BY AMY LUMBAN GAOL AND LIA DAHLIA
President Joko Widodo has bestowed the right to manage customary forests on nine indigenous communities, heralding the end of decades of uncertainty and the beginning of a new era of secure right to land. The World Agroforestry Centre and Global Affairs Canada have helped one community regain control of their forests.
Indonesia has had a long history of conflict over control of its massive areas of tropical forests that are spread across the many thousands of islands that make up the archipelagic nation. Declaration under former Dutch colonial rule of state ownership of all forests was rarely accepted by the millions of people who lived in them and who had managed them sustainably for centuries.
Widodo’s formal handover of titles is a highly symbolic step in the long fight for recognition by indigenous communities, whose customary rights remained contested by the new nationalist government after independence in 1945 despite being enshrined in the founding constitution. The islands now known as Indonesia have long been home to thousands of distinct ethnic groups with their own languages, customs and identity.
‘The recognition of customary management of forests is not restricted to the acknowledgment of communities’ rights as stated in the 1945 Constitution. Recognition also means an appreciation of Indonesia’s original values and its identity as a nation’, said Widodo in his opening speech at the Declaration of Recognition of Indigenous Forests event held at the presidential palace in Jakarta, 30 December 2016.
The event was attended by international and national figures, including representatives of the nine indigenous communities receiving customary titles, including the leader of the Kajang people of South Sulawesi, Andi Buyung Saputra. Abdullah Mojaddedi, representing the Government of Canada, was also a special guest along with James M. Roshetko, senior agroforestry scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre and the leader of the Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi (AgFor) project. AgFor had supported the Kajang people in their struggle to achieve legal recognition of the management of their sacred forests. AgFor itself was supported by the Government of Canada.
Of the nine recipients, the Kajang were noted by Widodo as a national model from which others could learn. The road leading to recognition was long and fraught, with conflict between the Kajang, different levels of government and the private sector over control of the forests. The fight began when a previous national government had changed the management status of the Kajang’s forests from ‘indigenous’ to ‘production forests with limited uses’, bringing them under the management of the government for various purposes, including allocation to the private sector for the development of rubber plantations.
Roshetko explained that, ‘Good coordination between AgFor’s partner organizations, the Kajang community and local government was a key to assisting the creation of the Bulukumba District Regulation on Inauguration, Recognition and Protection of the Indigenous People of Ammatoa Kajang. The regulation has led to the current point: recognition of indigenous management of forests, issuing of the presidential decree, and handover of title’.
L-R: Andi Buyung Saputra, head of Kajang sub-district and the Labbiria, a Kajang leader; H. Mansur Embas, secretary of the Ammatoa Customary Association; Jaja Icci, village head and daughter of the Ammatoa, the highest Kajang leader; President Joko Widodo; Salam, Galla Lombo, a key Kajang figure; Jamaluddin Tambi, Galla Malleleng, another key figure in the Kajang community. Photo Credit: World Agroforestry Centre/Center for International Forestry Research/Agus Mulyana
Andi Adriardi, a member of Balang, an NGO working with the AgFor project that had helped the Kajang achieve ownership of the title, said that, ‘The Indonesian national government identified the case of the Kajang indigenous forest as a good lesson that approaches perfection it is a well-managed forest where the Kajang have developed a set of local regulations that affirm, recognize and protect based on traditional management, which is supported by modern spatial mapping’.
Even though the Kajang’s forests are relatively small and isolated, the struggle to protect them has had a great impact on the Government of Indonesia’s policy. Not unimportantly or perhaps unsurprisingly, the Kajang’s forests are home to a wealth of endemic species that provide important cultural functions for the people. The forests also store carbon on an island with nearly all of its carbon stock—also known as trees—removed in the last few decades. The deforestation not only increased carbon emissions and contributed to global warming but subsequent agricultural uses have struggled to maintain soil fertility and productivity owing to increased erosion and general degradation of the land that followed the loss of the forests.
Saputra, in his acceptance speech in response to the handover of title by Widodo, noted that, ‘Our traditional wisdom has played an important role in managing and preserving our forests. This has contributed to keeping our Earth greener and reducing the negative impacts of climate change’.
The process toward resolving the conflict and achieving the return of customary title had begun some years before when, in 2008, the Bulukumba District Forestry Agency, assisted by Hasanuddin University, took the initiative to draft a regulation about the Kajang’s forests. That first initiative faced many challenges and for various reasons could not be implemented.
