Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 25 May 2016 12:29:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 Indigenous Peoples Inclusion at United Nations Incompletehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 17:44:57 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145213 Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations Indigenous Forum is one of the UN’s most culturally diverse bodies yet its inclusion within the overall UN system remains limited.

“Thousands of people who come to the forum throughout the years do not have the opportunity to express their concerns,” said Alvaro Esteban Pop Ac, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, here Thursday.

Over 1,000 Indigenous people from all over the world came here for the 15th session of the  Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held from May 9-20.

“The demand by indigenous peoples is to have a new category as observer,” said Joan Carling, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Carling said that while indigenous people are not states or NGOs, according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they “have the right to self-determination.”

“The main aim of the resolution is to really ensure that effective participation of indigenous peoples is afforded in the UN system.”

“We need to be able to participate in decision-making processes in the UN  to be able to express our specific conditions and our aspirations as peoples. That deserves the space at the highest level,” she said.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected," -- Joan Carling

The contributions that Indigenous peoples are making, to areas such as peace and environmental protection, are not reflected in their level of participation at the UN.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected,” said Carling.

“The issue of conflicts and the issue of injustice will continue because decisions are being undertaken at global level where we don’t have any participation, that is the thing that we want to rectify,” she added.

Indigenous peoples still cannot make recommendations directly to Security Council, only through the Economic and Social Council.

Carling, an indigenous activist from Cordillera in the Philippines, said that the situation of Indigenous women in particular should be addressed by the 15-member UN Security Council, arguably the most powerful organ within the UN system.

Violence against Indigenous women was a major theme of the 2016 forum.

Throughout history, Pop Ac said, “Indigenous women have lead indigenous dialogue. Women play a key role in keeping the community together. We promote our issues through women,” said Pop Ac.

He pointed to Northeast India, where there is a heavy presence of more than 70 armed groups and 500, 000 military troops, which have been related to the rampant sexual abuse and trafficking of indigenous women.

Jacob Bryan Aki from Peace Child International-Hawaii and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was one of the young Indigenous people who participated in the forum.

“We come here, we learn, and the work doesn’t stop,” said Aki.  “The two weeks we have here sets us up for the rest of the year, to go back home, to work with our family and our communities, to take the opportunities we have had here to those who do not. These messages need to be heard from youth.”

“We are the next generation of leaders and scholars,” said Aki. “It is very important for us to engage in this international level because in 10-20 years we are going to be thrust into these leadership roles and this is preparation to lead and learn how to make this world a better place for our people.”

With over 5000 different cultures and an estimated 7000 different languages, Indigenous peoples represent much of the world’s cultural diversity.

Yet despite their cultural differences Indigenous peoples – who make up five percent of the world’s overall population – have many shared experiences.

“The first criteria which defines an indigenous peoples, is a peoples that have survived colonization,” said Pop Ac.

“Humanity needs a different logic and ethic in defining wealth” Pop Ac added.

“It is human greed which is destroying the environment.”

Indigenous peoples are the “guardians of life” and are working to protect their environments, he said.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

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Will Canada Recognise Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Developing Countries Too?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 15:09:32 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145192 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too/feed/ 1 A Latin American Humanitarian Emergency Invisible to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 23:42:43 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145171 In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, May 18 2016 (IPS)

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, referring to the generalised violence in Mexico and in Honduras and other countries of Central America, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and is a product of transnational crime, but is invisible to the international community.

Zúñiga Cáceres, the daughter of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered on Mar. 2, is in Mexico after visiting several European cities to ask for help clarifying her mother’s murder and to call for a cancellation of the financing for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, to which the Lenca indigenous people are opposed.

In an interview with IPS she admitted that despite the death threats and the murders of other activists, she didn’t believe they would dare kill her mother, who was so well-known at an international level.“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency).” -- Rubén Figueroa

She herself and her siblings had fled to Mexico due to the threats against members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), which was founded by Cáceres 23 years ago. She had been studying in Mexico for a month when her mother was killed.

Now she wants to tell the world about communities that are displaced and forced off their land because of a “neoliberal, racist and patriarchal” system.

The victims, she said, are not only the Lenca Indians. Also affected are the Garifunas, mixed-race descendants of native people and African slaves, who have been displaced by the construction of tourist resorts in their coastal territory.

To that is added abuse by the police and other agents of the state, since the 2009 coup d’etat that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, mixed with criminal violence that has forced thousands of people to seek refuge outside of Honduras.

Rubén Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, which has organised 11 caravans of Central American mothers searching for their children who have gone missing in Mexico, concurs with Zúñiga Cáceres.

“The situation in the entire Northern Triangle region of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) is a humanitarian crisis,” the migrants’ rights activist told IPS.

“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency),” he said.

Figures from an invisible crisis

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the number of internally displaced people forced from their homes by armed conflict and violence rose to a record 40.8 million in 2015.

Of that total, at least 7.3 million were in Latin America, most of them in Colombia, because of its decades-long armed conflict.

But the report dedicates a special analysis to the growing new phenomenon of displacement caused by criminal violence, in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

These four countries accounted for a total of one million internally displaced persons – nearly double the number reported in the 2014 edition of the report. They are mainly victims of criminal violence, principally associated with drug trafficking and gangs.

The IDMC stresses that these are incomplete figures, to which must be added the number of people who are forced to leave the country by criminal violence.

It describes those displaced by criminal violence as “unseen and in displacement limbo”.

Human rights activists in Mexico blame this generalised violence on the war between organised crime groups, as well as on violence by the states against opponents to mining and energy projects.

“What we are experiencing is not a war on drug trafficking, but a war by the state against the general population,” María Herrera, an activist with the group of relatives searching for family members forcibly disappeared in Mexico, who number in the thousands, told IPS.

Also part of this new kind of humanitarian emergency, arising from transnational crime, are civilian victims of the growing militarisation in countries of Central America and Mexico, according to those interviewed by IPS, who complain that the issue is not on the agenda for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul.

Figueroa said a series of regional policies, such as Mexico’s Southern Border Plan and the Alliance for Progress in Central America, were partly to blame for the crisis.

“Approximately five years ago we began to notice that displacement is caused by more direct violence. We have seen young people who come to the shelters with bullets in their bodies. People who have returned to their countries and have been killed,” the activist said.

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

“Migration has always existed, but now people are being displaced by drug trafficking and gang warfare, and there is also the question of persecution and harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Honduras. It’s become structural violence,” he said.

Mexico between a rock and a hard place

The Central American diaspora triggered by violence, along with the deportation of thousands of migrants by the United States, has turned Mexico into a sort of sandwich. And this is causing a growing phenomenon, which has not been addressed either: Central Americans who are choosing to stay in Mexico rather than head north to the United States.

