Igorot Raises “Two-Headed Monster” at UNHRC
Urges Global Support for ICCAs
27th Session, UN Human Rights Council, Palais des Nations, Geneva, September 17, 2014. An indigenous person belonging to the Kankanaey Igorot tribe of Sagada, Mountain Province, Northern Philippines raised before the 27th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council a “two-headed monster” that pose grave threats to indigenous peoples. Representing the National Coalition of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines and backed by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), Reyes was invited by UN Human Rights Council President Endong Ella to share suggestions on how Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness initiatives could better enrich experience of communities from different regions so that UN Human Right Council member states could better appreciate the value of support for indigenous peoples globally. Other panelists of prestige included MARGARETA WAHLSTROM, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, MR. ALBERT DETERVILE, Chair-Rapporteur, Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; ALEJANDRO MALDONADO, Executive Secretary, National Coordination Office for Disaster Reduction, Guatemala; AISSATOU OUMAROU IBRAHIM, Association of Indigenous Women, Chad.
The discussion consisted of two segments namely: Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples; and, Planning, Prevention and Preparedness Initiatives.
In her opening remarks, FLAVIA PANSIERI, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited a study by the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in the context of disaster risk reduction particularly “the contributions indigenous peoples could make to disaster risk reduction”.
Pansiere was followed by Reyes who used series of slides of maps, charts and statistics to show links between Disaster Risk Reduction, Human Rights and indigenous peoples. He said there are 110 ethnic tribes in the Philippines including12-15 million indigenous peoples inhabiting more than five million hectares of ancestral lands of the country’s total land mass of 30 million hectares. Reyes identified the “two-headed monster” as: One, the 19 to 21 typhoons assaulting the country annually with the November 8, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan the strongest in 100 years; two, numerous large-scale mining operations that transgress into ancestral lands. Of the first, “indigenous communities have virtually zero carbon emissions, owing to indigenous peoples’ simple lifestyle and world views that treat their forests and rivers with deep reverence and therefore not to be destroyed”. He said, “yet IPs are the most vulnerable to climate change impact.” He said, “Disaster Risk Reduction depends on the protection of our knowledge systems and the ancestral lands in which we thrive and persist. This is because we have learned to equate such systems with LIFE-PRINCIPLES, that is to say – LIFE is not only satisfactory when food is available, adequate, accessible and acceptable to indigenous peoples, but rather, when we have access to and control over our land and resources. Therefore, Disaster Risk Reduction cannot be understood in isolation with indigenous peoples’ traditional governance systems.” He said man-made calamities include large-scale mining and informed the Council that since 2012, through the Mining Act of 1995 and Executive Order 79, the Philippine government approved 771 large scale mining permits covering one million nine (1.9) hectares, half of which overlap with ancestral territories and bringing in its wake the plunder of resources and violation of human rights. He ended the first segment with a question: “Must indigenous peoples consider themselves covered by State laws that ask their own annihilation as a people?”
Panelist MARGARETA WAHLSTROM, said that in 2015, three major international frameworks will redefine the future pathway of humanity: a new agreement on climate change, a new sustainable development agenda and a new framework for disaster risk reduction while ALBERT DETERVILLE, emphasized that Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) will continue to be a human rights policy issue because it contributes against impacts of natural hazards on housing, health, land rights and access to food. AISSATOU OUMAROU IBRAHIM of Chad, said the world is facing floods, droughts and hurricanes. She said, there is a need to have tools to ensure policy adaptation and mitigation while ALEJANDRO MALDONADO said “Western perspective could not be unaware of the impact of climate change on development – and on disasters. He said, Guatemala has changed its approach, from a disaster perspective to a disaster risk management perspective with intensive participation from indigenous peoples and especially indigenous women. Mr. Maldonado emphasized that Disaster risk could not be separated from land use planning, geological changes and water use.
During the 90-minute open forum, ambassadors from Costa Rica, the European Union, Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, Republic of Congo, Germany, El Salvador, United States, Philippines, Denmark and the Indian Council of South America manifested positions regarding how their respective countries are coping with disaster with respect to indigenous peoples. Civil Society groups like the International Association of Schools of Social Work said that United Nations bodies and mechanisms “still operated on biased grounds and colonialism” and cited “activities related to Alaska and Hawaii had for example regrettably omitted the question of self-determination.”
Dealing with Experiences in Preparedness Initiatives, Reyes showed how communities, as experienced by his organization, cross-analyse between Landcover map, Landslide susceptibility map, Flood and erosion susceptibility maps and between a landcover map and a fault line map. He said no one but community members themselves are in the best position to cross-analyse because the maps are associated with their human settlement areas, crops and animals and in return, guides them in terms of vulnerabilities and risks. Reyes asserted that Indigenous peoples could become a driving force not only against climate change but for peace and national development. As a member of the Steering Committee of The Indigenous Peoples Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCA) Consortium, Reyes, called for global support of the world’s remaining indigenous community conserved areas by support the Global ICCA Consortium which is taking the lead in global advocacy on ICCAs. After all, he said, “indigenous peoples’ territories are the planet’s remaining epicenters of climate change mitigation and resiliency.”
In response, Russia, Australia, Finland, Ireland, Morocco, Brazil welcomed the timely discussions and acknowledged among others that IPs are most at risk, that there is a need for emergency strategies, coherence in initiatives and inclusion of IPs in planning. The Lawyer’s Rights Watch-Canada underlined the need to respect indigenous peoples’ prior information and consent while expressing “regret that indigenous human rights activists received threats and attacks, and had their activities restricted in many places, including in Colombia and Thailand”. The group urged the Council to pay specific attention to the situation of indigenous rights defenders. The International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism in a joint statement with National Coalition Against Racial Discrimination said that indigenous peoples are one of the most vulnerable to natural disasters. It said, Nepal’s indigenous peoples were not sufficiently included in Nepal’s policies on disaster risks.
The last group to speak, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact said that disaster risk reduction measures were crucial for indigenous peoples. It cited the case of Indigenous Nagas who are victims of discrimination and other human rights violations in India since the end of the Second World War. With support from MESEREOR, the AIPP works in partnership with the National Coalition of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines (KASAPI Inc)among other Indigenous Peoples Organizations in Asia through a project entitled “Building Resiliency of Indigenous Communities on Climate Change Adaptation”
1. Giovanni Reyes, “Disaster Risk Reduction, Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples”, Speech, 27th Session, UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Chamber, RM XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva, September 17, 2014.
3. Dave de Vera and Kail Zinggapan, “Conflicts on National Land Use Policies”, Philippine Association for Inter-Cultural Development, Quezon City. Nov. 24, 2011.