Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 18-24, 2009: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues for the Week of March 18 - 24, 2009

Indonesia: REDD In Indonesia Could Evict Forest People From Their Lands, Warns U.N. Committee

In a letter released today, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern that a scheme to promote forest conservation in Indonesia via the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism could increase conflict over land if the government doles out forest-carbon concessions in the same manner that it has with logging and plantation concessions. In the worst cases, forest people could be denied access rights to their traditional territories say indigenous rights' groups.

"The Committee has received information according to which Indonesia continues to lack any effective legal means to recognize, secure and protect indigenous peoples' rights to their lands, territories and resources. For instance, it seems that Indonesia's 2008 'Regulation on Implementation Procedures for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation' reiterates Law 41 of 1999 on Forestry that appears to deny any proprietary rights to indigenous peoples in forests," wrote Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah, Chairperson of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD).

The letter urges the Indonesian government to "review its laws ... as well as the way they are interpreted and implemented in practice, to ensure that they respect the rights of indigenous peoples to possess, develop, control and use their communal lands." Read more about the indigenous Indonesian forest people's struggle here....

Africa: Human Rights Committee Conclude Consideration Of Rwanda's Report With Concerns Raised About The Treatment Of The Batwa

While Rwanda's recent history was stained by "massive violations of civil and political rights", a system based on the rule of law had been painstakingly constructed to tackle forces seeking to sow division, Rwandan Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana said today [19 March 2009], responding to a panel of experts concerned by persistent reports of the lack of political space and press freedom in that country, as well as the Governments' marginalization of minority groups.

As the 18-member Human Rights Committee wrapped up its two-day examination of the third periodic report on Rwanda's adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Mr. Nsengimana said that, since the horrific 1994 genocide, his country was steadily becoming more politically aware and, as with any political system, some fine tuning would be necessary.

Nevertheless, and contrary to lingering misconceptions about Rwanda, a power-sharing Government of both Hutus and Tutsis was indeed in place. " Rwanda wants the rule of law," he said, adding that it was determined to build a State governed by those rules, aimed at ensuring fundamental civil and political rights for all. The Government wanted to allow as much press freedom as possible, but it was ever watchful, especially since the forces that had sparked the genocide were hovering close by in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even inside Rwanda. Read more about the Batwa here....

Colombia: UN Says Some Indigenous Groups In Colombia Threatened With Extinction

The UN refugee agency reports thousands of indigenous people in Colombia continue to be displaced from their homes. The UNHCR warns ongoing fighting between illegal armed groups could cause some of the more vulnerable indigenous groups and their cultures to disappear.

Women of the indigenous Embera tribe participate in a rally in Bogota, Colombia's main plaza, to protest a dam that has wrecked environmental havoc on their ancestral lands. In the latest incident, the U.N. refugee agency says about 2,000 indigenous Embera people have been displaced this month from their territories in different areas along the Baudo River in the Colombian department of Choco.

The UNHCR says they fled as a result of threats and conflict between two illegal armed groups.

This is not a new experience for the Embera people. They have been repeatedly displaced by fighting between the nation's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and a right-wing paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. Read more about Colombia indigenous peoples facing extinction here....

Brazil: Supreme Court Rules Raposa-Serra do Sol Indigenous Territory

In a landmark ruling, Brazil's Supreme Court March 19 found that the Raposa-Serra do Sol indigenous reserve in northern Roraima state should be maintained as a contiguous territory. The 10-1 decision upholds the demarcation of the territory, home to some 18,000 members of the Makuxi and other tribes, as designated in a 2005 presidential decree. The decision requires the removal of rice growers within the reserve, who brought the legal challenge to the demarcation.

"This was a real victory for the peoples of Raposa Serra do Sol," said Dionito José de Souza, general coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR). "We're going to strive to ensure that all indigenous peoples in Brazil enjoy these same rights." A provisional Court ruling in December also backed the Makuxi, but the final verdict was only issued this week.

While the decision was a victory for Raposa Serra do Sol, the judges also issued a number of conditions to the decision that could limit indigenous peoples' rights and future demarcation of indigenous lands. One condition, for example, says that the state could build infrastructure projects found to be in the national interest on indigenous lands without the prior and informed consent of the indigenous communities. Another condition could prevent indigenous communities from regaining lands they occupied prior to 1988, the year the Brazilian Constitution was ratified.

However, the decision also found that indigenous lands along national borders do not constitute a threat to national security—an important ruling given the location of many indigenous communities along the northern and eastern borders of Brazil. The ruling comes as a blow to leading Roraima politicians who had backed the rice farmers, and to Brazil's military, which argued that the reserve represents a national security threat. Raposa-Serra de Sol borders Venezuela on the north. Read more about the Brazil ruling here....

Nicaragua: Caribbean Women Face Double Discrimination

The first criminal prosecution for racial discrimination in Nicaragua, in response to a complaint brought by a woman lawmaker in the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), has focused attention on the segregationist treatment of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean women in the Caribbean coastal regions.

Indigenous and black women make up 52 percent of the 650,000 people living along the country’s Caribbean coast, and they bear the greatest burden of gender and racial discrimination, the rector of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (URACCAN), Alta Hooker, told IPS.

The complaint was lodged on Feb. 12 by Bridgete Budier Bryan, a PARLACEN lawmaker for the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and has highlighted the historical marginalisation of the two autonomous regions, which occupy nearly 46 percent of the land area of this country.

Nicaragua's eastern coastline is on the Caribbean Sea (part of the Atlantic Ocean), and its western shores are on the Pacific. Read more about Nicaragua indigenous discrimination here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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