Posts Tagged ‘human rights’


Alarming Trend of Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls Continues in Bangladesh


The human rights violation on indigenous women and girls in Bangladesh has turned into a matter of grave concern over the years. As a part of its sustained work, Kapaeeng Foundation monitored and documented the cases of human rights violations on indigenous womenand girls for the period January-July 2015. The findings of Kapaeeng Foundation project an alarming trend of violence against indigenous women and girls (VAIWG) in the country. During this period, Kapaeeng Foundation documented 42 cases of VAIWG. In these 42 cases, 56 indigenous women and girls were fallen victims of violence, 29 of them are from the plains and 27 women from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

A close look into the cases during first half of the year reveals that 8 women and girls fell victims of gang rape, 11 fell victims of rape, 10 fell victims of attempted rape, 16 fell victims of physical assault, 6 fell victims of sexual harassment, 2 fell victims of abduction and 3 fell victims of killing. What is most disturbing is the victims who fallen prey to violence are mostly minor and adolescent girls, belonging to the age group of 2 to 19. It appears that this age group was the easiest target of the perpetrators during the period of observation. And most of the perpetrators of these incidents allegedly belong to Bengali settler community and were influential members of mainstream population.

The observation of Kapaeeng Foundation over the first seven months of the year 2015 demonstrates that the causes of VAIWG remained similar to previous years. A good number of cases of VAIWG occurred during January-July 2015 were centered around the lands of indigenous peoples. For example, on 19 June 2015, at least 10 indigenous women were physically assaulted and one woman was raped in Mirsarai, Chittagong in connection to an attempted forced expropriation of their ancestral land. It is observed that in a good number of cases, the perpetrators including members of Bengali settlers in the CHTand influential locals in the plains used rape or other forms of sexual violence as weapons to uproot indigenous peoples from their lands. And in other cases, the perpetrators used violence as a way to express their hegemonic masculine attitude towards indigenous women using them as sexual objects.

Although the first seven months of the year demonstrates an alarming trend of VAIWG, the legal justice system has apparently failed to ensure protection and justice of the victims. It is observed that although cases were filed after most of the incidents of VAIWG were occurred, the alleged perpetrators were not arrested and brought to justice except for very few cases. Furthermore, the unfriendly legal justice system in the country often coupled with the financial incapacity of the victims, lack of follow-up of the cases, lack of awareness of the victim and their families, existing social taboos, patriarchal mindset in different corners of the society and lack of legal aid services in the country have contributed to the impunity of the perpetrators. It is also alleged that the perpetrators often use money and forceto manipulate the justice system and go scot-free. Taking the advantage of the financial incapacity of the victims and their vulnerable social positions, most of the perpetrators tend to settle the matters locally through threat, intimidation and offering a certain amount of money as compensation.

Source: An Analysis by Kapaeeng Foundation of the Human Rights Situation of Indigenous Women and Girls (January-July 2015)


Guatemala’s Community Radio Movement Marches for Justice


The past few weeks have been extremely important for the political future of Guatemala. On April 16, 2015, the Guatemalan Public Ministry, with the help of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, unraveled one of the most shocking political scandals in the history of the country. The scandal is a multimillion-dollar scheme in which various individuals paid bribes to avoid customs duties on imports. Over 50 citizens, the former and current tax directors and top government officials have been identified and directly linked to the scandal. What is worse is that the private secretary of then vice president Roxana Baldetti was identified as the leader of the scheme. The news broke in Guatemala while the vice president was in South Korea with her private secretary, who fled immediately after the scandal was made public.

Guatemalans immediately organized peaceful marches through a social media movement recognized as the #RenunciaYa movement, calling all citizens to stand up to their corrupt government. On April 25, 2015, tens of thousands of Guatemalans congregated in Guatemala City demanding the resignation of the president and vice resident. Over 20 community radios participated in the march to broadcast the event in various indigenous languages but experienced difficulty as phone and Internet signals were blocked by police. A second march took place on May 1, 2015, where various human rights organizations and even government entities made a presence. A week after the march on May 8, 2015, the vice president of Guatemala presented her resignation.

This past Saturday, May 16, 2015, marches were organized in cities across the country to demand the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina and legal prosecution of all government officials that were involved in the scandal. Members of the community radio movement were present in various cities in Guatemala to broadcast and march alongside other citizens. “They call our work illegal and yet they are robbing our country of millions of dollars. I march for our community radio in Santo Domingo Xenacoj,” said José Sian, a radio volunteer from Radio Nacoj.

In the city of Sololá, Guatemala, Radio Juventud broadcasted live from the central park as the marches progressed throughout the day. Organizers of the march asked radio volunteers to speak of their work and their experience last December when they were raided. “We recognize the power of our community and we stand with them as they stood with us during the raid of Radio Juventud,” expressed Santiago Ajcalón, one of the founders of Radio Juventud.

Guatemala’s community radios continue to fight for legalization of their work, but this does not stop them from fulfilling their important role in providing information and accompanying social movements. The #RenunciaYa movement is probably one of the biggest citizen mobilizations since the 1950’s in Guatemala. As Guatemala continues to fight for justice in the face of this government corruption,  the community radio movement will be right by its side.

Source: Cultural Survival


Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership: What It Means for Indigenous Peoples

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published April 13, 2015.



The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a massive, controversial free trade agreement currently under negotiation behind closed doors by officials from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The TPP would elevate multinational corporations and private investors to equal status with sovereign nations, and therefore above individual citizens, empowering these entities to sue nations via private tribunals.  The TPP has been marked by an alarming lack of transparency and public input. The public has not been allowed to see the draft text, and the majority of information that is available is the result of leaks. Even members of Congress have been provided only limited access to the proposed agreement. US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for increased transparency in trade negotiations for the TPP, warning that, “Without transparency, the benefit from robust democratic participation—an open marketplace of ideas—is considerably reduced.” Meanwhile, more than 600 official corporate “trade advisors” have been given special access to the draft text.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What Does It Mean for Indigenous Peoples?

In the same vein as deals like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the TPP is being drafted with no input from the Indigenous Peoples who live in countries that will be affected by the deal. The TPP could have broad implications for Indigenous Peoples living in the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The secrecy of the TPP entirely disregards the concept of Free, Prior, Informed Consent, a tenant of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that policies affecting Indigenous Peoples should not move forward without the full understanding and approval of those it might affect.


Corporate Rights over Human Rights

The agreement threatens to dramatically affect Indigenous Peoples by ramping up trade policies that have allowed for transnational corporations to engage in oil, gas, and mineral extraction without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of their communities.  TPP policies would encourage the natural gas industry, which has already severely affected Native and First Nations communities in North America.  “The TPP would facilitate increased exports of liquefied natural gas by requiring the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve all natural gas exports to TPP countries. Increased exports would mean an increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations,’’ explains the Sierra Club.  Natural gas companies have already begun encroaching otherwise off limits native lands. Uniquely affecting native women, fracking operations tend to be correlated with increased sex trafficking, rape, missing women, and influxes of drugs and alcohol into communities, in addition to its obvious environmental effects contaminating local water and air quality.

The TPP would also allow companies to evade financial responsibility for environmental contamination, even when it occurs on Indigenous Peoples lands. Under the TPP, investors would have the ability to demand taxpayer compensation for imposed fines, effectively burdening the public with the cost of environmental cleanup. According to Professor Jane Kelsey of New Zealand, the TPP draft chapter on environmental regulations fails to define its key terms, leaving vagueness that will allow for inconsistent interpretation and implementation of regulations. Nowhere in the chapter does it detail a mechanism for setting penalties for environmental offenders. It excludes resource management practices and ignores standards set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mother Nature®

The draft article on Trade and Biodiversity recognizes the rights of states over natural resources and genetic material. This would allow for multinational corporations like Monsanto and industries like Big Pharma to benefit enormously by allowing them to exclusive rights over things like seeds and traditional plant-based medicines found in biodiverse areas managed by Indigenous communities. The agreement flagrantly ignores the United Nations’ specific mention of this in the Declaration, which states that

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop…the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.” –Article 31

The patenting of plants that have been used traditionally by Indigenous Peoples without their consent or benefit sharing has been called bio-piracy, and would snowball given the approval of the TPP.  Indigenous activist Te Kaituhi, a Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand, exhorts us to “Imagine a world where Indigenous knowledge, language, and customs are outright owned by multinational corporations and copyright enforcement is heavily backed by government police forces.” According to Kaituhi, “The TPP won’t only affect Indigenous freehold land, nor will it just push our people further into poverty. The TPP will give multinationals the right to exploit the ecosystem and further aid them in the acquiring of enforced trademarking and copyrighting of Indigenous intellectual property and cultural or traditional knowledge;” in other words, a new form of colonization.


Suing for lost profits

One of the most troubling aspects of the TPP is found in the draft chapter on investment deals with investor-state dispute settlement which gives corporations the right to sue a government for unlimited cash compensation — in private and non-transparent tribunals — over nearly any law or policy that a corporation alleges will reduce its profits. Kelsey notes that “the vast majority of investment arbitrations under similar agreements involve natural resources, especially mining, and have resulted in billions of dollars of damages against governments for measures designed to protect the environment from harm caused by foreign corporations.” Under the proposed TPP, the investor-state clause can be used to pressure governments into allowing the continued operation of the severely polluting industries out of fear of being sued for lost profits.  Governments around the world are already extremely reluctant to regulate industries like mining and oil, which can bring them large revenues in royalties. With the potential that States could be held financially responsible for reigning in harmful business practices, corporate profits gains an even stronger precedence over disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples living with destructive industries in their backyards.

Fast Track

Negotiators have announced that they are very close to concluding the agreement, with just a few outstanding issues remaining. However, several countries have said that they won’t present their final offers until the US Congress grants President Obama “Fast Track” Authority.

Fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), is a process that would rush trade deals through Congress and remove the ability of elected officials to ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities and the environment. Fast track would allow the president to send already signed trade pacts, including the TPP, to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments and a maximum of 20 hours debate.

