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Indigenous peoples facing 'devastating consequences' from development - MDX academic's UN analysis

15/03/2021
Much of the world's non-exploited land is found in the territories of indigenous people

Indigenous tribes around the world will continue to disappear as development is imposed in their lands with “devastating consequences”, according to analysis by a Middlesex University legal expert for the United Nations.

Dr Cathal Doyle argues the challenges “remain enormous” for indigenous peoples to realise their internationally recognised rights to land, territories and resources as “most governments wilfully turn a blind eye”.

His stark warning is made in analysis for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ fifth biennial State of the World’s Indigenous People report which has been launched today (Monday, March 15th).

“Often indigenous people face extinction and cultural annihilation because of the way these development activities are imposed on them, destroying their land and way of life," Dr Cathal Doyle, Senior Lecturer in Law.

Dr Doyle’s chapter addressing challenges facing indigenous peoples highlights how:

  • In vast sways of Africa and Asia, states have yet to recognise indigenous peoples and their collective rights over their customary lands. In the Americas, Europe, major implementation gaps exist between legal recognition of rights and respect for them in practice.
  • Much of the world’s non-commercially exploited land, its remaining mineral resources and biodiversity are found in indigenous peoples’ territories leading to massive non-consensual encroachment of mining, dams, agribusiness and conservation areas into their lands.
  • UN bodies have repeatedly addressed serious violations of indigenous peoples’ rights in extractive industry projects in at least 34 countries, including 26 countries in 2018 alone. These violations are increasingly associated with “clean energy” projects.
  • Mega hydroelectric dams with profound impacts on indigenous peoples’ rights have been constructed or are planned in or near indigenous territories in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia.
  • It is estimated that 77 per cent of the 321 human rights defenders killed in 2018 were defending indigenous peoples’ land rights and the environment. Most of these killings related to mining and agribusiness projects, with particularly alarming rates in Colombia and the Philippines.

Among the indigenous people profoundly impacted by development projects are:

  • The San in Botswana and Zimbabwe, have been impacted by military operations associated with conservation efforts since the beginning of the 20th century  leading to the dispossession of lands and impoverishment.
  • The Navajo and Laguna peoples spiritually significant sites are threatened by Uranium mining on Mount Taylor in New Mexico, USA.
  • The Himba in Namibia, the Mapuche in Chile, the Phnong in Cambodia and Mayan communities in Guatemala saw their sacred sites desecrated or destroyed through flooding as a result of hydroelectric projects
  • The Baka sacred sites in Cameroon are threatened by logging operations
  • The sacred mountain of the Subanon in the Philippines was destroyed by mining.
  • The Karen in Thailand and the Sengwer in Kenya were violently evicted from their lands for conservation projects.

The analysis by Dr Doyle states: “Despite the significant progress made at the international level and its reflection in some national legal frameworks, challenges for the realisation of indigenous rights to lands, territories and resources remain enormous.

“Many of the world’s indigenous peoples are still not recognised by national governments.

“Most governments are wilfully turning a blind eye to the impacts of their development and conservation plans on indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources and their survival as self-determining peoples.

“Externally driven activities in or near indigenous peoples’ territories therefore continue to be pursued overwhelmingly in a manner that is at odds with indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources, often with devastating consequences for indigenous peoples.”

Dr Doyle, a Senior Law Lecturer at Middlesex University’s School of Law, said: “Often indigenous people face extinction and cultural annihilation because of the way these development activities are imposed on them, destroying their land and way of life.

“This is compounded by an alarming rate of killings and criminalisation of indigenous leaders that undermines their governing structures and seeks to silence their communities and lay the path for their elimination.”

Dr Doyle has published books, chapters, articles and reports on indigenous peoples’ rights and has served as a technical expert for the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. He is a founding member of the European Network on Indigenous Peoples and is on the board of Forest Peoples Programme and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Read the UN’s State of the World’s Indigenous People: Rights to Lands, Territories and Resources report.

Dr Doyle is speaking today at a Facebook Live launch event.

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