Society for Threatened Peoples LogoHOME | INFO | NEWS | -> DOSSIER <- | BACHECA / TERMINE | EDICOLA / KIOSK | LADIN

International Day of the World's Indigenous People

Indigenous Peoples - Excluded and discriminated

By Yvonne Bangert, Ulrich Delius, Sarah Reinke, Kerstin Veigt

Göttingen, August 2006


Indigenous peoples: Who they are and their position in international law [ top ]

Indigenous peoples are the guardians of the cultural diversity of the earth. Their wealth consists in their many languages and cultures, the wisdom of their religions and of their way of coping with nature. Where they live the diversity of plants and animals is particularly large. The English word "indigenous" was used by the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the United Nations (UNWGIP) in 1995, to denote peoples who were the first to populate and use a particular territory, who maintain their own cultural identity, which can include language, social organisation, religion, spirituality, means of production, laws or self-government institutions or which see themselves as different and closed off from other groups and are recognized as such by other groups. It is estimated that these comprise between 350 and 400 million people belonging to the approximately 5,000 indigenous peoples in 75 countries.

The largest group is made up of the Adivasi in India with some 70-80 million people, followed by the indigenous peoples of the American continent numbering more than 40 million. Indigenous peoples are the Tuareg in the Sahara countries, the pygmies in the central African rain forests, the Penan in Malaysia, hill peoples in Bangladesh and Burma, the Ainu in Japan, Siberian indigenous peoples in Russia, the Maori in New Zealand, aborigines, the inhabitants of the Pacific islands, the Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberia or the Saami in Scandinavia and on the Russian Kola peninsula, to name but a few. In the past three decades the situation of the indigenous peoples in international law has changed radically. In 1976 the first international representation of interests of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, founded by Indians from North, South and Central America, Saami from Scandinavia, Maori from New Zealand, Inuit from the Arctic and Aboriginal Peoples from Australia and received the status of advisory body at the United Nations. In 1977 a large Pan-Indian delegation was received in Geneva for the first time at the United Nations. Some delegates from all parts of the continent came to Germany afterwards at the invitation of the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV), where they could disperse the clichés of the Hollywood and Karl May Indians before audiences of several thousands. From 1983 onwards the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) at its annual conferences offered the indigenous peoples a forum and the opportunity of meeting each other and their supporters and of using the institutions of the UNO for their concerns.

Ten years later from the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993) emerged the International Decade for Indigenous People, which was opened by the Plenary meeting in December 1994 and started in January 1995. Notable successes of this decade were the nomination of the Mexican Rodolfo Stavenhagen as first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples and the creation of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (PFII) seated in New York City, which is made up equally of representatives of the countries concerned and the indigenous people and which sat for the first time in May 2002. The Working Group for the Draft Declaration (WGDD) did not however manage to achieve its goal of putting a declaration for the human rights of in indigenous peoples to the vote at the UN Human Rights Commission by the end of the decade in 2004. Many national states did not want to extend the generally accepted individual right to a collective right of the native peoples as groups or peoples and interpreted their wish for sovereignty in the sense of self-government as secession.

The Second UN Decade for the Indigenous Peoples beginning in 2005 brought about the big change. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which replaced the UIN Human Rights Commission, followed at its first meeting in June 2006 the appeals of the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, Special Rapporteur Stavenhagen and various indigenous delegates, accepting after a crucial vote - also with the vote of Germany - the Declaration. Only Canada and Russia voted against the motion. 12 other states abstained, three did not take part in the vote. The Declaration has now been sent to the UN Plenary Assembly to be finally passed at its next meeting. Of course other majorities could eventuate. For this reason it is important for intensive lobbying to continue - also on the part of the GfbV - in order to win UN members for the Declaration. The future of the WGIP and the Institution of the Special Rapporteur is uncertain, for the Human Rights Council HRC has not yet decided on their retention and the fundamental modus of including the indigenous peoples and their human rights in its work. Here too we shall be working hard for the protection of the interests of the indigenous peoples. We are of the opinion that a special rapporteur is necessary in this regard. But we shall also join with other human rights NGO's in asking the HRC to ensure that the states in their country reports make policies towards indigenous peoples a matter of obligatory concern.

The Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which came into force in September 1991 retains its validity. This was until now ratified by 17 states (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, Guatemala, Honduras, Dominica, Columbia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela), among them with Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands also three European countries. In 44 articles the basic standards are drawn up for handling the relationship between the majority society and the indigenous and tribal peoples. Particular importance is attached to the right to cultural identity and to communal structures and traditions (Art. 4), the right to land and resources (Art. 13-19), the right to employment and commensurate work conditions (Art. 20), the procedure of consultation as such and the right to be involved in the kind of development on the specific lands (Art. 6 and 7). On the EU level the Convention is seen as a signpost for the planning and carrying out of development projects. The European Parliament called on the EU governments in 1994 already (with a motion for a resolution A3- 0059/94) to join the ILO Convention. In 1998 the EU Commission passed a strategy paper with particular reference to an improved cooperation in the future between the EU and the indigenous peoples. In the same year the Council of Ministers passed a corresponding resolution (13461/98).

In the Federal Republic of Germany the ratification of the ILO Convention 169 has also been an issue for a long time. In 1996 already the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) put forward a favourable expression in a strategy paper towards the consideration of the ILO Convention 169 in German foreign, economic and development policy. The Ministry still holds its positive view today. The Kohl government did no see any obstacles in terms of international law either, but did not proceed with ratification since it was assumed that the Convention was only addressed to states within whose borders indigenous peoples lived. However it is only right and proper for Germany, a country without any native population of it own, to ratify the Convention for with its foreign, economic and development policy the Federal Republic also exercises an immediate influence on the conditions of life of members of indigenous peoples and communities. The involvement of German firms and banks in the construction of dams or of oil pipeline projects are examples of this just like the import of mineral oil or natural gas. For this reason Germany is called upon to exercise responsibility for the consequences of such projects. One which aroused particular attention in 2005 was the Baltic Sea pipeline, which the former Chancellor Schröder agreed upon with the Russian President Putin. German companies are making large profits from the pipeline. The gas, for the export of which it is being built, comes from the land of native peoples in Siberia. This is reason enough, for Germany as the partner of Russia should bind itself by rules for the fair treatment of the Siberian indigenous people.

So the German Parliament called on the government in 2002 with a resolution of the then governing party SPD and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen to ratify the Convention. Since in the following years no serious attempt was made to implement this resolution the members of Parliament Thilo Hoppe, Hans-Christian Ströbele and the party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen - now as opposition party - brought a new motion before Parliament, calling on the government to ratify the ILO Convention 169, which in its first reading was sent to the Committee for Economic Cooperation and Development. There is no mistaking the fact that the indigenous peoples are all over the world coming out of the shadows. It is no longer possible simply to overlook them. This should however not make us blind to the fact that all the mechanisms of the United Nations mentioned here are dependent on the good will of the national states, for - with the exception of the ILO Convention 169 - it is always a matter of declarations of intent of the governments. They can on a moral level be demanded, but it is not possible to sue for them in a legal sense or to bring breaches before a court of law. The indigenous peoples will therefore also be needing a strong lobby among human rights experts and NGOs to make governments fear for their image and possible loss of face.

Russia's wealth - A curse for the Russian indigenous population [ top ]

Anchored in the constitution, these are not implemented at the regional level. The ILO Convention 169 has not so far been signed by Russia, although the indigenous NGO RAIPON (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North) has called for this for a long time.

Khanty, Mansi and Nenets in West Siberia
In the autonomous district of the Khanty and Mansi there live about 6,500 Mansi, 12,000 Khanty and 1,100 Nenets. Traditionally they all live from hunting, fishing and reindeer-breeding. In the south and west of the district the Mansi have for the most part given up their traditional way of life, in the north and particularly in the east however they are still trying to live in the same way as their forebears did. But it is precisely in the east, in the districts of Nizhnivartovski, Surgutski and Nefteyuganski that the drilling of oil has increased. For this reason severe conflicts arise between the indigenous and the Russian majority population, which supports the exploitation of the resources. Culturally the Mansi are closely related to the Khanty, with whom they live together in many areas. Their environment is being destroyed and so many Mansi have been forced bit by bit to give up hunting and fishing. Since the 1960s the oil reserves in the district of the Khanty and Mansi have been exploited. Industrialisation took place rapidly, new towns have been built and people from central Russia have poured into the district. Mansi have been forcibly evacuated from the oil areas and have had great difficulties to adjust to the new towns and a new way of life. The suicide rate is high and life expectancy is, not surprisingly, no more than 40 to 50 years. There are often conflicts with the oil workers, who steal the reindeer and poach.

The Khanty are divided into several sub-groups, living on the rivers Ob and Irtysh. The relentless oil-mining and the destruction of the environment which accompanies this has forced many Khanty to give up their traditional way of life, to leave their villages and to move to the towns, where they have found it very difficult to settle down. Their culture has been in great measure destroyed. For in the lands of the Khanty and Mansi with their countless lakes, rivers, marshes and flooding areas, which are all linked to one another, the creeping oil pollution can hardly be stopped. Leaks in the pipelines have for years caused large quantities of oil to flow into the sub-soil water and get into the food chain. Many reindeer perish of lichen polluted by oil. The gradual oil pollution of the whole environment causes illnesses of humans and animals alike, particularly of the liver. The disappearance of the stocks of fish, birds and wild animals means the same for the means of sustenance for humans. The following point must also be taken into account: after many years of extracting mineral oil the natural pressure relaxes in many places to such an extent that it no longer gushes out of the ground by itself. For in Russia the usual procedure is for very large quantities of water to be pumped into the ground together with hydrochloric acid to force it up. This has for example in the case of the river Kasym led to a considerable sinking of the water-table. Since the rainfall in the boreal forest area is less than in the temperate climate forest fires are in any case a frequent phenomenon. Human action has led to a rapid increase.

The Nenets are with some 35,000 people the largest indigenous people in the Russian Federation. About 1,100 Nenets live in the Autonomous District of the Khanty and Mansi, 21,000 on the Yamal peninsular, which is in equal measure affected by the gas mining. A large part of the Nenets population lives in nomad tents to the present day or in small villages in the tundra or taiga. Reindeer breeding is the most important element of their culture, which is likewise threatened by the drilling of oil and gas. The German natural gas company Wintershall AG and the Russian Gasprom founded in 2003 a joint venture company (Achimgas) for the mining and development of the Achimov formation of the deposit Urengoi on the Yamal peninsular. The Urengoi gas-field, which was discovered in 1966, is one of the largest continuous natural gas sources in the world. It lies in the Autonomous District of the Yamal Nenets nomads, 200 km south of the Ob Bay. Mining began in 1978. From January 1984 export to Western Europe began through the Urengoi - Ushorod (Ukraine) natural gas pipe-line. The current annual production of natural gas is about 200.000 million cubic meters.

