Lasting peace requires that States establish conflict-resolution mechanisms with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, in particular indigenous women, declared the three main UN entities charged with advancing indigenous rights in a 9 August joint statement. This is because, in large part, indigenous peoples are increasingly being drawn into conflicts over their lands, resources and rights. And they are paying a heavy price for it. Indigenous human rights defenders are increasingly at risk around the world. Sources report that 281 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries in 2016, more than double the number who died in 2014. Human rights organizations also report an alarming rise in arrests and harassment of indigenous human rights defenders, both by state and non-state actors, in recent years.
In this interview with Politically Speaking, Dr. Albert Barume, Chairperson of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, talked about how the UN could help prevent conflicts related to land and indigenous rights, and attendant violations.
Politically Speaking: Why is there a marked uptick in arrests, harassment and even killings of defenders of indigenous peoples’ rights in the last few years? Is there a larger development that can be identified?
Dr. Albert Barume: The recent growing numbers of indigenous human rights defenders killed or arrested is mostly due to indigenous peoples’ enhanced resistance to oppression. Furthermore, human rights violations against indigenous peoples are today easily documented and shared globally thanks to open media platforms. Indigenous peoples and communities have experienced an enhanced understanding of their rights over the last years, including through the work of the three UN mechanisms devoted to indigenous peoples issues and access to information at global scale. There is also a much more globalised network of indigenous peoples, sharing information and cross fertilising. These trends are likely to continue growing, with indigenous youth gradually taking on responsibilities, getting involved in community issues and using efficiently new information platforms and social media.
What are root causes of such conflicts?
The root causes of conflicts between indigenous peoples and other interested parties, including States and private sector, are rooted in discriminatory dominant development paradigms that for centuries have justified dispossession of indigenous peoples’ lands and resources and thereby denying them their cultural existence, self-determined development and life in dignity.
How can the UN help prevent conflicts over land rights and protect the rights of indigenous people?
The UN can help prevent the scaling up of conflicts and tensions between States and indigenous peoples by enabling dialogue between the two parties. But for that to occur, trust needs to be built first between indigenous peoples and States because there cannot be dialogue without trust. Trust-building initiatives as first steps towards conflict-diffusing or -preventing dialogues will be critical, as many treaty bodies have underlined, including the ILO Committee of Experts on Application of Convention and Recommendation with regards to application of ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples. Dialogue between indigenous peoples and States would lead to among others effective mechanisms of consultation or FPIC (free, prior and informed consent) that are devised in collaboration with indigenous peoples themselves.
What role should indigenous people play post-conflict? How can indigenous people be included in mediation processes?
Indigenous peoples should be considered as front role players when it comes to addressing conflicts that affect them or in which they are involved. But in seeking to achieve such an objective, it is imperative that indigenous peoples’ own conflict resolution or prevention mechanisms are looked into or used. To that end, indigenous peoples’ decision making processes and institutions are to be given a particular attention. For instance, many indigenous peoples’ lands and territories are occupied or used by armed or terrorist groups. There are also cases where indigenous youth has been left with no economic opportunities and thereby exposed to the risk of being recruited by armed and similar groups, including terrorist groups and global drug cartels. In such situations, the role of indigenous peoples’ communities structures and institutions in resolving such global security issues would be of critical importance, as illustrated by many ongoing situations.
Because these conflicts usually have a development, human rights and political angle. how does the UN’s response fit into the 2030 agenda?
The UN Agenda 2030 offers an opportunity for synchronised and multi stockholder approach to conflicts affecting indigenous peoples in general. But there is a risk of focussing too much on development or social issues, without paying similar attention of human rights and political issues. Quite often, a narrow understanding of development portrays itself as being non-political or having nothing to do with human rights. The World Bank had for instance had such official position for decades, arguing that it focusses on development and does not interfere with political issues or human rights. The UN and the international community should shift away from such a compartmentalised view or narrow approach to development if the Agenda 2030 is to deliver what is expected from it.
Title picture: Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, a Cree Chief from Canada, makes a ceremonial call to order prior to an event held on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), under the theme, “A Decade in Review: Achieving the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. 09 August 2017, New York. UN Photo/Kim Haughton