As Permanent Forum Continues, Speakers Highlight Need for Indigenous Peoples to Be Fully Involved in Resolving Conflicts over Land, Natural Resources

Conflicts over land and natural resources – many of which turned bloody – continued to plague indigenous communities across the globe, stressed speakers today as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held two panel discussions focused on peace, conflict and resolution.

Participants provided examples of indigenous communities at odds with Governments or transnational companies, in particular those active in the mining, logging or oil and gas industries. Many also described the repercussions of such conflicts, which ranged from forced displacement to the assassination of indigenous leaders who protested the violation of their rights.

Yohanis Anari, Organisasi Pribumi Papua Barat (West Papua), said most States in conflict with indigenous people were so because they had resources the State wanted. For 54 years, West Papua had been a victim of deception, including within the United Nations, he said, noting that the region had been placed under the administration of Indonesia. “The people of West Papua are no less deserving of protection” than others around the world.

A representative of the International Indian Treaty Council described increasing reports of intimidation, repression and assassinations related to legitimate attempts of indigenous peoples to defend their rights. Human rights defenders were often labelled terrorists or common criminals, she said, expressing outrage over recent assassinations of human rights defenders. She called for the Forum to convene an expert group meeting on the situation of indigenous human rights defenders before the start of its next session.

Aisa Mukabenova, Forum member from the Russian Federation, agreed that many of the conflicts facing indigenous peoples today were linked to industrialization and economic development. The projects of transnational corporations often negatively impacted the lives of indigenous peoples, she said, reiterating the need to include the topic of relations with such companies on the Forum’s agenda.

Dalee Sambo Dorough, Forum member from the United States, declared: “We sit here very comfortably in New York, while at the same time blood is being shed.” It was ironic that indigenous representatives were sitting in a civil manner to discuss the death and destruction that plagued their communities. She recalled that, for those reasons, there had been real concern over the selection of the present theme for the Forum’s session.

Speakers also underscored the need for indigenous peoples to be meaningfully involved in resolving both inter- and intra-State conflicts.

In that regard, Juvenal Arrieta, Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia, said the decades long armed conflict in his country had led to the recruitment of indigenous people as well as assassinations and rape. While the peace process between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Government had eased those impacts, there was an urgent need to involve indigenous groups in the drafting of the overall peace agreement. That document must address the autonomy of their culture and territories, programmes for social inclusion and respect for human rights and the planet.

Alexey Tsykarev, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, expressed concern over the lack of participation of indigenous peoples in peace agreements. Stressing the need for free, prior and informed consent, he said the demarcation and protection of indigenous lands should be given priority in the context of conflict resolution. Without the participation of indigenous peoples, violence and encroachment on indigenous territories could increase.

The afternoon panel focused on indigenous women in peace and conflict. Speaking during that session, Rosalina Tuyuc Velasquez, National Association of Guatemalan Widows – CONAVIGUA, said that as Guatemala commemorated the twentieth anniversary of peace, Mayan widows had demanded truth, justice and compensation so that “never again will the horrors of war occur”. Mayan women had brought a suit over the genocide, rape and abuse suffered at the hands of the military, and had achieved condemnation of a former military chief and other senior officials, she said.

The Permanent Forum will reconvene on Wednesday, 18 May, at 3 p.m. to consider its future work.

Panel Discussion

This morning, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held a panel discussion on its annual theme, namely, “Indigenous Peoples: conflict, peace and resolution”. It featured: Akli Sheika Bessadah, Imouhagh International Youth (Tuareg); Juvenal Arrieta, Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia; Niengulo Krome, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (India); and Yohanis Anari, Organisasi Pribumi Papua Barat (West Papua). It was co-moderated by Raja Devasish Roy, Forum member from Bangladesh, and Phillip Taula (New Zealand).

Mr. BESSADAH said the Tuareg people were a nomadic group that had been persecuted for thousands of years. Over the centuries, their homeland had been parcelled out to become various countries, and the Tuareg had been left with no place to call their cultural home. More recently, in Libya, hundreds of Tuareg had been tortured and killed following the fall of Moammar Qadhafi, and some 23,000 Tuareg had been denied the right to nationality. Governments were also not meeting the genuine needs of the Tuareg people in Niger, Mali and other neighbouring States, he said, adding that hundreds of Tuareg were dying in the region due to the activities of French nuclear companies. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights had work to do in advancing the rights of the Tuareg. For its part, the Permanent Forum must compel Governments to respect indigenous rights, and the United Nations must put pressure on Member States in the Saharan region to end discrimination against them. Stressing that the right to nationality must be respected in Libya without delay, he noted that the indigenous peoples of the region could play an important role in bringing about peace if only Governments would comply with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mr. ARRIETA said Colombia was a country of contradictions, as it was one of the most stable democracies of the region but was also working to end a more than 50-year-old armed conflict. There were a number of ways that the conflict had affected indigenous peoples in the country, including recruitment, anti-personnel mines, assassination of indigenous leaders and rape. The peace process between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Government – which he described as a “spark of light in the tunnel of despair and war” – had eased the negative effects of the conflict. Moreover, the Havana Agreement had focused, among other things, on land and the growing of illegal drugs; as those issues directly affected the lives of indigenous peoples, their free, prior and informed consent was required. The newly established Ethnic Peace Commission, an Afro-indigenous organization, was working to set up a technical team to ensure that indigenous peoples were consulted about issues that affected them. However, he expected that the overall peace agreement to be reached between the FARC and the Government would also involve indigenous peoples, and that it would address the autonomy of their culture and territories, programmes for social inclusion and respect for human rights and the planet. In addition, once the agreement was signed, the Government should establish an ethnic commission and a verification monitoring mission to ensure that its provisions were implemented. Stigmatization and the imprisonment of indigenous peoples must end.

Mr. KROME described the history of the Nagas in north-east India, whose land was invaded in 1832. The political conflict among indigenous Nagas was among Asia’s longest-running conflicts. Attempts to resolve it only created more conflict. In 2015, a framework agreement was signed and the Prime Minister of India had announced a final settlement was at hand. That had not yet happened. More broadly, India was infested with social and political violence where indigenous peoples lived, and every peoples movement in the country was watching how the Naga issue was resolved. If it was done so in an honourable way, other movements might come forward for peaceful resolution. If not, the situation would likely deteriorate. The rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination must be respected, as must that against forced military activities in indigenous territories. International borders had divided indigenous peoples, denying them their right to maintain their political, cultural, economic and social purposes. He urged States to implement that right.

Mr. ANARI said most States in conflict with an indigenous people were so because they had resources the State wanted. West Papua had minerals. For 54 years, West Papua had been a victim of deception, including within the United Nations. The Economic and Social Council could end that practice by placing the issue of West Papua on the agenda of the Trusteeship Council. “The people of West Papua are no less deserving of protection” than others around the world. In 1950, General Assembly resolution 448 referenced an obligation to respect West Papua’s economic and other rights. Yet, West Papua was placed under the administration of Indonesia, which in 1961 invaded the area, prompting the United States to ask the Netherlands to sign the Trusteeship agreement. In 1962, the new Secretary-General made a public endorsement, citing the benefits of an agreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia. However, a draft Assembly resolution presented a day earlier had requested the United Nations to administrate West Papua. Benin had tried to explain that the people of West Papua had not been consulted, while Togo had deplored the lack of time given to consider the issue. Article 103 of the United Nations Charter did not permit any Charter obligation to be mitigated, he recalled, urging that resolution 1752 (XVII) be placed on the agenda of the Trusteeship Council.

As the floor was opened for an interactive dialogue, representatives of both States and indigenous organizations described common causes of conflict, including disputes over land and natural resources.

Several Government representatives, including the delegate from Brazil, described national approaches to preventing and resolving conflicts. In that regard, he said, Brazil’s National Indian Foundation had conducted a successful operation alongside indigenous peoples to combat illegal gold mining.

The representative of the Russian Federation, sharing his country’s experiences in preventing territorial disputes, said the relationship between indigenous peoples and private entities such as oil and gas companies was governed by laws requiring free, prior and informed consent as well as compensation for natural resource use. Mechanisms for resolving economic disputes had also been developed.

The representative of Colombia said the ongoing peace process in her country provided a historic opportunity to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples, as well as the protection and promotion of their human rights. In April, some 200 indigenous groups had taken part in the Havana talks through established mechanisms. She underscored the need for the peace agreement to utilize a “differentiated approach” taking into account the cultural diversity of the country’s indigenous peoples.

Many indigenous representatives cited examples of discrimination, stigmatization and cultural destruction as well as assassinations and extrajudicial killings, noting that the latter were often closely related to disputes with Governments or multinational corporations.

A representative of the International Indian Treaty Council described increasing reports of intimidation, repression and assassinations related to attempts of indigenous peoples to defend their rights. Human rights defenders were often labelled terrorists or common criminals. She commented that it appeared that the Declaration’s framework for just, transparent and rights-based processes for conflict resolution and redress had not yet been widely implemented. Expressing outrage over attacks on human rights defenders, including the death of Berta Caceres in Honduras, she recommended that the Forum convene an expert group meeting on the situation before the start of its sixteenth session.

A representative of the Sami Council declared: “It is time to correct the colonial past”. In Sweden, she said, the Sami Parliament had demanded the establishment of an independent truth commission to look into gross violations of human rights and other past injustices against the Sami people, including forced sterilizations. In Finland, there had been a steep rise in instances of hate speech against the Sami while in Norway there was an urgent need to openly discuss the country’s history of residential schools.

Several United Nations experts and members of the Permanent Forum responded to those comments.

AISA MUKABENOVA, Forum member from the Russian Federation, said many of the conflicts described today were linked to industrialization and economic development. The projects of transnational corporations often negatively impacted the lives of indigenous peoples, she said, reiterating the need to include the topic of relations with such companies on the Forum’s agenda. She called for the body to also focus on the militarization of indigenous lands, as it led to forced displacement.

JOAN CARLING, Forum member from the Philippines, reminded participants that indigenous institutions had their own means of maintaining peace and security and resolving conflicts in their territories. The intervention of outside forces was therefore a violation of their rights. In fact, the conflicts described by some delegates were related to the lack of respect for the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources. Any resolution of those conflicts must be anchored in what is just and equitable, not just what was considered legal.

ALEXEY TSYKAREV, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, expressed concern over the lack of participation of indigenous peoples in peace agreements. Stressing the need for free, prior and informed consent, he said the demarcation and protection of indigenous lands should be given priority in conflict resolution processes. Without the participation of indigenous peoples, violence and encroachment on indigenous territories could increase.

MEGAN DAVIS, Forum member from Australia, said indigenous peoples in her country did not view the reconciliation process as a true reconciliation process. Australia had failed to “close the gap” with regard to indigenous peoples due to its inability to understand that key point. While the Government’s apology was significant, there was a kind of “cherry picking” on its part with regard to the right to reparation and compensation. Australian indigenous peoples did not want recognition – they wanted rights, she said.

DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Forum member from the United States, recalled that there had been concern over the selection of the present theme for the Forum’s session. It was ironic that indigenous representatives were sitting in a civil manner to discuss the death and destruction that plagued their communities, she said, stressing the need for Member States to take that into account. “We sit here very comfortably in New York, while at the same time blood is being shed,” she stressed.

VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that, in many cases, indigenous peoples had not been part of peace negotiation processes. That had been the case in the Philippines and in Colombia. She proposed that the Forum issue recommendations to ensure the involvement of indigenous peoples in conflict resolution as well as in post-conflict development.

Mr. ROY said development aid was not valuable if it did not address the issues raised by indigenous peoples themselves. The review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was an opportunity to include some kind of mediation.

Also speaking were the representatives of South Africa, Australia, Guatemala, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Centre for Research and Advocacy.

Taking part were representatives of indigenous organizations from Guatemala, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Viet Nam and the Russian Federation.

Panel II

In the afternoon, the Forum held a panel discussion on “Indigenous Peoples: conflict, peace and resolution”, moderated by Maria Choque Quispe, Forum member from Bolivia. It featured presentations by Rosalina Tuyuc Velasquez, National Association of Guatemalan Widows – CONAVIGUA; Dawn Lavell-Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; and Anita Isaacs, Haverford College.

Ms. QUISPE explained that the panel would have a particular focus on indigenous women in peace and conflict.

Ms. TUYUC VELA�SQUEZ sought the energy from the more 200,000 victims of the armed conflict in Guatemala, noting that, as the country commemorated the twentieth anniversary of peace, “we cannot be entirely satisfied because there has not been full compliance”. At the same time, the progress made had been borne from social pressure and the use of rights bestowed by national and international law. Mayan widows had demanded truth, justice and compensation so that, “through our voices, may it be that, never again, will the horrors of war occur”. Widows in Guatemala were not only the face of inequality and genocide. They were also the protagonists of peace, having fought against militarization and demanded just reparation that honoured the dignity of the dead. Mayan women had brought a suit over the genocide, rape and abuse suffered at the hands of the military, and had achieved condemnation of a former military chief and other senior officials. While that sentence was later annulled, “this sentence for us means just trial”, she said, noting that in 2015, women from the Sepur Zarco community, seeking justice for sexual slavery suffered at the hands of military, had also achieved legal condemnation. Mayan women continued to look for compensation, demilitarization and achieving a life of dignity.

Ms. LAVELL-HARVARD said the birth of a child in each of the indigenous communities was a revolutionary act against those who would rather that their lives were extinguished. She welcomed that Canada had unconditionally adopted the Declaration, which would impact indigenous women’s ability to exercise their basic rights. “It is our basic human right to lead and participate in decisions that affect our lives,” she said. What mattered most was health of their families and restoration of their roles in governance structures and as leaders of their peoples. “We have a lot to reclaim,” she said: the traditional gender balance in families and governance structures, as well as their roles as knowledge keepers, and in some cases, human beings. The Indian Act sought to destroy those roles. Forced assimilation was a deeply gendered project, with patriarchal systems silencing indigenous women around the world. It was not enough to say that those women had the same opportunities for space as men. They must have their own spaces for voice and leadership. Gender equity in communities must be restored.

Ms. ISAACS said she spoke as an outsider, neither indigenous nor a genocide survivor. Rather, she was someone who had observed indigenous women’s efforts to pursue justice and reparations over the past two decades. There were differences between reconciliation in post-genocidal societies and in post-authoritarian or dictatorial societies. The scale of repression inflicted on the perceived enemies of the State was different when State adversaries were identified in ethnic rather than ideological terms. The term conciliation was a more appropriate statement of objectives. “Genocide is not a singular event,” she said, as its perpetration was embedded in a colonial history of racism that had economic, psychological and social causes and effects. Conciliation underscored the need for wholesale transformation. There was not a simple mending of a torn social and political fabric, but rather, the stitching of a new social fabric that aimed to be tear-resistant. A core objective was to prevent a future need for reconciliation. Those were context-specific processes, which might require waging an internal conciliatory battle to accept women as social activists. Conciliation asked non-indigenous civil society to change its mentality, attitudes and behaviour. Privileged elites often spoke of reconciliation as forgiving and forgetting. Conciliation could never be about forgetting, and forgiving was a matter of choice, rather than pledges to reform. Conciliation meant harnessing political memory in the service of a painful process of imagining a new egalitarian and durable nation.

Ms. VALJI, Deputy Chief of the Peace and Security Section of United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), discussed the global study on the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000), noting that sexual violence was now on the Security Council’s agenda. There also was evidence that women’s participation in peace processes was critical to their success. As the United Nations took stock of progress over 15 years, one thing was clear: Too little attention had been paid to women’s multiple identities, missing the way that conflict had impacted the perspectives they brought to conflict resolution. Indigenous women’s experiences of multiple discriminations had shown they had been disproportionately affected by conflict, and therefore brought fresh perspectives to conflict resolution, often viewing discrimination as a root cause of conflict.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers made emotional calls for indigenous women to participate in decisions affecting their lives, emphasizing that they had been excluded from efforts to resolve conflicts, branded “secessionists” and “terrorists”, and in some cases, killed for advocating their basic rights.