A railway line on the Yamal peninsular is planned to link the gas-fields Kharassavei and Bovanenko with the town of Labytnang near Salekhard. About eight pipe-lines are to be laid along the railway, which is to provide the connection to the existing natural gas pipes further in the south or in the Barents region so that Western Europe can also be supplied from the Yamal peninsula. Since the nineties of the 20th century the Nenets nomads see themselves confronted with the consequences of the climate change. The amount of rainfall has increased, which immediately freezes, covering the reindeer moss with a layer of ice so that the animals can no longer reach it. Today the situation of the reindeer nomads is like a race against time. They must bring their growing herds to new pastures which are getting smaller all the time. Since the beginning of the eighties large areas of the southern Yamal peninsular has therefore been showing signs of over-grazing. Russian scientists estimate that the herds of the reindeer breeders are one and a half to twice as large as the soil of the Yamal peninsular can cope with.

Indigenous peoples on Sachalin and Kamchatka
On the island of Sachalin in the far east of the Russian Federation there live 650,000 people, among whom are 3,150 members of the Nivkhi, Nanais, Oroks, Orochi and Evenks. They live for the most part as subsistence farmers, fishermen, reindeer breeders or gatherers of wild plants. They are not usually sufficiently qualified for jobs in the oil industry. The Nivkhi are in the main traditionally fishermen.. They live in the north of Sachalin. With about 2,000 members they are the largest group of native inhabitants on the island. In the 1930s fishery was collectivised. The Nivkhi were supposed to settle down and work in fish farms, which were artificially kept alive by state subsidies, although they were unprofitable. The children of the farm workers were like those of the other indigenous groups educated in state boarding-schools. There they soon forgot their own language and also a great deal of their culture since the education was conducted solely on Russian lines. The approximately 1,000 Evenks living on Sachalin are traditionally partially settled reindeer breeders. Domesticated reindeer are used as animals for riding or transport purposes, wild reindeer are hunted. The Evenks also were made in Soviet times to settle and forced into collectives. Their social organisation and their cultural traditions suffered as a result. In the meantime serious attempts are being made to bring nomadism and the linked subsistence economy back to life. The reindeer is still the most important means of transport.

The approximately 130 Oroks are also traditionally partially settled reindeer breeders, but also hunters and fishermen. The Oroken in the north of Sachalin were forcibly collectivised in 1932 and settled in the area of the collective farm Val, which had specialised in reindeer breeding. The Oroks living in the south gave up reindeer breeding in the 19th century and settled as fishermen. Up to the Second World War this part of Sachalin belonged to Japan. The Oroks were viewed on both sides of the frontier with distrust. When Sachalin at the end of the war was taken over by the Soviet Union some of them feared being dragged off into Soviet work-camps and were evacuated to the island of Hokkaido in Japan. The approximately 170 Nanais are traditionally settled fishermen and hunters. Most of them live on the mainland and only a small group on Sachalin. Today it is mainly elderly people who go fishing. Most have changed over in the course of the collective farm economy to agriculture and animal husbandry. Many Nanais are also working in qualified professions, such as teachers.

The Orochi also were traditionally fishermen and hunters. Most of them live in the south of the Khaborovski Kray on the mainland. In the 19th century a group of them moved to the island of Sachalin, where today some 210 Orochi live. The have settled in villages and live from vegetables and animal husbandry. Many also hunt and fish. Hunting for furs has decreased sharply as the result of strict regulation by hunting licences. Off the coast of Sachalin lie the largest reserves of oil and gas yet to be exploited in the world. The oil reserves are estimated at 13 billion barrels (one barrel contains 159 litres). The oil and gas-fields which have already been opened are Sachalin 1 to Sachalin 6. They are drawing the large investors among the international oil multi-nationals to Russia: Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, BP und Royal Dutch/Shell have joined together with other oil companies.

The consortium of Shell, Mitsubishi and Mitsui is at present planning to extend the project Sachalin 2. The second phase of the project includes the construction of two new oil and gas-platforms in the north of Sachalin together with the construction of two 800 km long pipe-lines, which will go down the whole island. 10,000 million dollars are to be invested for this purpose. The pipe-lines are to link the existing and planned oil-rigs in the north-east of the island with a harbour in the south near the capital Yuzhno-Sachalinsk, from where mineral oil and natural gas are to be pumped to North America and Japan. These are to run partly on the sea-bed, partly on land. Planned also is the construction of a pipe-line over 200 km long for the block Sachalin 1 in the north of the island. Planned also is the construction of a liquid natural gas production plant (LNG) to liquefy natural gas and a corresponding harbour in the Aniva Bay. Sachalin 2 is thus the largest oil and gas project in the world with also the largest volume of investment.

Gradually resistance is gathering against the oil-mining by the multi-nationals. Representatives of the indigenous peoples and also of their umbrella organisation of 43 indigenous peoples in Siberia RAIPON have tried to press their demands in talks with the Russian authorities and representatives of the companies. These negotiations failed however in December 2004. Thereafter the native peoples saw no other way of defending their rights and the natural resources of their island than blocking the construction work and the roads leading there. They have also written to the banks which are mainly involved in the financing of these projects, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London and to other banks giving credit to the oil industry in Tokio, London and Washington, asking them to mediate. They know that they cannot prevent the oil-mining. What they want is a compromise enabling them to maintain an independent economy and allowing them to participate in the decisions of the oil companies.

Self-government of the indigenous groups in Russia
RAIPON was founded in 1990 as the "Association of the Peoples of the North in the USSR". RAIPON is the umbrella organisation for 43 indigenous peoples, who make up a total of 200,000 persons. The umbrella organisation consists of 34 sub-organisations having their offices in the Russian regions. From there information flows to the head-office in Moscow, where it is fed into campaigns and lobby strategies. RAIPON is also a member of the Arctic Council. Information on the organisation and its work can be found on the internet page A second important organisation is LIENIP / Lauravetian, which was founded during the past UN decade for Indigenous Affairs. LIENIP is an information centre for indigenous groups. On the spot training is provided in people's right and the ways in which these rights can be upheld. The organisation is very concerned to train multipliers, at the present moment in the centres in Altai, Karelia and Krasnoyarsk. Further information can be found on the internet page There are apart from these other smaller connections which partly function as sub-organisations of individual indigenous groups.

The GfbV was one of the first human rights organisations to give indigenous representatives from the former Soviet Union a voice and it has devoted three issues of the magazine "bedrohte Völker - pogrom" to their problems. We have supported book publications and campaigns for the indigenous peoples of Siberia, lobby work at the German Parliament, UN, the Council of Europe and involved oil companies and banks and created public opinion with human rights campaigns. We have also given representatives of the indigenous peoples the opportunity, by invitations and accompanying them, to put forward their own cases at European institutions. We have exercised practical help for survival for the Itelmenen on Kamchatka with our project for the reconstruction of the fishing fleet of this indigenous community.

Finland: Sámi demand protection for their livelihood as reindeer breeders [ top ]

The 7,000 Sámi, who live within the Finish borders, hope that the Finish government will this year find a legal solution to the question of land rights, which has long been controversial, and ratify at the same time the Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries better known as ILO Convention 169. With the massive deforestation of the old forests in the north of the country by the state timber industry Finland has since the beginning of the nineties disregarded the culture and the traditional land use of the Sámi. It is particularly the Sámi reindeer-breeding which is dependent on the intact habitat forest. In the autumn of 2005 the Finish government stopped the tree-felling in the Nellim region on the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Commission following the request for help from three Sámi to this body. However nothing other than the constitutional recognition of their rights can provide real protection for the Sámi, their culture and means of supporting themselves.

It is a frightful picture with which the Sámi are confronted in the primeval forests of Kessi in the eastern part of the region of Inari in the North Finish Lapland: the trees have been marked. Markings for forest aisles and felling areas show the future of the forests of Kessi, which have grown over centuries. The state timber company Metsähallitus is preparing the resumption of tree-felling here in August 2006. The Sámi themselves have no rights of tenure on the land of their ancestors and its natural resources because 90% of Finish Lapland belongs today to the state. Forestry is also in the hands of the state. For the approximately 40% reindeer-breeders among the Sámi this forest is the winter pasture-land for their animals. Reindeer-breeding is deeply entrenched in their culture and still has high social, cultural and economic meaning. Although the state timber company is aware of the importance of the forests of Kessi for the reindeer cooperatives, it has neither consulted them nor begun negotiations with them. Pekka Aikio, President of the Finish Sámi Parliament and a reindeer-breeder, who in February 2006 was invited to Germany by the Society for Threatened Peoples, explains why the traditional reindeer economy of the Sámi is not possible without the native forests. "It is not just a matter of the trees alone, but of the whole food chain. The long beards on the trees play a particular role. It is only very old forest which has this lichen. When the snow in the spring lies two metres high the reindeer can find no other fodder. The forest is a garden and its only fruit is this lichen. This is the only way in which the herds can survive the long cold season. For two to four months this is their only nourishment".

Since the 1990s the state has stepped up tree-felling in the old forests of Inari. The companies which work with timber - Metsaliitto, M-Real, Metsa-Botnia, Stora-Enso and UPM - have taken their timber from this region. The tree-felling has increased to such an extent that the traditional reindeer herds will disappear if Finland does not at last take the legal demands of the Sámi seriously and change its mistaken policies. Finland is supposed to be the country which has the largest forest area in the EU, but barely 5% of the original forest still remains. The other much younger forests are forest plantations which are useless for reindeer husbandry. With the disappearance of the forest the basis of existence of the Sámi reindeer-breeders has been struck a blow from which it can hardly recover and the productivity of the herd has declined very noticeably. The Finish government declares that it has placed extensive forest areas in Lapland under the protection of the state. But a large part of the native forests which are important for the Sámi lie outside the protected zones. Moreover in some protected zones tree-felling is certainly permitted, for reference is made solely to the areas in which the most valuable wood is to be found, regardless of whether tree-felling is permitted or not. The Finish government appears to place its economic interests above the rights of the indigenous people and environmental sustainability. It is interesting to note that it did take action last autumn to stop the policy of radical deforestation. Yet it required the combined protests of Sámi and environment activists and the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Commission to bring about a temporary halt to the deforestation. It is true that a success could be registered and the winter pasture secured for the moment, but the plans which are now being made to continue the deforestation show clearly that what is needed is a fundamental solution to the forest conflict and the questions of land rights and the use of land.

