Mar 22, 2011

Timor World Wide Conference on Indigenous Water Rights

On Friday, 18 March 2011, UNPO joined Timor World Wide (TWW), an NGO based in The Hague that strives for social and economic progress on the island of Timor, and participated in a one-day international conference held at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague entitled “Indigenous Claims on Water, what do the Indigenous Conventions and International Law Documents say about this?”.

Because of our commitment to our former Member Timor-Leste and our long history of promoting indigenous rights, UNPO was invited to facilitate a working group at the Conference. The goal of this working group was to debate on the policy recommendations for creating internationally accepted criteria in allocating shared water resources and the incorporation of indigenous social, spiritual and customary objectives in water planning. The participants in the UNPO workgroup provided diverse examples of problems experienced by indigenous fishing communities, discussed the possibilities to improve water rights at the national and international level and talked about how to raise awareness for these issues.

Alongside UNPO, participants at the Conference included representatives from several academic institutions, NGOs and indigenous groups. Also present was a delegate of our Member the Oromo, who have a lot of experience with (the lack of) indigenous land rights.

The conference was opened by Prof. Dr. Gerald Persoon from the Leiden University addressing the governing of Maritime Law in the perspective of indigenous historic rights. After Professor Persoon’s introduction to indigenous rights, the following speakers shared their insight and experience, for a broader understanding of the issues facing indigenous groups today. Daniel Dwyer, PhD candidate from the Northern Territory University Centre for North Australian and Asian Research, spoke about maritime conflicts in the Timor Sea between indigenous fishermen and the Australian government.

Kevin Carlson and David Monias subsequently spoke about the water related problems of the indigenous peoples in Northern Manitoba (Canada).The indigenous Manitobans have not profited much from the Canadian laws on indigenous rights, as the pollution of native lands and waters is still threatening indigenous Manitobans in their existence. Concluding the first round of lectures, Julia Jantke from the University of Bremen, who spoke about the positive lessons to be taken from the Sangihe Talaud Case (Indonesian islands north of Sulawesi), sharing their valuable experience with granting fishing rights to indigenous fishermen.

The second round of lectures looked more specifically to the indigenous perspective. First came Brian O’Riordan, speaking on behalf of the International Collective Support of Fish Workers (ICSF) about the meaning of the Law of the Sea for indigenous groups and the ‘Bill of Rights’ that the ICSF is developing in support of these communities. This was followed up by a speech of Leo van der Vlist, representing the Netherlands Centre for Indigenous People (NCIV). Van der Vlist gave some interesting insight in the new developments in international law that can benefit indigenous peoples. The morning session was concluded by a lecture by Prof. dr. Zou Keyuan of the University of Lancashire Law school, who gave an overview of the different interpretations of international law and historical rights.

After a well deserved lunch the visitors were invited to attend one of the three available working groups, each of them focusing on a different aspect of indigenous rights to the sea. The conclusions drawn in the different working groups were further discussed in a plenary session, where it became even more clear that although no simple solutions are available, creative thinking can contribute to a better protection of indigenous fishermen.

The Conference was concluded by a reception, offering the opportunity to think over and discuss the numerous problems encountered by indigenous peoples, while enjoying a drink.

For more information on UNPO’s Earth, Exploitation, and Survival campaign, please click here.