'Concrete action' needed on indigenous rights

It is time for the EU to act to ensure that human rights standards are upheld in World Bank policies on indigenous people, argues Helen Tugendhat.

In early August the EU issued a press release marking the celebration of the International day of the world's indigenous peoples and announcing further funding for projects promoting the rights of indigenous peoples. The same press release also reaffirmed the EU's political commitment to the rights elaborated in the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (UNDRIP) and more importantly, to "translate the UNDRIP into concrete action and changes on the ground".

This goal cannot be met by funding for projects alone, but implies a commitment by the EU and all EU member states to advancing the political cause of respecting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. In the same press release, the EU acknowledged its renewed commitment to advancing the rights of indigenous peoples in its communications with countries, regional organisations and in multilateral forums.

"The EU has historically supported the advancement of recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples"

The EU has historically supported the advancement of recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples. It is critical that the EU continue to promote and advance recognition of these rights in the face of dangerous proposals being put forward by the World Bank that have potentially grave consequences for indigenous peoples.

In early August the World Bank released a set of draft social and environmental safeguard standards that were met with widespread condemnation and disapproval from civil society organisations and indigenous peoples' organisations around the world. As noted by Joan Carling at the Asia indigenous peoples pact, "It is with deep disappointment and frustration that the World Bank chooses to further discriminate and marginalise indigenous peoples, instead of rectifying its bad legacy with indigenous peoples."

Specific to the concerns of indigenous peoples, the proposed safeguard standards include an 'opt-out' which allows countries to claim that meeting the standards designed to protect indigenous peoples would exacerbate ethnic tensions, and to disregard these standards in the use of World Bank financing. Furthermore the standards are placed in a re-designed system of implementation, which places the burden of compliance heavily on the borrower, dramatically reducing the Bank's ability to monitor the experiences of affected communities on the ground.

Joji Cariño, director of the forest peoples programme (FPP), commented, "Indigenous peoples' recommendations to strengthen World Bank standards and to bring them into line with the [UNDRIP] have fallen on deaf ears. World Bank pledges on 'no-dilution' of existing policies are being broken with this proposed opt-out, despite advances made in other substantive areas of the new proposals."

"It is critical that the EU continue to promote and advance recognition of these rights in the face of dangerous proposals being put forward by the World Bank that have potentially grave consequences for indigenous peoples"

The EU issued its press release in Ghana to mark the celebration of the International day of the world's indigenous peoples. This is particularly relevant given that the possible impacts of the World Bank's proposals are likely to be most harshly felt by indigenous peoples in Africa.

A press release by the Asian indigenous peoples pact and the FPP said, "The real threat if the proposed policies are adopted is the practical and immediate impact that these retrograde standards could have for indigenous peoples living in countries where governments routinely deny them their rights. For many indigenous peoples in Africa and elsewhere, national and regional law is just now beginning to recognise and protect their lands and their livelihoods by applying the laws developed over decades of advocacy."

In September the UN will host the world conference on indigenous peoples. Now it is time for the EU to act. The European parliament, member states and commission should show resolve and act to ensure that the World Bank policies and standards respect and implement international human rights standards and obligations.

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