Statement of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact on access to justice

Date of publication: 
9 July 2014

7th Session of the UN Expert Mechanism on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Agenda item 5: Continuation of the study on access to justice in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples

Joint statement by prof. MongShanoo Chowdhury, Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizen’s Committee (CHT-CC), Center for Integrated Program & Development (CIPD), La Voix de Jummas (LJV), and Asia Caucus on the Indigenous peoples

Thank you, Mr. Chair on your election as chairperson of the 7th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

As I was listening to the inaugural speech of Ms. Victoria TouliCorpuz, the Special Rapporteur on the Indigenous Peoples, I could not but agree with her reference to the cultural and economic multiplicity of the world as having derived its roots from the cultural and economic diversity of the indigenous peoples. The edifice of the present civilization owes much of its attainments to the indigenous world.

But unfortunately, the indigenous peoples who provided the strength, the vivacity to the human civilization of today are being viciously pushed to the verge of disintegration as they continue to be increasingly alienated from our ancestral lands, the roots of which can be traced to the denial of our access to justice. Land and related resources are fundamental to indigenous peoples. These constitute the basis of our economic livelihood and are the sources of our spiritual, cultural and social identity.

Indigenous peoples in Asia, however, continue to face land dispossession and destruction from extractive industries and so-called development projects by the states and private businesses interests in our traditional territories. For example, the land grabbing by state, business and outside actors in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh has taken a serious turn despite a peace agreement (The CHT Accord) was signed in 1997, declaring the CHT as the “tribal inhabited region” with a pledge to protect its distinctive features. Despite the fact that thousands of families evicted by the Kaptai Hydro-Electric Project in the 1960s could not be rehabilitated, about four hundred thousand more non-indigenous people from outside were transferred, on government initiative, to the CHT for settlement on political grounds. This demographic engineering has resulted in the displacement of another one hundred thousand families from their lands1 aggravating the situation further. The CHT Accord, though signed to preserve the characteristics of the CHT as an indigenous region, could not stop the flow of non-indigenous migrants from the plains to the CHT due to government’s indifference to respect the Accord. Along with the number of migrants growing alarmingly, land grabbing in the CHT has reached to a menacing proportion. In 2013 alone, indigenous peoples in the CHT lost 3792 acres of land mostly to settlers in addition to 12,79,003 acres of land (26% of the entire CHT) already lost earlier to state agencies, civil & military bureaucrats and corporate business etc. In January to June 2014, another 242.03 acres of lands were taken away. The paramilitary force in Bangladesh has already taken control of 31.63 acres of land in Khagracahri district and 25 acres of land have been designated for acquisition in Bandraban district.

Similarly, in Vietnam, over 90,000 people, mostly ethnic Thai, were relocated to make way for the Son La Hydropower Plant that the Vietnamese scientists said left many without access to agricultural land by 2010.

In Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest region, home to the Kui indigenous peoples, official land grants of tens of thousands of forest for mineral extraction, timber and rubber plantations have forced many to give up their traditional livelihoods from 1996 to 2013. 117 companies were granted economic land concessions totaling 1.5 million hectares or over 50% of the arable land in Cambodia. Many of these are indigenous lands.

Oil palm plantation expansion is also taking away lands of indigenous peoples in Malaysia and Indonesia. Already miniscule, state allocation in these countries for indigenous peoples’ use is further being reduced by their oil palm production, which accounted for 85% of the total world palm production in 2009-2010. On 6 March 2014, a member of the SukuAnakDalam indigenous community was killed and 5 others injured during a clash with the security forces on an oil palm concession award by PT Asiatic Persada in Sumatra.

In the Philippines, said to host one of the world’s biggest deposits of undiscovered minerals, especially gold and copper, 60% of its predominantly indigenous Cordilleran region is covered by either mining operations or applications. Communities who have resisted have met with repression or militarization. Most of the 44 extra-judicial killings of indigenous leaders and members of peoples’ organization within the last 3 years, were in response to mining resistance.

In Thailand despite some positive developments with recent policies, relating to indigenous peoples, such as cabinet Resolutions, restoring traditional livelihoods of the Chao Ley and Karen in 2010, no real improvements have occurred.

In Orissa of India, where the Dongria people for years opposed a planned mine by Vedanta company, only 12 of 100 villages were consulted by local authorities despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling in April 2013 ordering community consultation before the mine project could proceed. A 2011 ILO’s report on India’s indigenous population claimed that more than half of the country’s mineral was obtained by violating the tribal rights.[2]

Indigenous peoples in Asia are now poised to face even more land loss and destruction with the upcoming ASEAN economic integration. It involves massive infrastructural development in energy, transport and communications that will not only cut through our traditional territories but exploit our natural resources as well, such as minerals and river system to boost the power demand in the region. In the Mekong region alone where 11 hydro-electric power projects are to be constructed in the lower Mekong River, two nine in Laos and two in Cambodia, the displacement of indigenous and local communities have already started. Many of these development projects and resources to build them are in the indigenous territories.

The situation of land alienation of the indigenous peoples in Asia, therefore, raises complex questions of land use, ownership, settlement which need to be resolved through providing access to justice and through the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to land and resources, our sustainable resource management system, and our customary laws in accordance with the rights as recognized under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples internationally.

In light of this we urge States to:

  • Establish mechanisms for sustained dialogues and consultations with indigenous peoples in their countries to foster better relationships with them, and to enable them to fully exercise their individual and collective rights
  • Demarcate indigenous people’ lands and territories in accordance with customary law and process consistent with the UNDRIP and to ensure the protection of these lands and resources from expropriation, exploitation and designation without their free prior and informed consent
  • Ensure access to justice for indigenous peoples including indigenous women through formal justice institutions, national human rights institutions and other forms of redress, including by taking into account indigenous peoples’ customary laws, institutions and processes
  • Ensure the participation of indigenous youth and women in decision-making processes affecting them, including through provision of adequate resources and space for their participation

Thank you Mr. Chair for giving me the floor.

[1] Amena Mohsin. The Politics of nationalism: The Case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, UPL, Dhaka, 2002. P.115.

[2] Overview of the State of Indigenous Peoples in Asia, AIPP, 2014.