“Defending Commons’ Land and ICCAs“, August 2016 CALG Bulletin. Land grabs often stem from speculation and illegal and unethical transfer of lands, small and large. Recent news from REPAM and church-indigenous partnerships to deal with the top priorities of territoriality, including land grabs and mega-projects, and support for cultural life, including church opposition to existing systems of domination, are described here.
This overview includes news and updates covering seven Southeast Asian Regions: Philippines, Indonesia, Eastern Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah), Taiwan, Cambodia and Myanmar, as well as Australia, India, Bangladesh, China and Russia in addition to 9 Latin America nations: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia and six African countries: DR Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Liberia and South Africa. North America (Canada and the USA) is also featured.
Recently, the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), a human rights umbrella organization, has stated that Southeast Asia is facing increasing conflicts and violence over land grab activity. IFHR says the situation is particularly pronounced in Cambodia, where land grabbing has displaced more than 800,000 people since 2000. Kem Ley, 45, was shot at a gas station on July 10th. He was getting a cup of coffee there, as he did every morning. He had worked for the UN Development Programme and Oxfam before and became an independent analyst working on natural resource management, the rights of indigenous people and women, and advocating for peaceful social change and democracy in Cambodia.
In August two new extra-judicial killings of indigenous people in the Philippines were recorded. Two active members of the Tagdumahan indigenous peoples’ organization (Jerry ‘Dandan’ and Jimmy Mapinsahan Barosa, a resident of Barangay Kasilayan) have been shot by unidentified men in Agusan del Sur (Mindanao) on August 12, in addition to disconcerting reports from Beni Territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu Province, bordering Rwanda and Uganda. The region is rich in oil, timber, gold, diamonds, wolfram, coltan and cassiterite and the local indigenous inhabitants are now being massacred for their land and its riches. Data on Beni massacres, in numbers provided by the organization “Civil Society of North Kivu” are horrifying: more than 1,116 people have been killed between October 2014 and May 2016, 60 people are killed every month (2 a day) on average, women and children are being raped, just under 34.300 have been forcibly displaced and more than 1,750 homes have been torched, and people burned alive, dozens of villages entirely occupied by armed groups. As of now, we have difficulties in receiving a complete and detailed list of the persons being murdered and the massacres are likely to continue due to the apparent weakness of the state in the region.
The first set of articles in the ‘General Topics’ section highlights how indigenous peoples continue to pay the brutal price of conservation. To be treated and abused in the name of a certain conservation philosophy has become the norm in many countries, where the old ‘nature-culture’ dichotomy still persists and influences the thinking of zealous conservationists, while serving as a pretext to drive the world’s most endangered peoples away from the lands and animals they have lived with for generations. The San of Botswana, to which the cover picture of this bulletin is dedicated, are probably the most vivid example of indigenous peoples being violently disposed of their natural resource and forbidden to hunt in in or enter the land they have lived on sustainably for centuries. Ironically, while the real custodians and owners of the best conserved ICCAs (indigenous peoples’ and community conserved territories and areas) are being evicted out of their ancestral land, the largest mining companies in the World – instead – have been allowed to start their activities in parks and protected areas, and wealthy big game hunters from abroad are welcomed to newly constructed state-of-the-art game lodges.
Recently, UN experts on environment and indigenous peoples rights have urged governments throughout the world to make human rights a priority in environmental conservation efforts, stating that protecting biodiversity is a human rights issue. The message comes days before the scheduled World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Honolulu, US, the largest global forum for adopting conservation policies. It is hoped then that killing of indigenous peoples activists, human and environmental rights defenders will become a serious topic of discussion and reflection during the forthcoming WCC. This is not only desirable but a MUST, also in view of the recent report by the UK-based NGO Global Witness, according to which in 2015 there were 185 human rights and environmental defenders being killed worldwide. Some of these finding have been corroborated by a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), British NGO Article 19, and Vermont Law School named, “Deadly Shade of Green,” which documents the extent of the threat for environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs), in Latin America.
Some articles in this bulletin also draw attention on the link between mining and exploitation of women’s bodies and identity. South Africa, for instance, has one of the highest incidences of rape in the World, with an exacerbation of this phenomenon in mining areas. Indigenous women and little girls experience higher rates of sexualized violence from the frontline workers and security forces hired by national and transnational corporations seeking to exploit the natural resources on indigenous lands. Many state governments have allowed these violent crimes against indigenous women and girls to occur for decades without taking any substantive steps to hold these corporations accountable. One article in this bulletin rightly argues that mining is about exploitation – not just of the minerals in the ground, but of women as well. Not surprisingly, KWG Resources Incorporated, a Canadian mining company, posted a video online using women dressed in bikinis to promote the mining of chromite on Indigenous lands in northern Ontario, known as the Ring of Fire. KWG President Frank Smeenk defended his company’s actions saying “sex sells.” Perhaps this was the most honest statement of those in the industry, which – nevertheless – does not justify the advertisement. What is happening in terms of abuses against women in mining areas is unprecedented and, again, this topic gets very little media attention.
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, observed every year on August 9, was a good time to reflect also on the achievements and challenges indigenous peoples around the world still face. One frequently occurring question remains: how well do national laws protect the interests of these historically marginalized communities? In the attempt to provide an adequate answer to this question,
LandMark: The Global Platform of Indigenous and Community Lands is now building a comprehensive database that scores countries on 10 indicators of how their national laws protect these rights. With the addition of 31 new countries to the inventory this week, LandMark now has 113 countries in the database, showing which countries and regions of the world have a solid foundation to protect indigenous and community land rights, and which countries are lagging behind.
