First UN conference on indigenous peoples mum on self-determination, state violence

“If States are really in good faith in adopting the UNDRIP and adhering to international human rights standards, why did they not accept and consider our proposal and call for an end to militarization of indigenous peoples and their territories?” – Windel Bolinget, Cordillera Peoples Alliance


MANILA — Igorot and Lumad leaders expressed “disappointment” that the Outcome document of the first-ever conference on indigenous peoples came up short on the signatory states’ commitment to respect the right to self-determination and to stop militarization in indigenous peoples’ communities.

The First UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) was held Sept. 22 to 23, the first of the high-level plenary meetings of the 69th UN General Assembly in New York City. The Outcome Document on the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples was adopted at the opening ceremony of the conference.

In the outcome document, states gave their commitment to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples in legislative and policy-making measures, work toward providing quality education and health services, ensuring the welfare of IPs with disabilities, protecting IP children and women against violence, empowerment of IP women and youth, recognizing traditional health practices and justice systems, among others.

Indigenous leaders who participated in the conference, however expressed “disappointment” with the Outcome Document, which made no mention of the IP’s right to self-determination, as well as on state violence and political repression of indigenous peoples.

“We express our great disappointment and condemnation that nothing in the Outcome document mentions about commitment from States to stop state violence, militarization, and political repression against indigenous peoples,” said Windel Bolinget, chair of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, in the roundtable discussion at the WCIP.

Among the participants in the WCIP were leaders of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp), the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN), and the international group Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL).

Bolinget said states would continue human rights violations and militarization of indigenous communities, which have hindered the implementation of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“Our collective rights to our ancestral lands, territories and resources continue to be violated as State military forces are deployed in our communities to protect destructive projects and corporate plunder,“ Bolinget added.

“If States are really in good faith in adopting the UNDRIP and adhering to international human rights standards, why did they not accept and consider our proposal and call for an end to militarization of indigenous peoples and their territories?” said Bolinget. “Our rights as indigenous peoples can never be implemented for as long as these situations are not changed.”

Bolinget also called for the immediate pull out of the Phil. Army’s 41st Infantry Battalion in Lacub, Abra where massive military operations have been ongoing in the tribal communities since the first week of September. He said 41st IB soldiers are suspected of being responsible for the deaths of development worker Engineer Fidela Salvador and indigenous peasant Noel Viste, who were killed along with seven members of the New People’s Army on Sept. 4 to 6.

An initial investigation by the human rights watchdog Karapatan belied claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines that the rebels and civilians were killed in an encounter. An urgent call by Karapatan raised the “probability” that soldiers killed the NPA rebels who were hors de combat or were already incapacitated to fight back, a violation of International Humanitarian Law.

The CPA chair also called for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which was signed between the Government of the Philippines (formerly called the Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. He also called for the resumption of the peace talks between the two parties “to address the root causes of the armed conflict towards a just and lasting peace.”

Bolinget echoed calls to scrap the Aquino government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, calling it a “continuing state policy of terror which targets civilians and activists.” Under Aquino, there have been 47 victims of extrajudicial killings, bombings and military encampment in indigenous communities, resulting to at least 17 cases of forced evacuations and affecting thousands of civilians, arrests and arbitrary detention of indigenous leaders based on trumped-up charges.


Bolinget also decried that the WCIP Outcome Document “made no explicit mention” of the indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination. “Self-determination is the essence of indigenous peoples’ existence and the genuine respect and recognition of our collective rights over our lands, territories and resources is the basis of our survival as a people.”

“Land is life. However, these rights are way far from being implemented due to the intensified State and corporate plunder of our lands, territories and resources under the current neoliberal development paradigm which puts State interests and corporate profit over people’s genuine development and well-being.” Bolinget said.

Bolinget called for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995. He also called for the abrogation of the Regalian Doctrine provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, “a colonial imposition that institutionally declared us squatters in our own lands and territories.”

There are at least 251 approved mining applications covering 532,368 hectares in indigenous peoples’ territories, Bolinget said. “Alongside destructive mining projects are corporate energy projects, with at least 27 hydroelectric dams now posing a grave threat to thousands of indigenous peoples,” he added.

Bolinget also cited the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (Ipra), which provides for the universally-accepted standard of free, prior and informed consent in recognition of the IP right to ancestral lands and self-determination. He however said the law “has served as a tool of the State and foreign capitalists for the continued plunder of indigenous peoples’ territories and resources.

He also called for the dissolution of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), which he said “facilitated the entry and implementation of corporate and destructive projects at the expense of indigenous peoples’ rights.”

‘No peace, no justice’

On Sept. 23, Tuesday (Sept. 24 in the Philippines), indigenous peoples staged a rally outside the Columbia University in New York where President Aquino spoke at the World Leaders’ Forum.

“No peace, no justice,” shouted Igorot and Lumad tribes in traditional garments, along with other Filipino activists. In an emailed statement about the action, Kamp spokesperson Piya Malayao said: “He (Aquino) has absolutely no right to speak of peace and progress while the survivors of Haiyan continue to suffer from sub-human conditions in evacuation centers.”

Inside the forum, two activists were led out after interrupting Aquino as he spoke.

Malayao said communities hit by typhoon Haiyan continue to suffer almost a year after due to the Aquino government’s “incompetence.”

“There are some 15,000 families of indigenous peoples affected in the islands of Panay, Mindoro and Palawan, and more than half have not regained their livelihood and productivity of their lands,” Malayao said.

Source of strength

The IPMSDL, in its parallel activity, stressed that engagement with the UN and international bodies is only one of the arenas of struggle.

“Indigenous peoples do not rely merely on the UN to provide solutions for their long-drawn-out struggles for their rights,” said Beverly Longid, IPDSDL coordinator. “The UN is essentially a place where states consolidate themselves, we are on the fringes of the talks on these halls. Indigenous peoples need to build up their organizations from the grassroots, where we draw our strength.”

IPMSDL is composed of IP leaders, groups, communities and advocates from Asia, Pacific, Australia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America.

In a statement, IPMSDL said the group “stands for the rights of indigenous peoples for self-governance, and for liberation from virtual genocide resulting from minoritization and marginalization in their own lands.” (

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