The political organ of the Sámi in Finland, the Sámi Parliament, has repeatedly criticised the Finish state for not granting the Sámi any rights of property over land and resources. For it is only the official recognition of the rights which can effectively give protection to the Sámi, their culture, their way of life and their reindeer breeding. In state studies on the rights of use and administration in the traditional Sámi areas the question of land ownership was omitted. The Finish Parliament has stringently avoided tackling the question of the land rights of the Sámi. The Sámi must like other Finish citizens leave it to the courts to decide on matters of land rights. An agreement is always postponed from the side of the state with the argument that this matter must first be carefully examined and that a legal study must be carried out. From the official point of view the Sámi have voluntarily made over their land to the state and profited from its measures, such as road-building. The Sámi Parliament however sees the history of the colonization of the land differently and demands rights to its traditional habitat. As long as this is not granted, the traditional area remains open to economic interests. It is particularly with reference to the ruthless Finish foresting policy that the Sámi are desperately anxious to see their demands for land rights satisfied at last.

It is for the Sámi of the utmost importance that the water and land rights be granted in the areas which have traditionally been their home. Up to the present however Finland has not been prepared to do this. Consequently it has not ratified the ILO Convention 169, which is the only binding agreement in international law which grants indigenous peoples the basic rights for their survival. The signatory states to the ILO Convention 169 recognize that indigenous peoples have the right themselves to decide on their future, to have powers of disposition over their land and resources, to be involved in decisions affecting themselves, to have appropriate working conditions and to be able to exercise their way of life and culture without discrimination. The Finish government has argued that it cannot ratify the ILO Convention 169 since the Finish constitution does not grant any special rights to the Sámi over their traditional area and since the land rights have not been clarified. A new bill will shortly be put forward concerning the basic recognition of the land rights of the Sámi. "This law would be a significant step forward for the recognition of our rights. It is important for us that the proposal be accepted and put into practice", says Pekka Aikio.

Sámi organisation: The Sámi in Finland elect the Sámi parliament every four years as their political organ. Its 20 members have the task of representing, preserving and furthering the rights and interests of the Sámi. The Sámi Parliament has however only an advisory function:

Canada: The Lubicon Cree Nation - the guilty conscience of Canada [ top ]

The Cree of the Lubicon Lake, who number today about 500, in the Canadian province of Alberta, are in danger of finally losing their land and their way of life. Although the negotiations between them and the government of the province and of the federal government in Ottawa have by no means been completed, Alberta is already issuing licences for part of the controversial land to be exploited. The Lubicon have made no land rights agreements with the state, for when in 1899 Canadian officials travelled through the land to make treaties with the First Nations, the native peoples of Canada, they were quite simply overlooked. Forty years later they were "discovered" and they were promised a reservation, which they have never received. In 1979 mineral oil was discovered in the north of Alberta. The province became the "Oil dorado" of Canada. However the supply is now gradually running out so now the large-scale exploitation planned is that of the tar sand reserves lying deep under the land of the Lubicon. For this reason procedures will be needed requiring a great deal of land, energy and water. "First the river was blue, now it is brown. It is no longer possible to fish in it or to drink the water. The air is bad. It all happened so quickly." Elsie Fabian, 63, comes from an Indian community on the Athabasca River. "It is terrible", she complains, "We are surrounded by the mines." Within sight of her home tar sand is being dug out, the new wealth of Canada. It has catapulted Alberta to the same level as Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. For synthetic mineral oil is obtained from tar sand.

Tar sand is a glutinous mixture of a tar-like bitumen, which is extracted in stripmining or in so-called in situ procedures. The largest reserves in the world are to be found in Venezuela and in the north of Canada's province of Alberta. The three fields being worked at present are Athabasca-Wabiskaw, Cold Lake and Peace River. These Athabasca-fields contain ca. 286 cubic meters, or 1,7 trillion Barrel, together covering an area of about 140,000 sq. km and containing about 175 thousand million barrels of raw tar sand. The layer of tar sand is normally 40 to 60 metres thick, lying on a base of limestone. On top of the tar sand lie layers of peat, clay and sand. They are excavated in strip-mining. The skin is literally ripped off the soil. The boreal primeval forests of the north, the marshes and water-courses, the entire original landscape are being destroyed. Hot water is forced into the sand, the resulting sludge is pumped to an extraction plant, where it is stirred and the liquid bitumen is siphoned off. Since bitumen is much thicker than normal raw oil it must either be mixed with petroleum or chemically cracked before it can be transported to a pipe-line to be refined into synthetic oil or directly changed into mineral products in specialised refineries. For every barrel of the synthetic oil more than 80 kg of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere and between two and four barrels of waste water pumped into storage basins which cover 50 forest and marsh area.

About 80 percent of the tar sand lies however so deep that it cannot be extracted in strip-mining. Here the socalled in situ procedure is used, i.e. hot steam is forced into the ground in order to liquefy the bitumen layer underground, so that it can be pumped up and processed. Problematic is the enormous consumption of water and energy for the production of the steam, the disposal of the waste water and the underground environmental damage through the in situ procedure, which has not so far been calculated. This procedure is also to be used in the traditional land of the Lubicon Cree. They used to live from hunting and their forests, lakes and rivers provided them with the prime necessities of life. They also used to trade in furs. Nature provided them with medicinal herbs. However the governments in Edmonton and Ottawa gave permission for the trans-national oil, natural gas and paper companies to work in the land of the Lubicon. These destroyed the traditional subsistence economy of the Indians without giving them any land in return to secure their survival. The Canadian government persistently blocks the land negotiations, thus denying the Lubicon Cree their right to self-government and makes them dependent on state welfare. 94 percent of the Lubicon are now living from welfare payments. At the beginning of the oil boom in 1981 the proportion was only 10 percent. "We never had any luxuries, but we never had to go hungry either. Then they discovered oil and we were suddenly in the way", said Bernard Ominayak, the chief of the Lubicon Cree. Today about 1,700 pumps are in operation in a radius of 25 km from Little Buffalo, the main settlement of the small people. The land of the Lubicon Cree belongs to the richest in minerals in the whole world. Apart from oil and gas expectations are that there are also diamonds to be found in their traditional hunting-grounds. The amount of raw oil from tar sand which is worth extracting is estimated at 1.6 million Barrels.

At present it is not clear where the water and energy are to come from for the production of the steam needed for the in-situ procedure. There is among other things discussion of new atomic power stations in Alberta, whose sole purpose is to be the production of energy for the tar sand mining. There is also talk of exploiting the three large gas-fields in the north of the North-West-Territories and linking them through the gigantic Mackenzie Valley Gas Pipeline with the north of Alberta in order to use natural gas for the mining of tar sand. The destruction of the economic basis of their way of life is accompanied by the loss of many traditions handed down to them and the collapse of their socio-cultural structure. The number of wild animals in their huntinggrounds has shrunk by 90 percent. The resulting lack of high-quality nourishment and the persistent lack of proper medical treatment are partly responsible for the fact that tuberculosis has broken out again among the Lubicon Cree. In recent years there was a period when more than 20 premature and still-births took place within 20 months. This means the loss of practically a complete generation. The situation concerning hygiene is absolutely dreadful as a result of cramped conditions in old pre-fabricated buildings, lack of clean drinking-water and absence of a sewage system. The Lubicon recipients of state welfare must go up to 180 km to get clean (mineral) water.

In 1987 and again in 1990 The UN Human Rights Committee took up the case of the Lubicon Cree. With reference to Article 27 of the International Commission on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) it stated in its final report that Canada was violating the basic human rights of the Lubicon Cree. The economic opening up of their lands constituted a "threat to the way of life and the culture of the Lubicon Lake Cree" (Friends of the Lubicon; The "Royal Commission on Aboriginal People" too, instituted by the Canadian government itself, confirmed the dreadful living conditions of the Lubicon Cree and recommended the handing over to them of a territory which would allow them their economic, cultural and political development. In 2005 the Committee confirmed this decision and saw now a violation of Article 1 of the Commission on civil and political rights, which forbids its members actions similar to genocide. The Lubicon Cree themselves call for the setting up of a small reservation (250 sq. km), inclusive of a community settlement, satisfying modest standards, an agreement on forest and wild animals, protecting the area given over from further complete destruction, compensation for minerals extracted illegally of a sum sufficient to enable them to set up a self-supporting community and regulations for self-government within the framework of the Canadian laws. In return Canada or the province of Alberta would receive the legally briefed sovereignty over 9,750 sq. km of land extremely rich in minerals.

However the government of the province of Alberta, which is very wealthy on account of the minerals, and the federal government are at variance on the question of competence for possible settlements and they are constantly pushing the blame on each other. Promises of the government of Premier Paul Martin, which was voted out of office in January 2006, to deal at last with the Lubicon question as a matter of priority, remained unfulfilled. The government of Stephen Harper also, which is now in power, has so far not shown any basic change of strategy either. In the spring of 2006 the UN Committee for Economic and Social Rights (ECOSOC) came also to the conclusion that Canada was infringing the Commission on economic, social and political rights, calling on Canada to end this situation immediately and to begin again negotiations with the Lubicon Cree. Nothing has happened since 2003. Attempts of their Chief, Bernhard Ominayak, to enter into talks with the government failed because the Minister did not even acknowledge receipt of the four letters of the Chief. The GfbV also and the more than 5,000 subscribers to the eMail Newsletter appealed in the early summer to Premier Harper not to permit any further extraction of tar sand before the land-rights of the Lubicon Cree have been secured. Canada should not risk losing the good reputation it has held up to now for the treatment of its minorities. We have contributed to the fact that a delegation of the Lubicon Lake Cree were able to appear before the UN in Geneva. We have in our magazine "bedrohte Völker- pogrom" documented the matter. We shall be continuing this lobbying.

USA: The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is in danger [ top ]

For the roughly 7,000 Gwich'in Indians in Alaska the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is holy, for here the cows of the roughly 152,000 heads strong Porcupine Caribou Herd give birth to bear their young and rear them. "We Gwich'in are caribou people", says Sarah James, their spokesperson. "The porcupine herd is part of our language, our songs and stories." Home of the Gwich'in are 15 villages lying south of the Brooks Mountain Range along the trail of the porcupine herd in the north-east of Alaska and the north-west of Canada. The Gwich'in Darius Kassi says: "Our whole life revolves around the caribou. It provides us with more than 80 percent of our food." For this reason the Gwich'in call the ANWR "Izhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Goodlit" - "the place where all life begins".