More than two million people were deported during U.S. President Barack Obama’s first term – 2009-2012 – alone.

The governmental Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR) reports that 2,000 Central Americans requested refugee status in 2014, and only one-fifth were granted it.

Mexico, meanwhile, has its own humanitarian emergency. The Mexican Commission of Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) documented 281,400 cases of forced displacement caused by generalised violence between 2011 and February 2015.

One-third of these displaced persons fled their communities in 141 mass displacements in 14 states.

Mass displacement is defined as an event simultaneously affecting more than 50 people or 10 families. Between January 2014 and February 2015, the CMDPDH registered 23 mass displacements.

One-fifth of these happened in Guerrero, a state that doubled its record and became the leader in forced displacement due to violence in Mexico in the last year.

“People who have been internally displaced do not have mechanisms or institutions for their protection or assistance,” says the report Forced Displacement in Mexico, released by the CMDPDH, a government agency, in 2015.

But there are other cases, like that of Myrna Lazcano, a Mexican woman who, after marrying and having two daughters in the United States, decided to return to Mexico in 2008.

However, the violence against women in her home state of Puebla and in Veracruz, where she found work, forced her to send her daughters back, first, and then return herself to the United States, where she has requested asylum.

Like her, another 9,200 Mexicans applied for asylum in the United States in 2012 – three times the number of requests filed there by Mexicans in 2008.

“This is an emergency that no one wants to address,” said Figueroa. “It is influenced by the position, especially on the part of the United States, with regard to the situation in Central America, because they would be forced to offer refuge if they recognised it.”

But in his view, “another element is the stance taken by Mexico and the countries of origin (of the migrants), because they would be forced to admit that they are failing, as is the international community.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Justice for Berta Caceres Incomplete Without Land Rights: UN Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 21:44:24 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145113 UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2016 (IPS)

The murder of Honduran Indigenous woman Berta Caceres is only too familiar to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All around the world, Indigenous peoples are murdered, raped and kidnapped when their lands fall in the path of deforestation, mining and construction. According to the group Global Witness, one Indigenous person was killed almost every week in 2015 because of their environmental activism, 40 percent of the total 116 people killed for environmental activism.

“We shouldn’t forget that the death of Berta is because of the protest that she had against the destruction of the territory of her people,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS in a recent interview.

Caceres, who was murdered at the beginning of March, had long known her life was in danger. She experienced violence and intimidation as a leader of the Lenca people of Rio Blanco who protested the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on their traditional lands.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Caceres activism received international recognition, including through the 2015 Goldman Prize, however this was not enough to protect her.

She knew she was going to die, she had even written her own obituary, said Tauli-Corpuz who met with Caceres during a visit to Honduras in 2015.

Four men were arrested in relation to Caceres death earlier this week.

While Tauli-Corpuz welcomed the arrests she said that justice would not be clear until after the trial, and that real justice was about more than the criminal proceedings for Caceres murder.

“We cannot rest on our laurels to say the whole thing is finished because that’s not the point,” she said. “The point is this whole issue about the dam still being there.”

Tauli-Corpuz has witnessed accounts of violence against many other Indigenous activists around the world, in her role as Special Rapporteur.

Their experiences have startling similarity, Indigenous peoples are subjected to rape, murder and kidnap, whenever they stand in the way of access to lands or natural resources.

“You cannot delink the fight of indigenous people for their lands, territories and resources from the violence that’s committed against indigenous women (and men), especially if this is a violence that is perpetrated by state authorities or by corporate security,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz also said that a look at the bigger picture reveals the increasingly international nature of the problems experienced by Indigenous peoples worldwide.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries,” she said.

“You see a situation where the state is meant to be the main duty bearer for protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, but at the same time you see investors having strong rights being protected and that is really where a lot of conflicts come up,” she said.

In Guatemala, Tauli-Corpuz says that 50 Indigenous women are still waiting for justice after their husbands were murdered and their lands taken in 1982.

“(Their) husbands were killed by the military because they were demanding the rights to their lands then (the military) took the women (to) the military camps and raped them and made them sexual slaves,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the women were brave enough to take their case to the courts but had to cover their faces because they were still being harassed by the military.

She said that when she recently asked the women what they would like if they won their case, they said that they would like their land back. After 33 years, their lands have never been returned.

Tauli-Corpuz also noted that for Indigenous peoples justice is incomplete if their lands are protected but they are denied access to them.

“(The land) is the source of their identities, their cultures and their livelihoods,” she said. If the forest is preserved but people are kicked off their lands, “than that’s a another problem that has to be prevented at all costs.”

In other cases, Indigenous peoples are forced off their lands when their food sources are destroyed.

For example said Tauli-Corpuz a major dam being built in the Amazon is not only destroying the forest but also means that there are no longer any fish in the rivers for the Indigenous people who rely on them.

Tauli-Corpuz said that it is important to remember that Indigenous peoples are contributing to climate change and environmental solutions by continuing their traditional ways of forest and ecosystem management.

Tauli-Corpuz has first-hand experience as an Indigenous activist and environmental defender. As a leader of the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines she helped successfully protest the construction of the Chico River Hydroelectric dam in the 1970s.

She notes that dams shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a climate change solution because they destroy forests and produce methane which is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon.

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Asia’s Indigenous Communities Marred by Militarisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/asias-indigenous-communities-marred-by-militarisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asias-indigenous-communities-marred-by-militarisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/asias-indigenous-communities-marred-by-militarisation/#comments Tue, 10 May 2016 04:08:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145037 Opening of the Fifteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Opening of the Fifteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 10 2016 (IPS)

Militarisation in indigenous territories in Asia is exacerbating conflict and human rights violations, said Secretary-General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Joan Carling at an event during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held here Monday.

The annual two-week forum has brought together over 1000 participants from around the world to discuss issues of conflict, peace, and resolution and its implications on indigenous communities.   

On its first day, a group of delegates came together during a side event to focus and raise awareness of the theme in the context of Asia.

Approximately two-thirds of the world’s indigenous population lives in Asia, making it the most culturally diverse region in the world. Among the increasingly major challenges in the region is militarisation and the denial of indigenous self-determination and rights to land.

Home to 11 indigenous groups, Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) continues to be one of the most militarized areas in the world.

According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), an estimated one-third of the Bangladesh Army is in the CHT, an area that only accounts for one percent of the country’s total population and nine percent of land mass.

The military bases were initially established due to a two-decade war between the Government of Bangladesh and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) over indigenous rights and the region’s autonomy.

“After their deaths, [the paramilitary] said that we had to evacuate in two days and if we didn’t, we would all be massacred." -- Josephine Pagalan.

