Development Agression as Economic Growth: A Report by Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

Executive Summary

The world leaders are meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012 to discuss the state of the world’s biological resources and sustainable development. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio +20, comes amidst a time when the world’s resources are now controlled by a few, and where economic development is driven by unbridled resource extraction. Even before sustainable development became a global agenda, indigenous peoples had been practicing their own sustainable, self-determined development in their homelands. It is for this reason that the Rio Conference in 1992,1 under Principle 22 of the Rio Declaration and Chapter 26 of Agenda 21, recognized the vital role of indigenous people in sustainable development and identified indigenous peoples as one of the nine Major Groups. This was reiterated by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 where more that 100 Heads of States “...reaffirm[ed] the vital role of the indigenous peoples in sustainable development.”2 It was the first time that a High Level UN Summit used the phrase “indigenous peoples” with an “s” in its Outcome Document. This was the result of the intense and sustained advocacy and lobby efforts of indigenous leaders, organizations and movements.

Asia’s indigenous peoples would like to reflect, from their own perspective, on how the global agenda on sustainable development was implemented in the past 20 years. This report tackles the impacts of the implementation of the development model espoused by governments, international financial institutions (IFIs), and corporations in relation to the exercise of indigenous peoples’ collective rights, their culture, spirituality, and dignity as distinct peoples. It also highlights the specific issues of indigenous women who continue to be victims of multiple and systematic discrimination, while their vital role and contributions to sustainable development remain invisible in the eyes of policy makers and development actors. Through this report, indigenous peoples hope to contribute positively in the debate on sustainable development using a rights- based approach that puts peoples as the key actors and players in determining their future. 

In Asia “indigenous peoples” as a term is contentious. The fact remains, however, that individual and collective rights of peoples who self-identify as indigenous peoples are being violated on a daily basis. Indigenous peoples in Asia share a common situation as those in other parts of the world—they are at the bottom rung of the development ladder. Two-thirds of the approximate 370 million self-identified indigenous peoples are in Asia. They provide the enormous cultural and linguistic diversity of the region. They have strong cultural attachment to and dependence of their livelihoods on land, forests or the sea, and the natural resources therein. They have unique collective historical connections with, and ownership of their territories, that have continuously been developed and maintained through complex and diverse customary land and resource use management systems. Their lands, territories and resources are repositories of tangible and intangible wealth that are largely expropriated and exploited in the name of national development. 

Indigenous peoples in Asia have historically been dominated through colonization and/or through nation-state building and the subsequent globalization. They are currently marginalized and subordinated economically, politically, and culturally. They suffer disproportionately from poverty and inadequate access to basic services. Based on human development indicators, Asia’s indigenous peoples are overrepresented among the poor, illiterate, malnourished, and stunted. Many face discrimination and racism on a daily basis. All too often, their territories are sacrificed for state-sponsored development and corporate projects that lead to gross and wide-scale violations of their collective rights, especially to their lands, territories, and resources. Militarization, plunder of resources, forced relocation, cultural genocide, and discrimination in everyday life are common experiences. 

For indigenous peoples, the goal of development is individual and collective wellbeing. Indigenous identity and development vision are based on 10 aspects or components of indigenous systems that are interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible. The growth and expansion of indigenous systems in a holistic way encompasses the diverse elements in their life, to wit: (1) Culture, (2) Social system, (3) Spirituality, (4) Politics/institutions, (5) Juridical system, (6) Education/ways of learning, (7) Economy, (8) Natural resource management, (9) Technology and innovations, and (10) Health. 

The wellbeing and development of indigenous peoples is directly related to the respect, recognition, protection and enjoyment of their individual and collective rights. The interrelated rights of indigenous peoples to lands, territories and resources and to self-determination are fundamental to the collective survival and development of indigenous peoples based on their distinct identities, cultures, spirituality and socio-political institutions. The very poor Human Development Index of indigenous peoples, along with other economic indicators of their wellbeing, demonstrates that a critical factor for their marginalization and deprivation is the continuing violation of their individual and collective rights. 

Almost all countries in Asia voted for the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on September 19, 2007. Many states, however, do not recognize indigenous peoples as distinct peoples with inherent collective rights. Legal measures, policies and programs to achieve social justice, non- discrimination and promotion of sustainable development for indigenous peoples—in line with the States’ international human rights obligations—are mainly non-existent.

The denial by modern states of pre-nation state autonomous societies of indigenous peoples—with their own territories and self-governance systems—is one of the fundamental and underlying causes of the violations of the collective rights of indigenous peoples. The state, underpinned by its modern legal system, vests itself with the right to allocate, regulate and determine land and resource ownership, use, control, and development. This system, imposed on indigenous peoples, does not recognize the historical and customary use of lands and resources that indigenous peoples have nurtured and managed for centuries as the basis of their prior right to lands, territories and resources.

The right to land, territories and resources and the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples under international human rights instruments has been systematically violated with impunity, inspite of the requirement for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), as stipulated by the UNDRIP. Achieving “national development” has always been the excuse to justify the massive exploitation and appropriation of indigenous lands, territories and resources.

The unilateral declaration of national parks and conservation areas, the granting of concessions for mining, logging, plantations, and other extractive industries—as well as infrastructure development for national development—has dispossessed and marginalized many indigenous peoples in Asia. These impositions and outright non- recognition of their rights are causing widespread and escalating conflicts, forced displacements, massive environmental degradation, food insecurity, ethnocide, and the weakening of the distinct socio-cultural systems and cohesion of indigenous peoples. This has also led to the loss of the cumulative collective indigenous knowledge and worldview that they have developed through time. Their indigenous knowledge systems have enabled them to inhabit their fragile homelands and sustainably enable them to develop unique societies based on their diverse cultures and ways of life.

The building of large dams affecting indigenous peoples in Asia from the 60s to the present has caused massive displacements, loss of livelihoods, and food insecurity of indigenous peoples in India, Philippines, Lao PDR, and Malaysia. Although the government and corporations extract tremendous revenue from hydropower, indigenous peoples adversely affected by these projects are left with no food, no light, no home, no livelihood, no land, no spirit tree, no sacred grave, no right, and no dignity as stated by victims. As concluded by the World Commission on Dams, “Due to neglect and lack of capacity to secure justice because of structural inequities, cultural dissonance, discrimination and economic and political marginalization, indigenous and tribal peoples have suffered disproportionately from the negative impacts of large dams, while often being excluded from sharing in the benefits.”3

The human costs of large-scale dams on indigenous peoples is appalling that they can be called Blood Dams. Dam building, however, is now considered as “green technology” under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the climate change convention.4 With this license to build more dams, the members of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN)5 and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have made grand plans to build hundreds of large dams across Asia. These dams are claimed to propel economic growth and sustainable development. These projects, however, pose very serious threats to the continuing survival and wellbeing of millions of indigenous peoples.

Another major source of massive destruction of indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources in Asia is the large scale mining operations. Asia is rich in mineral resources largely found in indigenous territories. Large-scale mining is one of the region’s growing economic sectors.

Of the more than a hundred corporate mines currently operating in indigenous territories in Asia, there is no single mining company that has undertaken a credible process of obtaining the FPIC of the affected indigenous peoples. In fact, some governments have even provided security services to these companies in the face of growing resistance of indigenous peoples and other affected communities (e.g., in Indonesia and the Philippines). The use of military and paramilitary forces to protect mining operations has resulted to massive human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention of indigenous peoples, as well as sexual violence and abuse of indigenous women.

Furthermore, as a result of land grabs by mining corporations and governments, millions of indigenous peoples have been physically displaced and have lost their sustainable livelihoods due to the destruction of their lands and resources, depletion of water resources, and environmental disasters such as sedimentation of rivers, land slides and subsidence. Water and air pollution has also led to health-related problems. Mines have destroyed sacred sites and further weakened socio-cultural systems and community cohesion due to conflicts, marginalization, and a sense of helplessness.

Asian governments are now amending national mining and related laws to attract huge foreign investments to fuel economic growth. On the other hand, legal measures to protect human rights and the environment are not in place, inspite of government’s claim of promoting people-centered development and sustainable development.