In 2012, the AgFor project started in South Sulawesi with support from the Government of Canada. One of its objectives was to increase the awareness, understanding and technical capacity of participatory governance of agricultural land and forests. Picking up on the government and Kajang’s desire to resolve the conflict, experts in governance from the Center for International Forestry Research, one of the partners of AgFor, provided training in collaborative processes to address complex problems, conflict-resolution techniques, participatory mapping, database development and analysis, and how data can be linked to creating policies.
This is an excerpt of an article published on Agroforestry World's website on February 15, 2017.
By Linda A. Thompson
As a lead organiser with the Minnesota-based grassroots NGO Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Kandi Mossett’s work focuses on extreme energy and just transition. Mossett is also a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation as well as a 37-year-old mother, who has been active in the Standing Rock protests since August last year. Demonstrators, including members of more than 200 indigenous nations across the United States, are trying to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Since April 2016, protestors have set up vast camps at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to oppose the construction of a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline on grounds that it will contaminate water supplies and disturb sacred burial grounds. In an interview with Equal Times, which was conducted before President Trump signed a presidential memorandum advancing construction of the pipeline on 24 January, Mossett talks about the battle ahead now that Barack Obama is no longer in the White House.
Early in December 2016, the US Army announced that it would suspend work on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and that it would consider rerouting the project. Does that mean the fight is over?
No. The only power that the Army Corps of Engineers had was to deny the permit underneath the Missouri River. And as we’re all aware, Donald Trump is a supporter of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We feel like we’re going to have an uphill battle on our hands as we continue into this new year under a Trump administration.
How do you think this issue will evolve under his presidency?
A lot of people are pessimistic but at the same time, a lot of what happened with Standing Rock has already sparked the beginning of the movement that we need in the US if we want to move away from a fossil fuel economy and into a renewable energy economy. Donald Trump being elected is actually sparking what I would call a revolution in the US. Sometimes things need to fall apart before they can be put back together again, and I feel like that’s where we are right now with the Trump presidency. It’s already bringing together people and organisations and movements that didn’t necessarily work together before, like we’ve never seen before.
What kind of president are you expecting Donald Trump to be on indigenous issues?
I don’t expect much from Donald Trump, specifically when it comes to indigenous issues. You have to consider that the US was founded upon the taking, pillaging and destruction of indigenous lands while trying to exterminate us so that colonisers could get the resources that they sought. We’ve lived through genocide and we are still here. Donald Trump is just another bump in the road.
How does the traditional role of indigenous women as protectors of water and sacred lands relate to the central role they’ve played in the Standing Rock protests?
A long time ago, our men had the roles of being warriors, going out, getting food and going to war with other tribes. In many cultures – not all – women are the keepers of the water and men are the keepers of the fire. As we were put onto reservations in the 1800s and 1700s, men lost their roles. That was a really bad time for native men specifically, and I think we’re still healing and recovering from that. They lost that ability to be that caretaker, while many women in indigenous communities continue to have this tie and spiritual connection to the Earth. I have been working with the IEN for over 10 years, and I have seen a majority of women leading the movement. I think it’s a natural occurrence to step up and step into that role of saying: ‘Look, we understand what happened to our warriors, to our men, but we’re not going to be oppressed any longer. We’re going to fight and be the ones that take the lead if our men can’t.’
How does Standing Rock relate to the wider environmental and cultural issues today facing indigenous people globally?
That’s pretty simple to answer because in the world today indigenous peoples only make up 4 per cent of the population, but our lands make up a majority of the resources of the fossil fuel industry. And so we inherently have a right and an obligation to protect the soil that we grow our food in, the water that we’re going to drink and the air we live and breathe. And as we continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to poison it, we are poisoning ourselves. There’s no question anymore for indigenous people that this is literally life or death. So when it comes to indigenous populations around the world, we choose to fight, to stand up and to have a voice. The scariest thing is that in other countries, beyond the United States, especially in South America, people are being killed for standing up and voicing their concerns.
What lessons can we draw from Standing Rock about how to combat environmental racism?
