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Opinion

Right to self-determination and land rights must be central in struggle for a Just Recovery

Nganchon Mro

Mro Indigenous Peoples protest

The Army Welfare Trust and the Sikder Group, a family-owned business conglomerate with global investments, are planning to develop a 5-star resort and amusement park in Bangladesh. This proposed development threatens the ancestral land of the Mro Indigenous Peoples. The Army Welfare Trust and the Sikder Group did not organise consultations or obtain consent from those affected. If this project goes ahead, at least 10,000 Mro Indigenous farmers/cultivators will be at risk of eviction and displacement. Human rights organisations and UN experts have joined the call of the Mro Indigenous Peoples to halt this project and uphold human rights and environmental well-being over corporate profits. However, the Mro Indigenous Peoples remain at serious risk. And they are not alone.

As COVID-19 wreaks devastation across the globe, States are justifying destructive development projects in the name of bolstering their battered economies. From Brazil to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the interests of so-called ‘development’, states and corporations are violating land-related rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as land-dependent communities - with impunity.

Land-related violations in the name of development are a widespread and longstanding practice affecting a wide range of human rights. Yet land is not a ‘commodity’. It is central to the identity and existence of Indigenous Peoples and communities with deep traditional ties to land. Dispossession of land is certainly not development in the pursuit of individual and collective well-being. This is ‘development aggression’, development which destroys traditional economies, community structures and cultural values.

Meanwhile the climate crisis rages on, amid intersecting crises and under entrenched systems of capitalist, patriarchal and racial oppression, devastating fundamental human rights. Governments and corporations most responsible for the climate crisis are doing little to seriously address the crisis. They are in fact, continuing development pathways that are exponentially accelerating climate change. The COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis and the responses thereto, have revealed that social, economic and political systems are broken in many countries.

As we counter these various crises, we need to do so in inter-connected ways and address not just the crises but the structural drivers thereof. One of the key structural drivers is the dominant economic model – namely neoliberal capitalism – that facilitates development aggression. An endless quest for economic growth and profit for the few has driven deforestation, extraction, and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, quickening the climate crisis and increasing the threat of future pandemics.

Since the pandemic, the term ‘just recovery’ has gained a lot of momentum, but it is not just ‘recovery’ that we seek. Rather, we are calling for a just and equitable transition that addresses the deep systemic inequalities and structural vulnerabilities, in and between countries, that has led to this level of COVID-19 related devastation and to climate impacts disproportionately affecting certain more marginalised groups. This is the moment to urgently advance long-needed systemic transformations, including a just and equitable transition to a fossil fuel free future in which human and environmental rights are a reality for all.

Central to such a transition, inter alia, is resisting development aggression by rigorously holding States and corporations accountable for human rights violations and abuses in the context of development. There is also a need to advance alternative models of development grounded in the mutual well-being of people and nature, already envisioned and implemented by Indigenous Peoples and other affected and resisting communities. For this to be possible, it is necessary to enforce Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination, an overarching principle of the international human rights framework. Further, there is a need to strengthen related rights including substantive rights to land, territory and resources, as well as process rights, such as free, prior, and informed consent. Self-determination provides a basis to act in ways that prioritise the needs of peoples based on their distinct identities, cultures, spirituality, and socio-political institutions. It is also important to enforce and strengthen land-related rights and participation rights of land-dependent communities. Taken together, these rights constitute an essential core for a just and equitable transition.

Some immediate and important strategic openings to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples and land-dependent communities include advocacy and action in relation to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ Draft General Comment on Land; the intergovernmental negotiations on the draft Treaty on Business and Human Rights; and the integration of human rights into the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. It is also imperative to ensure, at a minimum, that the rules governing carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement are consistent with the human rights obligations of States - in fact, to challenge carbon markets altogether as a false climate solution.

However, norms alone are not enough. We must urgently continue to build power through peoples’ movements and support enhanced international solidarity.

by Binota Moy Dhamai & Joie Chowdhury, ESCR-Net

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