May 23, 2019 | Updated: 06:04 PM EDT

UN to Lend a Helping Hand to Indigenous Peoples Worldwide

May 06, 2019 08:23 AM EDT

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A new campaign to stop the criminalization of Indigenous peoples for protesting against governments and corporations in defense of their traditional lands aims to protect them from persecution, murder, and imprisonment on falsified charges, said the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples on Thursday.

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz said the idea for the Global Campaign Against the Criminalization and Impunity of Indigenous Peoples was inspired by research and interviews she conducted during the preparation of her 2018 report on attacks and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples. "It's been observed and concluded that the issue of criminalization of Indigenous peoples is a global crisis," Tauli-Corpuz said, referring to the report, as she announced the campaign at the UN 18th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues.

In 2018, human rights watchdog Global Witness reported that almost 1,000 environmental defenders have been killed since 2010 and that in 2017, at least 207 land and environmental activists-almost half of them Indigenous-were targeted and murdered for defending their forests, rivers, wildlife, and homes against destructive industries. "Fabricated charges, imprisonment, harassment, and intimidation are often the result when Indigenous people speak up against government-supported private companies investing in large-scale projects on their traditional lands," Tauli-Corpuz said. Such projects are often launched without discussion and without the free, prior and informed consent of customary landholders.

Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the Igorot peoples of the northern Philippines, has herself been a target of false charges and harassment. The Philippine government accused her of terrorism and more recently said she is a communist who has infiltrated the UN, she said.

Joan Carling, a member of the Kankanaey tribe of the northern region of Cordillera in the Philippines, was placed on a terrorist list at the same time as Tauli-Corpuz, an action that drew sharp criticism from the UN, which issued a strong rebuke in March 2018 in defense of Carling and Tauli-Corpuz.

"The new Global Campaign Against the Criminalization and Impunity of Indigenous Peoples will prevent, analyze, expose and reduce acts of criminalization and impunity," Carling said. It will be run exclusively by Indigenous peoples to ensure the safety of those unjustly targeted.

"In Brazil, the Ashaninka people face ongoing threats to their land from oil, mining and timber operations. Since 2000, they have also been subject to threats related to drug traffickers operating illegally on their land," said Benki Piyako, an Ashaninka leader, who voiced support for the global campaign.

"It's been very difficult because we haven't been supported by any international treaties or campaigns," he said. "Since 2015, four of our leaders have been killed by drug traffickers and forest loggers. This [UN campaign] will be a key initiative for Indigenous peoples to have the strength to work with international organizations."

"We need to work together and we support this campaign," said Pavel Sulyandziga, chair of the board of the International Development Fund of Indigenous Peoples in Russia, who said he has been accused of extremism and that his family has been persecuted due to a statement he made at the UN about Indigenous people.

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