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Laos-Thailand: Hmongs escape abortive deportation

In January 2007, about 153 Hmong refugees escaped abortive deportation bid by the authorities in Thailand. On 26 January 2007, 16 Hmongs were deported pursuant to an agreement signed between Thailand and Laos in December 2006 while another 153detained in the north-east Thai town of Nong Khai faced deportation on 30 January 2007. The number of Hmong refugees was originally 152 but it rose to 153 on 29 January 2007 with the birth of a baby in detention.

The Thai Police personnel forced about 100 Hmong women and children onto the buses while men folk locked themselves in their detention cells.

The deportation bid was condemned across the spectrum. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that the refugees faced serious risk if refouled. There are an estimated 7,000 Hmongs who escaped from Laos and have been living in Phetchabun province but UNHCR has not been given access. Nonetheless, all the 153 Hmongs facing deportation had been recognized as refugees by UNHCR.

Following reassurances from the US, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands to resettle the Hmongs, the Thai authorities cancelled the deportation bid.

Vientiane fumed and wanted the Hmongs back. But there were few takers.

Malaysia: Certifying extinction of indigenous peoples

In 2001, the Malysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) started a dubious method of legalizing its illegal trade of timber by issuing “certificates” in the name of promoting environmentally sound logging practices.

The MTCC issues two certificates. - Certificate for Forest Management and    Certificate for Chain-of-Custody. The Certificate for Forest Management certifies that the Forest Management Units (FMU) is sustainably managed and that timber was harvested legally. The Certificate for Chain-of-Custody assures the buyers that timber products originated from MTCC-certified FMUs. MTTC states that participation and consent of local communities, particularly forest-dwelling indigenous people, is a key criterion for issuing of such “certificates”.  

However, since 2001, the Network of Indigenous Peoples and Non-Governmental Organisations on Forest Issues (JOANGOHutan) withdrew from talks with the government on certification process. The organisation held that the scheme is “only concerned with the sustainability of timber production and not the social-cultural sustainability of indigenous livelihoods”.  Like elsewhere, participation of indigenous peoples is tokenism at its best.

Malaysia can no longer even claim  token participation of indigenous peoples.

In January 2007, an official delegation of European Union visited Sarawak as part of the negotiations between the EU and Malaysia to reach a “Voluntary Partnership Agreement” to control illegal logging and work towards sustainable forest management in Malaysia. But the Sarawak authorities prevented the indigenous leaders from meeting the EU delegation.

The socalled certification process by the MTCC has been allowing the illegal loggers to flout the sustainable forestry practices and indigenous peoples' rights over their lands and resources. The MTCC has reportedly certified 4.73 million hectares of Permanent Forest Reserves (PFR) that include eight forest management units (FMU) in the peninsula and the Selaan-Linau FMU in Sarawak. The practice is therefore proving to be disastrous for the survival of the indigenous peoples who are largely dependent on forests produce.

Malaysia's timber giant Samling has been given certification by the MTTC to denude the forest in the Long Benali under Miri division of Sarawak.  Indigenous Penan communities inhabit these areas. Indigenous peoples have been protesting against Samling since 2004 but the Malaysian police are prevailing over.

In February 2004, Indigenous villagers prepared an unmanned road blockade to prevent illegal logging. After two years in June 2006, the blockade was destroyed by the Samling's workers near at settlement of Ba Abang.

Another unmanned blockade was developed by the indigenous peoples. However, of late, repression by forest officials with the help of the police has intensified. On 7 February 2007, the police removed the blockade imposed by the Penan indigenous peoples.

As we go the print, on 4 April 2007,  officers of the Sarawak Forestry Corporation with support from a  special police force unit, removed a Penan logging road blockade near Long  Benali.

Mahatir or not, Malaysia still remains  a police state.

Brazil: Warned again!

During its 70th session (19 February to 9 March 2007), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination further considered the situation of the Macuxi, Wapichan,  Taurepang, Ingarico and Patamona peoples in the indigenous area of Raposa Secra do Sol (RSS) of the State of Roraima, Brazil. The government of Brazil had submitted responses and NGOs also submitted additional information.

The CERD Committee was far from being convinced by Brazil's response. Despite the deadline of 15 April 2006 set by the Presidential Decree of 15 April 2005, the registration and evaluation of the occupations assessment have not yet been completed, nor has the removal of non-indigenous occupants been completed. Some occupants have refused the compensation granted to them, or have accepted it but have subsequently refused to leave. It is also reported that rice growers will soon start planting their crops, which will make their removal more difficult.

The CERD Committee urged Brazil to inform about (a) the current situation regarding: the process of registration and evaluation of occupation; regularization of agrarian land; payment of compensation and removal of non-indigenous occupants; (b) cases of refusal to accept compensation, or to leave, by non-indigenous occupants; (c) The new expected date for the total removal of non-indigenous occupants, pursuant to Portaria n° 534, of 15 April 2005.

Brazil has also been asked to report about the measures adopted to protect indigenous people in the face intimidation, hate speech towards them and the number of complaints received, prosecutions undertake and number of conviction taken place for acts of violence against indigenous people.

Moreover, the enactment of two municipal laws in Pacaraima (Laws No. 110/2006 and No. 111/2006) of September 2006 that establish non-indigenous governance over areas of RSS by expanding the borders of the Pacaraima Municipality and creating a new district directly within the most contentious and heavily populated indigenous region of RSS. The Government of Brazil was asked to provide information regarding the objectives of these laws and their impact on the indigenous peoples of RSS and their lands.

In fact, the Committee expressed concerned that the possible adoption of legislation defining the exception of “relevant public interest of the Union” with regard to “acts with a view to occupation, domain and possession” of indigenous land, established in paragraph 6 of article 231 of the Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil might affect the constitutional guarantee provided to indigenous lands.

Brazil is to reply by no later than 1 July 2007.

Nepal: Teach us federalism

Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) has been pressing for federalism in Nepal and proportional representation in the proposed Constituent Assembly. NEFIN states that its demand for federalism is different from the Maoists. Nepal declared itself as a federal State on 9 March 2007 through first amendment of the Interim Constitution but the details are missing.

On 15 February 2007, NEFIN organized a general strike in Kathmandu valley to press its demands. But,  General Secretary of NEFIN, Ram Bahadur Thapa Magar was severely beaten by hooligans when he was leading a group to enforce the bandha in Kalanki area, Kathmandu. He had to be admitted to Model Hospital with head injury. Police failed to arrest the hooligans. The proposal to ratify ILO Convention No 169 is unlikely to address the issues.

Peru: Summoned by CERD, ordered by IAHRC

Peru claims itself as the champion of indigenous rights. After all, it sponsored the failed resolution for adoption of the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in November 2006.

Yet, nine years have passed since 29 October 1998, Peru has failed to submit its its 14th to 18th periodic reports to the CERD Committee. Peru in the meantime boasted of an indigenous President Alejandro Toledo. The Committee had sent the list of issues on 31 December 2006.

On 9 March 2007, Chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination further expressed concerns about the allegations that indigenous community leaders and persons who were supporting the action of Comision  Juridica  Para  el  Autodesarrollo  de  los  Pueblos  Originarios  Andinos,   which has filed complaint with the CERD Committee under its early warning system, have been subjected to threats and intimidation. During the 69th session, the CERD Committee had considered on a preliminary basis under its early warning and urgent action procedures the information submitted by the Comision juridica para el autodesarrollo de los pueblos originarios andinos (CAPAJ) on the situation of the Aymara people located on the grasslands of the Altiplano in Peru.

Peru has been requested to reply by 1 July 2007 and send a delegation at the 71st session of the CERD from 30 July to 17 August 2007.

In the meantime, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked Peru to act swiftly to protect isolated Amazonian tribes from illegal loggers.

Will Peru listen?

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