Despite a 1997 peace accord which included commitments to withdraw military troops and self-governance, military presence and de facto control persist.

“Almost 18 years have passed and major commitments have not been fulfilled,” said Secretary-General of the Bangladesh Indigenous People’s Forum Sanjeeb Drong during the event.

Drong stressed that indigenous communities are not against the military, but they do not support military rule.

“The military can be there, but civil government will rule the area,” he stated. However, this has not been the case in CHT as indigenous institutions continue to be invalidated, he added.

An appointed Special Rapporteur Lars Anders-Baer also expressed concern in a report over the failure to implement the agreement and the continued deployment of armed forces in the region.

“The lack of substantial progress is leading to an increasing sense of frustration and disillusionment among the indigenous peoples in the region,” the report states.

“Adding fuel to the dwindling faith in the Government’s sincere intent or political ability to fully implement the accord are developments and initiatives that violate or go against the spirit of the accord,” Anders-Baer adds.

Violations include torture and arbitrary arrests committed by military personnel, suppressing dissident voices. Another major issue is land grabbing, Drong notes.

Beyond forced evictions of indigenous residents and illegal land leases to non-local individuals, Drong stated that the military’s involvement in the tourism industry has contributed to the expropriation and destruction of indigenous lands in CHT.

Sena Kalyan Sangstha (SKS), the business wing of the Bangladesh military, is a key player in real estate construction and management. With the help of government subsidies and funds earned from UN peacekeeping missions, the group operates luxury resorts including the Nilgiri resort in CHT. During its construction, the army reportedly tore down a local indigenous group’s orchard as well as shops and a nearby school.

Similarly, indigenous leader Josephine Pagalan spoke of land grabbing in the resource-rich Mindanao island of the Philippines.

The island is particularly known for its mineral resources including copper and gold. As a result, Mindanao host 60 percent of the Philippines’ armed forces excluding paramilitary groups, she noted.

The southern Philippines is also is home to the majority of the country’s indigenous groups, collectively called the Lumads.

The country’s military have forcefully evicted and displaced numerous Lumad residents, which many believe are aimed to protect and allow the expansion of large-scale mining industries.

The military has also been involved in the massacre of indigenous leaders.

Pagalan, who witnessed the event, recalled the incursion by a paramilitary group, stating: “Last September 1st, at 3:30 in the morning, we were forced awake and forced to leave our houses…all 150 of us.”

In front of her, the group stabbed the Executive Director of a Lumad school Emerico Samarca multiple times along with indigenous leader Dionel Campos and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo.

“After their deaths, [the paramilitary] said that we had to evacuate in two days and if we didn’t, we would all be massacred,” she told attendees.

The event reportedly sparked the evacuation of almost 3,000 Lumads.

Just a month prior to these attacks, Human Rights Watch reported that Philippine government soldiers killed five members of a Lumad family, including children ages 13 and 17, reflecting larger, systematic violations of human rights.

President Benigno Aquino III denied any wrongdoing, stating that “there is no campaign to kill Lumad people, we are serving the people.”

Pagalan urged for government accountability and justice for affected indigenous peoples, including the return of ancestral lands.

Bangladeshi politician and activist Devasish Roy especially highlighted the need for justice in CHT at a press briefing Monday, stating: “We really need to look at peace…with justice as a necessary part of it. You can have the cessation of hostilities…but [it] doesn’t mean that’s real resolution.”

Carling expressed her hope to IPS that the UNPFII will particularly raise awareness among member states to respect and enforce conflict resolution and indigenous rights.

“Unless states take this matter seriously and have the political will to address the issue of militarisation…then we cannot expect much of any improvement in the situation.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message during the opening of the forum, announced the launch of a system-wide action plan for coherent and coordinated action on indigenous issues.

“Lasting peace requires that indigenous peoples have access to cultural, social and economic justice…it is essential that we work as one to realize the full rights of indigenous peoples,” he stated.

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Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/#comments Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144920 Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia.  Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia. Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144913 Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.

(End)

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Forced Closure of Bedouin Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/forced-closure-of-bedouin-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-closure-of-bedouin-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/forced-closure-of-bedouin-settlements/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 07:43:44 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144775 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/forced-closure-of-bedouin-settlements/feed/ 1 Ethiopia’s Smoldering Oromohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/ethiopias-smoldering-oromo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-smoldering-oromo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/ethiopias-smoldering-oromo/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2016 04:31:40 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144551 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/ethiopias-smoldering-oromo/feed/ 7 Are Indigenous Women Key to Sustainable Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/are-indigenous-women-key-to-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=are-indigenous-women-key-to-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/are-indigenous-women-key-to-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 21 Mar 2016 23:06:48 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144285 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

“We, indigenous women want to be considered as part of the solution for sustainable development, because we have capabilities and knowledge, ” said Tarcila Rivera, a Quechua journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous people in Peru, at a press conference on the Empowerment of Indigenous Women.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Tarcila Rivera Zea, President of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) and a member of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, addresses a press conference on indigenous women’s rights, March 2015. Photo: UN Media/ Mark Garten

Rivera, like many other women who are fighting for the rights of indigenous people in parts of Central and Latin America, Northern Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, is attending the 60th annual sessions of the inter-governmental body, UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW60), which concludes March 24.

As a functional commission of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the CSW is meeting with representatives of Member States, U.N. agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society to discuss the status of women’s political, economic and social advancement and the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Opening the 60th CSW session, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who during his nine years in office has appointed over 150 women as Assistant Secretaries-General or Under-Secretaries-General — urged country leaders to take action to end gender inequality.

“In countries where children have “disappeared”, grandmothers stood up to demand justice. In areas ravaged by AIDS, HIV-positive mothers replaced stigma with hope. In homophobic societies, lesbian victims of rape survived and organized […] As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over.”

In line with this year’s CSW theme —Women’s Empowerment and Its Link to Sustainable Development and the U.N. 2030 Agenda– indigenous women are demanding governments in their countries to recognise them as a driving force in achieving economic and social development.

In Kenya, it is mostly women who play a key role in supporting families despite growing up in a patriarchal society, explained Valerie Kasaiyian – an indigenous Maasai woman, lawyer and educator for girl’s reproductive rights.

There are indigenous women groups, such as those from Samburu, who for the past 20 years have provided alone for their entire community by building houses and schools. They also established self-sustaining economic activities by selling livestock or traditional jewels in order to get their families out of poverty, continued Kasaiyian.

Women from Marsabit, in the northern part of Kenya, developed sustainable farms, where they grew tomatoes and other crops in greenhouses, and then sold them to the community, without reliance on their male counterparts.

“Sustainable development is about preserving resources and the land for future generations. Indigenous communities, who for centuries have lived in isolation, have found their own system to work the land and to preserve it. It is in our ancestral culture and identity,” Kasaiyian told IPS.

