Indian Country Today
A new UN report highlights the drastic increase in violence and legal persecution that Indigenous Peoples face in protecting their lands.
The report was written by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
The report cites Standing Rock as an example of increased violence against Native people.
"Thousands of people, including Native Americans, protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the border of North and South Dakota, close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation," the report said. "While Sioux leaders advocated for protests to remain peaceful, state law enforcement officials, private security companies, as well as the North Dakota National Guard employed a militarized response to the protests. More than 400 people were allegedly arrested, about 90 percent of them from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, including Chairman Dave Archambault II. Civil society organizations reported the use of excessive violence and humiliation during the arrests."
This is not the first time the UN weighed in on the events of Standing Rock. In November, 2016, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the rights of freedom of association and peaceful assembly released a forceful statement, calling out U.S. security forces for using violence against protesters peacefully opposing the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, as well as what he called “the inhuman and degrading conditions” those arrested faced in detention.
Special Rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz was one of 600 people labeled a terrorist in a legal petition in her native Philippines earlier this year without formal charges being filed, a classic example of the "criminalization" that many leaders of indigenous communities confront. Just this month, shortly before her report was due out, she and only three others were removed from the petition.
This criminalization extends not only to Indigenous Peoples but also to their advocates.
Alfred Brownell of Liberia, a lawyer helping Indigenous People and local communities defend their lands from deforestation and palm oil plantations, was accused of unspecified crimes and forced to flee the country. He describes how Indigenous Peoples and communities—who are protecting their lands and protecting the planet—are treated as arrested on trump-up charges, sometimes flogged and beaten, and then immediately arrested on new charges if lawyers manage to get them out on bail.
Much of the violence—legal and physical, is never reported. Brownell explains: “In recent weeks we have read reports from several organizations related to the mass murders of rights defenders across the globe, most of them Indigenous Peoples and local land rights defenders. Even though those who defend the planet and its peoples are now becoming statistics, I know for certain that there are thousands of others whose names will never appear. They are the faceless and nameless heroes and heroines of our struggle.”
Brownell’s efforts exposed how a multinational company, Golden Veroleum, violated community rights and destroyed important forests; the company has since quit a sustainable trade group (the RSPO) when these violations were verified. Brownell, however, is still living abroad, afraid to return home after multiple threats of arrest. Just this month, his home was broken into.
In support of the Special Rapporteur’s report, a new website brings together audio and written testimony provided by indigenous leaders on this pervasive problem worldwide. The report and supplementary materials describe a systematic attack on indigenous land and human rights defenders around the world, an effort to silence those who oppose development projects on their lands.
The report's conclusions: Attacks and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples defending their lands and rights
Nations must adopt measures to protect Indigenous Peoples. Crucial in this regard is holding perpetrators accountable: all violent attacks against indigenous defenders must be promptly and impartially investigated. States should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to the killing and violence of indigenous human rights defenders.
- Nations must publicly support the rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly their rights to self-determination over their lands, territories, and resources. States should consult in good faith with Indigenous Peoples and obtain their free, prior, and informed consent for any project affecting their lands.
- Nations should ensure legislation creates due diligence obligations for companies where there is a risk of human rights violations, and repeal legislation that criminalizes indigenous livelihoods.
- Enabling a safe environment for Indigenous Peoples to advocate for their rights is key. Law enforcement officials should be trained on human rights standards and refrain from criminalizing Indigenous Peoples who are peacefully defending their rights. Some countries have adopted legislation and policies to provide protection for human rights defenders, including Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, and Honduras.
- Criminalization raises sensitivities for foreign governments, international organizations, and multilateral institutions, which generally seek to avoid interfering in domestic legal processes. However, when supporting companies or governments engaging in these practices, international actors such as multilateral development banks, development financial institutions, or climate funds, risk contributing to and exacerbating criminalization.
- On July 3, 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples which denounces the continuing criminalization. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the strong public stance taken by the European Union, which can play an important role in preventing violations.
- Private companies should exert human rights due diligence in all operations and adopt clear policy commitments to that effect.
- The Special Rapporteur has observed a drastic increase in violence and killings, criminalization and undue legal prosecution, and threats against Indigenous Peoples defending their rights. While preparing this report, the Special Rapporteur received information about hundreds of cases of attacks and criminalization taking place around the world.
- Front Line Defenders recorded 312 murders of human rights advocates in 2017; 67% were killed for defending their land, nearly always in the context of private sector projects, and around 80% took place in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines. Global Witness reported 207 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2017.
- These killings typically occur in the context of violence and threats against entire indigenous communities, including disappearances and evictions, arbitrary arrests, and smear campaigns.
- The Special Rapporteur has recorded a significant uptick in the frequency of attacks in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines.
- The rapid expansion of development projects on indigenous lands is driving a global crisis: opposition is often met with violence and legal attacks that seek to silence any opposition to business interests.
- In some countries, escalating militarization, national security acts, and anti-terrorism legislation have put Indigenous Peoples in the line of fire—at times literally—of army and police forces.
- Indigenous Peoples’ ways of life are also deemed illegal in the name of conservation, leading to arrests, forced evictions, and other human rights violations. (See www.CorneredByPas.com)
- A crucial underlying cause of the intensified attacks is the lack of respect for Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, which can lead to them being labeled trespassers in their own homes and evicted from the lands that form the basis of their livelihoods, social cohesion, and spiritual traditions.
- Structural racism and discrimination that views Indigenous Peoples as “obstacles to development” contributes to the violence. States and corporations often ignore Indigenous Peoples’ significant contributions to climate change mitigation and sustainable development.
- Justice systems typically fail Indigenous Peoples. Widespread impunity for violent acts against Indigenous Peoples perpetuates their vulnerability and marginalization. Instead, justice systems are often used to penalize and silence Indigenous Peoples defending their rights.
- While Indigenous Peoples are not generally opposed to development, they reject projects forced on them without their free, prior, and informed consent. Far from delivering on shared economic development, these projects often further marginalize Indigenous Peoples, entrenching them in poverty and destroying the resources they rely on and sustainably manage.