The biggest way to combat environmental racism is through education and visiting and talking with each other, which is one of the hardest things to do. The biggest thing that we can continue to do is educate a perceived enemy on the reality of our life. I think people should also never underestimate the power of prayer and ceremony. The way that so many people came together at Standing Rock –15,000 at one point – it just shows that, yes, the country, indeed the world, is ready for this. But don’t be afraid to push it and to go out into those areas and push this model of just transition where we’re simultaneously phasing out the fossil fuel industry while bringing in a renewable energy economy. Because we care about jobs deeply: many of our relatives work in these positions. So we care about their jobs and their livelihoods but the basic common sense understanding is that there are no jobs on a dead planet. So we have to push for those jobs that aren’t abrasive and abusive to the planet that we rely on to live.
This interview was published on Equal Times' website on February 15, 2017.
Dropping water levels in Kenya’s Lake Turkana following the development of dams and plantations in Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley threaten the livelihoods of half a million indigenous people in Ethiopia and Kenya, Human Rights Watch said today.
Based on publicly available data from the United States Department of Agriculture, Lake Turkana’s water levels have dropped by approximately 1.5 meters since January 2015, and further reduction is likely without urgent efforts to mitigate the impact of Ethiopia’s actions. Human Rights Watch research based on satellite imagery shows that the drop is already affecting the shoreline of the lake, which has receded as much as 1.7 kilometers in Ferguson Gulf since November 2014. The Gulf is a critical fish breeding area, and a key fishing ground for the indigenous Turkana people.
“The predicted drop in the lake levels will seriously affect food supplies in the Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which provide the livelihoods for half a million people in both Kenya and Ethiopia,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Ethiopian government’s moves to develop its resources should not endanger the survival of indigenous people living downstream.”
In 2015, the reservoir behind the new Gibe III dam in Ethiopia began filling. Water that previously flowed unimpeded into Lake Turkana, replenishing seasonal drops in lake levels, has since been held behind the Gibe III dam. In 2015 the annual July-November flood from the Omo River into Lake Turkana did not occur, resulting in a drop of water levels of 1.3 meters from November 2014. The very limited artificial release of water from Gibe III in 2016 was not enough to replenish water levels in Lake Turkana. As of January 30, 2017, lake levels were approximately 1.5 meters lower than they were two years earlier according to the data.
People living in fishing communities along Lake Turkana who spoke to Human Rights Watch in August 2016, were generally aware of the risks posed by Gibe III but largely uninformed about the plantations and the devastating impact they could have on their livelihoods. When Human Rights Watch visited communities around Ferguson Gulf on the western lake shores that month, local residents had noticed changes from previous years in the lake levels.
People who depend on fishing for their livelihood said that their daily catch has been reduced. One 50-year-old woman living near Lake Turkana told Human Rights Watch in August 2016: “It has been difficult these days…the main issue has been hunger. There is reduced water in the lake.” While multiple factors contribute to the decline, including overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, a further drop in lake levels will most likely reduce catches even further.
In Ethiopia, livelihoods of those living in the Omo Valley depend on cattle grazing and planting crops in the rich alluvial soil along the banks of the Omo River. This alluvial soil is replenished by the annual flood, which deposits water and nutrient rich sediment along the banks. A lack of floods in 2015 and an inadequate artificial flood in 2016 are making it more difficult to grow food along the Omo River.
Some communities have also reported restricted access to the Omo River and food shortages in 2016. Furthermore, the plantations necessitate clearing of land used by agro-pastoral indigenous groups including the Bodi and the Mursi. The Bodi have been the most heavily affected, with a significant area of their land cleared.
“The projections of the water drawdown on Lake Turkana, routinely rubbished by Ethiopia’s government, are coming true and lake levels have started dropping,” Horne said. “This should serve as a warning about what could happen if the Ethiopian government continues to ignore the needs of downstream communities in its rush to develop its resources.”
Impacts of Climate Change
Pastoralism, the Turkana peoples’ main livelihood along with fishing, is at risk due to increasing temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns, resulting in shrinking grazing land. According to Kenya’s Drought Management Authority data from January 2017, the 2016 October-December rains were the shortest in recent years in Kenya, leaving 2.7 million people depending on relief assistance. Turkana was one of the counties most affected.
Traditionally, in times of drought, many pastoralist communities dig in dry riverbeds for water and turn to the lake for fishing. However, Turkana county officials told Human Rights Watch that the combination of threats to the lake and climate change will make it very difficult for the Turkana people.