Conservation programs of governments and their partners (e.g., national parks and protected areas) have also impacted heavily on indigenous peoples. Forest-dependent indigenous peoples, as well as those relying on coastal resources, have been forcibly evicted from conservation areas as they are considered the destroyers of nature. Indigenous peoples are treated as enemies of conservation, and as a consequence, their sustainable resource management systems and traditional livelihoods have been curtailed and illegalized. The eviction of indigenous peoples and prohibitions of their livelihood activities in conservation areas have resulted to food insecurity, loss of biodiversity, and conflicts, among others. On the other hand, commercial logging and commercial fishing, which impact negatively on the environment, and indigenous peoples’ rights and livelihoods, take over their lands and waters and continue unabated.

The non-recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their land, territories and resources is inextricably linked to the denial of indigenous women’s role in sustainable resource management, inter alia, their position in society. Their knowledge and skills in subsistence agriculture is considered irrelevant or even considered unscientific as a result. The destruction of forests and other natural resources (and access to these) from which women have developed their knowledge and expertise, is resulting to loss of their valuable traditional knowledge. With the loss of access and control over land and resources, and of subsistence economies, indigenous women’s role and participation in sustainable development is compromised. Furthermore, indigenous women often face discrimination in accessing education, health services, and in decision making. Thus, addressing the gender dimension of indigenous peoples’ issues is a prerequisite for sustainable development.

In the pursuit of national development, governments have partnered with international financial institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The projects of these IFIs (e.g., large dams, land concessions, commercial agriculture, and even conservation programs) have led to massive violations of human rights of indigenous peoples in Asia. In many countries, indigenous peoples have been subjected to displacement and loss of traditional livelihoods, among others. Although IFIs have their own safeguard policies that purportedly aim to protect the rights of affected indigenous peoples and prevent harm, the provisions on the respect for the collective rights of indigenous peoples—especially to their lands, territories and resources—are weak and their implementation, problematic. Even with the claims of both the WB and the ADB to have contributed significantly to poverty alleviation and national development, these continue to have a bad legacy to indigenous peoples who have largely become the victims and not the beneficiaries of the development interventions of these multilateral banks. Indigenous peoples persist in demanding greater accountability of the World Bank and the ADB under a human rights-based approach to development.

With the drive for sustainable development, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is exerting all efforts to achieve a single market economic community by 2015. ASEAN is now considered as the center of economic growth amidst the global economic crises. One of the means to achieve this is to increase investments in the mineral, energy and transport infrastructure sectors, and the so-called “green economy.” Physical connectivity of ASEAN countries will be done through a multi- modal transportation system through land, water and air.

For indigenous peoples in ASEAN, the avowed rhetoric of sustainable development as people-centered and for environment protection is merely lip service. There are no specific policies and measures for legal and environmental protection of indigenous peoples’ rights over their lands, territories and resources. The development approach of ASEAN is based on a failed model of economic growth that puts emphasis on capital- intensive, large infrastructure projects such as energy, transportation and mining that largely benefit big business corporations and those in power. Sustainable agricultural production for food sufficiency is sacrificed for biofuel plantations and production for export. The grand plan of ASEAN in the name of sustainable development is likely to cause further exploitation of resource-rich indigenous territories, human rights violations and conflicts, widespread disasters, as well as the further marginalization of indigenous peoples who remain invisible in ASEAN.

As stewards of their territories and nurturers of their homelands, Asia’s indigenous peoples have been contributing to sustainable development and green economies through their own traditional practices. Traditional occupations6 are still the chief sources of livelihood of most indigenous peoples in Asia, accounting for 50 to 95 percent of indigenous peoples’ livelihoods. Traditional knowledge—especially of indigenous women—has been critical in the food security of indigenous peoples, enhancement of biodiversity, the practice of herbal medicine, and the innovation of indigenous technologies. All these have contributed to sustainable development.

Indigenous peoples in Asia, along with indigenous peoples around the world, have submitted their recommendations to the Outcome Document of the Rio+20, emphasizing the urgent need that the framework and strategy of sustainable development shall adopt principles and approaches, which are human rights- based, ecosystems- and territorial-based, knowledge-based, intercultural, and gender sensitive.7 These shall include the UNDRIP as a human rights framework, and in particular, the legal recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources; the requirement for the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples on matters that affect them; and the recognition of the contributions of traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples to sustainable development.

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