Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:40:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Opposition to Oil Pipeline in U.S. Serves as Example for Indigenous Struggles in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:07:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147730 The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

Canadian activist Clayton Thomas-Muller crossed the border between his country and the United States to join the Native American movement against the construction of an oil pipeline, which has become a model to follow in struggles by indigenous people against megaprojects, that share many common elements.

“It’s an amazing movement. Its number one factor is the spiritual founding of cosmology. There are indigenous people all around the world that share the cosmology of water. There is a feeling on sacred land. This is the biggest indigenous movement since pre-colonial times,” the delegate for the Indigenous Environmental Network told IPS.

Thomas-Muller, of the Cree people, stressed that the oil pipeline “is one of the major cases of environmental risk in the United States” fought by indigenous people.

“We see many parallels in the local indigenous struggles. When indigenous people arise and call upon the power of their cosmology and their world view and add them up to social movements, they light people up as we’ve never seen,” he told IPS by phone from the Sioux encampment that he joined on Nov. 6.

“This struggle is everywhere, the whole world is with Standing Rock,” he said.

Standing Rock Sioux is the tribe that heads the opposition to the 1,890-km Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the state of North Dakota, along the Canadian border.

The 3.7 billion dollar pipeline, which is being built by the US company Dakota Access, is to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken shale formation.

The opposition to the pipeline by the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians has brought construction to a halt since September, in a battle that has gained thousands of supporters since April, including people from different Native American tribes, environmental activists and celebrity advocates, not only from the U.S. but from around the world.

Their opposition is based on the damages that they say the pipeline would cause to sacred sites, indigenous land and water bodies. They complain that the government did not negotiate with them access to a territory over which they have complete jurisdiction.

Some 600 flags of indigenous peoples from around the world wave over the camp on the banks of the Missouri River where the movement has been resisting the crackdown that has intensified since October. Of the U.S. population of 325 million, about 2.63 million are indigenous people, belonging to 150 different tribes.

The movement has served as an example for similar battles in Latin America, according to indigenous leaders.

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, the Yaqui people are also fighting a private pipeline threatening their lands.

“We were not asked or informed. We want to be consulted, we want our rights to be respected. We are defending our territory, our environment,” Yaqui activist Plutarco Flores told IPS.

In a consultation held in accordance with their uses and customs in May 2015, the Yaqui people – one of Mexico’s 54 native groups – voted against the gas pipeline that would run across their land. But the government failed to recognise their decision. In response, the Yaqui filed an appeal for legal protection in April, which halted construction.

Of the 850-km pipeline, 90 km run through Yaqui territory – and through people’s backyards. In October, a violent clash between opponents and supporters of the pipeline left one indigenous person dead and 14 injured.

For Flores, the indigenous struggle against megaprojects has become “a paradigm” and protests like the one at Standing Rock “inspire and reassure us because of our shared cultural patterns.”

Also in Mexico, in the northern state of Sinaloa, the Rarámuri native people have since January 2015 halted the construction of a gas pipeline across their lands and the bordering U.S. state of Texas, demanding free prior and informed consultation, as required by law.

Unlike the U.S., Latin American countries are signatories to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which protects their rights and makes this kind of consultation obligatory in the case of projects that affect their territories.

But in many cases, according to indigenous leaders consulted by IPS, this right has not been incorporated in national laws, or is simply not complied with, when projects involving oil, mining, hydroelectric or infrastructure activities affect their ancestral lands.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Both the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, requested in September that the U.S. government consult the communities affected by the oil pipeline.

“The fact that they’re not being consulted means a violation to their rights. The arrests that have taken place are too a violation of the right of free assembly,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS Nov. 9, at the end of a visit to Mexico.

During her three days in the country, the special rapporteur participated in a conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation, promoted by the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

Tauli-Corpuz also met with representatives of 20 indigenous Mexican communities affected by gas pipelines, hydropower plants, highways and mines. The Mexican government announced that in 2017 it would officially invite the special rapporteur to assess the situation of indigenous people in Mexico.

The U.N. official said a recurring complaint she has heard on her trips to Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and Peru is the lack of free, prior consultation that is obligatory under Convention 169.

In Costa Rica, the Maleku people, one of the Central American country’s eight indigenous groups, who total 104,000 people, are worried about the expansion of the San Rafael de Guatuso aqueduct, in the north of the country.

