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Indigenous issues sidelined at World Summit on Sustainable Development

22 August 2002

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today stated its concern that indigenous issues will fail to be given sufficient attention at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) due to take place in Johannesburg, from 26 August. MRG fears that indigenous issues may be blocked from consideration under pressure from governments keen to control the agenda and avoid discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples as they relate to environmental protection, development projects and self-determination.

Important among issues which must be raised if the WSSD is to benefit indigenous peoples, include access and control of ancestral lands, respect for traditional livelihoods and continuing human rights violations and military interventions against indigenous peoples. These are issues which some governments wish to avoid, since they may conflict with existing or proposed development programmes which are economically more lucrative or politically motivated.

MRG will participate in the WSSD alongside its partner organizations including the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), a Kenyan NGO, and the National Federation of Indigenous Peoples Organizations in the Philippines (KAMP), a federation of 18 indigenous peoples organizations. In addition, MRG will also participate in a one-day civil society workshop on Human Rights, Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection1 on 01 September to further address these issues.

Nyang’ori Ohenjo of CEMIRIDE will attend the WSSD in support of indigenous and tribal peoples in Kenya including the Ogiek, a hunter-gatherer community. He stated that, ‘They [the Ogiek] have been condemned to the periphery of development, with their land being expropriated for development purposes, without due regard to their own development needs, or the respect of their human rights. The Ogiek are undergoing a severe process of Ethnocide in the name of national development. Through the strength of existing national laws… the Ogiek have seen their land taken away from them, without consultation or compensation.’

Speaking of the Philippine Government’s national development program for forest management, a spokesperson for KAMP stated, ‘This is a classic mix of deception and direct coercion in pursuit of national development… The reforestation program serves only the economic interest of the logging company and not the welfare of the host indigenous community. In fact, the indigenous peoples are only relegated as daily or contractual farm workers instead of being the primary cultivators of their ancestral land.’

MRG believe that combating the poverty and exclusion of minorities and indigenous peoples means protecting their rights and mainstreaming them into development policies and practice. Minorities and indigenous peoples continue to be among the poorest and most marginalized communities and are more likely to be harmed by or left out of the development process. ‘Ignoring the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples has weakened poverty reduction strategies and could prevent the sustainable achievement of the Millennium Development Goals’, said MRG’s Corinne Lennox.

Minority Rights Group International calls for the WSSD to fully address and promote the issues of indigenous peoples as they relate to its mandate of promoting sustainable development and in all stages of the development process.