|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Extractive Industries, Mega-Projects
in Territories of Indigenous Peoples
Governments, multinational corporations and the banks supporting them financially must respect international environmental standards in their extraction of natural resources or construction of giant infrastructure projects in biologically diverse lands, members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Devasish Roy, an attorney and Forum member from Bangladesh, said the rights of indigenous peoples were frequently bypassed as companies mined or built dams and other mega-projects in their territories. “How do we bring in safeguards, and where do we have safeguards?” he asked.
Mr. Roy said that, while international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank may had the necessary policies in place, not all private banks subscribed to the Equator Principles, a globally recognized benchmark for managing social and environmental risks in project finance. Applying the principle of free, prior and informed consent was vital to ensuring that the rights of indigenous peoples were respected as structures were built and oil, gas and minerals extracted, he said, adding that the other challenge was ensuring that national laws and policies also respected the rights of indigenous peoples.
Aqqaluk Lynge, Chairperson of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said the Artic region was attracting greater attention from oil, gas and mining companies, in addition to shipping firms, as the rapidly melting ice caps opened up new opportunities for exploration. Companies were also exploring for minerals such as iron, he added. The Council represents about 160,000 Inuit people living in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and the Russian Federation.
Mr. Lynge said other indigenous peoples could use the “Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resources Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat”, a document signed in Ottawa by the Council’s leaders earlier this year, as a vehicle for the preservation of their rights during the extraction of natural resources from their territories. “The old doctrine of these companies has been ‘No one lives there’, when actually we’ve existed there for more than 5,000 years,” he said. “If anyone wants to mine or do something, they have to go to us first.”
Any development in the region should be based on international agreements, and respect the rights that indigenous peoples had struggled to win over the years, he emphasized. Many industries operating in the Artic region did not adhere to ethical standards, he said, noting that instead, their standards were based on greed. The extraction industry must be scrutinized like the financial industry following the banking crisis.
Jiten Yumnam, Secretary of the Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Actions in Manipur, India, said his people lived in a “hotspot” of biodiversity, depending on the forests, water and local species for their survival. Companies and institutions had failed to take either their needs or their rights to their land into account when building dams and extracting natural resources such as oil and uranium, he said. “There was also a health impact as a result of these projects,” he added. “Human rights and the implementation of the rights of indigenous people should be respected.”
* *** *