The guardians of the territory

Strengthening international solidarity and support to indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasises the crucial role of securing land rights and natural resources to eradicate poverty, and to achieve gender equality and sustainable development. Environmental degradation driven by political and economic interests aggravates inequality and impacts on communities, which are denied basic rights and face repression. Indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders are at the forefront of defending their territories against projects that exploit natural resources. They are under threat – 207 environmental human rights defenders were killed in 2017. Through stories of ProtectDefenders.eu, participants will debate new strategies to defend and increase solidarity to those risking their lives to protect the planet's most precious heritage.

Key points

  • Indigenous communities must be able to fight for their rights without being intimated or killed.
  • Efforts to defend rights and resources should not be considered criminal.
  • There is a responsibility for international donors and governments to act.
  • UN declarations should go further than they do and include a participatory process involving indigenous communities.
  • Partnerships with indigenous people are necessary to protect their rights and deliver equitable benefits.

Synopsis

Indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders risk their lives when they try to defend their territories against projects that exploit natural resources. Two hundred and seven environmental human rights defenders were killed in 2017. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasises the crucial role of securing land rights and natural resources to eradicate poverty, and to achieve gender equality and sustainable development. However, corruption and weak government result in poor enforcement. As a result, indigenous communities are being broken up and destroyed alongside environmental degradation that is driven by political and economic interests. Efforts by indigenous communities to protect their resources are often regarded as criminal acts. The private sector or government just come and take what they want. If the local people take action, the law is used to punish them. In Columbia, for example, 60 people were killed protecting their land. All laws that criminalize indigenous people for defending their land rights should be repealed. A major obstacle is that these rights are not recognised by a number of States and are therefore not secure. Resources are held collectively, but only 10 % are recognised formally. When foreign investors arrive, the land can be just taken away. Increasingly the term sustainable development is used as a cover for land grabbing, and for separating communities from their land and resources. Governments must be persuaded that this is unacceptable, and that these communities must be treated with respect and their rights respected. This means the indigenous people should be treated as partners with a right to their land and equitable benefits from the exploitation of the natural resources on that land. More needs to be done at the international level. The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (2007) is often not recognised. The indigenous lands are extremely rich in natural resources and are a particular target for extractive industries. At the same time, agri-business plantations are occupying land and forcing the local communities into slums. Governments in the EU and US, where the headquarters of major multinational corporations are located, and major donors have a key responsibility in influencing positive policy implementation. Financial institutions should factor in respect for indigenous communities in their funding packages, and UN declarations should go further and stipulate participation from indigenous communities in the exploitation of natural resources.

Insight

Foreign governments are in a better position than national ones to insist that international corporations respect indigenous populations.

Organised by

Speakers

Moderator
Luisa Ragher
Head of Division Global.1 Human Rights
European External Action Service (EEAS)
Ariane Assemat
Advocacy
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan
Joan Carling
The Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development
Sabine Pallas
Partnerships Officer
International Land Coalition
Stella Matutina
Human Rights Coordinator
ProtectDefenders