“Yet we assist to a systematic ethnocide of our indigenous culture by the government […] where young indigenous women are meant to be homogenised and integrated into the mainstream culture,” she added.

Since the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, along with the U.N. Resolution 1325, on the importance of women in peace negotiations and peace-building, and the 2007 U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, there have been several important steps to highlight the voices of indigenous women in the international arena. But at a slow pace.

Indigenous women and girls- who are not to be confused with rural women – have their own identity, defined by their own specific language, education, traditional knowledge and socio-economic values, remarked Rivera, who is the founder of the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ) .

However, they are mostly excluded by government policies, as they are not fully treated with human dignity, said the Peruvian activist.

“Many programs look at us as subject of assistance. But we don’t want to depend on these kind of food programs. We are trying to be considered as subject of change, and development from within, (through) our capacity,” she said.

Despite the lack of thorough national statistics, indigenous women suffer from high levels of discrimination, sexual and domestic violence, extreme poverty, trafficking, lacking in access to land rights and education and poor maternal and infant healthcare.

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham Kain, member from Nicaragua of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefs journalists on highlights of the twelfth session of the Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place in New York from 20 to 31 May, 2013.Photo: UN Media/Evan Schneider

Myrna Cunningham, an indigenous Mixteca woman from the Waspam community in Nicaragua, told IPS about the problem of data disaggregation in certain countries, where indigenous people are not counted or excluded from certain indicators.

“When talking about statistics” – said Cunningham, who is President of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI), and former chair of the U.N. Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues – “self-identification, should be the main indicator, which can be used complementarily to other types of info-gathering questions. Also, government statistics should use more culturally sensitive indicators, which will help to define public policies and implement them.”

With the adoption of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, the U.N. set a framework that will foster the partnership between members states and indigenous communities, through dialogue, proposals and projects, in order to further implement the Declaration and recognise and protect indigenous women, Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

Kasaiyian said: “We will strongly push for a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Women specifically, so that women can prosecute in case of violation of their rights in international tribunals.

Indigenous women must bridge the gap between academics, professionals and activists, by establishing their own jurisprudence and theories of law regarding the eradication of violence against women and to empower future generations.”

(End)

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Corruption Threat to Pacific Island Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/corruption-threat-to-pacific-island-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-threat-to-pacific-island-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/corruption-threat-to-pacific-island-forests/#comments Mon, 21 Mar 2016 07:15:48 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144266 Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

The vast rainforests of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean are crucial for environmental sustainability, survival of indigenous peoples and the wider goal of containing climate change. But forest degradation, driven primarily by excessive commercial logging, most of which is illegal, is a perpetual threat.

PNG is now the world’s top exporter of tropical timber, estimated at 3.8 million cubic metres in 2014. But an estimated 90 per cent of the formal trade in wood-based products from the country and 85 per cent from the Solomon Islands are illegal, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Eighty per cent of log exports from PNG are exported to China, the world’s main destination for illicit timber.

On the International Day of Forests, observed on March 21, Pacific Islanders spoke of why fighting for the future of their rainforests is also a struggle against fraud and crime.

Samson Kupale of the PNG Eco-Forestry Forum, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in the capital, Port Moresby, told IPS that lack of compliance and enforcement of the logging code of practice is a major issue.

“Trees are being cut in prohibited zones, logging occurs beyond surveyed areas….community obligations [by logging companies], such as roads and bridges, are not built to standards,” he declared.

PNG is one of the world’s largest tropical rainforest nations with an estimated 29 million hectares covering about 75 per cent of its landmass. Neighbouring to the east, the Solomon Islands has 2.2 million hectares of forest covering 80 per cent of the country, considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to contain ‘globally outstanding biodiversity.’ More than 80 per cent of the population of both countries resides in rural areas and forests are essential sources of food, fresh water and materials for shelter.

But industrial logging has escalated with the immense demand for raw materials by emerging Asian economies. Land clearance for other uses, such as agriculture and plantations, now contributes further to high timber export volumes.

The monitoring of logging operations, which are mostly conducted in remote rural locations, can be a serious challenge for forestry authorities in developing countries. Recently, the London-based Chatham House rated PNG 25-50 per cent for level of forest governance.

Professor Simon Saulei of the PNG Forest Research Institute said that, amongst other factors, “the [forestry] authority is not effectively addressing and responding to such issues [of logging non-compliance] due to insufficient manpower and other resources, including funds.”

Inadequate law enforcement further undermines PNG’s strong forestry legislation, according to Chatham House.

Meanwhile, the US-based Oakland Institute recently claimed in a new report that there are strong indicators of widespread transfer pricing in the country with the potential loss of US$100 million per year in tax revenues. Despite the rapacious appetite for timber extraction by foreign investors, the majority claims that they have made little or no profit over the past decade and, thus, avoided paying 30 per cent income tax on profit, the report details.

“In any business venture, if you cannot make any profit from whatever you are doing then it makes no sense to continue and you might as well close up or do something else profitable. Here one can only ask where are they getting the money to continue their respective operations?”, Professor Saulei probed.

In the Solomon Islands, the situation is now critical where, after decades of commercial logging peaking at seven times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year, accessible forest resources are nearing exhaustion.

Half the forests on Kolombangara Island in the country’s northwest are now degraded after 50 years of voracious extraction while local landowners have battled against illegal loggers in the courts for years.

Timber trafficking depends on the agency of government, forestry and customs officials; the actions, often involving bribery and patronage, of people in critical positions throughout the production and supply chain. Crooked collusion between foreign logging companies and political elites is acknowledged as a serious barrier to industry compliance.

“There are government ministers, provincial ministers who are agents of these loggers and they exercise undue discretionary powers over the granting of logging concessions,” Ruth Liloqula, Chair of Transparency Solomon Islands, told IPS, adding that loggers also “have undue influence over the politicians not to pass relevant legislation in this sector.”

Misconduct in public office, according to the nation’s leadership code, includes business associations which could lead to conflicts of interest with public duties. However, the Leadership Code Commission, which is mandated to hold leaders accountable, is “under-resourced and the penalties are too small,” Liloqula claims.

Another problem, she said, is that logging companies, rather than the government, now pay the costs of timber rights meetings where decisions are made about logging proposals.

“Even when the evidence is heavily on the side of the objectors, the decision is [often] in favour of the side supported financially by the loggers,” Liloqula said.

The fate of forests is being decided at the local level, too. More than 80 per cent of land in the Solomon Islands is under customary ownership and negotiation between logging companies and traditional landowners for access to land can be flawed. ‘Middle men’, or individuals within communities who do not have the traditional authority, are known to sign-off logging agreements in return for sweeteners, Liloqula confirms.

Yet educated informed rural communities play a significant role in environmental justice. In 2012, landowners from Western Province in PNG, supported by the Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights, achieved a victory in the national court following legal action against Malaysian logging company, Concord Pacific. It was found to have cleared a vast tract of unauthorised forest either side of a road construction project and fined US$97 million for environmental damage associated with the wrongful extraction of an estimated more than US$60 million worth of timber.

“This win was an important moment for the environmental NGO movement in PNG and sends out a clear message that destructive logging is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated,” Kupale emphasised.

(End)

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Tribute to a Slain Environment Activisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/tribute-to-a-slain-environment-activist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribute-to-a-slain-environment-activist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/tribute-to-a-slain-environment-activist/#comments Tue, 15 Mar 2016 07:20:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144181 Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River, in the Rio Blanco region in western Honduras that she fought so hard to protect. Photo Credit: Goldman Environment Prize

Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River, in the Rio Blanco region in western Honduras that she fought so hard to protect. Photo Credit: Goldman Environment Prize

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Mar 15 2016 (IPS)

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, was in her early 20s when she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Cophin), a group that campaigned for the rights of indigenous communities in the Central American nation.

Influenced by a mother, who took in fleeing El Salvadorian refugees, Cáceres was fully committed to her cause. She told friends and colleagues that her struggle was against ‘deadly powers’ that put profit before the rights of her people. In the last two decades, she saw colleagues being threatened, attacked and killed, but her work only got bigger.

Twenty three years after she formed Cophin, Cáceres paid the ultimate prize. She was gunned down in her home after assassins had stormed it around 1 am on March 3.

Before her death, Cáceres had received dead threats and had in fact moved house for safety. Recently, she had been in the forefront of protests against one of the biggest hydropower projects in Central America. The envisioned four dam Agua Zarca project on the Gualcarque river was being built by a local Honduran firm DESA but initially had the backing of China’s Sinohydro and the World Bank’s private sector financier International Finance Cooperation (IFC).

Both pulled out following the protests and Cáceres and others had been publicly calling for other backers like the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and Germany’s Siemens and Voith to follow Sinohydro and IFC.

Her work won worldwide recognition. “With her people she made the World Bank withdraw from Honduras. It is precisely because of this struggle of Cophin led by her and for more then 20 years of resistance to new colonial powers that she won the Emma Goldman Prize in 2015,” Tatiana Cordero, executive director, Latin America at Urgent Action Fund, an international organisation that works for women’s rights, told IPS.

Such global accolades only strengthened Cáceres’ resolve to campaign more vigorously against the dam project, but they obviously need to give her more protection. Less than two weeks before her assassination she led a massive march in Rio Blanco that ended in a confrontation with government security personnel and employees from DESA.

“She was a global voice for the rights of indigenous people to water, food, land and life. She bravely challenged those in positions of power to do what was right — instead of what would result in the most profit,” said Terry Odendahl, President and CEO, Global Greengrants that has funded over 3,000 grants in over 145 countries to the tune of over $45 million said.

The brazen murder of a high-profile activist sent shockwaves through the global environmental rights community. UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said she was horrified at the murder. Tauli-Corpuz had met Cáceres during a visit in November 2015 and had been personally appraised on the threats.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the international community should work together to bring such wanton violence faced by indigenous activists to a stop: “It is time for the nations of the world to bring perpetrators to justice and to protect indigenous rights activists peacefully protesting the theft of their lands and resources.”

That grass roots environmental activists are under threat across the globe has been known for awhile now. Global Witness found that in 2014, 116 environmental activists were murdered, almost double the number of journalists killed in the same period. Over 40 per cent of the victims were from indigenous communities while three quarters of them were from Central or South America. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed world over.

“The case of Cáceres is emblematic of the systematic targeting of environmental defenders in Honduras. Since 2013, three of her colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatens to cut off a vital water source for hundreds of indigenous Lenca people,” Global Witness said soon after the murder. The organisation also found that such attacks do not get much attention in the international press.

Activists say that the international community needs to understand the real dangers faced by the likes of Cáceres and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. “There is a difference between realising the danger and holding the people and systems accountable. This assassination took place because of the Honduran government’s inability to ensure indigenous people and women can carry out their legitimate work without fear.” Odendahl said.

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian activist from the western half of Timor, who has been campaigning on behalf of her Mollo people can relate easily to the Cáceres predicament. Baun, who also won the Goldman Environmental Award in 2013, has survived at least two assassination attempts.

“You feel completely alone when such attacks happen,” she said of an attack in when she was waylaid by 30 men. She said that there has been no serious pressure brought on by local governments and international players to curb such attacks.

Suryamani Bhagat an activist with Save the Forests of Jharkhand Movement in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand also shares these sentiments. “I work with a lot of women, so I feel safer,” she said.

But once they are alone, that protective shield shatters and leads to deadly consequences.

(End)

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Public Primary Boarding Schools in Pastoral Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/public-primary-boarding-schools-in-pastoral-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=public-primary-boarding-schools-in-pastoral-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/public-primary-boarding-schools-in-pastoral-communities/#comments Mon, 07 Mar 2016 06:49:20 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144086 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/public-primary-boarding-schools-in-pastoral-communities/feed/ 0 Tanzania Farmers, Pastoralists Launch Forum to Resolve Water Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/tanzania-farmers-pastoralists-launch-forum-to-resolve-water-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tanzania-farmers-pastoralists-launch-forum-to-resolve-water-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/tanzania-farmers-pastoralists-launch-forum-to-resolve-water-conflicts/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2016 06:52:30 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144067 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/tanzania-farmers-pastoralists-launch-forum-to-resolve-water-conflicts/feed/ 0 Latin America’s Indigenous Peoples Find an Ally in the Popehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143888 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/feed/ 0 Agroecology in Africa: Mitigation the Old New Wayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/agroecology-in-africa-mitigation-the-old-new-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-in-africa-mitigation-the-old-new-way http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/agroecology-in-africa-mitigation-the-old-new-way/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:36:27 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143552 agroeocology project. ]]>

Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute, coordinated the research for the Institute’s agroeocology project.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, California, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

Millions of African farmers don’t need to adapt to climate change. They have done that already.

Frederic Mousseau

Frederic Mousseau

Like many others across the continent, indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Gamo Highlands are well prepared against climate variations. The high biodiversity, which forms the basis of their traditional enset-based agricultural systems, allows them to easily adjust their farming practices, including the crops they grow, to climate variations.

People in Gamo are also used to managing their environment and natural resources in sound and sustainable ways, rooted in ancestral knowledge and customs, which makes them resilient to floods or droughts. Although African indigenous systems are often perceived as backward by central governments, they have a lot of learning to offer to the rest of the world when contemplating the challenges of climate change and food insecurity.

Often building on such indigenous knowledge, farmers all over the African continent have assembled a tremendous mass of successful experiences and innovations in agriculture. These efforts have steadily been developed over the past few decades following the droughts that impacted many countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Kenya, the system of biointensive agriculture has been designed over the past thirty years to help smallholders grow the most food on the least land and with the least water. 200,000 Kenyan farmers, feeding over one million people, have now switched to biointensive agriculture, which allows them to use up to 90 per cent less water than in conventional agriculture and 50 to 100 per cent fewer purchased fertilizers, thanks to a set of agroecological practices that provide higher soil organic matter levels, near continuous crop soil coverage, and adequate fertility for root and plant health.

The Sahel region, bordering the Sahara Desert, is renowned for its harsh environment and the threat of desertification. What is less known is the tremendous success of the actions undertaken to curb desert encroachment, restore lands, and farmers’ livelihoods.

Started in the 1980s, the Keita Rural Development Project in Niger took some twenty years to restore ecological balance and drastically improve the agrarian economy of the area. During the period, 18 million trees were planted, the surface under woodlands increased by 300 per cent, whereas shrubby steppes and sand dunes decreased by 30 per cent. In the meantime, agricultural land was expanded by about 80 per cent.

All over the region, a multitude of projects have used agroecological solutions to restore degraded land and spare scarce water resources while at the same time increasing food production, and improving farmers’ livelihoods and resilience. In Timbuktu, Mali, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has reached impressive results, with yields of 9 tons of rice per hectare, more than double of conventional methods, while saving water and other inputs. In Burkina Faso, soil and water conservation techniques, including a modernized version of traditional planting pits­zai­ have been highly successful to rehabilitate degraded soils and boost food production and incomes.

Southern African countries have been struggling with recurrent droughts resulting in major failures in corn crops, the main staple cereal in the region. Over the years, farmers and governments have developed a wide variety of agroecological solutions to prevent food crises and foster their resilience to climatic shocks. The common approach in all these responses has been to depart from the conventional monocropping of corn, which is highly vulnerable to climate shocks while it is also very costly and demanding in purchased inputs such as hybrid seeds and fertilizers. Successful sustainable and affordable solutions include managing and harvesting rain water, expanding conservation and regenerative farming, promoting the production and consumption of cassava and other tuber crops, diversifying production, and integrating crops with fertilizer trees and nitrogen fixating leguminous plants.

The enumeration could go on. The few examples cited above all come from a series of 33 case studies released recently by the Oakland Institute. The series sheds light on the tremendous success of agroecological agriculture across the African continent in the face of climate change, hunger, and poverty.

These success stories are just a sample of what Africans are already doing to adapt to climate variations while preserving their natural resources, improving their livelihoods and their food supply. One thing they have in common is that they have farmers, including many women farmers, in the driver’s seat of their own development. Millions of farmers who practice agroecology across the continent are local innovators who experiment to find the best solutions in relation to water availability, soil characteristics, landscapes, cultures, food habits, and biodiversity.

Another common feature is that they depart from the reliance on external agricultural inputs such as commercial seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and chemical pesticides, on which is based the so-called conventional agriculture. The main inputs required for agroecology are people’s own energy and common sense, shared knowledge, and of course respect for and a sound use of natural resources.

Why are these success stories mostly untold, is a fair question to ask. They are largely buried under the rhetoric of a development discourse based on a destructive cocktail of ignorance, greed, and neocolonialism. Since the 2008 food price crisis, we have been told over and over that Africa needs foreign investors in agriculture to ‘develop’ the continent; that Africa needs a Green Revolution, more synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified crops in order to meet the challenges of hunger and poverty. The agroecology case studies debunk these myths.

Evidence is there, with irrefutable facts and figures, that millions of Africans have already designed their own solutions, for their own benefits. They have successfully adapted to both the unsustainable agricultural systems inherited from the colonial times, and to the present challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, a majority of African governments, with encouragement from donor countries, focus most of their efforts and resources to subsidize and encourage a model of agriculture, largely reliant on the expensive commercial agricultural inputs, in particular synthetic fertilizers mainly sold by a handful of Western corporations.

The good news is that an agroecological transition is affordable for African governments. They spend billions of dollars every year to subsidize fertilizers and pesticides for their farmers. In Malawi, the government’s subsidies to agricultural inputs, mostly fertilizers, amount to close to 10 percent of the national budget every year. The evidence that exists, based on the experience of millions of farmers, should prompt African governments to make the only reasonable choice: to give the continent a leading role in the way out of world hunger and corporate exploitation and move to a sustainable and climate-friendly way to produce food or all.

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Initiatives Revive Palestinian Heritage Boosting Economy and ‘Homeland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 11:27:41 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143445 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/feed/ 0 Mexican Government Ignores Social Impact of Energy Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/mexican-government-ignores-social-impact-of-energy-projects/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2015 17:03:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143430 The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

The oil industry contracts granted by the Mexican government since 2014 have not included the social impact assessments required by law. The photo shows the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound, where a fire broke out on Apr. 1, 2015 off the coast of the state of Campeche in southeastern Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of PEMEX

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 23 2015 (IPS)

Mexico’s hydrocarbons law stipulates that oil contracts must include a social impact assessment. But this has not been done in the case of the oilfields granted to the country’s former oil monopoly, Pemex, or to private companies since the industry was opened up to private investment.

Civil society organisations argue that concessions that do include a social impact asessment are illegal.

“The authorities have the obligation to carry out the consultations,” Manuel Llano, the founder of Cartocrítica, a Mexican NGO, told IPS. “One interesting detail is that the law says the evaluation must be conducted prior to the public tenders.”

Article 120 of the hydrocarbons law in effect since August 2014 states that the energy ministry must organise consultations to obtain free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities that will be affected by oil industry projects in their territories.

And article 121 establishes that those interested in obtaining a permit for oil industry activity must present a social impact assessment (SIA) to the energy ministry. The energy reform opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.“With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.” -- Aroa de la Fuente

After Pemex’s monopoly was broken up by the new law in August 2014, the state oil company was allowed to keep 83 percent of the country’s probable reserves and 21 percent of the prospective reserves, equivalent to 20 billion barrels of crude. This selection process was known as Round Zero.

On Jul. 15, the Mexican government opened up Round One and assigned two contracts for the exploration and drilling of deep sea oilwells off the coast of the southeastern states of Campeche, Tabasco and Veracruz. The contracts were signed on Sept. 4.

On Sept. 30, the energy ministry assigned three more contracts, and on Dec. 15 the third public tender was held.

