Extraction of natural resources a key cause of abuse of indigenous peoples’ rights

Date of publication: 
21 September 2011

GENEVA – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, warned Wednesday that indigenous communities’ right to self-determination in the political, social and economic spheres is being threatened by the current model for advancing with natural resource extraction.

“Natural resource extraction and other major development projects in or near indigenous territories are one of the most significant sources of abuse of the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide,” said Mr. Anaya in his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council. In it, the expert assessed the response to a questionnaire on the issue he sent out earlier this year to Governments, indigenous peoples and organizations, business corporations and other actors.

“The results show a lack of understanding of basic minimum standards on the impact of extractive industries affecting indigenous peoples and about the role and responsibility of the State to ensure protection of their rights,” he said at a press conference in Geneva, “despite of a shared awareness and concern about the past negative effects of extractive operations for indigenous peoples in many situations.”

Environmental impact
“The gradual loss of control over indigenous lands, territories and natural resources was listed by respondents as a key concern (…) With respect to the negative impact of extractive operations on water resources, it was noted that water resource depletion and contamination has had harmful effects on available water for drinking, farming and grazing cattle, and has affected traditional fishing and other activities, particularly in fragile natural habitats.”

Social and cultural effects
“A second major issue cited by questionnaire respondents focused on the adverse impact of extractive industry operations on indigenous peoples’ social structures and cultures, particularly when those operations result in the loss of lands and natural resources upon which indigenous communities have traditionally relied. In such cases, resource extraction can jeopardize the survival of indigenous groups as distinct cultures that are inextricably connected to the territories they have traditionally inhabited.”

Lack of consultation and participation
“Indigenous peoples, Governments and companies noted that affected indigenous peoples needed to be consulted about and be involved in the operation of natural resource extraction projects that affect them. This need was identified, depending on the identity of the respondent, as both a right affirmed in international and domestic law and a matter of pragmatism: a preventative measure to avoid project opposition and social conflicts that could result in the disruption of project operations.”

Lack of clear regulatory frameworks
“Representatives of business enterprises reported that deficient domestic regulatory frameworks create barriers to carrying out their operations in a way that respects indigenous peoples’ rights and interests. Several businesses contended that this lack of clarity constituted a major obstacle to their ability to undertake their operations in a manner consistent with international expectations regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. In turn, this lack of legal certainty is perceived by corporate actors as a cause of costly conflicts with local indigenous communities.”

The question of tangible benefits
“Contrasting perspectives exist with regard to the benefits of extractive operations. Various Governments and companies identified benefits to indigenous peoples resulting from natural resource extraction projects, while, in general, indigenous peoples and organizations reported that benefits were limited in scope and did not make up for the problems associated with these projects.”

(*) Read the full report: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/18session/A-HRC-18-3...


On 26 March 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed S. James Anaya Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for an initial period of three years. The Council renewed his mandate for an additional three years in 2011. Relator Especial los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, por un período inicial de tres años. Mr. Anaya is a Regents Professor and the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (United States).

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/rapporteur/

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/512/07/PDF/N0651207.pdf?O...

For more information and press inquiries, please contact Thierry del Prado (Tel: +41 22 917 9232 / email: tdelprado [at] ohchr [dot] org) or write to: indigenous [at] ohchr [dot] org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya [at] ohchr [dot] org)