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For many indigenous and minority communities, ‘development’ brings only destruction – new global report

27 June 2012

The scale and severity of the threats to indigenous peoples and minorities have reached new proportions, due to an unprecedented demand for the world’s remaining resources, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in the 2012 edition of its flagship annual report, published today.

State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 provides concrete evidence of how the generation of vast revenues from logging and dams, oil and mineral extraction, coastal tourism, fish farming, conservation parks and large-scale agriculture, is often at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

‘Many communities have their lands and natural resources stolen from them simply because they are minorities,’ says Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘Indigenous peoples and minorities are in a weak or vulnerable enough position that governments and foreign corporations can take away what they have, knowing there will be few repercussions. Resource development often leads to violations of their human rights. In some cases, it is now a threat to their very existence.’

The report says that despite a wave of new commitments from governments and corporations, the revenues from natural resource development continue to flow out of the regions where poor communities live, while the harms stay behind.

In India, 40–50 per cent of those displaced by dam development projects were Adivasi tribal people. In the Ahwazi-Arab minority region of Khuzestan in Iran, where 90 per cent of the country’s oil revenues originate, minority communities live in poverty and suffer ill health from the pollution by the industry of the Karoon River.

Natural resource development can also severely damage or even eradicate traditional livelihoods, thus pushing groups further into poverty, says MRG.

In Cambodia, the Prey Lang forest, inhabited by the Kuy indigenous peoples, has been designated as a conservation area; however, the government has granted tens of thousands of hectares of the forest for extraction of minerals, timber and for rubber plantations, leaving the community unable to practise their traditional livelihoods that make use of non-timber forest products.

Evictions and involuntary migration are used commonly to gain access to lands and resources. Minorities and indigenous peoples are forced to migrate to urban slums, where they face further marginalization, or to even more remote regions where livelihoods are more difficult.

Dam construction has depleted the Aral Sea Basin and forced tens of thousands of Karakalpak into Kazakhstan and other neighbouring countries once their traditional livelihoods literally and figuratively ‘dried up’.

The report sets out for the first time corporate responsibility in relation to minority rights, and provides evidence of companies’ ongoing disregard for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights (even when their Corporate Social Responsibility policies say otherwise).

Buela, a forest community in the Democratic Republic of Congo, signed an agreement in 2011 with a subsidiary of a European company to allow forest areas used by the community to be logged. However the company failed to inform the community of its rights and options prior to the agreement and the presence of military personnel at the signing ceremony was intimidating for Buela, who had previously suffered torture, killing and rape at the hands of the army.

Faced with these many challenges, indigenous peoples and minorities have used different strategies to resist unwanted natural resource development. However, many non-violent protests have been met with violence, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances, torture and even death, according to the report.

The Mapuche in Chile have faced government use of anti-terrorism legislation against community members who protest against exploitation of their lands by extractive industries.

Some groups are taking the lead in determining forms of natural resource development that are consistent with their human rights.

Afro-descendants in Colombia have the constitutional right to be consulted prior to resource extraction projects in the areas where they live. The community of La Toma, who have been carrying out small scale gold mining for hundreds of years, were never consulted before mining titles on their land were granted to national and transnational companies. They took their case to Colombia’s Constitutional Court, who ruled to suspend all further titles, requiring that current title holders carry out ’adequate consultation’ with the community before proceeding with further mining plans.

The report calls for a new model of resource development ‘with identity’, including practices which respect the rights of indigenous and minority communities.

‘The efforts of indigenous peoples to reform the way we all pursue natural resource development could be the key to greater sustainability. The future of natural resource development is our common future, and minorities and indigenous peoples have a right not only to benefit from development, but also to help determine its path,’ says Mark Lattimer.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International
    • Minority and indigenous activists working on resource exploitation and land rights
  • Download the report here.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].