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Unprecedented Wave of “Criminalization” Sweeping the Globe to Silence Indigenous Peoples

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New UN report highlights drastic increase in violence and legal harassment driven by rapid expansion of development projects on indigenous lands

A significant pattern of abuse has emerged in a wide variety of countries, in which both physical violence and legal prosecution are used against Indigenous Peoples defending their rights and lands, according to a new report that UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz submitted to the UN Human Rights Council today.

The report describes how private sector interests collude with governments in coveting the lands of Indigenous Peoples for economic development projects. “Criminalization”—the process of turning those defending their land rights into criminals—has become an increasingly common tool and contributes to how these disputes often transform into open conflicts. While the majority of indigenous individuals who face criminal charges are men, women bear the brunt of their absence as they have to single-handedly assume all responsibilities in their families and communities.

“I’ve been alerted to hundreds of criminalization cases from nearly every corner of the world,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “The rapid expansion of development projects on indigenous lands without their consent is driving a global crisis. These attacks—whether physical or legal—are an attempt to silence Indigenous Peoples voicing their opposition to projects that threaten their livelihoods and cultures.”

Since June 2014, when her tenure as Special Rapporteur began, Tauli-Corpuz has witnessed a significant uptick in cases of criminalization and violence in the Philippines, as well as in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico, and Peru.

Many of the worst violations are driven by rising militarization, national security acts, and anti-terrorism legislation. These can put Indigenous Peoples in the line of fire—literally—of army and police forces. During and shortly after her most recent official country visit to Guatemala in May 2018, seven indigenous leaders were killed. Another activist was murdered just two weeks ago.

“Indigenous leaders in Guatemala who raise their voices face arbitrary detention, torture and sexual harassment from the police, and even murder,” said Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic of the Maya K’iche’ People for the Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Land and Territory. “The justice system not only fails to address our concerns—it is a tool for the state and private interests to attack the authorities and leaders of our communities.”

The Special Rapporteur herself was one of 600 people labeled a terrorist in a legal petition filed in her native Philippines by President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. Although her name and three others were removed from the petition—in the week before her criminalization report was expected to be released—the vast majority of people on the petition remain blacklisted.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz has noted that the charges were retaliation for her advocacy on behalf of displaced Indigenous Peoples in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, who have faced criminalization and military actions for resisting coal mines and other developments targeting their lands.

“There is widespread impunity for those who commit violence against Indigenous Peoples,” said Anne-Sophie Gindroz, RRI Facilitator for South East Asia. “At the same time, justice systems can be used against indigenous human rights defenders. In Indonesia, for example, people have been arrested for remaining on their land after it was granted to palm oil companies by the government.”

The report notes that violence and criminalization can even extend to lawyers and civil society advocates working with Indigenous Peoples. Gindroz, a longtime indigenous activist, was expelled from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

“In 2016, I had to flee my country, and my entire organization went underground,” said Alfred Brownell, founder of Green Advocates, an organization of lawyers, community mobilizers, and women that advocates for the land rights of Liberia’s rural communities and the environment. “These communities are not opposed to development, but they want a say in what happens to the lands they have called home for generations. Some 3 million Liberians depend on customary territories, but their rights are in limbo until we pass vital legislation that has been debated for four years now.”

 

Across the world, laws are stacked against Indigenous Peoples. A new report from the World Resources Institute finds that the process to formalize indigenous and community land rights is extremely costly and complex, sometimes taking up to 30 years—while companies can typically secure long-term rights to land in as little as 30 days.

While the majority of recorded cases were associated with opposition to business interests, in other instances Indigenous Peoples’ ways of life are deemed illegal in the name of conservation(link is external), leading to arrests, forced evictions, and other human rights violations.

“Conservation has been given as an excuse for escalating violence against the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples living within their ancestral lands in the Embobut forest in Kenya. Some have even been killed,” said Yator Kiptum, Executive Coordinator of the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme. “The Kenyan Forest Service has repeatedly forcefully evicted and burned Sengwer homes and arrested community members—in spite of the fact that the court issued an injunction to prevent such evictions. Sengwer Indigenous Peoples want to live in, govern, manage, and own their ancestral lands working hand in hand with the government and other stakeholders—this is the only way to ensure sustainable conservation of forests. Eviction will only lead to further destruction.”

 

From defamation to indefinite detention and worse, despite UN treaties

 

Criminalization typically occurs as part of the government “push back” when Indigenous Peoples oppose large-scale projects. Leaders are targeted as a strategy to suppress and silence entire communities. While the process can vary, it often follows a similar pattern:

 

  • Smear campaigns: Fueled by hate speech based on racism and discrimination, smear tactics and defamation campaigns on social media portray Indigenous Peoples as members of criminal gangs, guerrillas, terrorists, and threats against national security.
  • Criminal charges: Indigenous leaders and their communities are often accused of vague charges—such as “perturbation of public order,” “usurpation,” “trespassing,” “conspiracy,” “coercion,” and “instigation of crime.” “States of emergency” are used to suspend judicial guarantees and suppress peaceful protests.
  • Arrest Warrants: Warrants are repeatedly issued despite poor evidence and uncorroborated testimony. At times, accusations fail to name people, leaving an entire community accused of a criminal act. Many times, warrants are left pending, unexecuted, leaving the indigenous person affected under a perpetual threat of arrest.
  • Illegal shortcuts: The prosecution of indigenous individuals often includes pre-trial detention that can last up to several years, as procedural guarantees are frequently flaunted. Indigenous Peoples seldom have the means to seek legal counsel or even an interpreter. If acquitted, indigenous individuals are rarely awarded remedies.
  • Mass criminalization: Indigenous organizations have been subject to illegal surveillance and confiscations while laws imposing registration requirements and funding controls weaken their mobilization and restrict their support. Civil society organizations and lawyers who assist indigenous communities have been physically attacked and even killed.

 

The report lists a number of international treaties and conventions that provide protections for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. These agreements include:

  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • International Labour Organisation Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples No. 169
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Convention on Biological Diversity

 

To prepare the report, the Special Rapporteur drew from both primary and secondary sources, information received first-hand during country visits, a public call for submissions, and a two-day expert consultation in Geneva in March 2018. In addition, a consultation meeting with indigenous representatives took place on the side-lines of the Permanent Forum on indigenous issues in April 2018.

 

Violence continues to add up

Front Line Defenders documented 312 human rights advocates murdered in 2017. Sixty-seven percent were killed for defending their lands, the environment, or indigenous rights, nearly always in the context of private sector projects. Around 80 percent of killings took place in just four countries: Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines and Mexico.

Global Witness documented 207 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2017—the worst year on record—with agribusiness as the industrial sector linked to the most killings. Twenty-five percent of those killed were indigenous.

The failure of states to recognize the land rights of Indigenous Peoples drives this violence, and can lead to them being labeled trespassers in their own homes and evicted from the lands that form the basis of their livelihoods, social cohesion, and spiritual traditions. Indigenous Peoples and local communities customarily claim more than 50 percent of the world’s land but only have legally recognized rights to 10 percent.

“What is happening now across the world is nothing less than a systematic attack on peasant communities and Indigenous Peoples,” said Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson. “In their insatiable greed for wood and oil and gold, corrupt elites, who have no ambition beyond their own enrichment, risk not only destroying the lives and culture of Indigenous Peoples, but also destroying the environment on which our collective future survival depends.”

 

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Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (The Philippines), the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples(link is external), is an indigenous leader from the Kankana-ey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. As an indigenous leader, she has worked for over three decades on building movement among indigenous peoples and as an advocate for women’s rights. Tauli-Corpuz is the former Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2005-2010). She was actively engaged in drafting and adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

Livelihood

Trauma and Land Loss: New Study Focuses on Mental Health of Evicted Indigenous People

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Kenyan security forces evict Ogiek people from the Mau Forest Complex in the  Rift Valley Region.

NAIROBI – At the foot of Kenya’s Mount Elgon on the border of Kenya and Uganda, the little-known indigenous community of Ogiek is living scattered in recently-built thatched huts and timber houses that belie not only their poverty but also the impermanence that followed their eviction by the government a year ago from their native lands on the mountain.

From a life in the forest, this community of just over 50,000 people can no longer access their land to hunt small game, gather wild fruits and medicinal herbs or practice beekeeping, as their forefathers did.

They have instead been forced to eke out a living through subsistence farming and keeping livestock – a lifestyle borrowed from agrarian communities. As such, they are unable to afford school fees and sometimes even sufficient food for their children.

The Ogiek community has been fighting a longstanding battle with the Kenyan government which claims that the evictions were necessary to conserve indigenous forests.

However, Daniel Kobei, the executive director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), blames the evictions on the destruction of the forest by multinational companies and uncontrolled encroachment in the Mau Forest Complex. The OPDP is a Kenya-based NGO that promotes the recognition and identity of the Ogiek indigenous community and its culture.

As recently as July 2020, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) personnel, with protection from the country’s security forces, have been driving the eviction process in defiance of a 2017 ruling of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights which recognised the Ogiek peoples’ right to their ancestral land, by evicting the community.

The community now finds itself thrust into an unfamiliar environment with their way of life grievously disrupted, making it difficult for them to cope – financially and emotionally.

Little Attention to Mental Strain of Evictions

Ogiek community members ponder on what to do next following their eviction from the Mau Forest Complex by Kenyan security forces.

While some local Kenyan and international groups have protested the evictions, the stress and mental health effects of the displacement have received little attention.

“When we talk about environmental changes, we often ignore the mental aspect that comes with it,” noted Billy Rwothungeyo of the Minority Rights Group International (MRG) told Health Policy Watch.

MRG is a human rights organisation that works to secure the rights of marginalized and indigenous communities around the world. It works in 150 countries, with its Africa office based in Kampala. It has a presence in Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Congo, Gambia, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Egypt.

New Global Research Initiative Examines Mental Health Stress of Indigenous Communities

The Ogiek people are part of a new research initiative that will look into the mental strain faced by indigenous communities around the world facing evictions.

Indigenous communities in East Africa, Finland, Northern Thailand and India will participate in the global research project that looks at the emotional effects of environmental changes experienced by the world’s indigenous groups.

Dubbed Land Body Ecologies Research Group, the research will involve the Ogiek, the Batwa in Uganda, the Sámi in Finland, and the Pgak’yau in Northern Thailand. Communities living in the buffer zones of the Bannerghatta National Park in India will also take part.

The two-year research project, due to start in October, will involve human rights activists, mental health researchers, scientists and artists in a bid to understand solastalgia, a phenomenon defined as the emotional or existential suffering caused by environmental change. It is also commonly described as “the feeling of homesickness while still at home.”

Funded by the  Wellcome Trust Hub Award, the initiative will be led by Invisible Flock, an award-winning interactive arts studio based in London and MRG. The final project will take the form of an art exhibition in London.

“The space will be used to showcase results from the project, which will be open to the public, academics, media and other stakeholders,” explains Rwothungeyo.

“With around half of the world’s languages having no written form, art can act as a vehicle to bring forward alternative modes of expression not limited to human speech,” according to Victoria Pratt, artist and creative director of Invisible Flock in a press release

Pratt said that their approach is to tell multiple global stories at once, with the hope that through this process, solutions, answers, and meanings would be collectively conjured in the act of listening and retelling.

Indigenous Communities Continue to Lose Land.

A hut belonging to one of the Ogiek community members still smouldering following evictions carried out by the Kenyan security forces.

Indigenous communities all over the world have lost and continue to lose their ancestral lands due to encroachment from other communities and state-sanctioned evictions under the guise of forest conservation. This has brought with it environmental changes, which indigenous communities have had to live with, but whose mental and psychological toll is still not well understood, hence this new research effort.

To make matters worse, the minority groups say the global call to turn 30% of the world’s surface into protected areas by 2030 will displace hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples and traditional landowners.

Through the solastalgia research, the team aims to understand the lived experiences of land trauma on marginalised and indigenous communities.

Added to the food insecurities caused by environmental changes, indigenous communities also suffer increased incidence of diseases such as malaria, malnutrition, stomach disorders and respiratory diseases.

Involve Indigenous Communities More

“This research is supposed to inform such stakeholders as government and civil society to come up with more targeted measures to help marginalized communities, who are often overlooked in public policy,” added Rwothungeyo, maintaining that the study will also shed light on how these communities are being left behind and why governments should involve them more.

The OPDP’s Kobei said that even though the core objective of the research is to understand the mental predicament of indigenous communities brought on by environmental changes, they were hopeful that a learning center for the Ogiek culture will be established, following this study.

“If you talk to a 70-year-old Ogiek about the forest they have lost, he will talk in a very emotional manner,” said Kobei. “He will tell you of the kind of honey we used to harvest in the forest that is no more, the kind of hunting we used to undertake in the forest that is no more, the kind of herbs and clean water we used to get in the forest that are no more.”

Image Credits: Ogiek Peoples Development Program.

Original Source: Healthpolicy-watch.news

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How politically connected individuals abuse their powers to grab land for poor communities; a case of a Ugandan presidential aide

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Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo, (standing in the middle) in a meeting that was blocked by residents.

By witnessradio.org Team

As the demand for land for land based investments soars, the middleman’s role in the unlawful land transactions between investors and government agencies remains crucial in the broader scheme. The middleman business has become a lucrative venture in Uganda; more people are being recruited into it. For a public servant with access to vital information from land registries, the business is a goldmine. Middlemen are grabbing land for investors.

From the stage of land grabbing to investing, middlemen resort to the use of violence orchestrated by both police and other security agencies; at this point, high levels of impunity are exhibited, land rights defenders and land owners who demand for justice are then arrested for non-existent offences.

Witness Radio – Uganda records show that a reasonable percentage of grabbed land from poor communities in the country have for instance remained undeveloped.

In Mubende District, Central Uganda, residents accuse Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo a Senior Presidential Advisor for using her position to fraudulently acquire their land using police and officials from the Ministry of Lands. Ironically, Kabayo advises the President of Uganda on Pan-Africanism, and doubles as the Executive Secretary of the Pan African Women Organization’s PAWO Eastern Africa chapter, where she oversees the organization’s day-to-day activities.

Mubende District according to Witness Radio – Uganda figures, is ranked as one of the districts with the highest incidents of forced and illegal evictions and has registered with more than five cases since the year 2021 started.

Mubende District is bordered by Kyankwanzi District to the north, Kiboga District, Kassanda to the northeast and Mityana District to the east. Gomba district and Sembabule District lie to the south, whereas Kyegegwa District to the southwest and Kibaale District to the northwest.

Mrs. Kabayo with her political influence is allegedly using survey and boundary opening tactics to grab 625 Ha of land for thousands of inhabitants, which she has never lived on or owned.

According to locals, this is not the first time for the presidential advisor to engage into land grabbing, in 2017 while accompanied by the police in Mubende, she forcefully surveyed and grabbed 20 square miles and now wants to expand.

It is anticipated if Kabayo succeeds with the land grab, more than 5000 people on five villages comprising Kattambogo A, Kattambogo B, Rwobushumi, Rwonkubi and Nyaruteete, in Kigando-Buwekula Sub County in Mubende district, will lose their livelihood.

A letter dated 29th March, 2021, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Docus Okalanyi which Witness Radio – Uganda obtained a copy, okayed the move by the president’s advisor to open boundaries on land located at block 379 and all adjacent blocks which include: 378, 380 and 381 a process which the residents opposed.

Without any prior notice to the residents, Kabayo accompanied by the officers from Ministry of Lands, State House officials, and security personnel for the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) and Uganda Police had planned to conduct a rally at Nyarutete, one of the 5 villages, but was blocked by the angry residents.

Mr. Ruzhoga Laurent, 53, a resident of the village from birth, said, they have been facing threats of forced evictions for the last three years by Kaboyo. He asserted that his family would not leave the land for an imposter. Ruzhoga added that he would only leave as a corpse.

Jordan Byakatonda, an area land committee, chairperson said, the land targeted is public land with people on living on it.

