This year IFIP launched three briefs for funders on Indigenous defenders in Russia, Latin America and the Pacific Islands. We collaborated with advocacy groups and activists that have worked in the region for decades to share their perspective on the challenges facing indigenous defenders, as well as the opportunities for funders to resource their organizing, capacity building and regional alliances.
Tozhu reindeer herder in Tuva republic, close to Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Photo by Wolfgang Blümel.
We learned about the Indigenous rights movement in Russia continues to fight for self-determination and protecting their way of life and spirituality in the face of climate change, threats to activists and mining and extractive industries. “If we are silent about violations today, we are stealing the future from future generations,” said Yana Tannagsheva, a recently exiled Shor activist. Yana advocates for the Shor people at a global level and has persuaded two United Nations committees to call for a complete restoration of Shor rights in Russia. This report was authored by Jennifer Castner of the Altai Project and Johannes Rohr, senior advisor of Russia at International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs
We learned that a 2013 legislation stipulated that non-profits receiving foreign funding and engaging in vaguely defined “political” activity must register as “foreign agents”. Since then over 150 NGOs, including Indigenous rights and environmental justice groups, have been registered and many have liquidated their organizations. Funders were urged to ask potential partners how they assess and manage their risks and avoid paternalistic, top-down decision-making and to give flexible, long-term support to Indigenous-led organizations.
Our Latin America brief for funders was authored by Ricardo Changala of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. We learned that of the 207 environmental defenders that were killed in 2017 globally, 60% of these deaths occured in Latin America, with Brazil leading with 57 killed. In Columbia, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, has categorically denounced and rejected the systematic violation of human rights and the physical and cultural extermination of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala continue to face discrimination and threats in the face of staggering corruption of the government.
“It is the obligation of the State to dutifully look into incidents of such nature and to sanction the material and intellectual authors. This should include the development of research lines under the hypothesis that these murders could have been committed in connection to the work of defending human rights. The Commission calls the State to double its efforts in dealing with this situation of impunity for the crimes committed in the country against defenders of human rights,” noted a report of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
The report concluded by urging funders to support capacity building “of organizations and communities and raise awareness of the current problems being faced by Indigenous human rights defenders. It would be ideal to support communication plans and systems, which enable prompt alerts in situations of aggression against rights and which might be of great use in impeding them or at the very least in diminishing their effects.”
Children from Duke of York Islands in PNG making a firm message against experimental seabed mining – Photo Credit PANG
Our third funders brief from the Pacific Islands was written by Maureen Penjueli, Coordinator of Pacific Network on Globalization. The report observed that “the traditional indigenous worldview perceives the ocean as a contiguous environment that needs to be protected, which collides with the modern regime of demarcated nation–state boundaries. Today, the Pacific Ocean has once again become a contested space, likened to the 19th century “scramble for Africa”, between geopolitical powers of the Western world and new emerging powers, like China. Framed as an untapped, underexplored and under-exploited region in the world, much of this contest is to secure corporate economic interests over resources of the Pacific.”
The report outlined a case study from West Papua, where Indigenous communities continue to fight for self determination in the face of human rights abuses and colonization from Indonesia. “There is no freedom of press, or expression, and Papuans are routinely arrested and tortured by the Indonesian police for no other crime than being young and West Papuan. Today it is still forbidden to display the Morning Star flag and other symbols of indigenous Papuan identity,” observed the report.
The report also shared success stories from Papua New Guinea where Indigenous communities have resisted experimental seabed mining. Supported by scientists, the legal community, academics, churches, feminist movements and policy makers, indigenous human rights defenders have been able to assert the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to successfully challenge transnational corporations, such as Nautilus Inc. and seek redress at the national level.
The report nudged funders to build a presence in the region despite the infrastructure costs and provide long-term support to indigenous groups in the region. It is important to listen deeply to activists and communities on the ground and their worldview, which requires a commitment of time.