The Kenyan Climate Change Law passed in May 2016, if rigorously carried out, could improve coordination and governance of national and local policies related to climate change, and ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are respected. The law mandates the participation of a representative from a “marginalized community” who has “experience in matters relating to indigenous knowledge” as a member of the new National Climate Change Council. Yet, the post has not been filled.
Predicted Impact of Omo River Dams on Indigenous Peoples
In 2012, independent hydrologists predicted that once Gibe III was operational, water levels in Lake Turkana in neighboring Kenya, which gets 90 percent of its water from the Omo River, would drop by up to two meters. They have also predicted a potentially devastating drop of up to 20 meters should Ethiopia’s Omo Valley development plans be fully carried out as planned, forecasting that the lake could recede into two small pools.
Further compounding the problem, in March 2016 the Ethiopian government announced plans for the development of a new US$1.6 billion dam, 2,200-megawatt Gibe IV, which will produce more power than any other dam in Africa outside of Ethiopia. As with Gibe III, an Italian company has been awarded the contract for Gibe IV and applied for financing for the dam through Servizi Assicurativi del Commercio Estero (SACE), the Italian export credit agency. There are plans for a fifth dam on the Omo River.
Irrigated sugar and cotton plantations in the hot and dry Omo Valley will use significant amounts of water that previously would have flowed into Lake Turkana. While the Ethiopian government claims an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out for the state-owned sugar project, an Ethiopian law requires EIAs be “accessible to the public.” Human Rights Watch has not spoken with anyone who has seen such an assessment. Such an assessment should outline strategies to mitigate the impact of water use on downstream communities and be made public. There is little evidence that the Ethiopian government obtained the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous people in the Omo Valley for any of these developments, a requirement under international law.
The non-governmental organization, Survival International, filed a complaint on behalf of impacted Omo communities before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ (ACHPR) in 2012, arguing that the free, prior. and informed consent of the indigenous peoples of the Omo Valley was not given before construction began on Gibe III and the sugar plantations. According to the ACHPR Activity Report from January 2013, ACHPR requested the government of Ethiopia “to adopt Provisional Measures to prevent irreparable harm being caused to the victim of alleged human rights violations; the State has not respected that Order”. A final decision has yet to be made on the complaint.
The Colombian Constitutional Court has found in favour of an indigenous peoples’ centuries-old fight for their territory, granting the petition for the protection of constitutional rights requested by the Embera Chamí people of the Indigenous Resguardo Cañamomo Lomaprieta, in western Colombia.
The Resguardo’s claim was accepted by the Colombian Constitutional Court, the final court of appeal for constitutional matters in Colombia. The court ordered that the Resguardo’s lands must be delimited and titled within one year, during which time all further permits or formalisation of mining activities must be suspended. Any subsequent mining activities proposed on the delimited territories may only proceed on the basis of the effective participation of the Resguardo.
The court also ordered that the map produced by the Resguardo of their land be registered provisionally until it is officially demarcated. This ruling is also relevant for other indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities whose lands are awaiting delimitation.
In what appears to be a legal first internationally, the court also gave explicit protection to ancestral mining activities carried out by some of the 32 communities within the Resguardo, stating that, although not currently recognised under State laws, this mining conformed to Resguardo laws and could therefore not be considered illegal. Importantly, the court also recognised that the State had an obligation “not to criminalise this type of ancestral activity”.
Responding to the court judgment, Héctor Jaime Vinasco, ex-Governor of the Resguardo, and the principal coordinator of mining issues for the Cabildo, said: “This is an historic judgment for the indigenous Resguardo of Cañamomo Lomaprieta. For centuries, the different leaders of the Resguardo have been defending our collective land rights and seeking to resolve the problem of land titling with the authorities; this judgment orders that the delimitation and titling of the Resguardo is resolved without further delay.
“This judgment is a great opportunity to resolve issues caused by the lack of land titling, including exercising authority over our lands, applying our laws, thinking about economic development, and opposing projects that affect our survival as indigenous people. It supports the rightful claims of the Resguardo and suspends the existing deals that are going on behind the communities’ backs through mining titles, concessions, processes of legislation and licences and makes clear that no mining activity can be carried out in the territory without our consent.”
These requests are in keeping with international human rights instruments that recognise indigenous autonomy and self-government over ancestral territories, and the resources integral to these.
