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Urgent action taken to secure land rights of Indigenous peoples

Communities, women’s groups, and environmental activists are joining forces with Indigenous Peoples today as part of the Land Rights Now initiative. Protests, events, and meetings will take place this week to draw attention to the global campaign that aims to help protect the land ownership rights of Indigenous Peoples. The goal of the initiative, launched in March 2016, is to double the quantity of land owned and managed by Natives and local communities by 2020.

“The power of the Land Rights Now initiative is its unifying call to respect the rights of approximately 2.5 billion people, which includes around 400 million Indigenous Peoples,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Recognizing these rights also means reducing conflict, fighting against climate change, promoting sustainable development, preserving cultures, and protecting the world’s most fragile ecosystems.”

Governments are taking control of the future of land that they do not have the right to govern, as the struggle for Indigenous Peoples to secure their land rights becomes a global issue. Dams, coal mines and palm oil plantations are among the projects that are in the works that would demolish the conservation efforts of many generations of Indigenous peoples. Natives are attempting to gain the acknowledgement and support of both the government and the private sector for their efforts to preserve biodiversity and prevent climate change. Communities of Brazil, Kenya, Guatemala, and Taiwan are demanding their rights to land be recognized before it is too late.

“We have the right to decide our own future and survival, and are carrying out projects that protect our territory and protect our planet from the impacts of climate change,” said Manari Ushigua, President of the Sápara Federation in Ecuador.

The Save Lamu Coalition has united in Kenya to protest the construction of of a coal plant in Lamu, a coastal town in Kenya. The community here depends on the land and coastal waters that would be immensely damaged by the coal plant.

“We’re not anti-development, but no one in the world has ventured into coal mining and faced no long-term consequences,” noted Ishaq Abubakar of the Lamu Youth Alliance.

Lamu activist Walid Ahmed added, “The whole world is worried about global warming and climate change. It can’t be these things do not matter for Lamu.”

Brazil, once known as a leader in preserving Indigenous land rights, is now blatantly disregarding these rights with infrastructure plans that threaten the livelihood of the Munduruku and other Amazonian communities. Part of the Amazon forest, which happens to be one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, would be devastated by the development of a proposed mega-dam.

“Indigenous lands help regulate the planet’s climate, for they are obstacles to deforestation. There is ten times less deforestation in indigenous lands than in non-titled lands,” said Sônia Guajajara, National Coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples. “The section of the Amazon Forest under our protection stores 13 billion tons of carbon. Without these reserves, Brazil will not comply with the goals established in the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Indigenous movement leaders have enlisted the help of Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio, a former member of Brazil’s agribusiness legislature. They are urging Serraglio to help end the Brazilian government’s attack on Indigenous People’s rights and land. Activists also want Serraglio to stop efforts to pass a Constitutional Amendment that will slow the legal designation of land to the Natives.

“The [Brazilian] government is coming here to get rid of everything–the natives, the forest and the river,” said Chief Juarez Saw of the Munduruku.

In Guatemala, palm oil production is taking precedence over the Natives’ land ownership rights, and many have been forced to leave their land. Communities of Raxruha in the Alta Verapaz region have been impacted the most, but the effects of this industry are approaching surrounding villages. The Network of Communities Affected by Palm Oil has organized to demand the government to stop violating land ownership rights. They also point out that the social and environmental damage that has been done must be repaired.

The forests have provided a way of life for the Guatemalan Natives that preserve them for generations. These resourceful  forests are being rapidly replaced by palm oil plantations that are damaging the environment. For many of the Natives, their lives have been completely uprooted. Any opposition by the Natives to the acquisition of their land is met with violence and force.

Margarita Osorio is a local women’s leader and land rights activist. “The destruction of the forests began when they started planting palm oil. We feel challenged and intimidated by the way they criminalize and threaten us,” said Osorio.

Recent legislature took away any chance for Natives of Taiwan to protect their land rights. The government can take away their land with no contention, and they have. The Pinuyamayan people in the community of Kasavakan have already lost ten acres of forest. They are teaming up with other Indigenous organizations to oppose the new regulation.

“Now we have no way to exercise our Free, Prior and Informed Consent when a development project is conducted in so-called ‘private lands,'” said Tuhi Martukaw, a member of the community. “It is ten acres today but what worries the community is what comes next. The concern is that this ruling will split apart Indigenous Peoples lands and make way for massive development projects that don’t take the existing communities into consideration.”

Indigenous Peoples have been responsible for the conservation of the land and forests they inhabit for ages. Research shows they have maintained a high level of biodiversity and lower deforestation rates in their ancestral community forests. Despite the immeasurable protection these groups have provided for natural resources, governments across the globe are disregarding the land rights of Natives with plans of destructive projects. The disturbance of these well-preserved habitats is not only a threat to the Indigenous Peoples, but also a threat to the climate and the Earth’s most valuable substances.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Source: Land Rights Now

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