UN Special Rapporteur: 100 indigenous peoples protecting environment killed in last 3 years

By Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon.com - http://www.interaksyon.com/article/115870/un-special-rapporteur-100-indigenous-peoples-protecting-environment-killed-in-last-3-years
Date of publication: 
12 August, 2015

MANILA – How are indigenous peoples in the Philippines doing? Over the last three years, 100 indigenous peoples have been killed protecting their homes and the environment, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNSRRIP) Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said Tuesday.

When indigenous peoples protect the forests and the bodies of water, as well as assert their claims over these, they become subject to arrests or even extrajudicial killings, said Corpuz, a Kankana-ey from Besao, Mountain Province who joined 79 leaders from 38 indigenous communities who delivered the State of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines Address (SIPA) at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in Quezon City.

“This needs to be addressed, and this kind of violation of the right to participate and to assert their claims to their lands must be avoided,” she said.

And with the Philippines bearing the brunt of environmental degradation now more than ever, indigenous peoples have an important role to play in preserving the country’s biodiversity, Corpuz stressed.

In the SIPA, the indigenous leaders lamented that indigenous peoples were only mentioned once in President Benigno Aquino III’s final State of the Nation Address on July 27, in the context of the Alternative Learning System, which would lessen the number of out-of-school youth among indigenous peoples and street children.

But absent in Aquino’s last SONA, Corpuz said, is the IPs continuing struggle to fight to keep their ancestral land free from destructive projects such as mining, big infrastructure, hydroelectric plants, and plantations which destroy the natural environment.

If one looked at the Philippine map, the only forests left untouched are those in the territory of the indigenous peoples, she said.

“Indigenous peoples have a big contribution to the national development of the Philippines. And this contribution is in maintaining the sustainability and the integrity of these ecosystems which provide ecological service not just for the indigenous peoples, but for the entire country,” Corpuz said.

“We are talking about clean water, clean air, the various plants, and knowledge about microorganisms which promote the health of the people,” she said.

Repeal AO stopping issuance of CADTs, reform NCIP

In relation to this, she condemned a Joint Administrative Order issued in 2012 by the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Land Registration Authority, and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples which would delay the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

Before a CADT is released, the agencies would have to ascertain whether these overlapped with the DAR’s Certificate of Land Ownership, the LRA’s Torrens title, or the DENR’s protected areas.

She asked why an administrative order which prevents the issuance of CADTs to indigenous peoples was created, when there is a higher, national law — the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights — which recognized the inherent rights of the indigenous peoples to their land.

“My analysis on that as a special rapporteur is first and foremost, indigenous peoples have been subjected to a long history of injustice which is the grabbing of their lands and takeover of their lands. The least that the government can do under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act is to provide these lands in the most effective and fastest way possible,” Corpuz said.

Creating an administrative order which questioned the rights of the indigenous peoples over their lands would not address that injustice, she added.

“And I think that it is but right for the indigenous peoples to call on the government to repeal that administrative order, which should in fact be a lower kind of law compared to the national law, and the constitutional provision that says that indigenous peoples’ rights over their ancestral domains should be respected,” Corpuz said.

She also hoped that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) would not become an agent of corporations, land-grabbing politicians, and other interest groups in stripping the indigenous peoples of their land. The agency must be reformed, she added.

Asked about the reported closure of schools for the Ata-Manobo tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Corpuz said she had talked to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, who had gone to Davao to visit the area in question.

The two agreed to write a letter addressed to authorities to raise the issue, as well as that of the harassment supposedly experienced by teachers and students in the hands of the military.

Corpuz said they both believed the rights of the indigenous peoples, as well as those of the children to education, were violated.

Having signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Corpuz said, the Philippines government needs to address these issues.

She said they would continue to discuss the issue along with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.

IPs not prominent in SDGs

With the former institution she worked with, Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples International Centre for Policy Research and Education Network), Corpuz had also been pushing for indigenous peoples’ issues to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals, which would set the development agenda for the UN member-states for the next 15 years.

“To a certain degree, there are recognitions, like the importance of ensuring the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, respect for the land tenure systems of indigenous peoples, but the reference to indigenous peoples are really very, very few,” she said.

“This is also why we are not that happy about the Sustainable Development Goals that have been reached. But I think we are not giving up. We are still looking at putting indicators that will measure the progress as far as indigenous peoples’ rights and development are concerned,” she added.

Earlier this August, the 193 UN member-states agreed on 17 SDGs and would formally commit to their attainment in September. The SDGs would forge a path toward economic development alongside environmental sustainability and social inclusion.

Corpuz said IPs want the data showing the attainment of the SDGs to be disaggregated so they could better monitor the progress of indigenous peoples.

While indigenous peoples made up five percent of the world’s population, they also made up 15 percent of people living in extreme poverty, she said.