“This is a landmark decision for indigenous peoples in Colombia and globally,” said Viviane Weitzner of Forest Peoples Programme. “It recognises the legitimacy of indigenous self-regulation of subsoil resources within their territories, lifting the label of criminalisation of a spiritually, culturally and economically important activity that has been conducted without the use of harmful substances for centuries. The court is calling on the State to do more to protect indigenous territorial rights, by applying international standards around demarcation and titling and ensuring future decision-making includes the Cabildo’s free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). We remain concerned however that this decision may increase the risks to Resguardo leaders, some of whom have already suffered a number of recent credible death threats. It is important that the Colombian government ensure that members of the Resguardo are protected in light of this decision, and we urge the State to do everything in its power to ensure the safety of land and human rights defenders involved in this case.”
This historic court win is a critically important first step. But now rigorous implementation of the Court orders must take place for it to achieve its potential in upholding indigenous rights. Héctor Jaime Vinasco added: “We call on our allies and supporters to join the next moment of our journey, the implementation of the Court’s orders, which we know will be the hardest part.”
This article was published on Global Research's website on February 9, 2017.
The Bangladeshi government should immediately drop its plan to transfer Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited, undeveloped coastal island, Human Rights Watch said today. Relocating the refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area to Thengar Char island would deprive them of their rights to freedom of movement, livelihood, food and education, in violation of Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, most of them unregistered by the authorities, are in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Burma dating back to the 1990s. Since October 2016, nearly 69,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Burma have entered Bangladesh to escape attacks by Burmese security forces, including unlawful killings, sexual violence and wholesale destruction of villages.
“The Bangladesh government is making the ridiculous claim that relocating Rohingya refugees to an island with absolutely no facilities that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season will improve their living conditions,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “This proposal is both cruel and unworkable and should be abandoned.”
The plan to move long-term refugees to Thengar Char was first suggested in 2015, but was shelved after widespread condemnation.
A 2015 letter from the Bangladeshi government on the appropriate location to relocate the refugees stated that it must “minimize conflicts between Bangladeshis and Rohingya.” Thengar Chor was apparently chosen because of its distance from inhabited areas – it is 30 kilometers from the populated Hatiya island and a long journey from existing Rohingya camps.
The government revived the plan in late January 2017 following the new influx of Rohingya refugees. Officials contended that the new arrivals pose a law and order and a public health problem, but have produced no evidence to support this claim. In addition, the government has issued warnings against new arrivals mixing with the general population and established committees to increase security around the camps to prevent refugees from exiting the camps or “intermingling” with Bangladeshi citizens.
A cabinet order, passed on January 26, 2017, is unclear as to whether all Rohingya in Bangladesh would be transferred or only new arrivals. However, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammad Shahriar Alom has said that, “The Rohingya will live [in Thengar Char] temporarily and our desire is that the Myanmar [Burma] government will take them back as soon as possible.”
Journalists who have visited Thengar Char island, which emerged from river silt deposited in the Bay of Bengal just a decade ago, describe it as empty and featureless, subject to cyclones and flooding. During monsoon season, the island is submerged; anyone living on the island will have to be evacuated, and any infrastructure would be damaged. The government announced that it will build embankments around the island to stave off the constant flooding, but similar islands along the coast have long faced flooding and frequent evacuations despite government interventions. One government official from the area, speaking anonymously to the BBC, said that sending people to live there was “a terrible idea,” noting that the island is "only accessible during winter and is a haven for pirates."
Aid agencies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administers the refugee camps, expressed alarm over the revival of this plan, and said that any relocation of the refugees to Thengar Char must be voluntary, and be done through a consultative process after a feasibility study has been completed.
Human Rights Watch regards Rohingya people who flee from Burma to Bangladesh to be prima facie refugees for four reasons. First, the Burmese government has effectively denied its Rohingya minority citizenship, failing to protect them and itself perpetrating rampant and systemic violation of their human rights, including restrictions on movement; limitations on access to health care, livelihood, shelter, and education; arbitrary arrests and detention; and forced labor. Second, because of Burma’s discriminatory citizenship policies, it also refuses to cooperate in the repatriation of Rohingya, itself a denial of the human right of any person to return to their country, and the basis for a sur place claim to refugee status. Third, Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and has neither registered Rohingya as refugees since the early 1990s, nor allowed them to lodge asylum claims, thereby abdicating its responsibility to determine their status. Finally, a person does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because they meet the refugee definition, so refugees in Bangladesh do not forfeit their rights as refugees simply because the authorities have not recognized their status.