Despite mounting opposition, The Obama administration is throwing its full weight behind Fast Track and the TPP.   In response, a national day of action against Fast Track  has been declared for April 18th, 2015. The national day corresponds to a global day of action to promote fair rather than free trade deals  with events spanning the globe.  Now is the time to spread the word about the detrimental effects of the deals like the TPP and advocate for something better.

Cultural Survival signed on along with over 550 organizations in sending a letter to then US Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) firmly rejecting fast track trade promotion authority in the United States and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements. In the letter, this diverse coalition stated that “fast track,” an outdated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations, is “simply not appropriate” given the broad subjects covered by today’s trade pacts, such as the TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. “Fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We need a new model of trade—one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process.”

Communities, workers, and especially Indigenous Peoples must have a say in these deals. The fast track is the exact opposite of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent that is laid out as a human rights standard when negotiating deals that will affect Indigenous Peoples, as the TPP will in a dozen countries.


What can you do?

  1. Get in touch with your area Representatives and Senators.
  2. Share on social media: Fast tracking the TPP ignores the rights of #Indigenous Peoples across Pacific nations. #NoFastTrack for #TPP Atn.@RonWyden .@BarackObama
  3. Learn more with Public Citizen


Since 1972 Cultural Survival has been advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supporting Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures and political resilience. To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.


Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Reports on Corporations

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In December 2014, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact published a briefing paper detailing the experiences of Indigenous Peoples affected by corporate activities in Asia, with a focus on mines, dams, and plantations. These experiences include threats of ethnocide, fragmentation and internal conflicts, threats to well-being and a life of dignity, impacts on Indigenous women, and impacts on civil and political rights. The paper notes that grievance mechanisms offered by courts, national human rights institutions, intergovernmental commissions, and multilateral lenders are largely futile, and that those offered by traditional and community-based procedures are neither recognized nor respected by companies and governments. “Given the expense involved in accessing remedial mechanisms and the extended timeframes it takes in terms of having their grievances addressed, the communities are forced to take direct action in the form of blockades and protests in order to assert their rights.”

Sources: Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


How to Maximize Your Effectiveness at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Reposted from Cultural Survival Quarterly Issue 38-4 Indigenous Rights Protect Us All (December 2014)

By Joshua Cooper

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council that meets annually to discuss Indigenous issues related to economic and social development,culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights. The intensive 10-day session brings together Indigenous Peoples, member states, UN agencies, programs, and funds as well as academics and activists at UN headquarters in New York to exchange best practices on advancing Indigenous Peoples’ rights. For many delegates, the personal measurement of successful participation is the delivery of an intervention on at least  one agenda item, optimally with their specific situation being cited in the Forum’s concluding observations. Adopting a strategy to prepare for the Forum can result in tangible improvements in the daily lives of Indigenous Peoples. Following are specific steps to help create a successful Forum experience.

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

The Expert Group Meeting

Each January, the Expert Group Meeting invites Indigenous leaders, independent scholars, and UN officials to address a specific theme, launching a dialogue on the legal and moral issues raised at the previous session. Specific language is then drafted for the official study to be presented at the upcoming session. The 2015 theme is “Dialogue on an Optional Protocol to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” You can prepare a paper for presentation related to the theme to have a voice in determining the direction of the study. Consult your community to examine the significance of the specific study and how it could contribute to changing your local situation. Proposals can include bold and specific language that will prove valuable to Indigenous Peoples. If it is not possible to attend, one can still follow the meeting and discuss the papers presented. This will allow for better preparation for the actual Forum and for drafting intervention that can contribute to the final discussion.

In-Country Preparatory and Regional Meetings

Experts gather to meet with the Forum secretariat and witness firsthand the Indigenous situation at the invitation of a host country’s government. This meeting suggests How Maximize Your Effectiveness at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues specific agenda items to be featured at the annual session. Additionally, regional preparatory meetings usually take place a couple of months prior to the actual Forum. Each of the seven Indigenous regions hosts a meeting with  Indigenous Peoples on a regional position paper addressing specific agenda items. These meetings allow for a collective conversation about how each agenda item relates to Indigenous Peoples’ experience, and can be a space for drafting interventions and seeking out specific speakers to contribute to the main stage of the Forum. Offering personal, regional examples to the global stage will illuminate the urgency of the issue.

Organizing a Side Event

The regional preparatory meetings are an opportunity to identify side events that would be valuable to improving Indigenous rights. Be sure to include Indigenous voices directly. Brainstorm the UN agencies, programs, and funds as well as major civil society actors that have a mission or mandate to be able to partner for a side event, and will also follow up to protect fundamental freedoms of Indigenous Peoples. Prepare the necessary paperwork to request rooms for side events and register for the Forum well ahead of the deadlines.