“A fake consultation was carried out. Also, the people do not want water meters, because they would have to pay more for water,” Tatiana Mojica, the Maleku people’s legal representative, who is thinking about filing an appeal for legal protection against the project, told IPS during the colloquium.

Since September, Sarayaku indigenous people from Ecuador, Emberá-Wounaan from Panamá, and Tacana from Bolivia have visited the Sioux camp to protest the oil pipeline.

Thomas-Muller said “We have the opportunity to stop it. I’m optimistic that we will be victorious here. These movements are the hammer that will fall over oil infrastructure owned by the banks and big corporations. We want political will to make an appearance,” he said.

A major Nov. 15 protest is being organised to demand that the government refuse a permit for the North Dakota pipeline.

“This struggle will go through all the steps that it has to. We will make sure that the Sonora pipeline is not built,” said Flores.

Meanwhile, Mojica said “we are uniting to fight against megaprojects that affect us. We are making ourselves heard.”

Tauli-Corpuz said “Opposition to pipelines is a common feature of indigenous people. It’s a magnet that attracts solidarity from all over the world.”

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Canadian Indigenous Injustice: A Colonial Problem?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/canadian-indigenous-injustice-a-colonial-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canadian-indigenous-injustice-a-colonial-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/canadian-indigenous-injustice-a-colonial-problem/#comments Sun, 06 Nov 2016 21:58:03 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147654 A traditional dancer at the Manito Ahbee Festival, a gathering that celebrates Indigenous culture and heritage to unify, educate and inspire. Credit: Travel Manitoba/cc by 2.0

A traditional dancer at the Manito Ahbee Festival, a gathering that celebrates Indigenous culture and heritage to unify, educate and inspire. Credit: Travel Manitoba/cc by 2.0

By Rose Delaney
LONDON, Nov 6 2016 (IPS)

The history of Canada’s indigenous population has been, for the most part, kept in the shadows.  According to leading expert on indigenous justice Lisa Monchalin, the consequences of colonialism and dispossession on native communities have been “glossed over”, unacknowledged and dismissed by the “settled” population.

At the launch of her new book “The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada” earlier this month at University College London, Monchalin emphasised the impact colonial legacies have left on indigenous peoples in modern-day Canada.

During colonial times, she explained, the native population was compelled to become dependent on a foreign system which paid little heed to their own distinct culture and customs. European settlers suppressed the rights of the indigenous groups, rapidly establishing a European hierarchical structure which considered them nothing more than an “Indian problem”.

The colonial solution to the Indigenous “problem” was nothing short of deadly. As a direct result of European settlement, the native population became a vanishing race with an estimated 80 to 90 percent dying from diseases brought from Europe. In the 1700s, blankets infected with smallpox were distributed as a means of eradicating Indigenous peoples.

Those who did not die of disease were forcefully displaced. Many were pushed onto smaller parcels of land, obliged to culturally assimilate and abandon their traditions or left to die off in territories with few resources.

In many ways, Monchalin said, “colonisation can also be drawn back to the prevalence of violence against indigenous communities through the centuries, including acts of gender-based violence”.

Before colonisation, traditional native societies prided themselves on being matriarchal, honouring and valuing the “sacred” nature of women within their community. Women were granted a strong voice through positions of leadership and power and there was an equitable division of labor. “Acts of sexual violence were a rarity before European contact,” Monchalin said.

Under the European system of governance, native women were forcibly dispossessed of their agency. They could no longer be considered valiant leaders, rather, their colonisers wanted to enforce the message that they were little more than subordinates to the male members of the community. Under colonial rule, only men were accepted to speak on behalf of their communities.

The colonisers began to formulate the image of the native woman as an “exotic other”.  They referred to indigenous women as “squaws”, the female version of a savage. They described them as having “no human face, lustful and immoral”, Monchalin explained.

These ingrained colonial perspectives not only converted the native female identity into a sexualised commodity, it also led to the widespread sexual objectification of native women, with acts of sexual violence committed justified by the fact that these women were “human in form only”.

The subordination and oppression of native women rooted in colonial times is still prevalent today. Sexualized and romanticized constructions of the “erotic” indigenous women have resulted in widespread reports of sexual harassment and violations across the country.

“In Canada, 87 percent of indigenous women will experience physical violence in her lifetime. One in three of these women will be raped,” she said.