For the US government of George W. Bush the ANWR, more specifically "Area 1002" in the north, has become the object of a bitter tug-of-war, for while Democrats, environmentalists and of course the Gwich'in want at all events to keep it as a protected area, the opening of the ANWR for the oil industry is for the government and a majority of the Republican Party a matter of the national interest. President Bush wants to use the oil from the ANWR and other domestic sources to secure the independence of the USA from oil imports from the Near East or Venezuela and to lower the price of petrol. But for this purpose the amount of oil in the ANWR is much too small. And since it would take at least ten years for the first drop of oil to reach US American gas-stations the exploitation of these reserves would have no effect on present-day prices. If in Area 1002 oil should be drilled, the way of life of the Gwich'in will come to an end, since it is likely that the caribous will alter their trail so far to the south-east that the majority of the Gwich'in will no longer be able to reach them. The herd will find itself in areas where there are worse fodder for the mother animals and more beasts of prey to hunt the young. The birth-rate of the porcupine caribou, which is already low, will most likely sink even further and fewer of the young will survive than is the case today.

For the Gwich'in life without the cycle of life given by the migration of the caribou is hardly imaginable. They use flesh and fat for food, skin and leather for clothing and shoes, bones and sinews for the production of commodities. The caribou place also a stamp on their view of the world and their spirituality. They are convinced that in every caribou a part of the heart of a human being beats and that there is a bit of caribou in every human being. Everything which brings the porcupine herd into danger is therefore also a threat for the Gwich'in. For Alaska on the other hand mineral oil is the most important source of income. Apart from George W. Bush the Governor of Alaska, Frank Murkowski, and the senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska are the most important advocates of oil drilling in "Area 1002". They want to put through oil drilling at all costs, but they have only a part of the ruling party on their side and the Democratic Party totally opposed. The advocates of oil drilling have repeatedly failed to achieve the opening of the ANWR by force of law. Every year since 1995 the Republican Party has managed to put through a bill in the House of Representatives, but his has always been turned down by the Senate, which must also give its consent. The last bill was passed by the House of Representative on 25th May 2006. The Senate has not yet voted on the matter, but it appears most unlikely that it will pass the bill.

A second path being taken by the oil lobby is the linking of individual posts in the current budget with the expenditure or proceeds from leases concerning oil drilling in the ANWR. At the turn of the years 2005/2006, when voting took place on the Budget, the ANWR was part of an item of the Budget which otherwise related to funds for the troops in Iraq. It was the hope of the oil lobby that the representatives would sacrifice the protected area so that they would not appear unpatriotic by turning down the complete item. But this went too far even for many Republicans. The majority needed in the vote could not be achieved. The tug-of-war for the ANWR is not now over, for in the debates for the Budget of 2007 the ANWR is again on the agenda. Here the Senate has agreed to a version in which oil drilling is included. The House of Representatives has not yet voted on the matter. In November 2006 the majority situation among the delegates could change in the parliamentary elections in the USA, for at present it seems likely that the Republican Party will lose many votes. In this event the chances for the ANWR, the Gwich'in and the caribous would look a great deal better.

Indigenous Organisations: The Gwich'in International Council was founded in 1999 from Gwich'in in Canada as lobby for the Gwich'in in Alaska (USA) and in Yukon Territory and North West territories in Canada: Gwich'in Steering Committee works as a lobby for the Gwich'in in Alaska and their struggle against the opening of the ANWR for the oil business already since 1988:

Mexico: Plan Puebla-Panama and Free Trade Area NAFTA endanger the survival of the indigenous people [ top ]

The roughly 10 million members of more than 56 indigenous peoples see themselves in all parts of Mexico confronted with a new dimension of land robbery and the loss of natural resources. Basic needs such as water and land are not satisfied, while the government - above all in the framework of the Plan Puebla-Panama - is concerned with the exploitation of the natural raw materials and mineral wealth, cheap labour factories, oil mining, road building and dams. In many places the means of existence are taken away from the indigenous peoples by the expropriation of land and expulsions. Instead of implementing the "Agreement on Indigenous Rights and Culture" of San Andrés agreed ten years ago Mexico is systematically infringing the rights of the indigenous peoples. When they defend themselves the state reacts with repression, above all through the militarization of the indigenous areas.

The emergence of a strong indigenous movement in Mexico goes back to the rebellion of the Zapata movement (EZLN) in the southernmost federal state of Mexico, Chiapas, which began in January 1994 at the time of the coming into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). "Ya basta!" - "It's enough!" This shout of the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Chol, Zoque and Mam became a symbol of their demands for land, food, education, freedom, justice and peace. It is an important concern of the indigenous movement that the government should at last implement the agreement of San Andrés, which was signed on 16th February 1996 by the Mexican government and the Zapata movement (EZLN). It was supposed to anchor the basic rights of the indigenous peoples of Mexico in the constitution and guarantee them a voice in all programmes and economic projects affecting them. This agreement has never been put into practice, but instead the government passed in 2001 a native peoples law (Ley Indígena), which instead of indigenous self-determination created the basis for continuing the privatisation of agriculture and expropriating indigenous land for the infrastructure measures and large-scale projects in connection with the "Plan Puebla-Panama" (PPP).

PPP is the abbreviation for a trans-national mega-project of the Mexican president, Vicente Fox (2000-2006), which is supported by the US government under George W. Bush and envisages an extensive exploitation of the rich natural resources and the infrastructure of the south of Mexico. Here, where the people are poorest, is to be found also the natural wealth of the country: mineral oil, precious metals, minerals, fresh water and a particularly large biological diversity. PPP extends to the Mexican federal states of Guerrero, Puebla, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo as well as crossing the border to the other states of Central America. It envisages a neo-liberal restructuring of the entire region: factories in the low wage sector and industrial prawn farms, marketing the biological diversity, oil mining and dam projects like "La Parota" in the federal state of Guerrero. Thus a form of development is being massively pushed forward, which is having catastrophic effects on the indigenous peoples and destroying their means of existence and way of life. The infrastructure and development projects are undermining their economic, social and cultural rights. The expropriation of land and the destruction of the environment turn independent farmers into dependent wage-earners for the trans-national companies.

Precisely in the south of Mexico maize and the tortillas made out of maize are, for the poor sections of the community, not only a basic food, but have a high cultural and religious meaning. The descendents of the Maya still call themselves today the "Maize people". "For the indigenous peoples of Central America maize is our blood, our bones and our flesh. Without maize we are nothing, a people without maize is a dead people. So we shall not allow maize to be genetically manipulated and deformed, its nature to be changed, it to be killed, or us to be killed", said Aldo González Rojas of the indigenous people of the Zapoteco in the federal state of Oaxaca. "Sowing and eating the home-bred maize has become for us an act of resistance against neo-liberal globalisation." But even quite elementary basic rights such as the right to clean drinking-water cannot for the indigenous peoples of Mexico be taken for granted. 327,000 Mazahua in the federal state of Mexico suffer, for example, from an extreme lack of water, although they live on the river of Lerma, which carries a great deal of water. The largest drinking-water plant in Latin America pumps 19,300 l/sec from the river, delivering it to Mexico City, which lies 130 km away. The Mazahua have to resort to water-lorries or have to go considerable distances to the remaining wells. Many wells have dried up and the water of the small rivers is contaminated. The waste deposits from the drinking-water plant are led directly into the small river Malacatepec. So its water is now useless for irrigating the fields, for the care of the animals, for washing and bathing. Animals which have drunk this water have died. Three years ago the Mazahua lost 300 hectares of agricultural land when one of the seven dams supplying the drinking-water plant overflowed. Demands for compensation from the Mazahua were ignored. Since then the Mazahua have joined together in the "Movimiento Mazahua para la Defensa del Agua" (Mazahua Movement for the Protection of the Water).

The Mazahua are calling for the connection of the region onto the drinking-water network, the return of the expropriated land, compensation and the realisation of environmentally sustainable projects like reforesting, in order to do something to even out the environmental destruction. This includes also careful treatment of the forest and resources, a higher standard of living, dignity, health care and a better education in the native language, which is steadily getting lost. Only in one of the five districts concerned have any concessions of any kind been made. However the Mazahua are not letting themselves get divided: "We want water for all!" they demand. The final statement of the IV Indigenous National Congress CNI (Congreso Nacional Indígena) of May 2006 says: "We are fighting against the exploitation of the mineral wealth, against the timber industry, against the selling-out of our land, against the selling-out of food by large chain-concerns like Wal-Mart and against the privatisation of our water and the state laws which legitimise the counter-reform of 2001. Since the betrayal of 2001, when the Mexican state decided not to recognize any longer the rights of the indigenous peoples, we have understood that we are alone and that we must go about securing our rights and autonomy ourselves." The indigenous peoples no longer believe in the state and have begun to build up by themselves their local and regional autonomous areas. With its policies Mexico infringes Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation ILO of the United Nations, which Mexico ratified in 1990. This document, so far the only one in international law in which the basic rights of the indigenous peoples are anchored, requires, for example, consultation with the people concerned before the implementation of economic projects and their participation in the various planning stages.

Indigenous organisations: Congreso Nacional Indígena CNI (Indigenous National Congress) (Spanish). Ejército Zapatista de la Liberación Nacional EZLN (Zapata National Liberation Army) (Spanish). Asamblea de Migrantes Indígenas de la Ciudad de México (Union of Indigenous Migrants inh Mexico City) (Spanish). Movimiento Mexicano de Afectados por las Presas y en Defensa de los Ríos" MAPDER (Mexican Movement of those Affected by Dams and for the Protection of the Rivers) (Spanish). Red de Información Indígena (Indigenous Information Network) (English and Spanish)

Ecuador: Huaorani [ top ]

The approx. 2,500 Huaorani live in a part of the Ecuadorian rain forest which overlaps the world-famous Yasuní- National Park. On account of the very great diversity of its fauna and flora the Yasuní was declared a national park in 1979 already. In 1989 the UNESCO declared the park a biosphere reserve. Some Huaorani groups like the Tagaeri and Taromenanes live in voluntary isolation and refuse all contact with the outside world. The Huaorani are now being overrun by an invasion of illegal timber companies and trans-national corporations like the Brazilian Petrobas and the Spanish-Argentine Repsol YPF. The exploitation of timber, oil and other resources has been accompanied by massacres which have so far gone unpunished.

Wherever the Huaorani go through their traditional rain forest area in the Yasuní National Park and nearby to hunt and collect, to fish or farm the land, they come today across drill-holes, contaminated rivers, roads and cleared forest. Illegal tree-fellers cut down the trees, trans-national and national oil companies divide up the area into blocks, which they then exploit. The Spanish-Argentine firm Repsol YPF is in Block 16, the French Perenco in Block 7 and 21, agip from Italy in Block 10, the Brazilian Petrobas in Block 31 and Andes Petroleum, consisting of the Chinese state company CNPC and Sinopec, in Block 17. The Ecuadorian companies Tecpecuador and Petroecuador took over in May 2006 Block 15 from the US American Occidental. The Ecuadorian government is also looking for investors for a new block, called ITT (Ishpingo-Tapococha-Tiputini) in the east of the Yasuní Park. The Ecuadorian military is safeguarding the oil wells and shows resolute reactions in cases of protests against the oil drilling and pollution of the ecosystem.

Nevertheless some of the Huaorani, who live spread out in 37 communities over the three provinces Orellana, Napo and Pastaza, are trying to assert themselves with political resistance against the massive destruction of their life. "Even if the government offers no protection of the Yasuní Park we are here to defend our land!" says the Huaorani spokesperson, Moi Enomenga. He founded the Huaorani Association ONHAE in 1990, which calls for the oil companies to clean the contaminated areas and criticises the Ecuadorian government for dealing with them without bringing the Huaorani into the decision-making. The Huaorani receive no compensation for the destruction of their environment and health or for the loss of land and the contamination of their basic food. The resistance locally is mainly conducted by the Huaorani women, who have organised themselves in the women's organisation AMWAE. Alicia Cahuiya, President of the AMWAE, says: "We notice the effects of the oilmining in many ways. The water is contaminated, there are many illnesses and the animals in the forest are badly affected. We are active as mothers, who want to protect the children and the forest. And we will stand for no more oil-mining in our communities."

Last summer the ANWAE could chalk up a partial success. Following their intensive protest campaigns Petrobas abandoned its project of building a road along the River Napo. Alicia Cahuiya and Moi Enomenga want more. They want to make sure that Petrobas and the other oil companies leave the area and that the oil-mining is stopped. This was also the aim they pursued at this year's meeting of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues of the UN in May 2006 in New York. "I am fighting against the influence of the oil companies and so I am also fighting against the government, with paper as a weapon, so that we can live in peace. I would like to unite the organisations into a stronger force so that they can help us to defend our territory. Otherwise we shall soon be gone. We need the support of international public opinion to make us respected. We must take over control to make sure that no more strangers force their way into our territory," says Moi with conviction.

However the changes have divided the Huaorani. Some are working for the tree-fellers and leading them through the area in order to secure their survival by earning money. Other groups, like the Tagaeri and the Taromenans have decided against all contact with a world which only approaches them to destroy and they live in voluntary isolation. However the intervention of the oil companies is threatening the area deep in the forest, to which they have withdrawn, since it overlaps Block 17. The biggest problem so far is presented by the illegal treefellers, who profit from the roads of the oil companies and market the timber through Colombia. The Tagaeri and Taromenane use their hunting arrows and spears to keep intruders out. In mid-April they attacked tree-fellers who were working in their forest and killed one of them. This provoked a massacre of about 30 Tagaeri and Taromenane. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission called on the Ecuadorian government in May 2006 to provide protection for the Tagaeri and Taromenans.

The life of the Huaorani has changed rapidly since the fifties. The first to come into the area were missionaries from the "Summer Institute of Linguistics". Their evangelisation was followed by the oil companies. In the eighties Texaco built a road 100 km long through the forest, which in accordance with the contemptuous expression for the Huaorani as "aucas" (savages) was called the "Auca Road". In 1985 already the Ecuadorian government gave out the first licence for Block 16 to the US oil company Conoco (today ConocoPhillips). In the nineties Maxus opened the Huaorani area for extensive oil-mining. In 1990 the Huaorani after resistance campaigns in the framework of the indigenous umbrella organisation CONAIE were promised an area of 672,000 hectares as a Huaorani area, bordering on the Yasuni National Park - but with the proviso that oil companies may operate here. The resistance against oil-mining could therefore mean the loss of this land. Indigenous organisations: ONHAE - Organizacion de la Nacionalidad Huaorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana (Organisation of the Huaorani People of the Ecuadorian Amazon Area) (Spanish). AMWAE: Associación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana (Association of the Waorani Women of the Ecuadorian Amazon Area) (English and Spanish).

Brazil: The Indigenous Peoples without land rights condemned to extinction [ top ]

"Indigenous peoples feel abandoned and persecuted by public authorities: on one hand there is a total lack of dialogue with the Government, and on the other hand a conflictual relationship with FUNAI. The President of FUNAI asserts that the trusteeship regime still exists, in blatant violation of the law, makes discriminatory statements against the Indians, decides who is Indian and who is not in violation of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), and does not provide the assistance required. Finally, the police threaten and kill leaders and members of the Indigenous communities and the judiciary largely keeps guaranteeing the impunity of the police, while criminalizing the actions of Indian leaders", said the report of the UN special rapporteur on racism, race discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, Doudou Diéne, in October 2005 when he carried out a journey through the country. The ILO is a member organisation of the UNO. Its Convention 169 is the only instrument of international law guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples. The situation of the indigenous peoples of Brazil, who in 235 groups number more than 730,000 persons, remains catastrophic. Poverty and the theft of land have driven more than half of them into the slums of the city centres. With reference to the population of Brazil as a whole 15.5% live in extreme poverty, while among the indigenous population the proportion is 38% (figures from the most recent survey made by the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics of 2000).

The lives of the indigenous people who still live outside the towns are marked by constant uncertainty. They rely on the secure tenure of land in order to be able to maintain their way of life, which is closely linked to nature. However the court case dealing with the Indian claims is proceeding very slowly. The case of marking off the Indian land should have been completed by 1993 according to the constitution, but, says Diéne, by the end of 2005 this had only been done in 37% of the cases. The government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has started on average six cases per year since 2003 and more than 200 other cases have not been started. But even the secure tenure of land is no protection against arbitrary action. In the following instance the FUNAI recognized in 1967 as the property of the Tupinikim and Guarani 18,070 hectares of land in the federal state of Espirito Santo, north of Rio de Janeiro on the coast of Brazil. But the Indians can only really use 7,061 hectares. The remaining 11,009 hectares are held by the Aracruz Celulose Company. It uses in Espirito Santo a total of 150,000 hectares for the planting of eucalyptus monocultures for the production of cellulose. The Indians have now been waiting since May 2005 for the Brazilian Minister of Justice to finally recognize their ownership of the remaining 11,009 hectares of land by a demarcation law.

Four expert commissions of the FUNAI have in the past ten years established that this land has since time immemorial been used by the Tupinikim and Guarani. Studies of the FUNAI show that the physical and cultural survival of the Indians depends on the undisturbed use of this land. However the Aracruz Celulose is not prepared to part with it and has lodged a protest with the FUNAI against the demarcation of the area. The chief customer of the Aracruz is the US company Procter & Gamble, which manufactures for example Tempo paper handkerchiefs, nappies and toilet paper with cellulose from Brazil. The threat against the Tupinikim and Guarani Indians by the increase of the eucalyptus monocultures on their traditional land was the subject of a conference in the port of Vitória on 1st June 2006, which ended with the "Declaration of Vitória". This declaration calls on the government to abide by the Articles 231 and 232 of the Constitution of 1988, in which the rights of the indigenous people of the country are laid down, and to abide by the requirements of the Convention No. 169 of the ILO. The "Declaration of Vitória" also calls on the Brazilian Minister of Justice to seal without further delay the demarcation of the Indian land and for the FUNAI to follow its own studies and to place itself unequivocally on the side of the Indians. The Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) has supported this call and has this summer started an eMail campaign with these demands in its Newsletter and on the GfbV website.

Under Lula da Silva, who was elected President of Brazil in October 2002 and who was seen as the real ray of hope for the disadvantaged of Brazil, the situation of the indigenous peoples has not significantly improved. On the contrary, a report of the Conselho Indigenista Missionário CIMI, the most important human rights organisation in Brazil for the indigenous peoples, states that land conflicts have increased again since 2003. While there were still 26 violent conflicts over land in 2003, the number in 2004 was already 41 and alone in the first six months of 2005 31 cases. The majority of the cases took place in the federal state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which borders on Paraguay and Bolivia. Tree-fellers, rice-growers and large land-owners are forcing their way illegally into the Indian land. The fate of the Guarani Kaiowá in this federal state is tragic. They were traditionally nomads and live today on small parcels of land, often beside roads and sometimes also with other indigenous groups on their already demarcated land. They are not used to living cooped up together on a small piece of land, from which they cannot even feed themselves. Many men must for this reason look for work in far away towns. Many Guarani Kaiowá cannot stand this life and commit suicide. In 2003 there were 22, in 2004 18 and in 2005 28 who sought refuge in the world of their ancestors in the "land without evil", as they call it.

The number of murders of indigenous people is also remarkably high. 38 Indians suffered violent deaths in the year 2005, 28 of whom in Mato Grosso do Sul. Another example is provided by the Xukuru in Pernambuco, north of Bahia on the coast. They had, said special rapporteur Diéne, big problems in achieving the recognition of their land titles because their land also drew the attention of investors on account of its beauty. In 1998 the leader of the Xukuru was murdered. His son and heir also received threats of murder and in 2003 just managed to escape an attack, in which two of his friends were killed. In spite of the intervention of the Inter-American Commission for Human rights nothing was done to give him protection. The UN special rapporteur had several meetings with Indian communities which were threatened with extinction and it was in vain that he attempted to secure the assistance of the FUNAI in getting back their land. The government of Brazil is still living off the liberal image, which the constitution and the fact that Brazil has ratified the ILO Convention 169 appear to give. But reality does not live up to this nice picture.

Chile: Mapuche without rights - Indian leaders are turned into "terrorists" [ top ]

The Mapuche, who with about 1.3 million people make up almost ten percent of the 15.8 million inhabitants of Chile, are fighting for their land, which they have for decades collectively and effectively managed. They are the largest of the indigenous peoples of Chile. At the end of the 19th century with the emergence of the states of Chile and Argentina their land was divided up into more than 3.000 small reservations. Through the land reform under the government of Salvador Allende (1970-1973) they did receive back 700,000 hectares. However after the putsch of the dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile between 1973 and 1989, they were for the most part once more dispossessed. Where once their primeval forests grew the large land-owners are today planting in timber plantations fast-growing trees, like pines and eucalyptus, above all for the cellulose industry. Neither of these are native species. Eucalyptus uses up an enormous quantity of water, damages the soil, lowers the watertable and so leads to erosion.

Meanwhile all plantations and 70% of the tropical forests are in private hands. The two companies Arauco S.A. and EMPRESAS CMPC S.A., which is 55% in the hands of the industrialist family Matte, are responsible for 47% of the timber-felling. Arauco is also well-known through its subsidiary Mininco. Small and medium-sized firms play hardly any role. "The procedure of the timber industry and of the state is a clear violation of the economic, social and cultural rights of the Mapuche", said the special correspondent of the United Nations for indigenous issues, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, in his report following a visit to Chile in 2003. Mapuche who defend themselves against the theft of land are criminalised. Some of their spokespeople have been sentenced to high fines and long terms in prison in accordance with the controversial Anti-terrorism Law (Ley 18.314). Michelle Bachelet, who was elected President of Chile in January 2006, announced in her election campaign that the improvement in the situation of the indigenous peoples of Chile would be one of her principal tasks. But neither has she done anything so far to abolish the Anti-terrorism Law, which is vigorously criticised by human rights experts, nor has she even provided the possibility of early release on probation, nor has she provided the native peoples of Chile at long last with basic rights and a place in the Constitution by ratifying the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation.

The Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) has long been supporting Mapuche who have been sentenced and imprisoned as terrorists in accordance with the Ley 18.314. It calls for the law to be abolished, for all sentences pronounced against Mapuche on its basis to be revised and for those sentenced to be released immediately. Four of them - Patricia Troncoso Robles (36), Patricio Marileo Saravia (31), Jaime Marileo Saravia (27) and Juan Carlos Huenulao Lienmil (39) - received punishments of ten years imprisonment each and extremely high fines of more than 400 million Chilean pesos (approx. 620,000 euros), which must appear cynical to the Mapuche, who are often in bitter poverty. So they are held responsible, for example, for damage to timber companies, when piles of wood or forestry machinery are set alight or sabotaged during land sit-ins. The blame cannot normally be proved against the accused. But they are still sentenced, for the Anti-terrorism Law allows the use of so-called "faceless", i.e. anonymous witnesses, whose statements cannot be challenged by the defence. The anonymity of the witnesses encourages denunciations as well. The Mapuche appearing before court do not have the right to interpreters for their language of Mapudungun. A fair trial in accordance with the constitution is therefore hardly possible.

On 13th March 2006 Patricia Troncoso Robles, the brothers Patricio Marileo Saravia and Jaime Marileo Saravia, together with Juan Carlos Huenulao Lienmil, began a hunger strike to draw attention to their desperate situation and to reach a revision of their sentences. The GfbV supported this demand with a call to the approximately 5,000 subscribers to our eMail Newsletters to appeal to President Bachelet on behalf of the four prisoners, asked the Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who represented Germany at the inauguration of the President of Chile, and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at his visit to Chile following his nomination, for their intervention.

The world-wide attention drawn by the hunger-strike did then lead to the public declaration of the newly appointed Minister of the Interior, Andrés Zaldivar Larrain, in the spring of 2006 that the law 18.314 would no longer be applied in cases against the Mapuche. But the already existing sentences were not examined. Those sentenced remained in custody and so continued their hunger-strike. It was only when a commission named after their chairperson, the parliamentary delegate, Alejandro Navarro, on which four Mapuche also sit, brought in the counter-proposal that the law 18.314 be extended to allow for early release on probation that the four Mapuche broke off their hunger-strike for the time-being. In a state of complete exhaustion they were admitted to hospital in Temuco. There they were also cared for by the GfbV representative, Vicente Mariqueo, who saw to it that the four Mapuche could be treated by a doctor of their confidence. Mariqueo is himself a Mapuche, who survived the Pinochet dictatorship in exile in Great Britain and who is building up a GfbV office in Temuco, the heartland of the Mapuche.

The four prisoners now pin all hopes of finally being freed on the Ley Navarro, but the debate has come to a standstill. Meanwhile two months have passed and the law has still not been passed. So it seems to be only a matter of time before Patricia Troncoso Robles, Patricio Marileo Saravia, Jaime Marileo Saravia and Juan Carlos Huenulao Lienmil take up the hunger-strike again and the Mapuche in Chile go on to the streets with demonstrations of solidarity, as they did in the spring of 2006.

Central Africa: Pygmies ignored and neglected [ top ]

250,000 indigenous people in the Central African countries are lumped together under the pejorative name of "pygmies". Batwa, Efe, Mbuti, Baka and other groups live in the present-day boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, the Cameroons, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the Central African Republic. Through the large-scale deforestation programmes in the forests, in which they have for thousands of years as hunters and collectors led a semi-nomadic life, the "pygmies" have in many places been robbed of their means of existence and driven out. In the majority societies they are counted as "sub-humans" and discriminated and exploited. They are at the same time - e.g. in matters of health and schooling - completely ignored. They are as the poorest and most vulnerable groups especially exposed to violence and war. Many governments do not even recognize the "pygmies" as citizens.

The indigenous hunter and collector cultures of Central Africa have belonged for thousands of years to the tropical rain-forests. These form the indispensable basis of their way of life. However the Central African forests are being cleared on a large-scale by trans-national companies, such as the German-Swiss Danzer (Reutlingen), the German Feldmeyer (Bremen), the Dutch Wijma and the French Rouchier, Thanry and Becob. The greater part of the timber is exported to Europe. These deforestation programmes mean that the pygmies are for the most part being driven out and live today without any land of their own, alienated from their original way of life and pushed to the edge of society. Where protected nature parks and reserves are set up the protection of the native inhabitants has not been considered. So the last surviving Batwa living secretly as hunters and collectors and the Twa in Ruanda were driven out of their forests in the nineties and the Parc des Volcans in Ruhengeri and the Gishwati National Forest was turned into a national park. In 1998 the Batwa had then to leave their inherited land without being given any compensation or support when the Nyungwe National Forest in Cyangugu was turned into a national park and a military area. Since then they have lived in extreme poverty as beggars, from the sale of their pottery or earn their keep as day-labourers in agriculture. Some 33,000 Batwa pygmies live today in Rwanda, thus forming the third and smallest ethnic group in the country. "Our rights have been disregarded. The Twa have always been driven out of their habitat without compensation. We have received no education. Our culture is threatened," says Kalimba Zephyrin., spokesperson of the Batwa organisation "Communauté des Autochtones Rwandais" (CAURWA).

Through the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 the situation of the Batwa has deteriorated even more. A third of the Batwa did not survive the massacre. But they are not even recognized as victims. For the Rwandan government there are no minorities or indigenous peoples. They argue that they want to prevent in this way a "divisionism" and a possible "ideology of genocide". So the government has not officially recognized the Batwa organisation CAURWA, which was founded in 1995. For the government their political work as explicitly "indigenous" and Batwa organisation contradicts the constitution and is seen as constituting a criminal offence. This has led to the Batwa being ignored by state programmes and projects. They are excluded from all spheres of social life and political participation, which are shared only by the Hutu and Tutsi. So CAURWA assumes that only a change of politics, recognizing the Batwa as an indigenous minority, can improve their situation. CAURWA is working above all for a greater degree of political self-determination of the Batwa. The organisation is also concerned with creating new socio-economic possibilities for coping with the new conditions of life.

In all eight countries pygmy groups are faced with the rigid stereotype of being backward, uncivilised sub-humans. It is in society simply "not done" for them to eat with members of the majority societies or for them even to sit near them. Apart from this discrimination and segregation the pygmies are often denied basic political and civil rights, as for example in Rwanda, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most pygmies are not even recognized as citizens. In the constitution they are not mentioned at all. "Although the pygmies are the ones who have lived in the Congo the longest, a census has never been held to find out their numbers. They have received neither identity cards nor certificates of birth, marriage or death", criticises Dieudonnée Kapupu Diwa Mutimanwa of the pygmy umbrella organisation "Ligue Nationale des Associations Autochtones Pygmèes du Congo" LINAPYCO (National Association of Indigenous Pygmy Organisations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). So they have very few opportunities to defend themselves against violence and injustice.

The wars in Central Africa lead to a great deal of violence against the indigenous minorities in this region. The approximately 150,000 Batwa and Bambuti in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are exposed to murder and rape through the continuation of the conflicts between the warring factions, above all in the eastern provinces of Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu. Bambuti, deep in the forest are at the mercy of the marauding rebel groups and are sometimes even victims of cannibalism by MLC soldiers (the militia of the largest rebel group). In Ituri there is a great deal of coltan and gold. In the Kahuzi Biega National Park, where coltan is mined, some of the Batwa are driven out of the park, while others work unpaid in obtaining the raw material.

The individual organisations in the various countries are concerned on the one hand with the merciless chopping down of their forests and the expulsions from their habitat, e.g. through recognition of their land rights, on the other with the amelioration of the present situation, e.g. access to education, health services and new sources of income. In order to improve their human rights situation and their position in society the pygmies must be recognized in the constitution as a minority and they must be protected as a minority. The Batwa must be allowed to participate as citizens in political decision-making. They must become actors in their own societal and economic development and their socio-cultural institutions must be given the necessary support. Men and women who have been driven from their land must be given a corresponding piece of land in compensation. They must be given the opportunity to continue their lives in adequate conditions. Batwa land must be officially registered in order to avoid fresh expulsions in the future.

Indigenous organisations:
La Communaute des Autochtones du Rwanda (CAURWA), P.O. Box. 3809 Kigali, Rwanda
Tel.: 00 250 77 640, E-Mail:, (English and French).

Ligue Nationale des Associations Autochtones Pygmees du Congo, Avenue Kwango n. 7, B.P. 10306 Kinshasa 1, Kinshasa- Kintambo, Republique Democratique du Congo
Tel.: 0024 39866 8491, Email:

Mali and Niger: Nomads are threatened with starvation [ top ]

3.5 million Tuareg and Peulh nomads live in Niger and Mali. The existence of nomad society is periodically threatened by famine, overgrazing and the destruction of the herds, conflicts with farmers on land and grazing rights, impoverishment and lack of support by the authorities.

Tens of thousands of Tuareg and Peulh nomads found themselves after the famine of the summer of 2005 left with nothing. In several parts of Niger 80 percent of their animals had either died as a result of the drought or had to be slaughtered. Particularly decimated were the herds of sheep, which made up the greater part of their stock of animals. For the sheep as ruminates perished miserably since they ate with the grass, which was very short, also sand, which they cannot stomach. More resistant were by contrast the herds of camels and goats. The forced slaughter of many animals led to a drop in prices on the cattle markets, with the result that the nomads could not from the meagre proceeds buy sufficient food for the months ahead. For on the markets the prices for millet and other foodstuffs had risen drastically as a result of the scanty supply and through speculation.

"We had nothing more to eat, but with these vouchers we can now get rice and oil again", said Joda Horty. The old cattle breeder of the Peulh had like many others in her village Oumdou Bammo lost almost all her cattle. The 60-year old was too weak to work for the exchange of the vouchers. But younger cattle breeders in her village worked in the so-called "Food for Work" programmes of the aid organisation OXFAM. So they got rid of the corpses of starved animals, built fire aisles to protect their pasturelands from fires or took part in projects for the protection of the environment.

Without assistance the nomads could not survive in the summer of 2005. However the humanitarian support had its drawbacks. So cattle-breeders, who traditionally were proud of their independence, became beggars of international food aid. The loss of their cattle-herds thus destroyed not only the economic means of life of the nomads, but also their traditional culture and way of life. After the great famine catastrophes in the Sahel in the years 1973/74 and 1984/85 the nomads had already had to fear for their existence. At that time the Tuareg had waited in vain for years for the aid programmes which had been promised and finally in the spring of 1990 they took to arms against the governments of Niger and Mali. In the face of increasing poverty and the lack of help from the state the Tuareg rose again in May 2006. Thanks to the mediation of Algeria the conflict could be swiftly brought to an end so that the Mali government concluded an agreement on 3rd July 2006 with the rebels in which it promised large-scale assistance for the north of the country.

Also in the summer of 2005 help for the starving in the Sahel came only very slowly. It should be noted that this tragedy was to be expected. In the autumn of 2004 already aid organisations had warned of an oncoming drought and shortage of food. When journalists pointed out in the spring of 2005 the impending catastrophe the Niger government accused them of causing panic and spreading lies. Journalists were dismissed and reprimanded. Even at the height of the tragedy the state President Mamadou Tandja still denied what was happening. Yet it was his government with its mistaken agricultural and economic policies which must be seen as partly responsible for the extent of the famine.

Tuareg organisations call for special support programmes apart from the setting up of grain stores for the nomads. The animal breeders should in this way receive free food for the cattle remaining, while the purchase of weakened animals should be financed and the restocking of new herds supported. Some aid organisations have taken up the appeals of the Tuareg and developed special programmes for their support. They warn of the longterm effects of the loss of the herds, for this costs the nomads the entirety of their savings, with the result that they are now dependent on help from their fellow-citizens and from abroad. Nothing has changed a year after the famine, for the building up of new herds takes years to achieve.

For many of the regions suffering from the persistent aridity the nomadic way of life is the only type of economy which could be seriously taken into consideration from an environmental point of view, causing no long-term destruction of the soils. The great flexibility of the nomads and the low cost of managing the herds were for a long time favourable for the extension of this branch of the economy. A quarter of all the land in the world is still today used by nomads, whose 20 million households produce 10 percent of the meat consumed in the world. However the growing demands for hygiene, the drop in the demand for milk products and the increasing competition from cheap meat imports from industrial countries are threatening the means of existence of the nomads.

Australia: Howard government continues the tutelage of the aborigines [ top ]

The majority of the approximately 500,000 indigenous people of Australia, i.e. the Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders are being forced increasingly by the present government's policies into the role of supplicants, who are living on the edge of the white dominated society in an alarming social situation. Their everyday life is characterised by health problems, addiction and domestic violence. Alcoholism and sniffing of petrol or glue are widespread. Life expectation lies 17 years below that of the majority society. They lack education and employment.

Racism towards the native people is also reflected in an over-proportionate share of indigenous inmates in the prisons and in conflicts concerning uranium mining and other economic uses of the land, which is for them of central religious importance. The action of the state against the identity, self-representation, their own institutions and political self-determination of the indigenous Australians in 2005 with the dissolution of the semi-official indigenous self-government organ "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission" (ATSIC) reached a new climax. For 15 years the Aboriginal Australians had with the ATSIC a self-governed political organ. Many aborigines themselves saw the need for reform in the ATSIC, but instead of taking with them the necessary steps towards its reconstitution the government quite simply abolished the Commission. Now - no longer from the nonindigenous side, but also through the institutions set up by the government - above all through the National Indigenous Council (NIC) on the national and regional level, like the Indigenous Cooperation Centres (ICC) - decisions will be taken about the indigenous and their affairs. Silenced once more the aboriginal people see themselves disappointed with the end of the ATSIC, their hopes dashed of a self-determined and improved life situation. The paternalistic treatment of the indigenous people by the government continues.

The various studies of government, science and indigenous organisations on the situation of the aboriginal people come to the same conclusion: the living conditions of the indigenous Australians are incomparably worse than those of the majority population. Aborigine organisations have repeatedly pointed out the double standard in the Australian health service and the bad nutrition resulting from poverty, which is then reflected in the alarmingly low expectation of life and the high infant mortality rate. The number of aborigine babies dying at birth is twice to four times that of the national average. Many children die of illnesses which can be traced back to insufficient nourishment. Unemployment in aborigine communities is three times that of the dominant society and in rural areas whole communities are dependent on state assistance. Alcoholism and other addictions are widespread. Adequate living conditions remain for many unattainable on account of the fundamental lack of basic commodities and infrastructure and a rate of homelessness which is 20 times that of the majority. In central Australia murder is the most frequent cause of death of aborigine women, who like children are very frequently the victims of domestic violence.

In June 2006 a discussion broke out on the social misery and the high rate of violence in the aborigine communities. Instead of seeing them as the result of a more than 200-year old violent history, in which the politics of Australia towards the native peoples was aimed at the destruction of the aboriginal people, the present liberalconservative government under John Howard is looking for the cause of the serious social situation cynically in the culture of the aborigines themselves. So the Minister of Health, Tony Abbott, speaks in favour of a "new paternalism" towards the native people. It is time, says Abbott, for the government to exercise control over the indigenous communities. So it is now planning to install administrators to supervise the indigenous communities. This view of violence and social inequality confuses cause and effect. The government is patronising the aborigines instead of admitting the serious mistakes and omissions of its indigenous politics and finding together with the aborigines ways for them to be able to take over more responsibility for their lives. The paternalistic road of the government reminds the aborigines of the practices of the Christian missionaries and other strategies of assimilation and tutelage in their history. Even the idea of removing children from communities with high rates of violence is circulating in government spheres. However the present lack of direction, the structural and direct violence in the native communities can be traced back to the traumatisation of the "Stolen Generations".

Some 100,000 aborigine children were torn from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970 to assimilate them in state and missionary institutions and to train them over the generations into 2nd class "whites", to servants in household and agriculture. Many of them were not even five years old when they were taken away from their families. In addition to this mental violence most of the children suffered physical and sexual abuse, the traumata of which are carried down from generation to generation. As late as 2002 more than one third of the aboriginal Australians reported that they had either been taken away themselves as children or had relatives who suffered this fate. Many of these children never found their families again. The fact that today only 20 percent of the aborigines speak a traditional language is a visible factor of the forced uprooting, violence is another.

The aborigines are outraged by the fact that the Howard government after the abolition of their political selfadministration organ ATSIC on the national level now wants to institutionalise at the local level as well the tutelage and withdrawal of rights. Since the Howard government, which came to power in 1996 and has now had since 2004 the majority both in the Lower House as well as in the Senate, the rights and possibilities of the indigenous Australians of having a voice - beginning with the curtailment of the land rights in 1998 - have been increasingly cut back. Progress in the "reconciliation process", to which the Australian government had made a call in 1991, and which was intended to bring about a new relationship between black and white, was once again rendered null and void with the end of the indigenous self-administration in the ATSIC. Even in the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues of the UN in May 2006 Australia spoke out against the right of the indigenous people to self-determination. A really effective change on the international, national and local level must however start with the aborigines being heard at all and being taken seriously and being allowed to represent their interests themselves. Australia is a long way from this.

India: The Andamans and the Nicobars in India [ top ]

India's government boasts that it gives special protection to the small indigenous peoples living on the Andamans. Yet when in the spring of 2006 an epidemic of measles broke out among the 322 Jarawa it became clear how little is in fact being done for the survival of this ethnic group, which is 60,000 years old. For weeks the authorities ignored all warnings of aid organisations and human rights workers and played down the extent of the epidemic. The Jarawa who were admitted to hospital suffered from "heat blisters" according to the dry explanation of the Indian authorities. It was only when doctors confirmed that it was really a matter of measles that India in May 2006 sent a doctor to the indigenous people, who were threatened with extinction. In the meantime more than 50 children have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of measles.

The Indian authorities have learnt nothing from the experience of the measles epidemic, which threatened in 1999 to wipe out the Jarawa. Then too the authorities denied at first the outbreak of the epidemic, to which at last 108 Jarawa fell ill, one third of the members of this people. Illnesses like measles which have been brought in can prove fatal for indigenous peoples living particularly remote. In the Amazon region several peoples have died out as a result of such illnesses which have been brought in from outside in the past decades.

Indian environmentalists and ethnologists are greatly concerned for the survival of the Jarawa. In a letter to the chairperson of the Indian Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, they are protesting against the intrusion of poachers and settlers into the protected areas of the indigenous. It is reported that the intruders smuggle in tobacco and alcohol and expect sex in return from the women of the Jarawa. Following the construction of a 75 km long road, which has been criticised sharply by environmentalists and human rights workers, through the protected area of the Jarawa this threat has noticeably increased. Although the Supreme Court of India prohibited normal public traffic on this road in the year 2002, the road is still not closed.

The 30,000 native inhabitants, who do not live in such seclusion on the Nicobar Islands, also have very great problems. In the tsunami catastrophe in December 2004 they suffered the most victims among the inhabitants of the island group with 3,000 people dead. But things got even worse. A mistaken programme of reconstruction left them after the natural catastrophe beggars and slum-livers. They asked in vain for tools because they wanted to rebuild their wooden houses, which are traditionally covered with palm leaves and bamboo. Instead they were without any discussion herded in tin huts, which are not suited to the climate and are rejected by the native inhabitants. No regard is paid to the customs and habits or to the traditional social order. So India is using the natural catastrophe to assimilate the indigenous Nicobars. An old culture going back many centuries is threatened with extinction.

The indigenous peoples on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands live in an archipelago in the Indian Ocean with more than 500 islands, which are administered by India. Only 36 islands are regularly inhabited. Among the indigenous inhabitants are some particularly remote groups of often no more than a few dozen people (51 Andamans, 322 Jarawa, 99 Onge, 389 Shomps, 100 Sentinelese), which are seen as the peoples most threatened in the world. On account of the threat these groups are under the special protection of India and the law forbids any contact with them from the outside. And then on the Nicobar Islands there are about 30,000 Nicobars, who are certainly indigenous people, but who maintain a lively contact with the immigrants coming from India.

Borneo: Survival of Penan and other indigenous peoples threatened by clearance of the tropical forest [ top ]

With blockade campaigns against tree-fellers the Penan native inhabitants have been defending themselves against the destruction of their habitat in the Malay province of Sarawak since the end of the 80s. The Penan erected barricades for the first time on 16th June 2006 in the region on the central Baram River in order to prevent tree-fellers from clearing the forest. The authorities sent police and riot police in order to arrest those responsible for the road blocks. On 5th July employees of the timber company cleared the blocked roads. However some roads remain blocked by the Penan.

A large part of the tropical forest has in spite of the resistance of the native residents already been cleared in the past few years. Today only a small number of the approximately 10,000 Penan lives as semi-nomads. Most of the native residents have settled down, not least on account of the continuing destruction of the tropical forest, because their habitat has steadily decreased in size. But apart from the Penan, who are very well known in Europe, there are other peoples like the approximately 5,000 Punan, who still live today a semi-nomadic life in Sarawak.

At least 2.7 million hectares of rain-forest were lost through clearances in Malaysia in the 90s. In this one decade the south-east Asian country lost more than 13 percent of its forest area. Today only 20 percent of the Malaysian rain-forest remains intact, so the habitat of the semi-nomads is steadily shrinking. For if the forest dies, the semi-nomads can no longer feed themselves from hunting wild pigs, monkeys and birds or collecting wild fruit. Traditionally the Penan did not eat vegetables or roots, but they did eat sago flour, which they obtained from palm trunks. They only stayed for a few weeks at one place and lived there in small huts made of tree-trunks and palm leaves looking like wind-breaks. When they had felled the old sago palms and harvested the wild fruit they moved on. But most of these native inhabitants, who had now settled down, had to give up this traditional way of life since there is hardly any more wild fruit and the wild animals are steadily disappearing as result of the deforestation. So the timber companies have not only destroyed the ecological balance of the rain-forest, but also deprived the indigenous peoples in Sarawak of the means of their existence.

Representatives of 27 Penan groups from various regions of Sarawak met on 29th May 2006 in Long Belok and passed a joint resolution drawing attention to their alarming situation. In their joint paper the following points were made. The timber companies are ruthlessly chopping down the remainder of the tropical forest in Sarawak. The native inhabitants are being filled with fear and panic to make them give up their resistance to the wiping out of their habitat. The timber companies are continuing their deforestation in areas which the Penan nomads in the regions Sungai Bareh and Magoh have been officially promised by the authorities. The Malaysian timber companies systematically disregard Malaysian law, but the authorities take no action. Instead of this the timber companies wash their hands of all guilt and build up their position by encouraging the questionable certification of all timber exports from Malaysia. With the seal of quality the Malaysian timber certification council is trying to dispel all doubts abroad that the extensive clearances are ecologically sound and meet the agreement of the indigenous peoples. On 6th December 2005 64 NGOs from 21 countries called to the European Union and the European timber industry not to recognize the controversial certification of the Malaysian timber.

While many Penan have been forced to give up their semi-nomadic way of life, the Kelabit are still fighting against the intrusion of the tree-fellers in their living area. The Kelabit, who live in the Bario highlands on the Baram River, inhabit the last areas for retreat for the indigenous peoples in Sarawak. But here too the rain-forest will soon be pushed back, as the Malaysian company Samling has recently obtained a concession for the clearance of several million hectares of forest.

In the Malayan Province of Sarawak on the island of Borneo live 27 different ethnic groups. The Orang Ulu or Dayak, as the indigenous peoples are collectively called, make up 5.5 percent of the 2.2 million inhabitants of Sarawak. To them belong among others the peoples of the Penan, Punan, Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Murut, Kenyah and Kelabit. These indigenous peoples are threatened by the advancing clearance of the tropical forest and the destruction of their habitat.

Discrimination and persecution of Vietnam's native people continue [ top ]

The leaders of the state in the state media certainly do their best to give the impression that the ethnic minorities are particularly cared for and that they can play an equal part like everyone else in the social and political life of the country. In reality however poverty in Vietnam is incomparably greater among the native inhabitants. While in 1998 only 31 percent of the majority population lived according to the official statistics below the poverty line, 75 percent of the native peoples complained to the International Development programme of the United Nations (World Food Programme) about the poverty of their living conditions. There is in their settlements a lack of schools, hospitals, roads and telecommunications. The degree of illiteracy is by comparison very high.

In the light of the continuing poverty, of the expropriation of land by coffee-planters and state development planners, the destruction of their natural conditions of life, the religious persecution and the state policy of assimilation towards the end of the nineties the native peoples living in the mountainous region in Central Vietnam became more and more dissatisfied. The desperation concerning the growing threat and loss of rights overflowed in February 2001 into public protests, which were directed primarily against the expropriation of land and the violation of their religious freedom. More than 200 native people were arrested, many of them being tortured. Churches were closed, all public meetings forbidden and systematically the whole area was closed off for months from the world outside. In December 2002 all Christmas services and other meetings of the native people in the mountainous area were forbidden. Time and again the native inhabitants are arrested for their participation in protests. Many of those arrested had to wait for months for their case to be called, until at last in an unfair trial without an independent lawyer with the exclusion of the public they were sentenced to long terms in prison for "threatening national security" or "illegal migration" to Cambodia.

On 22nd June 2006 six more "montagnards" were sentenced to terms in prison of between five and seven years for their planned escape to Cambodia. In July 2006 more than 350 montagnards were in custody for political reasons. During the Easter weekend 2004 there were new disturbances. Thousands of indigenous people called in the provinces of Dak Lak and Dak Nong an end to the religious persecution, freedom of movement and the recognition of their land rights. Once again the Vietnamese security forces reacted with disproportionate force. Dozens of people were killed. The true extent of the violent suppression of the protests is still unknown, since the Vietnamese authorities persistently refuse any enquiry into the incident. Nine native inhabitants were for their participation in the protests on 13th August 2004 sentenced to terms in prison between five and twelve years. On 22nd November 2004 ten further native inhabitants were sentenced for participation in the demonstrations and "endangering national security" to terms in prison of up to ten years.

The living standard of the indigenous population shows scant signs of improvement because as a result of the migration of millions of people from the plains into their regions they are constantly being pushed back into more barren land. More than ten million people have been moved by the state into their territory or have settled of their own accord in the mountainous area. The montagnards accounted in 1940 for 99 percent of the population in the region, but today they make up barely 30 percent of the total population in the highlands. The coffee boom has tempted since 1996 more than 400,000 members of the majority population to settle in the Dak Lak province. The farmers who traditionally lived from the subsistence economy are steadily being driven out by the new settlers from the plains, who take over the most fertile tracts. For with the support of the World Bank and the international donor countries Vietnam has since the nineties been expanding agricultural production for export and setting up huge plantations for coffee, cashew-nuts and pepper.

The largest coffee-growing region lies today in the highland province Dak Lak in the centre of the country. The cultivation area has increased from 21,828 hectares in the year 1975 to 163,000. The province earns with its exports 800,000 US dollars per day, but only a few cents come into the hands of the indigenous population. Coffee is one of Vietnam's most important exports. Dak Lak alone exported in 2004 more than 320,000 tons of coffee, while in the seventies the coffee exports for the whole of Vietnam came to no more than 6,000 tons per annum. By 2004 the figure had reached more than 800,000 tons. Vietnam intends to raise production to a million tons of coffee. The export of coffee alone brought Vietnam in the year 2004 revenue of 594 million US dollars, an increase of 18 percent on the results for the previous year. Vietnam's highland provinces export coffee to 59 countries, of which Germany and the USA are the most important. 47 percent of Vietnam's coffee production is exported to the EU.

The coffee boom has led to serious damage being done to the environmental equilibrium in the highlands of central Vietnam. Settlers have cleared away more than 74,000 hectares of forest since the middle of the nineties for the setting up of new plantations. Vietnam's forests have a wide diversity of wild life and are the home of some ten percent of the total stock in the world. However this world nature inheritance is in great danger as in the past ten years alone the cultivation area for coffee has been extended by 38 percent. Some 50 percent of the agriculturally used land is exhausted by deforestation, erosion and planting which is so intensive that it damages the environment. In the interests of short-term profit-maximisation coffee has for the most part not been planted in the shade of trees. Nature's revenge for this exploitation is that the soil, which lacks nourishment, needs increasing amounts of fertiliser.

The disturbances in the native population in the years 2001 and 2004 make it clear that the indigenous peoples of Vietnam are not prepared to accept any longer without resistance their marginalisation. In the light of continuing religious persecution and the increasing destruction of the means of life of the indigenous peoples the situation in the highlands of central Vietnam will only settle down when the authorities recognize the freedom of worship which is guaranteed them in the constitution and the rights of the indigenous peoples. It is in particular the land rights of the native inhabitants which must be respected and the further extension of the plantation economy should only occur in close agreement with the indigenous population.

The 53 ethnic minorities of Vietnam account today for some 12 million people. Some of these ethnic groups like the Odu comprise only 200 people, others, like the Tay have more than 1.5 million. Three quarters of these ethnic communities which do not belong to the majority group of the Kinh live today fairly remotely in the mountainous region of north-west or central Vietnam. Since most of these indigenous communities live in mountainous areas they have been called since the days of French colonialism "Montagnards", i.e. mountain people. They often differ very considerably in their languages, culture and traditions. But in spite of their very rich culture they are often written off by the majority as under-developed" savages" (moi).

See also:
* | | | |

* www: |

Last update: 17.8.2006 | Copyright | Search engine | URL: | XHTML 1.0 / CSS / WAI AAA | WEBdesign: M. di Vieste; E-mail:

HOME | INDEX DOSSIER | Deutsche Fassung