Maintain the Momentum

As the Forum’s popularity increased over the past decade (over 2,000 delegates attended the most recent session), it became increasingly clear that it would be impossible to accommodate the ever-increasing number of Indigenous nations arriving at the doorstep of the diplomatic world. The Forum secretariat, member, and chairs realized that the regional meetings could serve as essential preparation for prioritization of specific language for interventions. The measure allowing regions to speak first on each agenda item has encouraged Indigenous Peoples to work together prior to the session to survey their regions for specific, common situations and develop a set of recommendations to share. In the months leading up to the Forum, it is important to maintain the momentum generated from the regional preparatory meetings.

Participate in Caucuses

Youth and women have added to the traditional regional collaboration to guarantee a unified voice on each agenda item. The Women’s Caucus has continued to expand its engagement with increasing days of preparation, while the Youth Caucus continues to professionalize its participation with weekend training and the creation of core groups todraft interventions. Indigenous Peoples with disabilities have also created a caucus that continues to increase its presence at the Forum. It is important for Indigenous delegations to participate in these regional caucuses, but also to participate in the thematic caucus to offer alternative avenues for advocacy.

In the month prior to the Forum, it is crucial to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with officials from UN agencies, programs, and funds that participate in the session as well as other institutions that haven’t attended but have mandates pertinent to promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. You can arrange meetings with these organizations when in New York, as most have offices located within a block of UN headquarters. These meetings are an opportunity for two styles of “asks:” one to immediately cease a project that has been harmful to Indigenous Peoples, and one to propose a specific new program that would enhance respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. It is also a good idea to request specific contact from the organization in-country upon return to one’s homeland.

Special Rapporteur: Register Early

It is important to register early to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Only short time slots are available, so you should come prepared with documentation supporting the most pertinent points. Read recent thematic reports ahead of time so you can provide examples for the current reports being compiled. The meeting can also be used to request a future country visit and to begin mapping out that schedule. This is an opportunity to share latest developments and to request specific actions including a press conference, a letter to the government requesting response, or a condemnation of specific rights violations.

Finalize the Intervention

The intervention should be drafted in close consultation with your community prior to the Forum. When preparing an intervention, it is imperative to lead with recommendations. Research whether any recommendations were adopted in previous sessions, and note the progress on implementation of these recommendations. New recommendations should be followed with example paragraphs that exemplify the essence of the recommendations. It is important to think through the entire Forum process, connecting recommendations with the UN agencies whose mandates deal with the agenda item and including specific actions the UN should take to assist Indigenous Peoples in realizing the recommendations. Final edits with the most current examples and related research can take place immediately prior to the Forum.

Utilize All Resources Available

The Forum is comprised of 16 independent experts functioning in their personal capacity, who serve for a term of 3 years as members and may be reelected or reappointed for 1 additional term. Eight of the members are nominated by governments and eight are nominated directly by Indigenous organizations in their regions. It is vital to meet with the Forum expert from your region. Building a relationship with the rapporteur is also important as this person prepares the first draft of the report released on the final Friday of the session, to be read before the entire Forum assembly. The actual 10-day session is the culmination of an annual campaign offering actions and implementation of recommendations.

A weekend training prior to the Forum providing historical analysis and how-to advocacy action, including drafting of interventions for first time Forum attendees, can strengthen the entire process. The actual session is a whirlwind two weeks with side events, concurrent conferences, rights receptions, and film festivals. The more preparation that is done in advance, the more it will be possible to accomplish on each agenda item during the Forum.

Next year’s session of the UNPFII takes place April 20–May 1 2015. Keep track of dates and deadlines at the UNPFII website:


Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about.


ExxonMobil Human Rights Lawsuits Proceed

In September 2014, Foley Hoag reported that “the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that two closely related cases filed against Exxon Mobil Corporation, and several of the company’s subsidiaries, could proceed. Plaintiffs in both cases…allege that the company is liable for human rights abuses committed by members of the Indonesian military who had been engaged to provide security for the company’s operations in Indonesia.” The cases were filed under the Alien Tort Statue (ATS), a 1789 law giving US courts jurisdiction to hear civil suits brought by foreigners for violations of international law.

Last year, the Supreme Court dismissed a similar lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell because the plaintiffs’ did not present sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption against extraterritorial application of US law. However, the ruling did not directly answer the question of whether corporations could be tried under the ATS, implying that the presumption could be overcome in other circumstances. The District Court’s recent decision “allows plaintiffs to file for leave to amend their complaint in order to try and demonstrate that the facts of the case sufficiently “touch and concern” the US so as to overcome the presumption against extraterritoriality that applies to ATS cases.”

Sources: Foley Hoag

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Courage, Creativity, and Vision: Co-recipients of the 2014 FIMI Leadership Award

Reposted from Cultural Survival

In May 2014, the Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas (International Indigenous Women’s Forum) awarded its annual Leadership Award to two extraordinary and committed Indigenous women: Joan Carling, a Kankanaey activist from the Philippines, and Rosalina Tuyuc, a Kaqchikel leader from Guatemala, received the honor due to their creativity in addressing social issues with exceptional leadership and courage. By defending Indigenous women’s rights, these women make significant impacts on community, national, and international levels. According to the Forum’s program coordinator, Mariana Lopez, the award celebrates Indigenous women “who have implemented creative ways to address pressing social issues, demonstrating courage, creativity, and vision.”

