9 August 2016 marked the 12th International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, a day pronounced by the U.N. to promote the rights of the indigenous peoples of the world, while also celebrating their contributions to environmental protection.
Meanwhile, over a hundred indigenous men and women dressed in traditional garb marched in Baguio City, Philippines, in protest of the dangers they continue to face, including through extrajudicial killings and illicit land grabs by corporate and governmental forces.
According to International Federation for Human Rights, land disputes and forced evictions affecting local communities in Southeast Asia have been on the rise lately. Economic growth and increasing domestic and foreign investment have meant more land is needed to establish factories and plantations, and this is easy enough to do when the legislative claims to land are absent for those inhabiting it, as they tend to be in the majority of cases for local communities.
In view of the deteriorating situation, Ms. Joan Carling, the Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact(AIPP), an organization that advocates the recognition of rights of the indigenous people of the Asian continent, released a statement calling on the international community to take stronger action against land grabbing:
“More than 200 million of the estimated 370 million indigenous peoples across the world are in Asia. The majority have no security over their lands and are not legally recognized as indigenous peoples, adding to their further discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.”
“Our brother Billy, a Karen from Thailand remains missing since he was detained by four National Park officials in 2014. We are yet to know about his fate and his wife is left alone, caring for their five children. In June this year, another dedicated land activist Bill Kayong, was brutally gunned down in his car in Malaysia. In the Philippines, 15 indigenous leaders and land activists were criminalized through falsified charges by the Philippine Government. […] In Rawai beach, Thailand, the Chao Ley peoples are currently struggling to reclaim over five hectares of land from Baron World Trade. Co. Ltd.”
Countless indigenous people still face eviction elsewhere in Southeast Asia as well. In Cambodia alone, 60,000 people were affected by land grabbing between 2014 and 2015, bringing the total up to 830,000 since 2000. As a result, sugar, rubber, and other exports from the country to trading partners like the U.S. and E.U. have been on the rise. In Myanmar, government reports found that over 809,000 hectares of land in the country had been confiscated.
Recent events have not been enough to silence land reform activists, however.
Over three hundred organizations, communities and individuals across the globe have come together in the #LandRightsNow campaign, to spread awareness and lobby governments about the growing significance of the issues affecting indigenous communities, and to reclaim the recognition of the important role these communities play in protecting the environment.
Just as Ms. Carling put it in her statement this past International Day of the World’s Indigenous People:
“Let the world know that we are the peoples who have conserved the ecosystems for centuries. We are the rights holders and agents of change. We have the solutions to climate change.”