A parallel gathering to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City painted “a more accurate picture of the world,” and called for genuine development for the world’s 99 per cent.
BY VERNIE YOCOGAN-DIANO
Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center
“We are here to claim justice.”
As world leaders gathered in New York for the UN General Assembly on September 24, an alternative People’s General Assembly was organized outside that provided a more accurate picture of the state of the world.
The UN General Assembly debated how to deal with climate change as the world’s most urgent threat, a new set of development agenda, and indigenous peoples. But civil society are concerned that governments rarely present accurate pictures of ‘development.’
“When governments come together, they generally create rules to increase consumption at all costs and guarantee profit to corporations and the rich. These rules have required the loss of lands and livelihoods, slavery-like employment, militarisation and a climate that threatens the very survival of human beings” said the People’s General Secretary Vernie Yocogan-Diano, an indigenous woman from the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research
Center in the Cordillera Region, Philippines.
“People of the global South, women, indigenous peoples, peasants and food producers, workers and the majority of people on this planet who believe in justice, dignity and equality have had enough and will claim development justice” she added.
The 2nd People’s General Assembly, held on September 24, brought together people from all over the world who bear the brunt of economic inequality and global warming. Representing organizations of indigenous women and peoples, migrants, peasants, their stories illustrated the deadly impact of market-driven development policies, including land-grabbing, threats to food sovereignty, exploitation and persecution of migrants, development aggression, militarization and climate crisis. Together, they called for Development Justice, a model for development that calls for equality between men and women, between the rich and the poor, and between developing and wealthy countries.
Speakers included Agnes Kanaka, one of the world’ first environmental refugees from the sinking Carteret Islands. The Carteret atolls have been inundated by rising tides as a result of climate change, deep sea mining and the atolls’ topography, forcing them to migrate to Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.
“Our loss is not an accident. We believe our islands have been lost because of climate change and resource extraction. We did not cause the world to warm. We did not over-fish, over-log or try and become rich. But we are paying the price for those in the world who did.”
A similar demand for justice drives Efleda Kempis-Bautista, head of People Surge, an alliance of survivors of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. This massive storm destroyed homes, communities and livelihoods in the country. One year later, 14,500 still live in tent cities and rely on relief goods, as public services and government aid for the rebuilding of homes has been slow to come.
“We are here to claim justice. The devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a wake-up call to leaders about the fatal consequences of global warming and climate change to people, especially from developing countries,” said Bautista.
“We cannot abandon our agricultural heritage which for centuries has protected local community interests, and now in this day and age protects transnational companies,” says Norma Maldonado, a human rights campaigner and founder of Asociación Raxch’och’ OxlajuAj, a Guatemalan organisation to advance indigenous people’s rights and welfare. Maldonado is part of indigenous people’s struggles against the massive land-grabbing, human rights violations, and the monopolisation of seeds and plant life by foreign agro-transnational corporations and the Guatemalan government.
Alina Saba, an indigenous woman from Nepal and one of four civil society representatives selected from more than 500 applications to speak at the UN Climate Summit, raised that “climate change is essentially a social justice issue.”
“Indigenous women in the remotest parts of Nepal produce close to zero carbon emissions yet they are paying the highest price for other countries consumption. Are their lives to be continually surrendered to fulfill insatiable needs for consumption and profit?” she asked.
Elvira Arellano, a Mexican migrant rights activist, raised the rising migration of peoples from Latin America and the Carribean regions to North America in the context of a pervasive underdevelopment, extreme inequality and violence. She shared about the increasing militarization of the borders by the US and Mexican governments and assaults to migrants in transit. Elvira became an icon for Latin undocumented migrants and was banned for 20 years not to enter the US. Her son, now 11 months old, was the youngest political prisoner when Elvira was still in detention.
Jiten Yumnan, a journalist and indigenous peoples’ rights activist in Manipur, North East India shared about the enforcement of mega-dams by the Indian government in indigenous territories in North East India and the state of militarization that is exacerbating the human rights violations of both women and men including the youth and children.
Saro Pyagbara spoke about the struggle for justice and indemnification of the Ogoni indigenous peoples in Nigeria affected by Royal Dutch Shell’s operation. The efforts of Ogoni peoples to demand justice for the human rights violations — which included extrajudical killing of Ogoni leaders, violation of Ogoni peoples’ to self determination and environmental destruction – continue to fall on deaf ears of the giant oil company and the Nigerian government.
These powerful grassroot voices clearly presented the need for development justice that upholds the political will of redistributive justice, which aims to redistribute resources, power and opportunities to all human beings equitably especially the marginalized and excluded; economic justice which aims to develop economies that value human dignity and labor rights, addresses people’s needs and harness capabilities and respect the environment; gender and social justice that aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination, exploitation and marginalization based on gender, class, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexuality, age and other identities; environmental justice that restores the Earth’s planetary boundaries and redresses the historical responsibility of countries and elites within countries whose production and consumption patterns have led to climate change and environmental catastrophes, and accountability to the people that empowers the most marginalized and respect the exercise of free, prior and informed consent, particularly for indigenous peoples in all stages of development.
From the Philippines to Nepal to India; from Papua New Guinea to Nigeria, from Guatemala to Mexico, the speakers were one in declaring that the catastrophes caused by the neo-liberal framework of development requires movements of peoples all over the world to campaign and mobilize for development justice in creating a just world where a common good of all takes precedence over the interests of a tiny elite, where the needs and rights of women and men are realized, where the environment and the welfare of future generations is not sacrificed to benefit only a few. Speakers and representatives of allied civil society organizations present in the Assembly demanded that the emerging UN post-2015 development agenda must address the entrenched structural root causes that breed and reinforce the hegemony of a wealthy minority over the world’s 99% population.
In closing, secretary general Yocogan-Diano urged the participants to bring back the vibrance created in the assembly to their respective organizations and movements, share and coordinate actions thru the Campaign for People’s Goals for Development Justice and create more spaces in amplifying grassroot voices and others who seek development justice.
The People’s General Assembly was organized by the Campaign for People’s Goals for Sustainable Development, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, IBON International and Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self determination and Liberation.