Geneva, 24 September 2020
Indigenous peoples’ representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to address the Human Rights Council for the first time since assuming my mandate. I look forward to carrying out my Special Rapporteurship with enthusiasm and personal commitment and to build on the important work done by of my predecessors in advancing towards greater implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I consider this opportunity as the culmination of my four decades of tireless advocacy in favour of indigenous peoples’ rights.
Today the emphasis of my statement will be on the three reports of my predecessor that I am presenting to the Council.
However, I must start by noting that I took office on 1st May this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. My mandate has received a huge volume of information regarding the particular risks and violations experienced by indigenous peoples all over the world, both due to the virus itself and due to measures taken by States during the crisis. The pandemic has created an unprecedented wave of fear, sadness and hardship for many people across the globe, yet indigenous peoples feel particularly forgotten and left behind.
Indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to the disease due to inadequate access to health care, clean water and due to their prior health conditions. The escalating evictions of indigenous peoples from their lands and the loss of their traditional livelihoods, combined with the hardships of COVID-19 is aggravating extreme poverty and malnutrition in indigenous communities. Next month I will present my first report to the General Assembly. It examines the impact of COVID-19 on the rights of indigenous peoples and in this report I specifically call for greater recognition of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination as essential to ensure their resilience to situations of crisis such as the pandemic. I also call for early inclusion of indigenous peoples and their institutions in contingency measures, crisis management and recovery planning, in order to ensure that their needs and requirements are taken into account and addressed by national programmes and policies.
I will now turn to the three reports of my predecessor Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz that I am presenting to the Council.
In her last thematic report to the Council, the former Special Rapporteur highlights examples of positive impacts on the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples from the work that was carried out during the period of her mandate 2014-2020. Among the examples highlighted are her interventions that contributed to the acquittal of indigenous leaders defending the land rights of their communities. Other examples illustrate how she intervened directly with several Governments and financial investors in large-scale development projects across Asia, Africa and Latin America and successfully urged them to suspend activities pending compliance with human rights. In some instances her advocacy contributed to halting evictions of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands. In other situations she contributed to land rights litigation being decided in favour of indigenous peoples and the initiation of land demarcation and titling processes.
The report also considers experiences and lessons learned regarding consultation processes and puts forward recommendation on the implementation of international standards on consultation and free, prior and informed consent.
The second report I am presenting today is a regional overview of the situation of indigenous peoples in Asia. The former Special Rapporteur conducted a regional consultation in Bangkok in November 2019 attended by more than 100 representatives of indigenous peoples from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Viet Nam, as well as Taiwan Province of China.
During the consultation discussions and exchanges took place about the current challenges faced by indigenous peoples in Asia. The report from the consultation focuses on issues relating to self-determination, governance and justice systems; lands, territories and resources; conservation; climate change; business and human rights; human rights defenders; and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report raises concerns over the massive displacement that indigenous peoples face across Asia and the destruction of their environment and rising poverty due to land-grabbing. Large-scale development projects including dams, mining, monocrop plantations and logging are increasing in the region and causing serious human rights violations as indigenous peoples lose their traditional lands and resources. Across the region, indigenous peoples often lack legal recognition of their status and there is widespread failure to protect their lands and respect their rights to participate and to be consulted in decisions affecting them. I concur with my predecessor that States must take measures to prevent violence and the criminalisation of indigenous peoples who exercise their rights in the defence of their lands and territories. Strengthening the regulation of private companies is essential.
Looking forward, it must be emphasised that the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and their traditional practices is crucial in order to achieve sustainable development, combat climate change and the conservation of biodiversity. This applies not only in Asia but across the globe.
In terms of country visits, I am presenting a report from my predecessor’s visit to the Republic of the Congo in October 2019. In her report, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz welcomes the legal framework adopted to protect and promote indigenous peoples’ rights since the last visit of the mandate in 2010 and notes some progress in reducing the direct discrimination of indigenous peoples in the country. Nevertheless, she witnessed the continued marginalisation of indigenous peoples living in extreme poverty, forced away from their forests to make way for commercial and conservation projects, or as a result of past and continuing assimilationist approaches. Redoubled efforts are needed to implement the 2011 National Law for the promotion of Indigenous Peoples, in particular with regards to land rights and access to basic services, but also the need for special recognition of indigenous peoples’ traditional lifestyle and knowledge of ecosystem management and conservation.
Unfortunately, the last country visit of Ms. Tauli-Corpuz to Denmark and Greenland in March earlier this year was interrupted due to COVID-19. As soon as the public health conditions allow, I will be pleased to conduct my first official country in Greenland and Denmark, resuming the visit started by my predecessor.
In terms of future country visits during my mandate, I will continue to seek country visits to Asia and Africa and I urge States in these regions to accept my requests to visit officially. In terms of thematic priorities during my mandate period, I will continue the focus on human rights concerns relating to land rights, attacks and criminalisation of indigenous peoples, conservation and climate change. Inevitably, I will continue to monitor COVID-19 impacts closely. I also wish to explore issues which I consider require additional attention such as challenges faced by indigenous peoples in urban areas, the impact of forced and bonded labour and analysis of how environmental and social impact assessments are carried out.
I will now conclude my statement and thank you all for your attention.