“The Bangladeshi government needs to treat the persecuted Rohingya humanely, but they shouldn’t have to go it alone,” Adams said. “Instead of dumping Rohingya on a flooded island, the government should be seeking immediate donor support to improve existing conditions for the refugees.”
This article was published on HRW's website on February 8, 2017.
An indigenous organization in Peru is suing the government for failing to protect uncontacted tribes from invasion and oil exploration.
AIDESEP, Peru’s national indigenous organization, is taking Peru’s Ministry of Culture to court for failing to meet its legal obligation to map out and create five new indigenous reserves and to protect the highly vulnerable uncontacted peoples that live inside.
In 2007, Peru awarded Canadian oil company Pacific E&P the right to explore in Yavari Tapiche, a proposed indigenous reserve in the Amazon Uncontacted Frontier. AIDESEP has been calling for the creation of the reserve for 14 years, and Survival International has been leading the global campaign for uncontacted peoples’ right to determine their own futures.
Campaigners fear that uncontacted Indians in the area could be wiped out by violence from outsiders and diseases to which they have no resistance. Oil workers run the risk of coming into contact with uncontacted people, and the exploration process involves thousands of underground detonations which scare away the Indians’ game.
The Matsés tribe, who live near the proposed reserve, have been protesting against the government’s failure to bar oil exploration. At a recent tribal meeting, one man said: “I don’t want my children to be destroyed by oil… That’s why we’re defending ourselves… and why we Matsés have come together. The oil companies… are insulting us and we won’t stay silent as they exploit us on our homeland. If it’s necessary, we’ll die in the war against oil.”
Another indigenous organization, ORPIO, is bringing another lawsuit over the threat of oil exploration.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable peoples on the planet, but Peru’s authorities seem to consider oil company profits more important than peoples’ land, lives and human rights. This failure to create indigenous reserves is not just an environmental catastrophe, it could also lead to entire peoples being wiped out forever.”
This article was published on Survival International's website on February 9, 2017.
Advocacy Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
In January, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the start of an open public discussion on same-sex marriage aimed at producing a “satisfactory bill on marriage equality, recognizing the same rights for everyone.” It was, she said, “not only a demand of the international Justice system, but a legitimate demand of Chilean society.”
Bachelet’s announcement fulfils a pledge she made at a United Nations’ event in September 2016, organized by the UN core group of LGBT friendly countries and civil society representatives, including Human Rights Watch. During the event, Bachelet said she would introduce a same-sex marriage bill in the Chilean Congress during the first half of 2017.
Chile has taken other steps in recent years to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In 2012, Chile passed a hate crime and anti-discrimination law that protects individuals harmed on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law was approved in the wake of the brutal murder of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man who died after being severely beaten, swastikas carved into his body.
Chile has also taken positive steps on the international stage. In 2016, Chile was one of the lead sponsors of an important UN Human Rights Council resolution establishing the mandate of an Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity issues. The vote was reaffirmed in December 2016 at the United Nations General Assembly.
If the marriage equality bill is adopted, Chile will become the sixth country in Latin America where same-sex couples can get married, after Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay.
As of February 1, 2017, there are 21 countries with marriage equality. Approximately 1 billion people live in these countries of an estimated world population of 7 billion.
This article was published on HRW's website on February 7, 2017.
In a report issued today, the United Nations human rights arm said that the widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya population by Myanmar's security forces in the country's northern Rakhine state indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.
The flash report – released today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) based on its interviews with people who fled Myanmar after attacks on a border post in early October, the ensuing counter military operations and a lockdown in north Maungdaw – documents mass gang-rape, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country's security forces.
“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable – what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
“What kind of 'clearance operation' is this? What national security goals could possibly be served by this?”
OHCHR noted that more than half of the women its human rights team interviewed reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence. Many other interviewees reported witnessing killings, including of family members and having family who were missing.
The report also cites consistent testimony indicating that hundreds of Rohingya houses, schools, markets, shops, madrasas and mosques were burned by the army, police and sometimes civilian mobs. Witnesses also described the destruction of food and food sources, including paddy fields, and the confiscation of livestock.
