today they go to school, church and walk around the village with knives,” Tagu explained.

Tens of thousands of children were affected by the decade-long conflict, which erupted after demands for compensation for environmental damage and inequity by landowners living in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the mountains of central Bougainville were unmet. The mine, majority-owned by Rio Tinto, a British-Australian multinational, opened in 1969 and was operated by its Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, until it was shut down in 1989 by revolutionary forces.

The conflict raged on for another eight years after the Papua New Guinea Government blockaded Bougainville in 1990 and the national armed forces and rebel groups battled for control of the region.

Many children were denied an education when schools were burnt down and teachers fled. They suffered when health services were decimated, some became child soldiers and many witnessed severe human rights abuses.

Tagu was in fifth grade when the war broke out. “There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened,” he recalled.

Trauma is believed to contribute to what women identify as a youth sub-culture today involving alcohol, substance abuse and petty crime, which is inhibiting some to participate in positive development.

They believe that one of the building blocks to integrating youths back into a peaceful society is making them aware of their human rights.

In a village meeting house about 20-30 young men and women, aged from early teens to late thirties, gather in a circle as local singer Tasha Kabano performs a song about violence against women. Then Anna Sapur, an experienced village court magistrate, takes the floor to speak about what constitutes human rights abuses and the entitlement of men, women and children to lives free of injustice and physical violations. Domestic violence, child abuse and neglect were key topics in the vigorous debate which followed.

But social integration for this age group also depends on economic participation. Despite 15 years of peace and better access to schools, completing education is still a challenge for many. An estimated 90 percent of students leave before the end of Grade 10 with reasons including exam failure and inability to meet costs.

“There are plenty of young people who cannot read and write, so we really need to train them in adult literacy,” Elizabeth Ngosi, an HWC member from Tuhus village declared, adding that currently they don’t have access to this training.

Similar to other small Pacific Island economies, only a few people secure formal sector jobs in Bougainville while the vast majority survive in the informal economy.

At the regional level, Justin Borgia, Secretary for the Department of Community Development, said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government is keen to see a long-term approach to integrating youths through formal education and informal life skills training. District Youth Councils with government assistance have identified development priorities including economic opportunities, improving local governance and rule of law.

In Hako, women are particularly concerned for the 70 percent of early school leavers who are unemployed and in 2007 the collective conducted their first skills training program. More than 400 youths were instructed in 30 different trade and technical skills, creative visual and music art, accountancy, leadership, health, sport, law and justice and public speaking.

Two-thirds of those who participated were successful in finding employment, Gano claims.

“Some of them have work and some have started their own small businesses….Some are carpenters now and have their own small contracts building houses back in the villages,” she said.

Tuition in public speaking was of particular value to Gregory Tagu.

“I have no CV or reference, but with my public speaking skills I was able to tell people about my experience and this helped me to get work,” Tagu said. Now he works as a truck driver for a commercial business and a technical officer for the Hako Media Unit, a village-based media resource set up after an Australian non-government organisation, Pacific Black Box, provided digital media training to local youths.

Equipping young people with skills and confidence is helping to shape a new future here and further afield. HWC’s president is particularly proud that some from the village have gone on to take up youth leadership positions in other parts of Bougainville, including the current President of the Bougainville Youth Federation.

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