The Philippine government has to pay more attention to them because not only do they make the country more culturally diverse, their knowledge and practices would also ensure that Filipinos up to seven generations ahead would live in a world that was better than it was now, Corpuz said.


Indigenous women are raising their voices and can no longer be ignored

Indigenous women have a vital role to play in the struggle over land, and are increasingly overcoming a double discrimination to assert their rights

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/aug/07/international-...

7 August 2015

As a teenager, I joined fellow indigenous activists on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island, to protest against the Chico dam project. The scheme would have displaced roughly 300,000 indigenous people from their ancestral lands. The leaders of the movement were all men, but women were also on the frontline, risking their lives.

These were our lands too, and we women fought to defend them even when our activities were criminalised by the Filipino government. We didn’t give up until the government and the World Bank cancelled the project.

Since then, I have witnessed indigenous women around the world standing up for their rights, demanding that their voices be heard and refusing to back down.

Indigenous women face myriad challenges. We are often systematically excluded from the decision-making processes that affect us, and we contend with discrimination, poverty and violence. Indigenous men face many of the same issues, but they are amplified for women, who face discrimination for their gender as well as race.

Insecure land rights are at the root of many of these problems for women. While indigenous people worldwide struggle to secure their collective and individual land and resource rights, customary and statutory laws typically restrict indigenous women’s access to land. Even in countries that legally recognise equal rights, indigenous women are less likely than men to hold titles to their land.

Indigenous women are often responsible for their families’ food security, especially as more men move to cities, making resource discrimination particularly hard on them. Many can only access land through marriage, which limits their economic and personal choice and makes it difficult for them to secure credit on their own.

Without secure rights, women are highly vulnerable to land-grabbing and forced relocation by governments and corporations. Large scale land grabs for rubber and palm oil plantations in Indonesia, for example, transformed indigenous women from self-sufficient landowners to low-paid factory and domestic workers.

Such land grabs are often accompanied by violence. Extractive industries can bring with them increased crime and even sex trafficking, and women may be threatened or harassed to coerce indigenous communities into abandoning their lands. Those who resist land grabs often face state-sanctioned violence. Gang rape, sexual enslavement, and murder of women have all been used to control indigenous populations.

Corporations rarely take responsibility for these violations, and many governments put corporate interests before those of indigenous women. Language barriers, illiteracy and, most significantly, the refusal of those in power to prosecute crimes against them make it difficult for indigenous women to access justice. When Filipino armed forces killed a 28-year old indigenous female leader, Juvy Capion, for protesting against a mine in her territory, the trial was dismissed.

Of course, endemic violence against indigenous women is not exclusively related to land grabs – it is a persistent global problem. In Canada, First Nations’ women are four times more likely to be murdered. My predecessor James Anaya recommended that the government launch a nationwide inquiry, but no action has yet been taken.

To address this issue as well as the numerous other challenges facing indigenous women, our voices need to be heard at every level, from the community to the international, on issues that affect us. We must be made equal partners and our right to self-determination must be recognised and respected.

Governments can begin by recognising indigenous women as co-owners, alongside indigenous men, of the lands they collectively own and cultivate. Companies and governments should stop using violence to quell indigenous resistance and gain indigenous women’s free, prior, and informed consent before making use of their lands.

After all, when land rights are secure, women are better equipped to provide for themselves and their families. They earn up to 3.8 times more income and devote more money to savings and education. Their children are less likely to be malnourished, and they experience less violence – including up to eight times less domestic violence.

Secure land rights also help indigenous women to continue their vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Indigenous women are the main transmitters of indigenous cultural values and worldviews. Many use traditional knowledge passed down through the generations to steward the world’s remaining forests. Deforestation rates are dramatically lower in forests managed by indigenous people and local communities, and in many parts of the world, such as south-east Asia, it is women who are primarily responsible for sustainable resource management.

Unfortunately, international initiatives and national strategies aimed at mitigating climate change can also be a threat to indigenous women; some have been kicked off their land in the name of conservation or renewable energy projects. For mitigation and adaption strategies to succeed, indigenous women must be made part of the decision-making process and their conservation successes must be recognised and supported. Secure land rights will also help prevent strategies such as REDD+ from becoming yet another reason to dispossess women of their customary lands.

Recognising an entire community’s right to its ancestral territories is more effective than recognising land rights for individuals, as the latter makes it easier for predatory industries and governments to steal land piece by piece. But communities can be discriminatory as well. It is important that laws recognising community tenure ensure women’s rights. “Custom” does not grant immunity to those who marginalise and abuse women.

We have come a long way since we stood up to the Filipino government, but our voices are still too often ignored, even within our communities. Governments, corporate actors, and international organisations must recognise our role in the fight for global land rights, and the contributions we make to preserve the world’s precious resources.

  • Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. She is a member of the Kankanaey Igorot people from the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines