Wednesday, April 8, 2009

First International Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Extractive Industries

UN to link indigenous peoples worldwide
Network to strengthen struggle for rights

By Erika Tapalla
March 24, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—The United Nations is looking to set up a global network by which indigenous peoples (IPs) can help each other respond to violations of their rights, mainly by extractive industries.

Eighty-five IP representatives from Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and Russia, Arctic, Latin and North America, as well as experts, have gathered in Manila for the International Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Extractive Industries.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said there is a need to unite IPs in a global network to strengthen their responses to the problems they face.

"This conference is really to tackle the indigenous peoples’ rights, which are violated by extractive industries…oil, mineral or gas corporations. There is a need to develop a global network because there is no one existing body of IPs, there is no existing global network. If there is one, the voice of these people [is] stronger, so that's what we did in this conference," Corpuz told in an interview.

Corpuz said among the things IPs could do is bring their cases before national and international courts, raise awareness about destructive cultural and environmental issues through media, and dialogue with investors.

"By raising the issues and cases to national and even international courts, the voices of the indigenous peoples will be heard. Now, with this global network, hopefully their voices can be heard. Media also [have] a crucial role in delivering the situations, the issues, these people encounter so everyone will know about what is really happening. And lastly, the dialogue with the investors and these corporations will really help. It is in fact the most important thing," Corpuz said.

Corpus also said it was sound corporate thinking to respect IPs’ rights.

"It is in the self-interest of these corporations to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples because, if not, there will be more conflict, and more conflict means more expenses for them. Then they [corporations] will be seen in a bad light. If they don't mutually agree to terms or negotiate, it's like they are robbing these people of their own things in their own home," she said.

Corpuz also said states and mining corporations should adhere to the standards set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to avoid criminalizing IPs for protecting their land or resisting the entry of extractive industries.

The UNDRIP, signed by 143 countries in September 13, 2007, is the latest international agreement adopted by the UN General Assembly. Conference organizer Tebtebba, the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, said cases of human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples have been filed before courts in various countries as well as inter-governmental bodies such as the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

IP representatives said their cultural territories continue to shrink because of massive encroachment by mining companies.

The Philippines alone has suffered two of the biggest mining disasters—the collapse of the Tapian Pit of Marcopper Mining Corporation, which spilled 1.6 million cubic meters of mine tailings into the waterways of Marinduque in 1996; and the cyanide-laden waste spill of Australia-owned Lafayette Mining Limited in waters around Rapu-Rapu Island in 2005.

"We thought that the Philippines was in one of the worse states, but after this conference, we have realized that many groups [and] tribes from different parts of the world experience similar issues. The actors involved are the same– corporations that act like thugs encroaching on the lands of the people," Corpuz said.
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