May 19, 2011

UNPO Members Speak Out At Event On Resource Extraction

Held during the 10th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), this event addressed contentious issues surrounding the development of energy resources in indigenous regions.


17 May 2011

The extraction of global resources has grown more or less steadily over the past 25 years. The expanding population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, places increasing demands on food, water, energy and land resources. The effect of the increasing use of these resources on the earth’s climate and environment is a frequent topic of discussion in spaces ranging from the centers of international power to popular media outlets. However, the effect of the development and extraction of valuable resources on the lives of indigenous peoples in many regions of the world is frequently absent from such conversations.


In the context of indigenous populations’ systematic exclusion from political and economic power, how can indigenous people assert their rights? This event, co-hosted by UNPO and Society for Threatened Peoples, highlighted some of the major issues facing indigenous populations in relation to the extraction of natural resources on their lands. It also explored the reasons why actions to oppose such extraction projects are often unsuccessful, and attempted to outline what can be done to hold governments and corporations accountable to international standards of human rights.  


Jill K. Carino, Cordillera Peoples Alliance Vice-Chairperson for External Affairs, opened the event by discussing the experience of the indigenous Ibaloi and Kankanaey people of Benguet province, Cordillera Region Philippines with mining and dam projects. Ms. Carino outlined the serious impacts that these projects have had on the land and water of the people.


Karim Abdian, Executive Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization followed by discussing the exploitation of the vast oil resources of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) province by the Iranian regime. Mr. Abdian highlighted the fact that while Ahwazi ancestral lands produce over 4.5 million barrels of oil daily- 90% of total Iranian oil production- indigenous Ahwazi-Arabs live in abject poverty and receive no part of the billions of dollars in annual revenue generated by this resource. He brought to light the systematic political exclusion of the Awazi Arabs and their resulting absence from Iranian governance structures, including those governing the extraction of resources and distribution of benefits.


Hector Huertas of the National Union of Indigenous Lawyers of Panama (Kuna Yala) and Chair of the  Indigenous Caucus of the Organization of American States (OAS) provided his perspective on some possible ways forward. Mr. Huertas presented a legal overview of international complaint procedures, focusing particularly on the OAS and UN systems. 


Following the main presentations there was time for questions and discussion, leading to a lively exchange about building effective indigenous movements to oppose resource development projects which violate their rights, possible opportunities for advocacy initiatives within the international system and mechanisms for indigenous recourse in cases of past or ongoing harm and rights violations.


** Ms. Azelene Kaingang was also scheduled to take part in the event, presenting the case of indigenous resistance to Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam. However, Brazil blocked this prominent human rights advocate from attending the UNPFII. Ms. Kaingang was expected to address Brazil’s “legal missteps surrounding the hugely controversial hydroelectric project” (Earth Peoples Brazil Bars a Critic from UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues).