Indigenous Rights Approach a Solution to Climate Change Crisis

The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) was held in Bonn, Germany and focused on how to give land rights the visibility needed to showcase that a rights approach, particularly when it comes to indigenous people, is a solution to the climate change crisis. Courtesy: Pilar Valbuena/GLF

By Friday Phiri
Jun 29 2019 – The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) was held in Bonn, Germany to rally behind a new approach to achieving a future that is more inclusive and sustainable than the present – through the establishment of secure and proper rights for all.

On Jun. 22 and 23, experts, political leaders, NGOs and indigenous peoples and communities gathered to deliberate on a methodology that emphasises rights for indigenous peoples and local communities in the management and perseveration of landscapes. The forum took place alongside the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Bonn Climate Change Conference.

The forum focused giving land rights the visibility needed to showcase that a rights approach is a solution to the climate change crisis, and to develop a ‘gold standard’ for rights.

Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth, are believed to be the world’s most important environmental stewards but they are also among the most threatened and criminalised groups with little access to rights.

“We’re defending the world, for every single one of us,” said Geovaldis Gonzalez Jimenez, an indigenous peasant leader from Montes de María, Colombia.

But industries such as fossil fuels, large-scale agriculture, mining and others are not only endangering landscapes but also the lives of the people therein.

Already this year, said Gonzalez, his region witnessed 135 murders, adding that the day before the start of the GLF a local leader was killed in front of a 9-year-old boy.

According to the United Nations, the land belonging to the 350 million indigenous peoples across the globe is one of the most powerful shields against climate change as it holds 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and sequesters nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon

It is for this reason that amid the urgency to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under pressure from the climate threat, dialogues about the global future have begun to wake up to the fact that indigenous peoples’ relationships with the natural world are not only crucial to preserve for their own sakes, but for everyone’s.

The drafting of the document of rights was led by Indigenous Peoples Major Group (IPMG) for Sustainable Development and the Rights and Resources Initiative in the months leading up to the GLF.

Wider discussions and workshops over the two days served as a consultation on the draft (which is expected to be finalised by the end of the year) as a concrete guide for organisations, institutions, governments and the private sector on how to apply different principles of rights. This includes the rights to free, prior and informed consent; gender equality; respect to cultural heritage; and education.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz said lands managed by indigenous peoples with secure rights have lower deforestation rates, higher biodiversity levels and higher carbon storage than lands in government-protected areas.

But Diel Mochire Mwenge, who leads the Initiative Programme for the Development of the Pygme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the largest indigenous forest communities in Central Africa, said he has witnessed more than one million people being evicted from the national parkland where they have long lived. He explained that they had not been given benefits from the ecotourism industries brought in to replace them and were left struggling to find new income sources.

“Our identity is being threatened, and we need to avoid being completely eradicated,” said Mwenge.

In Jharkhand, India, activist Gladson Dungdung, whose parents were murdered in 1990 for attending a court case over a local land dispute, said an amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court could see 7.5 million indigenous peoples evicted from their native forest landscapes. The act can impact a further 90 million people who depend on these forests’ resources for their survival, he said.

The amendment, Dungdung said, would also give absolute power to the national forest guard; if a guard were to see someone using the forest for hunting or timber collection, they could legally shoot the person on-sight.

“Indigenous peoples are right on the frontline of the very real and dangerous fight for the world’s forests,” said actor and indigenous rights activist Alec Baldwin in a video address.

“Granted that indigenous peoples are the superheroes of the environmental movement,” Jennifer Morris, president of Conservation International wondered why they are not heard until they become victims. “Why do we not hear about these leaders until they’ve become martyrs for this cause?”

The examples of intimidation, criminalisation, eviction and hardship shared throughout the first day clearly showcased what indigenous peoples and local communities go through to preserve the forests or ‘lungs of the earth’.

The rights approach, according to conveners of the GLF, aims to strengthen respect, recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as stewards and bearers of solutions to landscape restoration, conservation, and sustainable use. It also aims to end persecution of land and environment defenders; build partnerships to enhance engagement and support for rights-based approaches to sustainable landscapes across scales and sectors; and, scale up efforts to legally recognise and secure collective land and resource rights across landscapes.

“By implementing a gold standard, we can both uphold and protect human rights and develop conservation, restoration and sustainable development initiatives that embrace the key role Indigenous peoples and local communities are already playing to protect our planet,” said Joan Carling, co-convener of IPMG.

IPMG recognises that indigenous and local communities are bearers of rights and solutions to common challenges.

“This will enable the partnership that we need to pave the way for a more sustainable, equitable and just future,” added Carling.

And the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Director General, Robert Nasi, said when rights of local communities and indigenous peoples are recognised, there are significant benefits for the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

“Whoever controls the rights over these landscapes has a very important part to play in fighting climate change,” he said.

In the climate and development arenas, the most current alarm being sounded is for rights–securing the land rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples, local communities and the marginalised members therein.

How can these custodians of a quarter of the world’s terrestrial surface be expected to care for their traditional lands if the lands don’t, in fact, belong to them? Or, worse, if they’re criminalised and endangered for doing so?

The basic principles of a ‘gold standard’ already exist, such as free, prior and informed consent, according to Alain Frechette of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). What has been lacking, he said, is the application of principles that could be boosted by high-level statements that could “spur a race to the top”.