It also noted that several people were killed in indiscriminate and random shooting – many while fleeing for safety.
“Numerous testimonies collected from people from different village tracts…confirmed that the army deliberately set fire to houses with families inside, and in other cases pushed Rohingyas into already burning houses,” the report states.
“Testimonies were collected of several cases where the army or Rakhine villagers locked an entire family, including elderly and disabled people, inside a house and set it on fire, killing them all.”
Many witnesses and victims also described being taunted while they were being beaten, raped or rounded up, such as being told “you are Bangladeshis and you should go back” or “What can your Allah do for you? See what we can do?”
This is an excerpt of an article that was published on the UN News Centre's website on February 3, 2017.
Read the full report here.
Colleen Lavelle for IndigenousX
Death by racism should be a category on death certificates, because the racism in hospitals is hindering the recovery of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Spend some time as a patient in a hospital and you soon find out that the medical profession is full of bigots and people who might not consider themselves racist, but have preconceived ideas on race and hold outdated beliefs in racial stereotypes.
I have been in and out of hospital for years with a brain tumour and have experienced the bigotry within the system first hand. I have also collected stories from Indigenous people around the country and a common thread is either: “Is it me or do they treat all of us like this?” or “Am I being overly sensitive?”
Indigenous cancer patients have even had pain relief denied to them. This might happen for a couple of reasons. First, because apparently some people think we Indigenous people can cope with more pain than our European counterparts. Let me state now that that ethnocentric view is not true. Another common view is that we are “faking it” to get drugs. Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone has cancer and is crying in pain, it’s pretty obvious they are not trying to get some cheap thrills.
A similar misconception is that we are drunk. I have even heard of cancer patients having their blood alcohol level tested before a doctor will see them. This assumption that we all take drugs or drink is outdated and just insulting.
Traditional people from remote communities have had to deal with their cultural mores being completely overlooked. Men have been shamed by having a young female nurse attend to them, when a male nurse is required. The same happens to our women too: a male attendant will try to do something that should only be done with or by a female. And when women ask to have another female in with them, they are quite often overlooked. I can’t understand why our cultural needs are overlooked when other peoples have their cultural rules respected.
The medical system seems so against us in so many ways, particularly if we are sent to a hospital away from home and English is not our first language. Good luck trying to find a translator to help! Governments, both at state and federal level can’t say they are doing all they can when our needs are not even considered important. All we hear are excuses like, “The cost is prohibitive for translators, patient transport, mobile medical units …”
We are the first people of this country and as such we shouldn’t be constantly overlooked. Perhaps fewer trips to the Gold Coast and a little bit more money into Indigenous health could help.
There are ways to make the road to good health better. For starters, no doctor or nurse should be allowed to work with Aboriginal people unless they have had cultural awareness training. It should be a requirement that all medical professionals do a cultural awareness course, with a refresher course after every year. Make it part of the accreditation process. It should be a part of the Close The Gap scheme that every general practice has to sign on to do cultural awareness. Even if it’s just one person in the practice doing it online. There could also be an incentive, such as the practice receives money for each Indigenous patient they see.
If every doctor and nurse across the country had this training and if hospitals and health executives spent quality time with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, they might learn we are not so different. We might have some different needs, but they shouldn’t compromise the levels of compassion, caring and proper medical attention that we need.
Colleen Lavelle has a GoFundMe page to help pay for her surgeries. You can find it here.
This article was published on The Guardian's website on February 5, 2017.
2 February 2017 / Jenny Gonzales
Brazil has shifted authority over demarcation of indigenous lands from Funai, its Indian agency, to the Justice Ministry, amid indigenous rights group protests.
With the issuance of a federal decree in mid-January, Brazil’s government announced major changes to the procedure by which it formally demarcates indigenous lands — a move applauded by the ruralistas industrial agriculture lobby and large landowners, but greeted with alarm by indigenous land rights activists.
The federal decree, known as Ordinance 80, shifts decisions made regarding the recognition of indigenous territory boundaries to the Ministry of Justice, taking those decisions out of the hands of the National Indian Foundation (Funai), which had previously demarcated indigenous lands based on technical research and anthropological analysis.
Brazil’s population includes 900,000 indigenous people, of whom 517,000 live on officially recognized indigenous lands. About 13 percent of the country’s territory is set aside as indigenous lands — 98.5 percent of it within the legally designated Amazon region.