He said, any person who wishes to get a leasehold on public land must first show his or her interest in the land before picking application Form 8 from the District Land Office or Area Land Committee, fill it, and attach 4 passport photos. He stated that the area land committee’s mandate involves receiving applications and issuing notices for public hearings concerning land ownership using Form 10, Byakatonda observed that Kaboyo had not engaged the committee during the process.

Information Sources from Mubende district preferring anonymity for security reasons accused some government officials of manipulating the stated legal procedures and guidelines. “Everything is coming from the center (ministry) instead of starting from an area where the land is located”, said the source.

“The first time we saw her, she was grabbing land and now she has come back to take ours. When she was asked by the land probe committee headed by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire why she had surveyed the land forcibly, she replied that she never surveyed any land and did not know those people,” another villager who preferred anonymity said.

According to guidelines of Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Planning Act, 2010 and Land Act, Cap 227, state that;

Any applicant for a leasehold on the public land must have in his/her possession fully completed form 4,10,19 23, a set of 3 authentic deed plans, 3 passport photographs, receipts of payment and a forwarding letter requesting for a freehold title signed by the District Land officer of the respective district where the land is located.

Step 2

The applicant presents the full set of original documents in duplicate and a photocopy of the same to the department of land administration for checking.

The photocopy is stamped received and returned to the applicant. The applicant checks with the department of land administration after 10 working days to confirm their approval or rejection.

Step 3

Once approved the documents are forwarded to the department of the land registration for issuance of a freehold land title. The applicant checks after 20 working days.

Step 4

The applicant presents the photocopy given to him/her by the department of land administration stamped, received and identification documents on collecting the freehold Title. The applicant signs for the title and the photocopy is stamped returned on completion.

Documents required include; Deed plans, set of passport photographs, general receipts of payment and a requesting letter. Fees paid at the ministry. Registration fees-10,000#, Assurance of the title- 20,000#, issuance of the title-20,000#.

The preliminary steps that involve the Area Land Committee were not complied with by Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo as she acquired land that accommodates thousands of people.

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Witness Radio welcomes the World Bank’s intervention into Kawaala drainage channel project affected persons…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – Witness Radio Uganda has welcomed the World Bank’s decision to intervene into its funded project which is dispossessing poor urban dweller at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga division, Kampala district.

On March 4th, 2021, the World Bank Team held its first ever virtual meeting with other stakeholders including the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) over a forceful implementation Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP 2) project.

On top of running to court to stop an illegal eviction, the residents through Witness Radio – Uganda lawyers raised a complaint to the World Bank to restrain its grantee (KCCA) from imposing a project they (residents) never participated in from the start.

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel.

Without following business and human rights standards, KCCA started using tricks aimed dispossessing the poor urban community at Kawaala including; hiding under section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, and issued a notice to dwellers to pull down what it termed illegal structures erected on their land or otherwise, KCCA would do so at the cost of residents, just to cause a property loss to them.

In a meeting chaired by Martin Onyach-Olaa, a Task Team Leader, Senior Urban Specialist at the World Bank, faulted KCCA for failing to engage community including taking the contractor to the ground without their notice.

“The project affected community have valid grievances, which must be attended to in the interest of Kawaala project” Said Onyach-Olaa

The representatives from the affected community accused KCCA of intimidation, undertaking a forceful survey, sidelining and usurping powers of elected local leaders, extortion and undermining business and human rights standards before and during the implementation of the World Bank project.

“I was threatened and forced to participate in KCCA valuation exercise of my properties and I never understood what was done. I was even lured to sign on certain documents that were in a language they never explained and no copy was left with me. I am opposed to the KCCA’s working and I will not allow them to come back on my property: Said Segue Abbas.

He added that when he sought wise counsel from his lawyers, he just realized that he had been duped.

Among other recommendations, KCCA was advised to embark on an inclusive exercise to identity project affected persons, properties to be affected by the project and ensure that surveys and property valuation exercises are undertaken in accordance within the law.

About the Grievance Redress Committee the KCCA claims they elected, the World Bank saw it important that the Grievance Redress Committee be put in place with a complaint book and functional internal appeal mechanism.

It was further emphasized that no Kawaala resident will be forcefully lose his/her under a project being funded by the World Bank.

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