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IWGIA Updates: November & December 2020



Dear friend of IWGIA, 
2020 has been a profoundly challenging year. Indigenous Peoples continue their fight for their rights to be acknowledged and respected. Further, they take up the fight for recognition and equal protection as threats tied to economic recovery measures and access to critical healthcare services continue to marginalise them.

Since March 2020, IWGIA has worked to monitor the impacts of the pandemic on Indigenous Peoples around the globe and supported partners in their efforts to protect themselves not only from the health ramifications of the virus, but also from the emergency law procedures enacted in many countries that have adversely affected them.

Indigenous communities are strong and resilient. They have mobilised their Indigenous knowledge to isolate and protect themselves from incursions and infection by outsiders, and to claim their rights from duty bearers. Nevertheless, they continue to experience an increase in illegal activities on their lands.

Together these factors form a triple-threat: lack of access to health care, food insecurity and continued marginalisation. Indigenous Peoples and their territories were already disproportionally affected by structural inequalities before the pandemic. Environmental degradation, conflicts over resources, expropriation of land and human rights violations continue to detrimentally impact their lives.

However, the pandemic has now added another layer of complexity, and opened doors for further rights violations in the name of pandemic response. Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders continue to experience threats and violence, while the criminalisation of Indigenous Peoples efforts to claim their rights continue. Additionally, the lack of culturally appropriate COVID-19 information in Indigenous languages and the absence of Indigenous Peoples in national recovery plans has negatively impacted the resilience of Indigenous communities. 

The following selection of articles from November and December 2020 highlight how Indigenous Peoples have been documenting and fighting against the pandemic, as well as the myriad other challenges they have continued to face.

From all of us at IWGIA, we re-affirm our commitment to promote, protect and defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples at a time when the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the rise of populist leaders and a shrinking civil space for human rights, are posing tremendous threats to their lives, lands and cultures.

We thank you for your continued support. 

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The vice-president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Antonia Urrejola, points out that conflicts have always arisen between the Commission and the States concerning recommendations, but that these have now become more public. Urrejola, who is also the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, says the strength of the IACHR lies in its declarations, but public accusations by the States of an alleged lack of impartiality or interference in internal affairs weaken them. 

Beyond frustration at the lack of compliance by the States, Urrejola says the judgments are creating a kind of "inter-American awareness" of human rights.

  • The UNEP Global Emissions Report 2020, published on 9 December, shows that despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, humanity is on pace to suffer a minimum 3-degree temperature rise by the end of the century
  • International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) expresses deep concern. Such a rise will be devastating for all humanity, but standing at the forefront of this coming devastation are Indigenous Peoples
  • Indigenous Peoples are stewards of nature and have been ringing the alarm of climate change for decades. They need to be listened to in global climate action.

Indigenous and traditional communities have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus. The pandemic is compounded by ecocide, fires, hydroelectric power and mining.

Beyond the Brazilian government’s negligence, the State has failed to adopt special measures for the communities, nor has it suspended the consultation processes, as established by the IACHR. The Indigenous Peoples are trying to resist subjugation with their own protocols, their fight within the justice sector and their refusal to adhere to virtual consultations.

  • A report commissioned due to intense media pressure reveals systemic problems resulting in violence and abuse in protected areas managed or supported by WWF and major problems in WWF’s organisational approach to human rights
  • Systematic denial of traditional and customary rights to lands underpins the emergence of violence, intimidation and other human rights abuses in protected areas
  • Global inter-governmental negotiations seek a doubling of protected areas over the next 10 years, creating significant further risks of dispossession of customary rightsholders from their territories.

Injustice regarding the validity of ancestral knowledge has been one of the many racist practices established by colonisation. For five centuries, a systematic attack has persisted, in a bid to bring an end to the creation, conservation and transmission of the knowledge of native peoples. In recent decades, religious fundamentalism has rebooted this symbolic violence to divide Indigenous communities and benefit from the installation of extractive projects and large-scale agricultural monocultures.

Indigenous Activism in Russia: What's next?

Of over 190 ethnic groups inhabiting Russia, 40 are classified by Russian legislation as “small-numbered Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East” and thus recognised for their unique way of life and the need for an exclusive set of laws to protect it.

Read more here >>

The Peace Agreement signed in 2016 between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) raised hopes among the Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant populations and peasant communities that they might henceforward be able to live in peace on their territories.

Villagers of the Mro community face eviction threats from eight of their ancestral villages at Chimbuk hill in Bandarban district in the Chittagong Hill District, Bangladesh due to the construction of a five-star hotel in their ancestral lands.

The open letter, calling on Prime Minister Sheik Hasina and Minister Sing to protect the Mro from forced eviction has been submitted:

The result of a collective and community-led data-gathering exercise relying on the Indigenous Navigator framework and tools, this report identifies and discusses the experiences, needs, concerns and aspirations of indigenous women in 11 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

Photo: Edgar Kanaykõ Indigenous Person walks toward river
Legal pluralism and autonomous protocols

During the last two decades, a series of autonomous protocols have emerged in Latin America. These protocols were drafted by Indigenous Peoples establishing principles and rules for the exercise of collective rights as regards their internal organization and their relationship with the State and other actors.

Learn more here >>

After resisting the policy of forced assimilation enforced during the decades of military rule, today Indigenous peoples of Myanmar are subjected to land dispossession in the name of boosting economic development and implementation of the country’s climate commitments.

On Wednesday, November 4 at 3:00 p.m. in Copenhagen, the virtual event: Advancing in the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ right to autonomy and self-government.

Unfortunately, that dark period has returned in 2020 with forest fires raging beyond last year’s devastating numbers.

Watch the event here >>

Radio Encuentros is IWGIA's Spanish audio resources platformThe radio programmes address different aspects of the situation of Indigenous Peoples and are free to download. (Spanish).
Debates Indígenas: is a joint initiative between IWGIA and Ore. 

Debates Indígenas is a Spanish and English language digital magazine that aims to address the struggles, achievements and challenges of Indigenous Peoples, grounded in an understanding and perspective of their territories and communities, bringing academic knowledge and the commitment of activism together into one forum. Our vision is to become a means of communication and reference for Indigenous Peoples, as well as a tool that contributes to the defence of human rights and nature.

This Institutional Strategy analyses and exposes these challenges in order to effectively address them.

It outlines IWGIA’s vision, mission and core ambitions for the next five years, describing our pathway to fostering lasting change. Our pathway places our partners at the very centre and outlines our three core areas of work: documenting, advocating and empowering – what we call our Triangle of Change.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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