The demarcation process has been fraught with controversy, and demarcation of indigenous territory has been delayed for years by Funai, and in some places, for decades. Ordinance 80 is only the most recent effort by the Temer government (sometimes conducted in secret) to do an end run around the current Funai demarcation process, possibly in order to exert more control over it.
Minister of Justice Alexandre de Moraes signed Ordinance 80, which creates a special commission to evaluate Funai’s land demarcation work. This Specialized Technical Group (GTE) will include a Ministry of Justice legal consultancy as well as representatives of the Special Secretariat of Human Rights, the Secretariat of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality, and Funai.
Ordinance 80 states that demarcation decisions “demand careful analysis and involve the study of the whole demarcation procedure, as well as the need to reconcile celerity [speed of action] and legal security.”
The measure violates in full the Brazilian Constitution and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Federal Court, Luciano Maia told Mongabay. He is the deputy attorney general and Sixth Chamber of Indigenous Populations and Traditional Communities Coordinator for the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), a Brazilian body of independent government public prosecutors.
Maia noted that article 2 of the decree 1775/1996 states that “The demarcation of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people will be based on work developed by an anthropologist of recognized qualification.”
“That work belongs to Funai only, and is based on studies made by anthropologists, indigenists and cartographers,” he said. The Minister of Justice “wants to include exogenous elements who have no experience in anthropology and indigenous issues in the demarcation process.” The MPF has requested a meeting with the Minister of Justice to discuss Ordinance 80 but is still awaiting a response.
The Ministry of Justice and Citizenship has not responded to Mongabay’s requests for an interview.
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Michel Temer has made his position clear. In a public event held with farmers earlier in January, he defended Ordinance 68 (a previously annulled version of Ordinance 80) and declared that such measures are intended to reduce “the huge conflicts that exist in those [indigenous] areas.” And, he added, that Funai would not be discredited by the changes.
MPF’s deputy attorney general refuted Temer’s argument: Ordinances 68 and 80 “discredit Funai’s role,” he said. “The agency is subordinated to the Ministry of Justice, and… will produce legal insecurity and uncertainty among the indigenous communities. The result of this scenario is already known, more violence in the field. [The Ministry of Justice] is not interested in speeding up the land demarcation process, but in not doing it.”
Funai was contacted for an interview by Mongabay, but declined to comment at this time.
Instead of issuing Ordinance 80, the federal government should be moving forward on the issue of providing compensation to farmers, said Adriana Ramos, coordinator of the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), an NGO that defends the rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil.
“One of the reasons for the opposition to the acknowledgment of indigenous land rights is the existence of [large-scale] landowners who purchased land from state governments, in areas that are recognized as indigenous,” said Ramos. But the Constitution is clear in saying that property titles made on indigenous lands are null and void. Ramos also explained that there has been no monetary compensation by the state for these erroneous land transactions, though there has been compensation offered for improvements (houses and facilities) built on those lands.
“Nowadays those cases are being questioned,” said the ISA coordinator. “If landowners have formally and officially bought lands from the state, they are exceptions for which there should be a solution.” She recalls that for a long time the indigenous movement was against the payment of indemnities to farmers. “But the violence of the conflicts reached such high levels that indigenous people have lessened their criticism to that possibility.”
A Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 132, which aims to compensate the holders of legitimate property titles on indigenous lands, ratified in October 2013, has been held up in the Chamber of Deputies since 2015, awaiting creation of an analysis commission.
“The recognition of the right to indigenous territory is the recognition of the right to the difference [in cultures] of those populations. There is no way to guarantee indigenous people’s right to life [while] denying them the right to the land,” added the ISA coordinator.
“And it is not a matter of quantifying the land to which each one is entitled, because if we use this parameter, there are 517,000 indigenous people settled on less than 107 million hectares of officially recognized indigenous lands, according to the 2010 IBGE demographic census. [But there are] 46,000 large landowners in Brazil who exploit an area of more than 144 million hectares. That is, there is a lot of land for few farmers.”
It is expected that indigenous land rights activists will continue in their opposition to Ordinance 80. MPF deputy attorney general Maia said that the MPF will ask that the government revoke the new ordinance, but is waiting for an audience with the Ministry of Justice before proceeding with any action.
This article was published on Mongabay's website on February 2nd, 2017.