Carling hails from the Cordillera region of the Philippines. She has over 20 years of experience working on Indigenous issues including human rights, sustainable development, environment, and climate change, as well as on the application of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Her work with International Financial Institutions, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, REDD+ related mechanisms, UN agencies, and mechanisms relating to human rights and sustainable development in advancing the issues and concerns of Indigenous Peoples in Asia has led her to be elected twice as the Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, where she has represented 47 member organizations in 14 countries. Appointed by the UN Economic and Social Council as an Indigenous expert member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for 2014-16, Carling is an exemplary model of an Indigenous activist who has dedicated her life to the causes of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.

Photo credit: Cultural Survival

Photo credit: Cultural Survival

On receiving the Leadership Award, Carling said “it came as actually a big surprise. I did not expect this award, but I am very much humbled.” Carling works with Indigenous women in Asia and cooperates with FIMI on the participation of Indigenous women at the global level. While her work includes all Indigenous Peoples, she coordinates a program specifically for women with a policy of gender equality encouraging their participation to ensure that their concerns and rights are acknowledged. Such programs give Indigenous women the platform to embrace their needs and to fight for equality and justice.

Indigenous women are a vulnerable portion of an already vulnerable group. In addition to human trafficking and numerous human rights abuses, women must also deal with forced relocation from their lands. According to Carling, “because of the violation of our land rights, land grabbing is taking over . . . not only causing displacements, but also weakening the traditional knowledge of women and the contribution to resource management. We know that it’s women actually [working in] sustainable resource management, and they have the knowledge how to use resources in a sustainable way. We’re going to lose that if they’re going to lose their lands.”

The majority of the world’s Indigenous Peoples currently reside in Asia, and many are invisible in the eyes of the government, so Indigenous Peoples are increasingly asserting and defending their rights underground. Carling advises keeping an eye on the Philippines and Asia as a whole, since, as she explains, “the economic growth center of the world at this stage is Asia. There are a lot of infrastructure projects and a lot of foreign investments without any information or consultation with Indigenous peoples. That’s the kind of attitude that is prevailing, so we need to change that. We need to let people know that we exist and we want to manage and control the resources in our territories. We want to be able to practice our cultures, we want our young people to stay in our territories so that they will learn how to manage their resources for the future generations. It’s time to really develop, train, and then let the young people take more challenges. The youth are our hope, and so we need to ensure that they are there with us together and side by side.”

Co-recipient of the award, Rosalina Tuyuc was born in San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. She is a nurse by profession, as well as a mother of five and grandmother of four, and one of the founders of the Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala (National Coordination of Widows of Guatemala). From 1988 to 2010 she served as general coordinator, helping to guide the organization’s transition to a leading Guatemalan human rights organization. Her key role in Guatemala’s peace processes led her to serve as president and rapporteur of the Commission on Victims of Violence from 1989–1992. From 1993–1995, she was a member of the International Committee Pro-Decade for Indigenous Peoples of the World, and in 2001, she co-founded the Asociación Política de Mujeres Maya (Political Association of Mayan Women). In 2004, as a member of the National Commission on Peace Accords, she was appointed president of the National Reparations Commission. Tuyuc has also held several public offices, including congresswoman and judge, and was a board member in the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala.

Tuyuc expressed profound gratitude for the support of grassroots organizations as she recalled her fights against racism, discrimination, and all forms of oppression that women have suffered. She recognizes the force of individuals and groups as deciding voices in the fight against injustice, oppression, and discrimination. On the current state of international conventions on Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, and environmental matters, she says “the only thing missing is goodwill on the part of the governments, on the public sector workers . . . so that we no longer have reason to protest, reason to cover the streets . . . [that] there is no longer a need to bring people to justice.” Recently in Guatemala, many public sector workers denied the genocide of Guatemala’s past. But Tuyuc affirms that “we have our own truth. The crimes of genocide must not be accepted, tolerated; must not be hidden. When there are committed people and due process, we see an opportunity for the justice system.”

In addition to the Leadership Award, Tuyuc has received various other awards including the Niwano Peace Prize. Throughout her life, she has trained generations of Indigenous youth. She is an exemplary teacher and spiritual guide. Committed to finding the good in people, Tuyuc recognizes the power of alliances. In her vision of Guatemala’s future, “there is still a long journey where racism and inequality affect us profoundly, along with the lack of participation and exclusion of Indigenous Peoples. Unfortunately the laws are not at the service of all and instead are at the service of a few, but little by little we have made change.” Her message to the women of Guatemala, and for the world’s people struggling for recognition and for rights that have been neglected for hundreds of years is as follows:

“I encourage them to keep staying unified and continue striving to demand justice, to defend their rights both as individuals and as a collective unit. I also tell them that today is when the women should continue rising up so that our rights are never violated. Women should keep being a mosaic of a force of knowledge that unites us with so much cosmic energy. Women connect, we connect very much with the air, with the earth, with the moon, and with the stars: this is to say that we are not alone. We keep working and we also keep transcending borders to assert our rights.”


