Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 17-23, 2009: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues for the Week of June 17 - 23, 2009

International: Lack Of Indigenous Rights Policies Puts Companies At Risk

Report finds that few companies engaged in extractive business activities in indigenous lands have policies that address indigenous rights concerns.

Despite the fact that 250 companies listed on the FTSE All World Developed Index have a high- or medium-risk exposure to the rights of indigenous people, the quality of corporate reporting on indigenous rights issues is poor, and fewer than 20% have policies that require free prior informed consultation for indigenous peoples.

A report issued by Ethical Investment Research Services (EIRIS) and the Center for Australian Ethical Research (CAER) also found that only 19% of companies disclose employment data on indigenous people, and 6% have a policy addressing involuntary resettlement.

The report, entitled Indigenous Rights: Risks and Opportunities for Investors, identifies several key issues for indigenous people, who account for 5% of the world's population but over 15% of the world's poor. Perhaps the most important key issue is that of consultation or consent regarding extractive business activities in ancestral lands. Because only consent gives indigenous people veto power over such activities, the report grades management response as good only when companies commit to free prior informed consent. Read more about corporate investment on indigenous lands here....

United States: Coalition Petitioning For Glacier Park Protections

Glacier National Park and its neighbor to the north are endangered by mining proposals, and the international community must intervene to protect the region's natural and cultural heritage.

That's the message being delivered this week by tribal leaders, community organizers, business interests and conservationists, whose concerns will be aired at the 33rd annual meeting of the United Nations World Heritage Committee.

“Our petition,” said Will Hammerquist, “asks the World Heritage Committee to hear the concerns of local communities and indigenous peoples by recognizing the threat these projects pose to a globally significant ecosystem.”

Hammerquist works for the National Parks Conservation Association, which joined a dozen other groups in petitioning for the endangered status.

Glacier, along with adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, was named a World Heritage Site in 1995, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. At the time, UNESCO recognized the region for its “outstanding universal value.”

As two of the 157 signatories to the World Heritage treaty, Hammerquist said, both the United States and Canada accepted certain conservation obligations. But Canada has failed to meet those, he said, by moving ahead with controversial coal and coalbed methane energy development plans in southeastern British Columbia, on the borders of the parks.

Last year, NPCA joined a bi-national coalition representing a half-million Americans and Canadians, asking for a UNESCO review. Currently, only 30 World Heritage sites around the globe are listed as endangered. None is in North America. Read more about Native Americans and Glacier National Park here....

Greenland: Fondly, Greenland Loosens Danish Rule

The thing about being from Greenland, said Susan Gudmundsdottir Johnsen, is that many outsiders seem to have no clue where it actually is.

“They say, ‘Oh, my God, Greenland?’ It’s like they’ve never heard of it,” said Ms. Johnsen, 36, who was born in Iceland but has lived on this huge, largely frozen northern island for 25 years. “I have to explain: ‘Here you have a map. Here’s Europe. The big white thing is Greenland.’ ”

But Greenland, with 58,000 people and only two traffic lights, both of them here in the capital, is now securing its place in the world. On Sunday, amid solemn ceremony and giddy celebration, it ushered in a new era of self-governance that sets the stage for eventual independence from Denmark, its ruler since 1721.

The move, which allows Greenland to gradually take responsibility over areas like criminal justice and oil exploration, follows a referendum last year in which 76 percent of voters said they wanted self-rule. Many of the changes are deeply symbolic. Kalaallisut, a traditional Inuit dialect, is now the country’s official language, and Greenlanders are now recognized under international law as a separate people from Danes.

Thrillingly, the Greenlandic government now gets to call itself by its Inuit name, Naalakkersuisut — the first time in history, officials said, that the word has been used in a Danish government document. Read more about Greenland and it's self-governance here....

Peru: Amazonian Indians End Protest After Peru's Congress Repeals Decrees

A 10-week protest by Peru's Amazonian indigenous groups against legislation that facilitates development in their region ended yesterday after the Peruvian Congress repealed two legislative decrees. Leaders of the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association, AIDESEP, called upon thousands of indigenous protesters to lift blockades of two highways and return to their villages.

The congressional vote was a partial victory for the seven indigenous organizations that AIDESEP represents, which were demanding that the government repeal nine decrees. Indigenous leaders claim those decrees threaten their people's rights to land and natural resources, and that they violate the UN International Labor Organization's convention 169, which requires the government to consult indigenous groups before passing laws that will impact them.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia signed the decrees last year as part of an extensive legislative package designed to help Peru comply with its Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

In a televised address to the nation on June 16, Garcia admitted that it was a mistake not to consult indigenous leaders when drafting the legislation, though he added that he didn't think the decrees affected indigenous lands. Read more about the Peruvian protest here....

Bangladesh: Eviction Of Indigenous People

The news out of Khatirpur at Porsha in Naogaon, where over 50 indigenous families have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their land, shocks us all. We unequivocally condemn this barbarous act, and strongly urge the government to take remedial action.

The victimisation of Bangladesh's indigenous populations is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. We feel that the government has a special responsibility to protect the country's minority communities and to ensure that none of their rights are violated.

It is because of their being in a minority, being out of the mainstream of society that land-grabbers and other criminal elements feel emboldened to cheat them or deny them of their rights.

Powerful members of the majority community calculate that no one will lift a finger to help such marginalised people, and that they can thus be targeted with impunity. The government must ensure that this assumption is proved wrong.

Indeed, this government has a reputation for being protective of minority rights, and, as such, we very much hope that it will move swiftly to correct this injustice and to ensure that the affected families are able to swiftly get back their land and live there without fear of reprisal. Read more about the indigenous peoples eviction here....

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

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