On UN Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Survival International has called for the full demarcation and protection of the land of the Kawahiva people, an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon that is at extremely high risk of extinction. In April 2016, pressure from Survival International supporters helped push the Brazilian Minister of Justice to sign a decree ordering the full mapping out and protection of the tribe’s land. Despite of this, the Minister’s demand has not been carried out. Until the Brazilian indigenous affairs department enacts the demarcation, the tribe faces annihilation.
On the International day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, many governments have expressed, at least verbally, a commitment to pay more attention to indigenous peoples’ rights. The High EU Representative, Italian Federica Mogherini, has announced that the EU was stepping up its efforts to protect human rights defenders working for the “most vulnerable and marginalized”, including indigenous peoples, and those campaigning on land rights issues. Before the end of the year, the EU intends to prepare an overview of its policies and actions supporting indigenous peoples, as well as a list of best practices, she added.
Another set of interesting articles in the “General Topics” section, summarizes the finding of a recent study by the University of Michigan, which says that when it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline. To be clear, there are two generations of ethanol: the first is tied to corn while the second is more advanced cellulosic ethanol and associated with things like switch grass, wood chips and municipal waste.
Most of the criticism is tied to corn, which is not only less efficient than cellulosic ethanol but it is also essential food. These findings challenge the widely held assumption that ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels are carbon neutral. The reasons why we have decide to include this topic in our August bulletin is exactly because, as it is well-known, when land is converted in agricultural plantations, the destruction of forests is often needed to free up the land for biofuel, with adverse consequences on both indigenous and peasant communities. In addition to this, growing corn needed for biofuel can lead to increased stress on water supplies and rising prices as a result of increased demand for the crop, which is fermented to produce biofuel. (Recent research by John M. DeCicco, Danielle Yuqiao Liu, Joonghyeok Heo, Rashmi Krishnan, Angelika Kurthen, Louise Wang.Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use. Climatic Change, 2016; DOI:1007/s10584-016-1764-4 concluded that rising biofuel use has been associated with a net increase — rather than a net decrease, as many have claimed — in the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. “This is the first study to carefully examine the carbon on farmland when biofuels are grown, instead of just making assumptions about it,” DeCicco said. “When you look at what’s actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what’s coming out of the tailpipe.” Consumption of liquid biofuels — mainly corn ethanol and biodiesel — has grown in the United States from 4.2 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013. The environmental justification rests on the assumption that biofuels, as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, are inherently carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide released when they are burned was derived from CO2 that the growing corn or soybean plants pulled from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. “When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline,” DeCicco said. “So the underpinnings of policies used to promote biofuels for reasons of climate have now been proven to be scientifically incorrect. “Policymakers should reconsider their support for biofuels. This issue has been debated for many years. What’s new here is that hard data, straight from America’s croplands, now confirm the worst fears about the harm that biofuels do to the planet.”)
Several articles on oil palm expansion are also found in this section. Clinton Jenkins of the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil, a co-author of a recent study, said in a statement: “It is essential to understand how future expansion of oil palm plantations is likely to occur in other areas, and what the deforestation and biodiversity impacts might be. By evaluating twenty countries in our study we found that, in terms of these impacts, the picture is very different from country to country and region to region.” Researchers from Duke University in the United States, have warned that forests in danger of being cut down in the future, to create land for oil palms, are located mainly in Africa and South America. The researchers used images of forest areas made by Google Earth and Landmark satellites and spanning 25 years in order to document forest loss due to oil palm plantings on four regions: Southeast Asia, Africa, Middle America and South America. The respective rates of deforestation were highest in Southeast Asia and in South America. The study also estimated the degree to which land for oil palm plantations was created during 1989-2013 by deforestation. The highest share was recorded for Ecuador (61%), followed by Indonesia (54%), Peru (53%) and Malaysia (40%).
A new three minutes animated video released by Rainforest Action Network (RAN), in collaboration with the Indonesian labour rights advocacy organization (OPPUK) and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) titled, “The Human Cost of Conflict Palm Oil,” takes us to these hidden plantations and tells the harrowing stories of three palm oil workers.
Recently a team of scientists from Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia, together with their colleagues from the University of Göttingen and the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, set out to perform a multidisciplinary assessment of all ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations as compared to lowland forests. Drawing from about 1,000 scientific studies and reports, the research team put together a balanced report on the changes in all 14 ecosystem functions, including gas and climate regulation, water regulation and supply, moderation of extreme events, provision of food and raw materials, as well as medicinal resources.
Advocacy being carried out by European groups against the health hazard of palm oil is starting to yield its own fruits. For instance, this month, Italian food giant Barilla has eliminated palm oil from over 50 products across its “Mulino Bianco” brand. As part of its saturated fat reduction plan, Barilla has replaced palm oil in some of its biscuits, snacks and breads, with healthier alternative oils such as sunflower and extra virgin olive oil. “Galetti” and “Taralucci” biscuits have been improved, along with snacks such as, plum cake and “pan goccioli”. Barilla is the latest Italian food company to eliminate palm oil from snacks and biscuits, following the example set by Gentilini, Colussi, Galbusera and Balocco. The initiative has also been picked up by local retailers such as Esselunga, Coop and Conad. As we have mentioned in a previous bulletin issue, earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned that glycerol-based contaminants found in palm oil, raise potential health concerns for average consumers of these foods in all young age groups, and for high consumers in all age groups.
The “Regional Topics” section below starts, as usual, with Philippines. Here, the extrajudicial killings of Lumad and other indigenous peoples have yet to be resolved. Groups of Ayta, Dumagat, Mangyan, Igorot and Lumad led by the indigenous alliance, Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) staged a picket at Mendiola bridge on August 8, in time for World Indigenous Peoples Day. Their representatives brought a copy of the Indigenous Peoples’ agenda to Malacañang Presidential Palace, but failed to get an audience with Duterte or any government official. In spite of the positive efforts of the new Pres. Duterte administration to crackdown mining oligarchies, the killing and harassment of indigenous peoples activists continues. This is not surprising in consideration of the fact that Philippine mines are among the world’s biggest suppliers of gold, copper, and nickel. The mining industry has been an important source of foreign revenue in the fast-growing nation of 100 million people, but – at the same time – is responsible for the worse environmental disasters and persisting social unrest in the country.
President Duterte, in the course of defending his decision to appoint anti-mining activist Regina Lopez as Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, has declared that the Philippines could “do without” a mining industry. This August, President Duterte has promised to “destroy the oligarchs that are embedded in government” and went on declaring war against oligarchs involved in mining. Other good news, in addition to the stopping of several mining operations nation-wide, is that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has announced that is set to come out with a website where all audit findings concerning mining companies will be made public. Gina Lopez, newly appointed DENR Secretary, has reiterated the she would not hesitate to shut down all mining operations that will be found to have violated environmental and health and safety laws and regulations. At least 500 members of different environmental and militant groups trooped to the Caraga regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have demanded that mining firms which violated local and national laws should not only be stopped but also punished.
Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), a nationwide coalition of Philippine NGOs, has recently welcomed the pronouncement of newly-elected House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez that Congress will consider the requirement of a legislative franchise for mining operations. This proposal calls for a review and amendment of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act No. 7942), which is consistent with ATM demands. While mining activities are being closely monitored and controlled, a question mark remains on whether the controversial Jalaur Mega Dam would be implemented in Panay Island where it is to expect to lead to the displacement of indigenous communities.
It would appear that one major cause accounting for the killing, harassment and forced displacement of many indigenous peoples nation-wide might be put to an end, now that the Philippine communist rebels have announced an indefinite cease-fire in peace talks aimed at ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies. The Maoist rebels announced their agreement to put down their arms in a joint statement with Philippine government officials at the end of weeklong talks in Norway. Some 150,000 people have died in the conflict that began almost half a century ago.
In neighbouring INDONESIA, indigenous people continue to be denied their rights to manage their own lands by the government. Last year, four indigenous communities, Marga Serampas from Jambi, Kasepuhan Karang from Banten, Amatoa Kajang from South Sulawesi and Wana Posangke from Central Sulawesi, applied to have their lands recognized at the Environment and Forestry Ministry. They prepared all the necessary documents, such as customary forest maps and local bylaws that recognize the rights to customary forests for indigenous communities. Yet, none of them have been granted their land rights, while – in West Kalimantan – hundred of them have been forced to flee their homes to avoid arrest over their alleged involvement in a conflict with an oil palm company operating plantations in the area. The residents from the area around the village of Olak-Olak in Kubu district, Kubu Raya regency, have reportedly escaped to regions in and around Pontianak City. In search of support, around 50 of them approached the West Kalimantan chapter of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in Pontianak on Monday to report the case.
Meanwhile, oil palm planters are bracing for another round of forest fires, given the rising number of hotspots in major oil palm growing areas in recent weeks. Indonesia’s newly appointed police chief Tito Karnavian said police had prepared cases against 454 individuals in connection with burning land. “The arrests of individuals has increased compared with last year,” he said in Jakarta. “Just in Riau [province] 85 people have been arrested.” One major concern here, is that also indigenous people who customarily practice shifting cultivation for subsistence purposes will be arrested, while big companies may remain unpunished.
Not surprisingly, Police in Riau (Sumatra) announced last month they had closed cases against 15 companies due to a lack of evidence. On the other hand, the large agribusiness firm PT National Sago Prima (NSP), has bee ordered to pay a record 1 trillion rupiah ($76 million) for letting fires ravage land it controls in 2014. The panel of judges agreed with government prosecutors that the plantation firm was guilty of negligence in failing to prevent the fires, which helped blanket the region in a toxic haze. However, since August 3, peat fires in Indonesia’s westernmost Aceh province have blanketed some areas in a choking haze, sickening hundreds of people and forcing at least one school to close.
Regrettably, another major palm oil company, which had its sustainability certificates suspended for violating rules designed to prevent the destruction of Indonesia’s forests and peat lands, has had those certificates reinstated. This shocking decision by the industry’s own sustainability group to lift the suspension sends a message that it’s OK for palm oil companies to continue trashing forests in pursuit of profits. IOI, one of the biggest palm oil suppliers in the world, was suspended by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in April 2016 for clearing peat land areas and developing land without obtaining required permits. As a result, many of its big-name customers walked away such as Unilever, Cargill, Mars.
Overall, as a result of foreign pressure, the Indonesian government said that it will steer Indonesia’s palm oil industry toward more socially and environmentally friendly practices by improving the national sustainability standards, known as Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO). “The credibility of the ISPO is questioned because there are still some things that need to be perfected, such as the software and its implementation in the field,” the Agriculture Ministry’s special staffer for environment, Mukti Sardjono, said recently.
Also in Eastern Malaysia, NGOs supporting indigenous people are urging the federal and state governments to recognise the maps indigenous communities have drawn up to demarcate their land. Indigenous People’s Network of Malaysia (JOAS) secretary-general Jannie Lasimbang said JOAS hoped the Survey and Mapping Department (Jupem) would incorporate the maps of the traditional territories into its map. “We want a one-map policy and our land superimposed to make it easier for land planning. Often, our areas are not established on the map,” said Jannie.
Local NGOs has argued that the amendment to communal titles of the Sabah Land Ordinance must be repealed if the state government is serious about addressing the natives’ concern over their traditional territories. Sabah Pacos Trust programme coordinator for land rights Galus Ahtoi said in the special terms of the amendment to Section 76 of the ordinance, the anak negeri or indigenous people were deemed beneficiaries of the communal native title and not as owners according to their native customary rights (NCR).
In view of the massive expansion of oil palm plantations, indigenous peoples in Sabah are becoming more and more concerned about their food security. As a result, also State Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Datuk Yahya Hussin is asking plantation owners to set aside 10% of their land for the cultivation of the food crop.
In the neighbouring state of Sarawak, oil palm planters have reiterated their full support for the government-driven Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification. The MSPO, which has been perceived by several environmentalists as a form of green-washing, is said to be a reflection of a unified code of laws concerning best practices throughout the supply chain, from oil palm planting to palm oil processing. It is modelled in line with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). While oil palm expansion proceeds unabated, the government is cosmetically publicizing its success of having established 2.2 millions of protected areas. It says that it will open a Department of National Parks and Wildlife by January of next year, and is in the process of creating several new protected areas that encompass all of its orang-utan habitat.
In Taiwan, on August 1, the new president, Dr. Tsai Ing-wen offered an apology for the historical injustices to Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. In the presidential building, the apology began with a rite of offering of millet and spirits. Bunun community elder Hu Jin-niang blessed the ceremony, and Taiwanese religious leaders followed with an interfaith prayer. However, according to aboriginal campaigners, the Council of Aboriginal Affairs’ plans for delineating traditional Aboriginal lands appears to represent a step back from the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act . Therefore they are calling for the delineation authority to be returned to individual aboriginal communities. While the Basic Act grants Aboriginal communities rights over resources within “traditional lands” comprised of “reserved lands” and new “traditional areas,” implementation has been delayed for more than 10 years because of the failure of the Legislative Yuan or the ministries to define the scope of “traditional areas.”
Recently Truku Aborigines from the Knkreyan Village, also known as Tongmen Village, in Hualien County, gathered in front of the Ninth Division of the Seventh Special Police Corpsto protest over the arrest of three tribe members. Local police arrested the three men under the Mining Act on Aug. 18 for the illegal mining of rhodonite, a pink mineral prized by collectors, on state-owned land. However, one of the Knkreyan villagers, Rakaw Didi, said the rock collected by the men was limestone, not rhodonite.
In CAMBODIA, according to local activists, Kem Ley’s murder will not stop their struggle against massive land grabbing. Last month, hundreds of thousands of people from many parts of Cambodia took to the streets for the funeral procession of Dr. Kem Ley. His body was transported 50 miles from Phnom Penh to his hometown in Takeo province, and crowds of people paid respect to this man.
News reports say the convoy stretched for several kilometers, and included banners with Kem Ley’s famous words, “Wipe away your tears, continue your journey.” Kem Ley was an independent political commentator who took a strong stand in favour of hundreds of indigenous people and farmers being forcibly moved out of their land. The indigenous people of Cambodia have a right to Communal Land Title (CLT), but the bureaucratic process to achieve it is too slow. While they wait for CLTs, communities are vulnerable to land grabs facilitated by the government through Economic Land Concessions for plantations and other activities that destroy the forests and deprive people of their land. Kem Ley said that, at the current rate, it would take 50 years for Cambodia to complete CLTs for 503 indigenous communities in the two most vulnerable provinces, Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri. He urged the government to speed up this process.
In MYANMAR a local NGO has condemned decision to deny bail to human rights activist Khaing Myo Htun on 25 August. Earth Rights International (ERI) said in a statement that it condemns the decision and calls for all charges against him to be dropped. “We are deeply disappointed by this decision, which appears to betray the court’s prejudice towards Khaing Myo Htun” said Ka Hsaw Wa, Executive Director at ERI. He was denied bail at a Sittwe court on the grounds that he had failed to turn up to two previous court hearings. Khain Myo Htun was travelling in the weeks prior to his arrest and never received the summons. The judge also highlighted concerns about the sensitivity of the case. Khaing Myo Htun, member of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), prominent environmental activist, and former student at the Earth Rights School for human rights and environmental activists, was arrested on charges of sedition and incitement under Myanmar’s Penal Code Section 505(b) and (c).
On the Indigenous Peoples Day, Myanmar tribes have sent a strong message: “we all have to know what our rights are” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, the managing director of the Chin Human Rights Group. “Without knowing our rights, we can neither protect nor develop our homelands. We must be aware that there are many civil war victims still living in IDP camps.”
In BANGLADESH, at least 3 million indigenous peoples still see their human rights and fundamental freedoms being regularly violated. Indigenous people are frequently being evicted from their ancestral land. Instead of being slapped with the humiliating label of Khudra Nrigoshti or ethnic minorities, all indigenous communities of the country should have the right fully recognised as indigenous people in accordance with the UN guidelines said Bichitra Tirki, a leader of the indigenous Orawn community who also heads the Chapainawabganj unit of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad. The 36-year old woman has been fighting for land rights of indigenous people against land grabbers for eight years and won several legal battles. During a 2009 long march, as activists carried red flags in support of victimised indigenous people, Bichitra, clad in a red sari, marched with others for 55 kilometres with her one-year-old child in her lap. Bichitra’s sense of communal harmony, honesty, and courage has made her popular.
In INDIA the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur (CRAM), an indigenous peoples human rights organization promoting sustainable development and human rights of indigenous peoples of Manipur, has organised a two day observation of the WORLD’S INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY from 8th to 9th August 2016, with a theme “Uphold indigenous peoples rights over their land and resources in Manipur”. The first day was organised at RihaVillage Ukhrul Dist with the Mapithel Dam Affected Villagers Organizers (MDAVO) with a focus to protest the land, forest and river in Mapithel Hill and Valley and to express resentment and concerns with the plan of IFCD, Government of Manipur to commission Mapithel dam in September 2016. The protest met at Riha village and was attended by village representatives affected by Mapithel dam along the Mapithel hill and valley.
CRAM has urged upon the Government of Manipur to undertake a comprehensive approach to ensure the rightful participation of all indigenous peoples of Manipur in formulating a policy or a Bill towards protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples of Manipur and in regulating the entry or exit of non-indigenous populations in Manipur. The Bhuria Committee Report of 1995 observed that land dispossession had not been confined to private parties, but also the State was depriving indigenous peoples of the basic means of livelihood in the name of economic development. When around 300 million Adivasis depend on the forest lands in India, the States are handing over the forest lands for industries and promoting plantation forestry instead of natural species which do not provide livelihood to Adivasis.
One positive news from the region, however, is that Rio Tinto has finally decided to abandon a Diamond Mining Project in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The company declined to comment on local reports that the nation’s environment ministry refused to grant permission for the mine because of its potential impact on forests and tiger habitats. The mine was likely to yield 34.2 million carats over its lifetime, according to Rio Tinto’s website. Operations were expected to commence in 2019.
It is also worth mentioning that India has set out plans to boost its biofuels market over the next few years in an effort to beef up its energy security. This is raising concern over the impact that biofuel related agribusiness might have on lands inhabited by indigenous peoples. Blending 5% of biodiesel with regular diesel and 10% ethanol with gasoline could boost the market to 500 billion rupees (€6.7 billion) by 2022, from about 65 billion rupees now, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said at an Indian conference on biofuels. India would require 6.75 billion litres of biodiesel and 4.5 billion litres of ethanol for blending over the six years, he said.
Also in NEPAL, indigenous nationalities observed the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. At an event organised by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal rhetorically expressed commitment to make the day a public holiday from next year. While some may have been impressed by the prime minister’s gesture, it says little about what his plans are in improving the lives of indigenous nationalities. Among others, the indigenous nationalities (Adivasi Janajatis)—comprising 35.81 per cent of the total population, according to the 2011 census—face various difficulties in maintaining their cultural and linguistic identities. Centuries of hegemony of the so-called high castes has resulted in the exclusion of indigenous people from mainstream social, economic and political processes.
In AUSTRALIA, thousands have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off. The Wave Hill walk-off came after years of exploitation, violence and murders of Aboriginal people in the region. In protest against poor conditions, meagre wages and rations in return for hard work, Vincent Lingiari led 200 people off the Wave Hill cattle station. The fight stretched for seven years, and laid the foundations for the Indigenous land rights battle. It wasn’t until 1975 that the Gurindji won their land back in a historic ceremony attended by the then prime minister, Gough Whitlam.
Since then, aboriginal people have witnessed some gains in the reclamation of their ancestral territories. For instance, recently, the Northern Land Council has successfully argued on behalf of the Rrumburriya Borroloola claim group, against opposition from the Northern Territory and Commonwealth Governments that Indigenous people living in the area had historically practiced commerce with Macassan traders from Indonesia. The determination, handed down by Justice John Mansfield at a ceremony in the Gulf of Carpentaria mining service and tourism town, gives the Rrumburriya group exclusive native title rights and the right to trade over the majority of 2,797 acres within the township boundary of Borroloola, on land where there is not already businesses and government infrastructure.
The Australia’s Northern Land Council has also agreed to permitting an Aboriginal-owned mining company to commence a small-scale bauxite operation in northeast Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. This is believed to be the first time an Aboriginal clan has operated a mine on land it traditionally owned.
In spite of these small gains, the overall situation of Indigenous people in Australia today is still reflected in increasingly horrific statistics and data on incarceration rates, spiralling youth suicide rates, educational and health gaps, the on-going removal of Aboriginal kids from their families and communities in epidemic numbers, the attacks on land rights and closure of remote communities. Aboriginal people make up just 3 per cent of the Australian population yet make up 28 per cent of total prison inmates.
Elsewhere, in China, thousands of communities are crumbling as the effects of the mining boom spell disaster for those who live above exhausted mines. For instance, Helin village residents in Shanxi province are struggling to fight against the ground crumbling beneath their homes. While a number of communities in Shanxi have been evacuated, the residents of Helin have not yet been ordered to move, despite decades of coal mining at about 100 pits leaving the ground ravaged. Residents, however, are more than willing to pack up as soon as the government gives the go-ahead. Shanxi province alone plans to move 655,000 residents by the end of next year from unsafe old mining regions, with the cost of relocation estimated at 15.8 billion yuan ($2.37 billion). The Shanxi government estimates coal mining has cost the province 77 billion yuan in “environmental economic losses.
Also China’s national parks are now being threatened by illegal mining. Illegal activity is destroying wide swathes of forests and polluting water in protected areas on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Similarly, China’s best-preserved forest in south-west Yunnan province is also under threat from illegal mining, according to a new report. A study by Greenpeace shows mining and industry activity in the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan protected area is destroying pristine forests in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The area is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The mining sector has been a crucial part of China’s rapid economic expansion in the last three decades, but poor regulation and weak enforcement of standards has contaminated much of the country’s soil and left parts of its land and water supplies unfit for human use, threatening public health. According to draft rules published on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) (http://www.mep.gov.cn), miners will be forced to treat more than 85 per cent of their wastewater, and they must put systems in place to achieve the “comprehensive utilisation” of tailings and other solid waste.
In RUSSIA mining companies have violated indigenous Shor peoples’ rights, in Myski Municipal District, Kemerovo Oblast. According to local indigenous Shor people, they have suffered from a process of systematic destruction resulting from mining companies’ operations, including OAO Yuzhnaya. The villagers are now displaced, some are reported homeless. No adequate substitute land has been offered and no compensation provided that would enable the former inhabitants to rebuild their livelihood. A document on the discrimination against Shor communities in Myski Municipal District, Kemerovo Oblast can be downloaded through the link below: https://www.google.it/search?q=shor+people+of+Kemerovo+Oblast&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&ei=QEjIV9rCNeSP8Qeg76HYAQ
Moving to the African Continent, in addition to the tragic updates from DR Congo, the situation in other African nations is equally disturbing. For instance, in Ghana, artisanal mining is causing mounting pollution in the local waterways and it threats the livelihoods of fishermen, fishmongers and farmers.
In Kenya, the 2010 constitution protects indigenous rights to land, but the community land bill, that is meant to put these into law is yet to be passed by parliament. As a result, indigenous people like the Ogiek face an uncertain future. More than 200 families, all from the indigenous Ogiek minority, were evicted from their homes on the slopes of Mount Elgon in western Kenya by a force of about 50 police and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) rangers in June.
While some people found refuge with friends and family, or have been able to build shelters, many still have only trees for cover. About 80,000 Ogiek live close to the border with Uganda and in the Mau forest, roughly 140 miles to the south-east, according to Kenya’s 2009 census (pdf). The overall situation of the indigenous peoples and rural communities of Kenya is unlikely to improve due to the expansion of the mining sector that has been regarded by the government as a key pillar for growth and economic transformation. Mining expansion is surely going to fuel more land grabbing and rapid urbanisation at the expenses of traditional communities. Not surprisingly, Masai pastoralists are seeing significant tracts of their land being sold to private developers, with no consultation at all with the local inhabitants.
In Uganda, oil palm expansion continues, in spite of various protests locally and abroad. One of them has taken place in London where protesters have criticized the modus operandi of the company BIDCO. Activists of the the Bidco Truth Coalition (BTC) have picketed the London headquarters of Barclays and Standard Chartered, who they claim are funding Bidco Africa’s deforestation to make way for palm oil production in places like Uganda. The Coalition says the Banking Environment Initiative (BEI), based at Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership under the patronage of The Prince of Wales, is failing in its mission to lead the banking industry in collectively directing capital towards environmentally and socially sustainable economic development. Also the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) based in Rome (Italy) has been a major backer of the project and Bidco came in later as the private sector partner by registering a Ugandan subsidiary to oversee the venture. As IFAD itself has admitted, the organization has supported the establishment of Oil Uganda Limited (OPUL), a private company in which Bidco, the private sector operator and the Trust representing small-scale producers are partners. IFAD funds also supported the establishment of the Kalangala Palm oil Growers Trust, which has a 10 per cent share in OPUL. IFAD claims that oil palm development presents an opportunity for the organization to support poor rural people in Uganda with a viable and sustainable livelihood option and that smallholders and women in particular have been economically empowered. However, evidences from local advocates and members of local communities portray a completely different scenario. IFAD argument that domestic production of oil palm in Uganda improves the consumption of oils and fats locally, thus improving nutrition, can be easily dismantled on the bases of factual evidences. The credibility of IFAD as an institution helping the poorest of the poor (as well as indigenous people) has already been questioned by various independent commentators who criticise the Fund for offering undue privileges to its staff and supporting questionable projects while backing-up the global economic status quo and neoliberal policies that disadvantage the poor. In 2010, Italy’s first English language newspaper ‘Italian Insiders’ has revealed that Felix Kanayo Nwanze, current IFAD President, was spending about 400,000 euros a year for the rental and maintenance of a luxurious villa complex on the exclusive Appia Antica (see http://www.italianinsider.it/?q=node/98). In spite of the scandal, Mr. Nwanze has not been removed from his position.