To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.


What Are Indigenous Rights?


by Britnae Purdy

We throw around the term “human rights” a lot. It’s a term that gets people listening, at least for a moment – we know that human rights abuses are bad, that we’re supposed to oppose regimes that withhold human rights, that human rights are good, happy things.

But really, what are we talking about here? And how does that apply to Indigenous Peoples? Human rights are certain rights that are inherent to all human beings, regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. All humans are entitled to human rights, without discrimination. But that makes “human rights” sound like a lunch special from your favorite take-out place. We need to get a little deeper.

The UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) says that human rights are interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible, and so “the improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.” Human rights encompass civil and  political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law, and freedom of expression; economic, social, and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security, and education; and collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination. Human rights were first outlined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948; the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights took it further in stating that it is the duty of the state to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems. The OHCHR explains this further, saying that “human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect, and to fulfill human rights. The obligation to respect means that states must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires states to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfill means that states must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.” All countries in the world have ratified at least one declaration on human rights, and 80 percent have ratified four or more of the core human rights treaties.

Indigenous rights, however, are not synonymous with human rights – they are a subset of human rights. The difference distills to the underlying driving force of each movement. Whereas human rights are based on individual rights, Indigenous rights are based on collective, or group rights. The difference seems simple, but it is incredibly important.

Whereas individual rights assert the right of all humans to live as equal participants in society, collective rights allow a group of people, in order to preserve their unique and traditional cultures, to live separately from mainstream society, while still having access to the rights afforded the dominant society.  As Indigenous Foundations explains, “Aboriginal rights are collective rights which flow from Aboriginal  peoples’ continued use and occupation of certain areas. They are inherent rights which Aboriginal peoples have practiced and enjoyed since before European contact. Because each [tribe] has historically functioned as a distinct society, there is no one official overarching Indigenous definition of what these rights are. Although these specific rights may vary between Aboriginal groups, in general they include rights to the land, rights to subsistence resources and activities, and the right to self-determination and self-government, and the right to practice one’s own cultural customs including language and religion.”

Though Indigenous Peoples are often minorities within their countries, the term “minority rights” is also inadequate, as minority rights are also based on individual, not collective rights. As the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights states, “the nature of the types of rights ascribed to Indigenous Peoples and minorities in international law differs considerably and this has major implications. The crucial difference between minority rights and Indigenous rights is that minority rights are formulated on individual rights, whereas Indigenous rights are collective rights. The specific rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, include the right to enjoy their own culture, to practice their own religion, to use their own language, to establish their own associations, and to participate in national affairs. These rights may be exercised by persons belonging to minorities individually, as well as in community with other members of their own group. Therefore, Indigenous rights are collective rights, even though they also recognize the foundation of individual human rights.”

Indigenous or collective rights have been explicitly promised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169. However, many important Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not framed in specific Indigenous Peoples’ rights treaties, but are part of more general treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. As the United Nations Regional Information Center states, despite the growing visibility of Indigenous Peoples on the international field in the past fifty years, “it has not been easy for the international community to create legal instruments that would guarantee their autonomy, cultural integrity, and protection of their special rights.”

“Why can’t we just fall back on the existing and internationally recognized human rights treaties?” they implore. “Because most human rights treaties reflect an individualistic concept of rights and rights holders. But for many Indigenous peoples their identity as an individual is inseparably connected to the community to which that individual belongs. Therefore, the problem is that whilst human rights treaties and instruments guarantee individual rights, Indigenous peoples ask for protection of their collective rights as a group.”

Indigenous peoples remain among the most marginalized and oppressed populations in the world, suffering rampant rates of poverty, disease, illiteracy, political marginalization, and forced assimilation. Some argue that this is because of widespread misunderstandings of the concept of collective versus individual rights. As the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library explains, “In international discussions on the protection and promotion of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights, some states have argued that a more conscientious application of human rights standards would resolve the issue. On the other hand, Indigenous peoples argue that such international human rights standards have failed to protect them thus far. What is needed, they argue, is the development of new international documents addressing the specific needs of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. Although the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is designed to protect the human rights of all individual human beings, international law concerning collective human rights remain vague and can fail to protect the group rights of International Peoples.”

As Douglas Sanders of Human Rights Quarterly says, “collective rights have not achieved the level of acceptance accorded to individual rights. While no one would attack the idea of individual rights and expect to be taken seriously, respectable arguments are often made against the recognition of collective rights. Some argue that collective rights are inconsistent with individual rights. Minority groups are often seen as destabilizing factors in an international system based on states. South Africa has used ‘group rights’ to justify apartheid. Some Western countries see assertion of rights of peoples,” “collective rights,” and “solidarity rights” as making the authoritarian agenda of some third world states. So while support for the idea of collective rights has clearly grown, the theoretical and practical debates are not over.”