“Unimaginable Horrors” in Libya’s Migrant Detention Centers

By Daniel Yang
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28 2019 – For over 10,000 migrants fleeing to Libya from war and violence, their fate often comes down to the mercy of human traffickers or the dark unknown awaiting in detention centers.

The northern shores of Libya – the largest departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe – is a hotbed for modern-day slavery. Captured on land, intercepted at sea, cuffed and injured by militias and human traffickers, migrants are sent to detention centers and exposed to every abuse possible.

“From the moment [migrants] step onto Libyan soil, they become vulnerable to unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, unlawful deprivation of liberty and rape,” according to a report by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

However, not only has Libyan authority taken no measures to systematically address the issue, it has expanded its migrant detention capability with the aid of European governments.

‘Serious Health Threat’

The detention centers, controlled by Libya’s Ministry of Interior and guarded by the militias of the Government of National Accord (GNA), often hold hundreds of migrants in overcrowded spaces without proper ventilation or drinkable water.

“In some parts of the centre, toilets are overflowing and are in urgent need of repair. As a result, solid waste and garbage has piled up inside the cell for days and presents a serious health threat,” a spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency said in a statement.

Poor sanitation has led to deteriorating health conditions inside the detention centers, causing multiple disease outbreaks.

The medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called the situation “a disaster,” noting that hundreds of detained migrants use “four barely functioning toilets, no shower and only sporadic access to water” in a visit to Zintan detention center.

Dr. Hussein Hassan, emergency coordinator from the World Health Organization (WHO) Libya office, told IPS: “TB with other respiratory infections, HIV and skin diseases are some of the conditions that migrants in more than 34 centers are suffering from.”

Although a TB screening campaign was done in January, those tested positive for TB were kept in the same room with the rest. According to Dr. Hassan, 16 migrants contracted with TB are in worse condition due to interruptions in medical treatment and lack of proper referral system.

An internal UN report leaked to the Irish Times said that more than 80 percent of migrants in Zintan detention center may have been infected with TB.

But TB is not the only disease present in the health crisis, according to MSF.

“Many of them suffer from malnutrition, skin infections, acute diarrhea, respiratory tract-infections and other ailments, as well as inadequate medical treatment,” MSF said in a statement. “Children are held with adults in same squalid conditions.”

However, help is not on the way. Libyan law forbids non-citizens access to public health services, effectively denying migrants proper medical care. Humanitarian organizations are often restricted entry into the centers, causing delays in treatment.

“We have been abandoned here, I cannot go back and no one wants us anywhere,” an Eritrean refugee told MSF. “I don’t know where my place on earth is.”

‘We’re dying’

Exploited by human traffickers and traded as commodities, migrants fear for their daily survival.

“Migrants held in the centers are systematically subjected to starvation and severe beatings, burned with hot metal objects, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment with the aim of extorting money from their families through a complex system of money transfers,” the UNSMIL report said.

Following the bloody civil war in 2011 that brought down military dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya fell in the hands of rival factions and Islamist groups. Two forces in the west and north fought to control the country’s oil fields. The period of lawlessness gave rise to smuggling and trafficking along Libya’s borders and coastlines.

Most migrants enter through the country’s southern border. But the warfare between the Libyan National Army and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has left southern Libya lawless and unpatrolled.

Human traffickers and well-armed militias intercept migrants enroute to Tripoli, buying off government officials to sell migrant labor at prices as cheap as a few hundred dollars.

Traffickers have created an online market for illegal weapons despite the arms embargo posed by the UN Security Council, adding further uncertainty to the political situation.

“Seemingly unlimited arms supply fuels the erroneous belief in a military solution to the conflict and contributes to the unwillingness of actors on the ground to agree to a ceasefire,” said Jürgen Schulz, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN.

Amid the chaos, migrants are left helpless.

“Countless migrants and refugees lost their lives during captivity by smugglers, after being shot, tortured to death, or simply left to die from starvation or medical neglect,” the UNSMIL report added. “Across Libya, unidentified bodies of migrants and refugees bearing gunshot wounds, torture marks and burns are frequently uncovered in rubbish bins, dry river beds, farms and the desert.”

“We are dying,” detainees told the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “We live like animals; they beat us everyday.”

‘Complicit in Tragedy’

Libyan law groups migrants, political refugees and asylum seekers in the same category under the supervision of the Interior Ministry of Department of Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).

Even if migrants manage to escape from human traffickers and the DCIM’s search and capture along the northern coastline, European patrol ships in the Mediterranean Sea intercept and return migrant boats to Libya.

The European Union (EU) has invested millions of euros in the Libyan Coast Guard in the name of “efficient border management,” fully aware that those returned can only expect indefinite servitude and abuse.

Oxfam, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and dozens other international organizations condemned the EU’s move, calling the policy “complicit,” in an open letter in January.

“The actions of European governments have made it extremely difficult for search and rescue organizations to continue their life-saving work,” the letter said, calling an end to returning migrants to Libya.

Italy – where most migrants land after a journey across the Mediterranean – has been intercepting migrant boats and assisting to transfer migrants back to Libya since 2009. Although deemed a violation by the European Court of Human Rights’ in 2012, Italy’s effort to guard off African migrants has only intensified since then.

In 2017, the Italian parliament signed a legislation that deploys Italy’s Navy to Libyan waters, aiming to assist the Libyan Coast Guard to “fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking.”

More than 10,000 have died crossing the Mediterranean since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Yet for migrants fleeing from the insufferable, that stretch of water still represents hope.