In Liberia, which has been featured several times in previous CALG bulletins, oil palm expansion is causing much environmental damage and severe social unrest. The current economic model of transferring land to foreign investors on a massive scale fails to acknowledge the rights of rural communities to collectively own and manage their territories. These foreign investments rarely deliver their promise of shared economic development, and instead impoverish the very people they claim to help. Some 40% of Liberia is under concessions for logging, oil and mining. While these lands may appear empty on government maps, they are home to millions. A recent analysis by the Munden Group of 237 mining and agriculture concessions in Liberia found that all had established communities in their midst. The ancestors of the people in these rural communities have lived on and farmed this land since before Liberia became a Republic in 1847 — long before Sirleaf’s government took power and before the dictatorships and civil wars that wreaked havoc across the country.
In SOUTH AFRICA conflicts between local communities and mining continues. A new published book “Broke and Broken” narrates the story of the thousands of men from South Africa and beyond its borders who are victims of the legacy of gold mining. The book is an account of men who left their homes as healthy, ambitious youngsters but returned Broke, Broken and Bitter.
In this bulletin’s edition, GUATEMALA is the highlighted country for Latin America. Here, the recent arrest of an indigenous leader has sparked outrage among the country’s indigenous communities. Most collective rights all over the country are perennially under attack. The right to FPIC and collective control of territory are arguably the greatest legal struggles that Guatemalan indigenous peoples have faced. Thousands of indigenous communities continue to protest the construction of large natural resource development projects like open-pit mines and hydroelectric dams on or near where they live. In some places these projects have been slowed or postponed, but rarely has a project been completely halted. Recently it was announced that the most contentious mining project in Guatemala, Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, will close. But this is only after years of operations that have damaged the environment, public health and social fabric of the surrounding communities. Further, indigenous individuals who lead the movements against projects like the Marlin Mine have been targeted in assassination attempts and sometimes imprisoned under questionable legal grounds.
In addition to this, the arrogance and disrespect of foreign companies towards Guatemalan indigenous people has not gone unnoticed. Recently, Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources filed a lawsuit to prevent a village from voting on their mine — which the people rejected by 98 per cent.
The California-based Network in Solidarity with Guatemala (NISGUA) and the Guatemalan Diocesan Committee in Defence of Nature (CODIDENA) represented by the Canada-based Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, submitted a 36-page report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal agency that oversees financial securities laws. The report details why Tahoe should face careful scrutiny and be held liable under U.S. law for failing to disclose to investors key details about local community opposition and human rights concerns swirling around the contentious Escobal silver mine.
On the World Day of Indigenous Peoples, a collective of Indigenous groups presented a proposal to the Guatemalan government demanding a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution to recognize Indigenous land rights and check the power of corporations looking to exploit local resources by re-founding Guatemala as a “plurinational” state.
In BOLIVIA, the struggle against mining is turning bloody. Recently, Bolivian authorities have accused the president of a mining federation and two of his top officials of the killing of Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes, 56. Illanes was kidnapped and beaten to death by striking mine-workers on Thursday after to going to the town of Panduro, 80 miles (130 kilometres) south of La Paz, to mediate in the dispute over mining laws and dwindling pay checks. Three protesters have been killed in clashes with riot police, stoking tensions. The striking miners had armed themselves with dynamite and seized several highways, stranding thousands of vehicles and passengers. llanes’ murder underscored how President Evo Morales, a former coca growers’ union leader, has increasingly found himself at odds with the same kind of popular social movements that fuelled his rise to power and have made up his political base.
In COLOMBIA, the impact of mining on the environment and local communities is well known. The country has one of the highest rates of mercury contamination in the Americas. The chemical – widely used to extract gold – seeps into the food chain and causes soil erosion and health problems. Recently a bill, proposed by two congressmen aims to impose stricter penalties on those who use mercury and other chemicals such as cyanide in mining operations with prison sentences of up to 12 years and tougher fines. Almost concurrently to the proposed bill, VENEZUELA – instead – has signed over $5.5 billion in mining deals with companies including Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) and China’s Shandong Gold.
Earlier this month, President Maduro said Venezuela had struck $4.5 billion in mining deals with foreign and domestic companies. He also said that he expected $20 billion in mining investment contracts to be signed in coming days. The impact that this new mining rush will have on indigenous population is predictable and, indeed, a cause of much apprehension amongst indigenous organizations and federations, nationwide.
In neighbouring BRAZIL political crisis is deepening violence against indigenous peoples. More than 20 land rights activists have been killed so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness. This reinforces the country’s reputation for being the most dangerous for environmentalists.
HONDURAS, appears to immediately follow Brazil with at least eight human rights activists being killed in 2016, according to the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR.
According to data from local watchdog, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), 23 Brazilian activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. As we have already highlighted in our previous bulletin, the Guarani-Kaiowa have been among the hardest hit communities from recent escalations in land-related violence. According to a study by the Brazil chapter of the international human rights organization (FIAN) and the Indigenous Missionary Council CIMI, food insecurity in Guarani and Kaiowa Indigenous communities in Brazil’s south-western state of Mato Grosso do Sul is as high as up to 100 per cent, over four times higher than the national average.