For example, governments may be unfamiliar with the concept of community-owned land, and therefore fear that giving collective rights to land deeds in an Indigenous community will create an uncomfortable power shift from government to locality. However, Indigenous peoples who have traditionally operated on collective, not individual, ownership, find their rights and ability to maintain their own land eroded by enforced individualism. Likewise, many governments state that they cannot uphold Indigenous rights because that would mean giving one segment of society favorable treatment over another, and that highlighting the diversity of their people will erode their sense of nationalism. This is not accurate. Indigenous rights are meant to compensate for historic mistreatment of Indigenous groups – they level the playing field, so to speak. Additionally, it is not the celebration of diversity that undermines nationalism, but rather the discrimination and subversion of one culture to another that will result in ethnic and tribal conflict.

Though based on human rights, Indigenous rights require a closer, more holistic look at how societies allow citizens to operate as human beings. Affording Indigenous Peoples collective rights will allow them to be more fairly treated under the law, and ultimately create a more cohesive, respectful, and effective society.



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Heeding Risk in the Supply Chain

In July 2013, a Canadian court ruled that Hudbay Minerals (TSE:HBM) can be tried for overseas human rights violations in Canada.  Security personnel working for the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Guatemala allegedly murdered a community leader, raped eleven women, and shot another man in a Mayan village.  The court dismissed Hudbay’s argument that it is not liable for the actions of its overseas subsidiaries, and concluded that “transnational corporations can owe a duty of care to those who may be harmed by the activities of subsidiaries, particularly where the business is operating in conflict-affected or high-risk areas.”  According to Human Rights Watch, 99 percent of violent crime goes unpunished in Guatemala due to corruption and witness intimidation.

While the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Shell established a vague legal precedent for US companies operating overseas, this ruling clarifies that Canadian companies can be tried domestically for overseas human rights violations.  With this jurisdictional question resolved, the case is expected proceed to trial in Canada.

Sources: Foley Hoag, Globe and Mail, Globe and Mail


UN Rights Chief Urges States to Respect Indigenous Treaties



French and Spanish versions, see below

UN rights chief Navi Pillay urges States to do more to respect treaties with indigenous peoples

GENEVA (7 August 2013) –States need to do more to honour and strengthen their  treaties with indigenous peoples, no matter how long ago they were signed, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said in a statement to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August.

“Even when signed or otherwise agreed more than a century ago, many treaties remain the cornerstone for the protection of the identity, land and customs of indigenous peoples, determining the relationship they have with the State. They are thus of major significance to human rights today,” she said.

Treaties often marked a decisive step in ending a period of conflict, exploitation and expropriation, the High Commissioner noted.

 “The honouring of treaties has in many cases been described as a sacred undertaking requiring good faith by each party for their proper enforcement. Yet too often  indigenous communities are obliged to go to the courts to force States to live up to their promises,” she added.

“The nature of the agreements themselves, with their spirit and contents passed on through elders to future generations, reminds us of their fundamental importance,” Pillay said.

“The fact that exploitation and expropriation continue today underscores the need to do more to protect the rights of the estimated 370 million indigenous people worldwide,” the High Commissioner said.

Pillay pointed to the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, in promoting the recognition, observance and  enforcement of treaties and other arrangements concluded with States or their successors.  

 “There is a growing commitment by States to fully implement indigenous peoples’ rights, as shown by constitutional, legislative or administrative measures that recognize indigenous identity, rights to lands and resources, culturally appropriate forms of development, as well as programmes to tackle poverty and disadvantage,”  the High Commissioner said.

“The message of this International Day of Indigenous Peoples is about building alliances and honouring treaties. This reminds us that efforts need to be redoubled to build a partnership between States and indigenous peoples based on trust, mutual respect, rule of law and the affirmation of indigenous peoples’ culture and customs,” said Pillay.

“As we look forward to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014, I encourage States to take concrete steps to honour and strengthen the treaties they have concluded with indigenous peoples and to cooperate with them in implementing new agreements or other constructive arrangements through transparent, inclusive and participatory negotiations,” the High Commissioner said.



Navi Pillay exhorte les Etats à redoubler d’efforts pour respecter leurs traités avec les peuples autochtones

GENEVE (7 août 2013) – Les Etats doivent redoubler d’efforts pour respecter et renforcer leurs traités avec les peuples autochtones, indépendamment du moment de leur signature, a indiqué la Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme Navi Pillay, dans une déclaration faite à l’occasion de la Journée internationale des peuples autochtones, le 9 août.

« Même s’ils ont été signés ou conclus il y a plus d’un siècle, de nombreux traités restent la pierre angulaire de la protection de l’identité, des terres et des coutumes des peuples autochtones, et déterminent leurs relations avec l’Etat concerné. Ils sont donc aujourd’hui encore d’une importance majeure pour les droits de l’homme », a dit Navi Pillay.

Ces traités constituent souvent une étape décisive pour mettre un terme à une période de conflit, d’exploitation et d’expropriation, a précisé la Haut-Commissaire.

« Le respect des traités a souvent été décrit comme un engagement sacré nécessitant la bonne foi de chacune des parties en présence pour assurer leur mise en œuvre effective. Pourtant, trop souvent, les communautés autochtones sont contraintes d’aller en justice pour forcer les Etats à tenir leurs promesses », a-t-elle dit.

« La nature même de ces accords, avec l’esprit et le contenu transmis par les précédentes générations aux suivantes, nous rappelle leur importance fondamentale », a poursuivi la Haut-Commissaire.

« Le fait que l’exploitation et les expropriations se poursuivent de nos jours souligne la nécessité de faire davantage pour protéger les droits des quelque 370 millions de personnes autochtones à travers le monde », a précisé la Haut-Commissaire.

Navi Pillay a souligné l’importance de la Déclaration des Nations Unies sur les droits des peuples autochtones, déclaration adoptée en 2007 pour promouvoir la reconnaissance, le respect et l’application des traités et autres arrangements conclus avec des Etats ou leurs successeurs.

« Il y a un engagement croissant de la part des Etats en faveur d’une pleine application des droits des peuples autochtones, comme le montrent les mesures prises dans le domaine constitutionnel, législatif ou administratif pour reconnaître l’identité autochtone, le droit à la terre et aux ressources, les formes culturellement appropriées de développement, ainsi que les programmes destinés à lutter contre la pauvreté et les désavantages », a déclaré la Haut-Commissaire.

« Le message de cette Journée internationale des peuples autochtones est de construire des alliances et de respecter les traités. Cela nous rappelle la nécessité de redoubler d’efforts pour établir un partenariat entre les Etats et les peuples autochtones basé sur la confiance, le respect mutuel, l’état de droit et l’affirmation de la culture et des coutumes des peuples autochtones »,  a déclaré Navi Pillay.

« Alors que se profile la Conférence mondiale sur les peuples autochtones prévue en septembre 2014, j’encourage les Etats à prendre des mesures concrètes pour respecter et renforcer les traités conclus avec les peuples autochtones et à coopérer avec eux dans la mise en œuvre de nouveaux accords ou d’autres arrangements constructifs à travers des négociations transparentes, inclusives et participatives », a déclaré la Haut-Commissaire.


Navi Pillay, Alta Comisionada de la ONU para los Derechos Humanos, urge a los Estados a trabajar más para respetar los tratados con los pueblos indígenas

GINEBRA (7 de agosto de 2013) – Los Estados deben trabajar más para honrar y fortalecer los tratados que sostienen con los pueblos indígenas, sin importar hace cuánto tiempo los hayan firmado, dijo la Alta Comisionada de la ONU para los Derechos Humanos en una declaración para conmemorar el Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas, 9 de agosto 

“Incluso si fueron firmados o ratificados hace más de un siglo, muchos tratados siguen siendo la piedra angular de la protección de la identidad, la tierra y las costumbres de los pueblos indígenas, determinando la relación que tienen con el Estado. Por ello son altamente significativos para los derechos humanos hoy,” dijo.

Los tratados a menudo  han representado un paso decisivo en el final de un período de conflicto, explotación y expropiación, apuntó la Alta Comisionada.

“Honrar los tratados en muchos casos ha sido considerado como una tarea sagrada que requiere de la buena fe de las partes involucradas para lograr una adecuada aplicación. Sin embargo, en demasiadas ocasiones las comunidades indígenas se ven obligadas a recurrir a los tribunales para forzar a los Estados a que cumplan sus promesas,” añadió.

“La naturaleza de los acuerdos mismos, cuyo espíritu y contenidos fueron transmitidos de los ancianos a  las futuras generaciones, nos recuerda su importancia fundamental,” dijo Pillay.

“El hecho de que la explotación y la expropiación continúen hoy en día pone de manifiesto la necesidad de trabajar más para proteger los derechos de alrededor de 370 millones de personas indígenas alrededor del mundo,” dijo la Alta Comisionada.

Pillay señaló la importancia de la Declaración de la ONU sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas, adoptada en 2007, en la promoción del reconocimiento, observancia y aplicación de los tratados y otros acuerdos tomados con los Estados o sus sucesores.  

“Existe un compromiso creciente de parte de los Estados para implementar plenamente los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, como lo muestran las medidas constitucionales, legislativas o administrativas que reconocen la identidad indígena, el derecho a la tierra y a los recursos naturales, las formas de desarrollo culturalmente apropiadas, así como los programas para combatir  la pobreza y las desventajas,” dijo la Alta Comisionada.

“El mensaje para este Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas trata de la construcción de alianzas y hacer honor a los  tratados. Esto nos recuerda que se deben redoblar esfuerzos para construir una colaboración entre los Estados y los pueblos indígenas que esté basada en la confianza, el respeto mutuo, el estado de derecho y la afirmación de la cultura y las costumbres de los pueblos indígenas,” dijo Pillay.

“Al tiempo que contamos los días para que la Conferencia Mundial sobre Pueblos Indígenas tenga lugar en septiembre de 2014, aliento a los Estados a dar pasos concretos para honrar y fortalecer los tratados que han convenido con los pueblos indígenas y a cooperar con éstos en la implementación de nuevos acuerdos u otros arreglos constructivos a través de negociaciones transparentes, incluyentes y participativas,” dijo la Alta Comisionada.


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(Photo: Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka)