New development bank must protect Asian indigenous people's rights


Astrid Zweynert, Thomson Reuters Foundation –

Date of publication: 
19 May 2015

LONDON – Indigenous people’s rights must be protected by the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to prevent them being abused during big bank-funded projects, the United Nations’ top indigenous rights official said.

If projects like hydroelectric dams, highways and pipelines, which have violated indigenous people’s rights in the past, are planned in their lands, they should be consulted and their consent obtained beforehand, she said.

The China-led bank will provide loans for infrastructure projects across Asia to address a shortfall of $8 trillion for crucial transport, telecommunication and energy needs by 2020.

Asia is home to an estimated 260 million indigenous people, more than any other continent and 70 percent of the world’s total, according to the United Nations.

AIIB founding members will hold a three-day meeting in Singapore from Wednesday to discuss its operational policies before the bank is formally established by the end of 2015.

“This is going to be a major institution which will provide investment loans to many countries where indigenous peoples live,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a recent interview.

“If these are directly built in indigenous peoples’ territories, I would like to see that their free, prior and informed consent will be obtained before these are brought to their communities,” she said.

Human rights activists and the United States, which has not joined the bank, have said the AIIB needs strong rules for governance and transparency to ensure projects benefit the people who live near them.

The rights of indigenous peoples to have their say in development projects are enshrined in a U.N. declaration, but studies have shown that projects led by multilateral development banks like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank have not always respected them.

In many countries, indigenous peoples have been displaced and lost their traditional livelihoods because of infrastructure projects despite evidence that using their knowledge could lead to more sustainable development, Tauli-Carpuz said.

It is regretabble that there is no reference to indigenous peoples in the proposed new 17 sustainable development goals, she said.

World leaders are due to adopt the goals in September as a framework for development policy over the next 15 years.

The AIIB has more than 50 founding members, including nations as diverse as Iran, Israel, Britain and Laos, China has said.

(Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Tim Pearce)