Indigenous women continue to be victimized by the persisting structures of a dehumanizing colonial system which stripped them of their agency and considered them “lesser being”. This came to the fore in 2014 when 1,181 cases of missing native women between 1980-2012 were made public. The crisis was largely dismissed and a truth inquiry only established last year. Police brutality conducted against indigenous women has also been reported across the country.

Many believe that the historical legacy of Euro-centric suppression contributes to the ongoing issues of injustice and inequality demonstrated towards indigenous peoples. In 1873, one of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) main objective was to address the “indigenous problem”, the goal being the “silent surrender” of the native people.

This led to the creation of “residential schools”, government-funded schools responsible for educating aboriginal children in Canada. The Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation”. They believed that a church-run, industrial boarding school was the best way to prepare them for life in mainstream society and ultimately, abandon their “savage” traditions.

However, this government initiative took a turn for the worse. Native children were subjected to violence and abuse. Sexual abuse was found to reach epidemic levels within the schools and some children were even reported to have been used for “nutritional experiments”. After over a century of “state-sponsored violence”, the last residential school closed in 1996.

The need to suppress, silence and condemn a people based on their ethnicity has led to state-induced violence and mistreatment of native peoples by state authority to the present day. Systemic issues of racism and discrimination “legitimize” acts of police brutality and unjust incarceration of indigenous peoples. In fact, there’s a clear Indigenous overrepresentation in the Canadian prison system, with roughly 4.3 percent of the total population incarcerated.

The legacy of colonial injustice persists today for aboriginal peoples in Canada subjected to abuse, violence, and prejudice daily. Seven generations of residential school victims, deep-rooted female exploitation, state-induced violence, and unlawful incarceration, amongst a host of other atrocities, has led to a build-up of intergenerational trauma within indigenous communities across the country, she said.

However, Canada’s federal government has begun to address the widespread neglect and failed policies felt by past generations of indigenous people.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly declared his commitment to beginning a new prosperous relationship between Canada and its indigenous people. “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit,” he said at the assembly of First Nations in December 2015.

Canada plans to invest 8.4 billion dollars over five years, beginning in 2016–17, to improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous peoples and their communities and bring about transformational change.

“Through education, awareness raising and a willingness to confront and question the violent past, the people of Canada can finally celebrate Indigenous identity and ultimately, reconstruct their rich traditions that were forcibly broken down under colonialism,” Monchalin concluded.

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Four Things You Should Know about the Other Election This Weekhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/four-things-you-should-know-about-the-other-election-this-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-things-you-should-know-about-the-other-election-this-week http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/four-things-you-should-know-about-the-other-election-this-week/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 16:34:45 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147637 Nicaragua's new canal is meant to rival the Panama canal but has also sparked protests as it will displace tens of thousands of people. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Nicaragua's new canal is meant to rival the Panama canal but has also sparked protests as it will displace tens of thousands of people. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
MEXICO CITY, Nov 4 2016 (IPS)

Next week, millions of people around the world will be glued to their TV screens and social media feeds, watching as the USA decides who will lead the most powerful country on earth.

Around 3,000 kilometers away, in a much smaller nation in the middle of Central America, another election will take place just a couple of days earlier. Although Nicaragua’s presidential election lacks the fame of the Clinton-Trump race, it is every bit as controversial.

President Daniel Ortega, leader of the ruling Sandinista Front for National Liberation, will run for office for the third consecutive time. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is his running mate.

Both have been accused of leading a campaign to stamp out any form of opposition.

For the six million people living in resource-rich Nicaragua, political scandals are nothing new. They are symptoms of the deteriorating human rights situation facing one of the most invisible countries in the Americas – where basic natural resources such as land and water mark the front lines of a battle between the powerful few and the marginalized majorities.

Here are four things you should know are taking place in the backdrop to Nicaragua’s elections:

One: Development, for some

In 2013, the National Assembly of Nicaragua passed a new law to pave the way for construction of a new interoceanic canal to rival Panama’s. If finished, it will connect the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and, it is argued, inject millions of dollars into the country’s economy, including by generating tens of thousands of jobs.

The canal, however, will likely also force tens of thousands of people, including many Indigenous communities, off their lands and affect their livelihoods and vital natural resources such as water with and impact for generations to come, which would effectively outweigh any possible economic benefits of the project.

Erika Guevara-Rosas

Erika Guevara-Rosas


The project was also used as an excuse to pass a law that effectively gives carte blanche to the Nicaraguan government to allow sub-development projects (including the exploitation of vital natural resources) to go ahead, regardless of what the many communities affected by them think.

Two: Women, second class citizens
Women living in poverty across Nicaragua are still the main victims of maternal mortality, and the country has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy of the Continent, with 28% of women giving birth before the age 18. In spite of this, women are also subjected to some of the harshest abortion laws on earth. Abortion is banned in all circumstances, even if it is vital to save the woman’s life.

In a context in which impunity for gender-based crimes remains, local organizations working on women’s rights face constant threats. In June, a shelter run by the Civil Foundation for Support to Women Victims of Violence was raided. The authorities have not opened an investigation into the incident. And this is unfortunately one case among many others.

Three: Indigenous Peoples’ rights trampled
Indigenous Peoples across Nicaragua are also treated as second-class citizens, their rights constantly trampled on and their voices unheard as their demands often conflict with powerful economic interests.

Last year, in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) –home to the mythical “Mosquitia” – a violent struggle over territory erupted. Indigenous Miskito communities were subjected to threats, attacks, assassinations, sexual assault and forced displacement by non-Indigenous settlers. The state has utterly failed to offer them effective protection. In that context, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favour of some Miskito communities, calling on Nicaragua to protect them.

In May 2016, leaders of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities Rama-Kriol said that an agreement for the construction of the Grand Canal of Nicaragua had been signed without an effective consultation process, in violation of their rights to free prior and informed consent.

Four: The ‘crime’ of defending human rights
Activists working to defend basic human rights and access to natural resources have been subjected to systematic harassment and attacks aimed at silencing their demands. These attacks are very rarely investigated.

The grant of precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for measures to protect human rights defenders from the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, who had received death threats due to their work on Indigenous rights.

Additionally, the Coordinator of the National Council for Defense of the Land, Lake and National Sovereignty, recently reported intimidation and harassment against her and her family. She has been actively denouncing the possible impacts of the Grand Interoceanic Canal in Nicaraguan peasant farmers´ communities.

Nicaragua is very quickly and dangerously slipping back into some of the darkest times the country has seen in decades, with the government turning a blind eye to violations of the human rights they have promised to uphold and punishing anyone who “steps out of line”.

This strategy is both dangerously misguided and illegal.

By failing to protect basic human rights, guarantee access to natural resources essential for life and respect those defending them, the Nicaraguan authorities are condemning millions to a future of inequality and suffering.

But there is another way. Whoever is elected to lead this Central American nation for the next five years must take a hard look at the country’s human rights discourse and the reality for millions of people, particularly the most marginalized – and ensure the government’s future priorities are properly aligned.

The alternative could simply force the country into a free fall that will be impossibly challenging to recover from.

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Farming Brings Stability to Remote Villages in Papuahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/farming-brings-stability-to-remote-villages-in-papua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farming-brings-stability-to-remote-villages-in-papua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/farming-brings-stability-to-remote-villages-in-papua/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:25:51 +0000 Kafil Yamin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147488 Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
SENGGI, Indonesia, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Only two decades ago, Usku, Molof and Namla, three villages in Senggi District, Papua, were the battlefield of feuding tribes fighting for their ulayat (communal land). Afra, the triumphant tribe, then settled in the villages and led a life of hunting and gathering.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle carried on despite the so-called transmigration in the adjacent village of Waris, where villagers from Java started a new life under central government sanction.

The three villages border Papua New Guinea, covering around 4,000 square kms, and are the least developed spots in the island of Papua. 

Now the villages are being transformed, with permanent houses and front-yard farming. Where there used to be scarcity, food abounds.

It all began less than three months ago when the ministry of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration sent a team of agricultural and social experts to the villages and worked together with the locals to improve the living conditions of the Indonesia’s eastern-most border communities.

Dasarus Daraserme, 50, said that farming makes his life much easier. “These days, I don’t have to go deep into the forest to find food. It’s all right here in my front yard, you see?” he told IPS, pointing at his newly-sown crops.

“It was getting harder and harder to find food, animals and herbs there [in the forest],” he added.

Expansion by three big palm oil plantations has reduced forest resources in the Keerom District.

Daraserme said his plot yields more than he and his family need, even after he sold the surplus. “We need only one and half kilogrammes of vegetables and fruits a day in average, or some five kilogrammes a week. Now we have hundreds of kilogrammes of cucumber, soybean, chilly, tomatoes, green beans. We don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Anton Sirmei, 53, who grows pumpkin, kale, cabbage, chilly and tomatoes, also has a surplus. “In the past, there was a lack of food. That’s a problem. Now we have more. This is also a problem,” he said.

The closest town with a market is Senggi, which is 12 hours away on foot. Car transportation is available only once a week.

Professor Ali Zum Mashar, who trains the locals in farming techniques, is now helping them organise a cooperative to sell their agricultural products.

“The government invested some money in the village corporation, just the set the wheel of business in motion,” Mashar said.

Mashar said he actually expected a large surplus. “My microbe-based fertilizer can change bare lands into fertile spots. It is able to convert an ex-mining site to a green farm, let alone this fertile soil of Usku,” he said.

He found 18 species of microbes in the forests of Kalimantan while doing his doctoral studies in 2000. He eventually developed a technology that converts the microbes into liquid form, which he calls Bio P 2000 Z. Successful experiments have proved their capability to increase crop yields by as much as threefold.

“The crop yields should double in quantity, quality and speed. We started working in August, now after only three months, you can see for yourself,” he added, pointing at the gardens in the houses’ front yards.

He said the first goal is that the people have enough food, which has been achieved. Expanding the markets is the next step.

The villagers harvest their crops every two weeks. In terms of both quantity and quality, the Usku villagers produce better vegetables and fruit than their counterparts in the transmigration enclave, who are mostly skilled farmers from Java.

Usku, Molof and Namla village definitely have much more to offer than vegetables, fruits and crops to the outside. Non-timber forest products such as herbs and spices, honey, cinnamon, resin, sandalwood and various fruits also have high economic values for the local community.

Mashar and his team are now constructing a ranch for deer breeding in effort to reduce deer hunting in the forest. “But deer breeding is more than just foodstock. It will become tourist attraction too. So soon we will have a sort of village tourism here,” he said.

The biggest challenge now is training villagers in business management, in a community where 80 percent of the population is illiterate. The village has only one primary school with poor facilities. Four teachers manage around 150 students.

Health care is another major issue. The clinic has only one doctor and often has no medicines. Common diseases here are elephantiasis, skin fungus and mumps.

But hopes are high that the increasing harvest will improve incomes, and bring better medical services, education and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go. But we are paving the way to a better tomorrow,” Mashar said.

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Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147377 Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Secure indigenous land rights not only bring environmental benefits, they can also foster economic development, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

The report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights, describes how local communities can sustainably manage forests and generate economic growth when given tenure rights to their land.

In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have successfully created sustainable income from the forest, while treating it as a renewable resource, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Advisor of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told IPS.

Indigenous communities in Guatemala export forest products including highly nutritious berries which are popular in Korea and Japan, said Jintiach.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin

Their careful management of the forests has also made their wood products popular with guitar manufactures such as Gibson and Fender, he added.

“In Guatemala the community-based industry is very well organized.” They have a land rotation system for their timber activities and they monitor the timber products up to the point they reach the consumer.

“They have a sophisticated way of managing their forests – you can almost trace a product from the tree it came from on a particular patch of land.”

“They use this revenue to improve local development, healthcare and education in their communities and that’s where the economic impact comes into the picture,” said Jintiach.

The world’s 370 million Indigenous people have only limited land rights and are much more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-Indigenous peoples.

Although they make up just five percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor, according the World Bank.

Therefore, inclusive economic growth which benefits indigenous peoples is one of the ways that countries can tackle extreme poverty, and achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty.

However, economic benefits are not the only reason why Indigenous Land Rights are important, the report argues.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin, Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance said at the launch of the report.

“Other than the oceans there are no other carbon capture and storage technologies that are nearly as cost effective as forests and are proven on a large scale,” said Zarin.

“Deforestation rates on legally recognised Indigenous lands are two to three times lower registered to Indigenous peoples,” the report found.

Yet far too often government overlook local communities and allocate the rights to exploit a forest and other natural resources to multinational corporations with few if any links to the land.

“Indigenous Peoples and other communities hold and manage 50 to 65 percent of the world’s land, yet governments recognise only 10 percent as legally belonging to these groups, with another 8 percent designated by governments for communities,” the report found.

The report argues that allocating land rights to indigenous groups is relatively inexpensive for governments especially considering the measurable benefits.

“Secure indigenous forestlands provide significant global carbon and other ecosystem service benefits in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, estimated at between $679 and $1,530 billion for the next 20 years,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the costs of securing indigenous forestlands amount to less than one percent of these benefits.”

However without secure land rights, indigenous communities are often unable to protect the forest, Helen Ding, Environmental Economist and report author World Resources Institute, told IPS.

“We have seen that the REDD+ program has been there for more than 10 years now and there is still deforestation happening in Brazil and Indonesia. The reason for that is partly because many of these lands are held by indigenous people are not recognised and they are not protected,” said Ding.

In practical terms, she points out, land tenure rights allow local communities to access credit, which will enable them to generate economic benefits.

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Resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline: “This Is Not The End”  http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/resisting-the-dakota-access-pipeline-this-is-not-the-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resisting-the-dakota-access-pipeline-this-is-not-the-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/resisting-the-dakota-access-pipeline-this-is-not-the-end/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 05:12:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147291 A #NoDAPL demonstration in Oakland, CA. Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

A #NoDAPL demonstration in Oakland, CA. Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Oct 11 2016 (IPS)

Resistance towards the controversial Dakota Access pipeline continues after a federal court rejected requests to halt construction on Monday.

Since August, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies from across the North American nation have gathered in North Dakota to protest the 1,172 mile long pipeline.

The movement, known as #NoDAPL, an acronym of No Dakota Access Pipeline, has also garnered unprecedented support across the world, from Ecuador to New Zealand. In September, New Zealand Maori politician Pita Paraone voiced his support, stating: “If I didn’t support this, then what planet am I on?”

The $3.8 billion pipeline, undertaken by oil company Energy Transfer Partners and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, is to transport over half a million barrels of oil per day to Illinois. If built, it would be laid under multiple bodies of water including the Missouri River close to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation.

The project was met with widespread criticism as it would destroy sacred and culturally important landscapes.

“[The pipeline] has absolutely no regard for our existence on this place…it has completely disregarded our burial sites, and our spiritual sites. It has disregarded all of those things that bind native people to the landscape,” artist and Sioux County native involved in #NoDAPL Cannupa Hanska Luger told IPS.

Standing Rock Sioux tribe reported that several sacred sites including burial grounds and places of prayer have already been destroyed.

“[The pipeline] has completely disregarded our burial sites, and our spiritual sites. It has disregarded all of those things that bind native people to the landscape,” -- Cannupa Hanska Luger.

The pipeline also poses a great risk of contaminating the tribe’s main source of water. Luger stressed the necessity of clean water, especially for an area that relies on agriculture.

“We actually have alternatives to oil. We don’t, as a living being on this planet, have an alternative to water. Once the last river is poisoned, we’re done,” he told IPS, also noting that they are “water protectors” rather than protesters.

According to federal data, pipeline spills are a daily occurrence. Between 2010 and 2013, there were almost 2000 incidents of leaks, amounting to an average of 1.6 incidents per day.

Despite these risks, critics say that plans for the pipeline were fast tracked, as the U.S. Corps of Engineers did not adequately assess the potential for oil spills or its impact on the environment.

In response, the agency said that a more rigorous environmental assessment would have been conducted if the initial evaluation showed any significant environmental effects.

However, the Army Corps noted negative consequences after rejecting a prior route from Bismarck, the state capital of North Dakota, citing potential contamination of the state capital’s water source.

“What they did is they went backdoor and went straight to tribal lands…which is always the fallback for any major construction project that has to do with fossil fuel extraction,” Red Warrior Camp organiser Krystal Two Bulls told IPS.

Red Warrior Camp is one of the main camps established along the Missouri River to protect the land from construction.

Beth Hill, a former Greenpeace activist who has been fundraising and delivering supplies to camps set up by the river, told IPS that the project is reminiscent of another controversial pipeline, stating: “This is basically Keystone with a different name.”

The 1,179 mile Keystone XL pipeline was poised to transport an increased supply of oil from Canada to the U.S. While the U.S. State Department said that the project would not impact the environment significantly, the agency also expressed the need to find alternative routes to avoid impacting the “environmentally sensitive area” of Sand Hills.

After six years of reviews, President Obama finally rejected the plan in 2015, citing concerns of environmental protection and climate change.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership,” he stated.

Recently, during the 8th Annual Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama addressed the issue of DAPL, telling attendees that “together, you are making your voices heard.”

The issue of the controversial pipeline also reached the halls of the United Nations, prompting Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to call on the U.S. government to halt construction of the pipeline and to consult with indigenous groups who were denied access to information and excluded from the planning processes.

“The United States should, in accordance with its commitment to implement the Declaration on the rights on indigenous peoples, consult with the affected communities in good faith and ensure their free, and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, particularly in connection with extractive resource industries,” she stated.

Prior to Tauli-Corpuz’s statement, the Department of Justice, the Department of Army and the Department of the Interior made a joint statement to temporarily halt construction while the government reviews its previous decisions and to hold formal consultations with tribes.

On Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed this ruling anddenied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s injunction to stop construction of the pipeline.

Many expressed disappointment in the ruling including Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II who responded that “this is not the end of this fight.”

“We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline,” he continued.

Indigenous Environmental Network’s Native Energy and Climate Campaign Organiser Kandi Mossett told IPS that it has been an “emotional rollercoaster” but that the Energy Transfer Partners has yet to acquire a permit to build the pipeline under the river.

“We’re here and we’re going to be here if they try to continue to build,” she said.

On the other hand, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven applauded the decision, stating: “Energy infrastructure is vital to our country’s economy and national security, and it can be built safely.”

He added the need to provide help to local law enforcement to “ensure that any ongoing protests are within the law.”

Aggressive Response to “Water Protectors” and Media

However, observers have reported that the #NoDAPL movement is being met with militarised aggression and violence.

Hill told IPS of the militarised presence by the camps, noting that there were cars without license plates and armed guards who would not say who their employer was.

“You feel like you’re being watched constantly,” said Hill.

Similarly, Luger express his concerns to IPS of such a presence, stating: “When you bring miltarised people to a protest where people are just basically trying to protect their water, stuff gets ugly really fast.”

Earlier in September, security guards working for the pipeline company allegedly attacked Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray. At least 30 people were pepper sprayed and six, including a young child, were bitten by dogs. While speaking at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Archambault told UN officials of the incident, stating: “We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”

Energy Transfer Partners did not immediately respond to IPS’ requests for comment.

In a statement, the County Sheriff’s department said that it was protestors who became violent. “This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. The Sheriff’s department is currently leading an investigation into the incident.

Confrontations have since continued leading to numerous arrests. Most recently, almost 30 people were arrested during protests on Monday following the ruling.

Mossett told IPS that if construction continues, there would only be more arrests of those protecting the river.

Also among those arrested since the movement began have been media personnel.

“The coverage of this issue is clearly a threat,” said Luger to IPS in response to media arrests.

“[The government is] focused on media folks because they are terrified of this information getting out,” he continued.

After filming and covering the incident with the dogs, Democracy Now! host and executive producer Amy Goodman was charged with criminal trespassing by North Dakota.

“This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” Amy Goodman said in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protestors,” she continued.

Larger than Just One Pipeline

As winter quickly approaches, Native Americans and allies are bracing themselves for the long haul.

“All of us are prepared to be at camp for as long as it takes,” Two Bulls told IPS.

But this is not just their fight, she added.

“Anybody that breathes air, lives on this land or drinks water—this is their fight too,” Two Bulls told IPS.

“This is much larger than this pipeline…it’s about [deconstructing] this system and [creating] another system that works in the benefit of all people,” she continued.

Luger echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “This is not an indigenous movement, this is a human movement…if there is a leak in the river, half of the country has the potential of being tainted by this.” But they cannot stop this danger alone, he said.

“I just hope that my children can go back to North Dakota and I can point out these geographical places and say this is our story, this is our history and we are from here. And look, that hill proves it,” Luger said.

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Two years on, Peña Nieto cannot brush off Ayotzinapa stainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/two-years-on-pena-nieto-cannot-brush-off-ayotzinapa-stain/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 14:15:56 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147095 43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He called it the “historic truth”.

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

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

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

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

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

Few believed them.

And they were right not to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous knowledge versus imposed development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal avenues and long-term solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Militarisation and colonial conservation policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tragically, he has a point.

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

The numbers say it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no time to waste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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

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

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Tor Hodenfield
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fast-track Development Threatens to Leave Indigenous Peoples Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 20:26:39 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146115 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/feed/ 0