“They haven’t done the assessments,” Aroa de la Fuente, a researcher with the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, told IPS. “With respect to the shallow water projects, the government argues that there is no social impact, which is why the SIAs weren’t conducted. But one of the long-time conflicts is with fisherpersons because of the damage they suffer due to oil industry activity.”

She questioned the argument that there are no social impacts, if no studies have been carried out to demonstrate this.

Since March, the guidelines for the SIAs have been open to public consultation in the Federal Regulatory Improvement Commission (COFEMER).

According to the “general administrative guidelines on social impact assessments in the energy sector”, drawn up by the energy ministry, the evaluations must assess the likely social impacts from oil industry activity and outline the social impact plans and measures to mitigate potentially adverse effects.

The guidelines require a baseline, representing a starting point for companies to compare actual with projected impacts. The baseline should be established before any oil industry activity begins. It should provide statistics in the following areas: demographic, migration, households and families, education, health services, jobs and labour conditions, social security, housing, main economic activities, local public finances, and tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

The company must also include the results from the analysis of stakeholders – individuals, communities, groups, organisations and institutions – taking into consideration their rights, interests and expectations, as well as their levels of involvement, importance and influence regarding the project.

The SIA must specify whether the impacts are short, medium, long-term or permanent; whether the adverse effects are mild, moderate or severe or the benefits are mild or strong; and whether the impacts are low, moderate, high or very high.

The comments about the SIA process reflect the resistance of companies, especially in the storage and distribution sectors, to conduct them.

The energy ministry estimates 176 million dollars in losses from the cancellation of projects due to the lack of SIAs.

The government argues that the first two public tenders did not require SIAs because they involved shallow water drilling. But the law does not make any such distinction.

Llano said SIAs are important for the defence of territory and for those who wish to legally challenge the areas that have been granted in concession.

The position taken by the government “is serious, because many of the wells are on land,” he said. “They are not complying with the law. They say the first two tenders are in offshore areas, which means no assessment is needed, but there is no legal foundation for this argument. What about the issues of the environment and fisherpersons?”

The expert complained that the government assumes that there are no affected groups, “when it is the assessment that must determine this.”

The government has already suffered its first setbacks. On Dec. 11, a federal judge ordered the permanent suspension of the construction of a wind park in the municipality of Juchitán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, after accepting a legal plea for protection filed by Binnizá indigenous communities.

Native groups and NGOs have fought the Energía Eólica del Sur wind park project by the company of the same name, which would generate 396 MW to be fed into power grids in the region. Their argument is that no free, prior and informed consent was sought.

The SIAs can be a useful tool for local populations. “In the public tenders for oil wells on land, the situation will become more complex, because people are going to try to defend themselves, and this is a mechanism that allows them to do so,” said de la Fuente.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Villagers Fight “Evil Spirit” of Hydropower Dam in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:28:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143410 Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SAWRÉ MUYBU, Brazil , Dec 21 2015 (IPS)

At dusk on the Tapajós River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River in northern Brazil, the Mundurukú indigenous people gather to bathe and wash clothes in these waters rich in fish, the staple of their diet. But the “evil spirit”, as they refer in their language to the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam, threatens to leave most of their territory – and their way of life – under water.

“The river is like our mother. She feeds us with her fish. Just as our mothers fed us with their milk, the river also feeds us,” said Delsiano Saw, the teacher in the village of Sawré Muybu, between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

“It will fill up the river, and the animals and the fish will disappear. The plants that the fish eat, the turtles, will also be gone. Everything will vanish when they flood this area because of the hydroelectric dam,” he told IPS.

The dam will flood 330 sq km of land – including the area around this village of 178 people.

According to the government’s plans, the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam will have a potential of 8,040 MW and will be the main dam in a complex of hydropower plants to be built along the Tapajós River and its tributaries by 2024.

But the 7.7 billion-dollar project has been delayed once again because of challenges to the environmental permitting process.

“The accumulative effect is immeasurable. Environmental experts have demonstrated that it will kill the river. No river can survive a complex of seven dams,” Mauricio Torres, a sociologist at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS."No river can survive a complex of seven dams.” -- Sociologist Mauricio Torres

The Tapajós River, which flows into the Amazon River, runs 871 km through one of the best-preserved areas in the subtropical rainforest, where the government whittled away at protected areas in order to build the hydroelectric dams, which are prohibited in wildlife reserves.

The area is home to 12,000 members of the Mundurukú indigenous community and 2,500 riverbank dwellers who are opposed to the “megaproject” – a Portuguese term that the native people have incorporated in their language, to use in their frequent protests.

The Mundurukú have historically been a warlike people, and although they have adopted many Brazilian customs in their way of life, they still wear traditional face paint when they go to the big cities to demonstrate against the dam.

Village chief Juarez Saw complains that they were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which has been ratified by Brazil.

The process of legalisation of their indigenous territory has been interrupted by the hydropower project.

“We aren’t leaving this land,” he told IPS. “There is a law that says we can’t be moved unless an illness is killing indigenous people.”

The village is located in a spot that is sacred to the Mundurukú people. And they point out that their ancestors were born here and are buried here.

“This is going to hurt, us, not only the Mundurukú people who have lived along the Tapajós River for so many years, but the jungle, the river. It hurts in our hearts,” said the village’s shaman or traditional healer, Fabiano Karo.

The interview is taking place in the ceremonial hut where the shaman heals “ailments of the body and spirit.” He fears being left without his traditional medicines when the water covers the land around the village – and his healing plants.

Academics warn that the flooding will cause significant losses in plant cover, while generating greenhouse gas emissions due to the decomposition of the trees and plants that are killed.

 A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS


A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This biodiversity-rich river basin is home to unique species of plants, birds, fish and mammals, many of which are threatened or endangered.

“The impact will be great, especially on the aquatic fauna, because many Amazon River basin fish migrate from the lower to the upper stretches of the rivers to spawn,” ecologist Ricardo Scuole, at the UFOPA university, explained to IPS.
“Large structures like dikes, dams and artificial barriers generally hinder or entirely block the spawning migration of these species,” he said.

The village of Sawré Muybu currently covers 300 hectares, and the flooding for the hydroelectric dam will reduce it to an island.

María Parawá doesn’t know how old she is, but she does know she has always lived on the river.

“I’m afraid of the flood because I don’t know where I’ll go. I have a lot of sons, daughters and grandchildren to raise and I don’t know how I’ll support them,” Parawá told IPS through an interpreter, because like many women in the village, she does not speak Portuguese.

A few hours from Sawré Muybu is Pimental, a town of around 800 inhabitants on the banks of the Tapajós River, where people depend on agriculture and small-scale fishing for a living.