Recently, indigenous people living in Brazil’s rainforest have welcomed a decision by the national environment agency to cancel a proposed mega-dam in the Amazon which they say would have displaced communities while opening the sensitive region to logging. Tribes will now be able to better protect the rainforest and continue living on the land because new roads and other infrastructure will not unlock the area’s pristine landscape for loggers.
In MEXICO, on 29 August a mission being organized by the Working Group on Business and Human Rights will visit the country until September 7. This visit will be its second to Latin America, after a mission to Brazil in December 2015. As it is well know, Mexico (the 15th largest economy in the world) doesn’t often invite international human rights institutions on official missions that generate recommendations the government must address seriously. The nation is experiencing a human rights crisis, evidenced by its position atop the lists of forced disappearances and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders (particularly environmentalists). Expectations of the visit are high, although the mission objective might be partially constrained by the vast geography of the country and the variety of issues to be addressed.
In the Caribbean island of TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO descendants of the original indigenous peoples have waited for more than 30 years, so far, for a bit of communal land to call their own. And if you include the time since their land was first stolen from them, they’ve been waiting for a great deal longer—over two centuries, in fact. Today’s descendants of T&T’s indigenous peoples—among the very first “Trinidadians,” or “Kairians”—are a mixed group. Sharing bloodlines from virtually every major race that has lived in Trinidad for the past couple centuries, the amazing thing is that they still exist at all. But indeed they do live on, some surviving what was the worst genocide in T&T’s entire history—a terrible and bloody time when native Amerindians were enslaved, beaten, raped, killed and infected with foreign diseases in a chilling orgy of brutality spearheaded by adventurist Europeans who swept through the Caribbean islands on a path of indigenous destruction and greedy land grabs.
Not far, in NICARAGUA Afro-descendant population are still waiting for a true autonomy which should include the right and power to administer [financial and natural] resources; autonomy and diligence in managing the budget allocated to the autonomous regions; power to propose laws and their amendments to the National Assembly; greater independence in public administration; the possibility of a regional vision. But none of this has been possible so far. In reality, one cannot make reference to the black, or Creole population, as it is also identified, without separating it from the indigenous populations like the Mayagna, Miskito, Garifuna, Rama indigenous peoples and coastal Mestizos, with whom they not only share a history, but also a “coastal” identity despite the enormous differences that separate them from one another. In 1987, during the Sandinista Popular Revolution (1979-1989), the population of the Caribbean Coast demanded a true political and economic inclusion with the rest of the country, with autonomy and respect for their differences. Although the current Nicaraguan state has very good laws and has signed and ratified international declarations and instruments in recognition and respect for “minority” populations, including those of African descent, local Creole activists believes the government has done little or nothing to adhere to and enforce them.
In this bulletin, one of the main updates from NORTH AMERICA regards the opposition of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across their sacred and ancestral lands. Clearly as it appears, the United States has failed to respect the national sovereignty and interests of the Tribe and its people, has failed to respect the nation-to-nation relationship with the Tribe established by treaties, and has failed to properly consult with the Tribe to obtain its free, prior, and informed consent for the construction of the pipeline. Sioux defenders and protectors of ancestral lands, water, and spiritual, historic, and cultural resources at the Camp of the Sacred Stones are currently blocking construction of the pipeline across the Missouri River near the Tribe’s land and territory. Indigenous youths have ran 2,200 miles to Washington, DC, to deliver to the United States government a petition signed by 160,000 people in opposition to the pipeline’s construction. http://www.newsy.com/videos/american-indians-protest-dakota-access-pipeline-construction/#.V7tWlNse6qA.email
Land use changes are not only affecting First Nation people but also bees. In fact, the Northern Great Plains of North and South Dakota, which support over 40 per cent of United States commercial honey bee colonies, are quickly becoming less conducive to commercial beekeeping according to a U.S. Geological Survey study published today. The USGS scientists found that landscape features favoured by beekeepers for honey bee colony, or apiary, locations are decreasing in the region, and crops actively avoided by beekeepers, such as corn and soybeans, are becoming more common in areas with higher apiary density. Areas that showed high levels of grassland loss and high apiary density were mostly in central and southern North Dakota and the eastern half of South Dakota. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
First Nations sacred sites are also being threatened by Uranium Mining in Utah State. Energy Fuel Resources’ Deneros uranium mine is located just five miles west of Natural Bridges National Monument. The company wants to expand the mine from four to 46 acres and more than quadruple the amount of uranium mined. The life of the mine would be extended to 20 years and all of the uranium ore would be trucked through Bears Ears to the White Mesa Uranium Mill. More information on the potentially devastating consequences of this mine are found on Uranium Watch.
Also Southeast Alaska tribes have expressed concern over the proposed mining project which could divert potentially toxic water to southeast Alaska watersheds. Recently, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska met with officials from the Department of State and the Environmental Protection Agency in Juneau. The meeting focused on ways to prevent harm to the region’s water quality and salmon habitat. Another issue of debate amongst Alaskan natives is related to the necessity of drawing a clear distinction between sport and subsistence hunters. This issue has been part of a legal and political debate in Alaska since 1971. On January 3, 1959, Alaska became a state. The Alaska Statehood Act provided the state government with 103.3 million acres of land from a total of about 424 million acres total. About 25 per cent of the Alaska land base was left in federal government hands through the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. When the state government of Alask