The representative of Manipur Women’s Survivors Network said the indigenous north-east of India was home to 272 communities and 17 peace talks. Of those, not a single one involved women. “We talk about indigenous peoples’ rights but indigenous women have been excluded from all peace talks and decision-making,” she said, urging India to stop dehumanizing them. “I have been threatened by the State. I have been threatened by the non-State,” she said, urging demilitarization of indigenous lands and the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The representative of the World Amazigh Congress said everything her people did was repressed. In the Mozabite region, conflict raged between Arab and Amazir communities, with Algerian police supporting the Arab community. People fighting for self-determination in Kabylia were assaulted daily, including herself, with the police sealing off her home. “We are leading an unequal battle against the State,” she said, stressing that even at the United Nations, “we are not heard”.

The representative of Maasai Women for Education and Economic Development said when clans in the Maasai community fought over resources, they buried a stone to symbolize burial of the difference. It was important for the United Nations to revive such practices. “The truth is our national reconciliation mechanisms are not working for indigenous peoples,” she said, urging support for the exchange of best practices and changing the perception of women in conflict settings from victims to peacebuilders, decision-makers and change agents.

A representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway called for a reconciliation process in order to achieve mutual understanding on addressing the legacy of forced assimilation. He urged States to establish truth and reconciliation processes.

A representative of the Grupo Plural por la Igualdad de Genero en Guerrero said it was important to look at who started conflicts, profited from them and continued to promote them.

A representative from Chinland said only 8 of 21 armed indigenous groups had signed the ceasefire with the Myanmar Government, leaving hundreds of thousands of indigenous people internally displaced and in need of aid. Space for civil society to participate in the peace talks was limited. Only 1.5 per cent of indigenous women had participated in different levels of the peace process. She called on the military to end its assaults in indigenous areas and to invite the remaining ethnic armed groups to engage in the peace process. It should also remove article 445 from the 2008 Constitution.

Several Government representatives took issue with some of the depictions of situations on their territories, and instead discussed national measures to safeguard indigenous rights.

The representative of Indonesia said West Papua enjoyed greater autonomy than other provinces. Papuans had cast votes to choose their governors, mayors and most of the House of Representatives. Some misleading statements had been made concerning Papua and West Papua. Integration into Indonesia through the 1969 act had been legal. Some groups had used the Forum to advance extraneous agendas.

The representative of Viet Nam objected to the participation of a certain group in the Forum, as it had carried out politically motivated acts to separate the country’s territory. He rejected all its claims.

The representative of Algeria said the concept of indigenous peoples recalled an era when colonial powers had created two categories of people: colonialists who had put their hands on national resources, and Algerian people, who had been deprived of their rights and riches. He called on the people of Mali to address the drugs and terrorism problems, noting in a second intervention that “We export stability.”

Providing an Organization perspective, a representative of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) discussed a mechanism to enhance indigenous peoples’ participation in conflict resolution. The programme focused on training in conflict analysis, negotiation and transformation. It reviewed rights-based and problem-solving processes. Women had constituted 40 per cent of the participants. A total of 483 indigenous representatives had deepened their skills in the programme.

Several Forum experts offered context for regional situations.

KARA-KYS ARAKCHAA, Forum member from the Russian Federation, said participants had cited the violation of indigenous peoples land rights as a cause for conflict. Positive examples of interaction among indigenous peoples, Governments and businesses also had been described.

JOSEPH GOKO MUTANGAH, Forum member from Kenya, said inter- and intra-tribal conflicts, in most cases, were due to resources, religion and ethnic background. What was important was that conflicts could lead to inter-tribal war, as had been seen in Kenya. Often, causes stemmed from misunderstanding and overexploitation of resources.

MARIAM WALLET ABOUBAKRINE, Forum member from Mali, questioned whether to welcome the agreement between her country and the rebels. It was important not to forget that Algeria had participated in three other agreements that had failed. She asked whether the current accord would be another.

Also speaking in the debate were representatives of Denmark, South Africa and Guatemala.

Representatives of the following organizations also spoke: National Assembly for Autonomy in Mexico, Comisionada Indigena de Colombia, Inuit Circumpolar Council, National Forum of Indigenous Women of Nepal, Hawaii Institute for Human Rights and the Asociacion de Pueblos Indigenas de Venezuela.

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* The 11th Meeting was closed.

Source: United Nations