Expert voices Vol 22, No. 08 - August 2018

Challenges and opportunities for indigenous peoples on the move

The theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is “Indigenous peoples’ migration and movement.” Despite the popular image of indigenous peoples as rural inhabitants, cities are now providing home for increasing numbers of indigenous populations. In some countries of Latin America, as much as 80 per cent of all indigenous peoples live in urban areas.

In most cases, indigenous peoples who migrate find better employment opportunities and improve their economic situation but alienate themselves from their traditional lands and customs. How can indigenous peoples on the move preserve their lifestyle, culture and language? We ask Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

What do we know about the situation of indigenous peoples on the move? What threats and opportunities does migration bring for them?

“While most indigenous peoples prefer to remain in their traditional territories, there are those who migrate to the urban areas or outside of their countries. Some key factors which lead them to migrate are economic (the quest for jobs) and political, including forced displacements, militarization of their communities, criminalization of their livelihoods, disasters and calamities which destroy their lands, among others. The main threats they face when they migrate include homelessness, unemployment, harassments and violence from state authorities or non-state actors like human traffickers and drug syndicates, imprisonment and death. Opportunities include peace and security, jobs, small-scale businesses and other livelihoods, and access to better social services such as health and education.”

The negotiations of the Global Compact for Migration have just been completed. Does this landmark agreement address the situation for indigenous communities?

“There is one specific reference to indigenous peoples in the Global Compact, in which States commit to address and reduce vulnerabilities in migration by establishing policies and partnerships that provide migrants in a situation of vulnerability – including indigenous peoples – with necessary support at all stages of migration.

The affirmation that the Compact shall be guided by international human rights law and standards should mean that it includes indigenous peoples’ human rights as well. Objective 1, which is on the collection and utilization of accurate disaggregated data should mean that this includes indigenous peoples. Objective 2 which calls for minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors is highly important for indigenous peoples because the violation of their rights to their lands, territories and resources is a key adverse factor leading to their migration.

All the objectives of the Global Compact are relevant for indigenous peoples. However, it is important to include in the text a reference to Article 36 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states:

1. Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international borders, have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as other peoples across borders.

2. States, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take effective measures to facilitate the exercise and ensure the implementation of this right.”

You mention the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which is also a key instrument to protect and advance the rights of indigenous peoples. How is the Declaration protecting indigenous peoples on the move?

“One of the distinct characteristics of many indigenous peoples is that their territories have been divided by national borders, which did not exist before colonization and nation-state building. Article 36, which I have mentioned earlier, should be implemented by States. The recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples enshrined in the UNDRIP will play a major role in lessening the need for indigenous peoples to migrate. This may protect them from suffering the serious human rights violations that people on the move are often subjected to. However, if they choose to migrate, their rights to their identity, to work and protection against unemployment, to practice their cultures, to speak their own language and to be provided adequate and culturally relevant social services must be protected as well.”

Many indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands today are fragmented by national borders. How can they continue to move around freely on their lands?

“National laws in countries, where this is the reality, should recognize and affirm Article 36 of UNDRIP. Mutual agreements can be forged between countries whose territories lie on indigenous lands.”

Last but not least, what can we expect from this year’s commemoration on 9 August?

“Since this is the theme of the commemoration of 9 August, I expect that States will recognize the specific contexts and realities of indigenous peoples who are migrating and they should enter into good-faith dialogues with them to come up with plans on how to address the risks and threats indigenous peoples face when they migrate.”

For more information:

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

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