This region was populated by migrants from the country’s impoverished semiarid Northeast in the late 19th century, at the height of the Amazon rubber boom.

Pimental, many of whose inhabitants were originally from the Northeast, could literally vanish from the map when the reservoir is created.

“With the impact of the dam, our entire history could disappear underwater,” lamented Ailton Nogueira, president of the association of local residents of Pimental.

The consortium that will build the hydroelectric dam, led by the Eletrobrás company, has proposed resettling the local inhabitants 20 km away.

But for people who live along the riverbanks, like the Mundurukú, the river and fishing are their way of life, sociologist Mauricio Torres explained.

“Their traditional knowledge has been built over millennia, passing from generation to generation,” he told IPS. “It is at least 10,000 years old. When a river is dammed and turned into a lake, it is transformed overnight and this traditional knowledge, which was how that region survived, is wiped away.”

The Tapajós River dams are seen by the government as strategic because they will provide energy to west-central Brazil and to the southeast – the richest and most industrialised part of the country.

“The country needs them. Otherwise we are going to have blackouts,” said José de Lima, director de of planning in the municipality of Santarém, Pará.

But the Tapajós Alive Movement (MTV), presided over by Catholic priest Edilberto Sena, questions the need for the dams.

“Why do they need so many hydropower dams on the Tapajós River? That’s the big question, because we don’t need them. It’s the large mining companies that need this energy, it’s the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro markets that need it,” he told IPS.

It’s evening in Sawré Muybu and the families gather at the “igarapé”, as they call the river. While people bathe, the women wash clothes and household utensils.

From childhood, boys learn to fish, hunt and provide the village with water. For the community, the river is the source of life.

“And no one has the right to change the course of life,” says Karo, the local shaman.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Another Himalayan Blunderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/another-himalayan-blunder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-himalayan-blunder http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/another-himalayan-blunder/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2015 11:42:36 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143381 By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 17 2015 (IPS)

South Asian integration remains a distant dream as some member countries like Nepal resent India’s big brotherly dominance in the region. They perceive that they have no stakes in India’s rise as an economic power. Ensuring unrestricted market access perhaps would have made a big difference in this regard. Their resentment has only deepened as this hasn’t happened. Instead they have registered growing trade deficits with India! The on-going travails of the Himalayan kingdom vis-a-vis India exemplify the problematic nature of integration in a region that accounts for 44 per cent of the world’s poor and one-fourth of its’ population.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Nepal appealed to the UN to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on it by India. According to SD Muni, Professor Emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, this situation is reminiscent of what happened in 1989 when King Birendra’s decision to import anti-aircraft guns from China and his refusal to reform the Panchayat system in the face of a democratic movement precipitated tensions in bilateral relations. India closed down the special entry points for trade and transit, resulting in a severe shortage of essential supplies. Twenty-six years later, Indian trucks have been stopped from entering Nepal.

This blockade similarly has resulted in a shortage of fuel, food and medicines in the Himalayan Kingdom. Supplies of vaccines and antibiotics in particular are believed to be critically low. UNICEF has warned that this will put more than three million infants at risk of death or disease as winter has set in. More than 200,000 families affected by earthquakes earlier in the year are still living in temporary shelters at higher altitudes. The risks of hypothermia, malnutrition and shortages of medicines will disproportionately affect children. As if all this weren’t bad enough, fuel shortages are resulting in illegal felling of forests.

Nepal’s non-inclusive constitution is the proximate cause of this development disaster-in-the-making. The blockade is being spearheaded by ethnic communities who make up 40 per cent of the population like the Madhesis and Tharus from the southern plains or the Terai These minorities have strong historic links with India and are protesting that the recently promulgated constitution marginalizes them. They have stopped goods from India entering the country by trucks since September. India of course formally denies that it has anything to do with the blockade but it is concerned that the constitution discriminates against these minorities.

As Nepal shares a 1,088 mile open border with it, India is concerned that the violent agitation over the constitution will spill over into its country. The bulk of the Himalayan Kingdom’s trade is with India, including a total dependence on fuel. It is also a beneficiary of special trading trade concessions and Indian aid. Nepali soldiers in the Indian army constitute one of its leading infantry formations — the Gurkha Regiment. Nepali nationals freely cross the border and work in India. Normally, such interdependence should occasion closer bilateral ties and integration. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened till now.

Nepal’s ballooning bilateral trade deficit is of course one factor behind the lingering resentment of India. Realizing this, India’s PM Narendra Modi assured South Asian leaders during a summit meeting in Kathmandu in November 2014 that this trade surplus was neither right nor sustainable. That India stood ready to reduce deficits which South Asian countries were incurring in exchange of their goods and services. This is as clear as it gets that India might roll out unilateral trade liberalization; take whatever they have to offer to boost trade within South Asia from the lowly five per cent level at present.

India’s compulsions to do so are simple. If the drift in South Asian integration is allowed to continue, it will only be to the advantage of China. The dragon’s shadow is indeed lengthening over the region, as it is rapidly developing port and transport infrastructure in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has promised aid to Nepal to develop its northern border districts. Nepal has also opened more border trading points with China. That China has become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner is a painful reminder to India of its failure to deepen economic cooperation in the neighborhood. Clearly, the challenge for India is to defend its turf against China.

It is in Nepal’s interests, too, that it addresses the sources of discontent over the constitution through dialogue to ensure broad-based-ownership and acceptance. Its top leadership has also agreed to amend the constitution within three months. A more harmonious relationship with India, too, is in its interests. For instance, it has not been able to tap its abundant water resources by developing hydroelectricity generation. South Asia’s diverse topography lends itself to greater cross border power trade, but political inhibitions have ensured that progress has been less than the potential. Some power trading is taking place in the region bordering Bhutan and India.

Nepal has of late seized this opportunity but politics can swiftly derail this process. The signing of a much delayed $1.4 billion deal between the Investment Board of Nepal and India’s GMR Group to develop a 900 MW dam and tunnel system on the upper Karnali River is exactly the sort of big ticket project that can transform the economy of this Himalayan kingdom. Another Indian firm, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited signed a deal with the Nepal Government to build a 900 MW project known as Arun-3 in east Nepal. These are just two examples of India’s involvement to help Nepal realize its hydro power potential.

Nepal is also part of India’s efforts to secure greater connectivity by road, rail and sea within South Asia with Bangladesh and Bhutan. These countries have signed a motor vehicle agreement for freer movement of passenger, cargo and personnel traffic within these countries. These processes must be allowed to fructify. This is exactly the sort of stake that Nepal needs to develop in an economics and business-driven partnership with India. Allowing the processes of regional integration to drift is another Himalayan blunder that Nepal can do without.

(End)

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