SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the United Nations (UN) Victoria Tauli-Corpuz discussed indigenous peoples’ (IPs) rights in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on October 25 at Leong Hall.

Tauli-Corpuz’s talk emphasized upholding the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs) to achieve SDG 1, which aims to end poverty; SDG 2, which aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture; and SDG 10, which focuses on reducing inequality.

This event was organized by the Sanggunian and the Coalition of Ateneans for Indigenous Peoples (CAIP). 

Sustainable development

Tauli-Corpuz explained that UN formulated Agenda 21, an action plan for sustainable development, during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. As a result of IPs’ participation in the Summit, Chapter 26 in Agenda 21 was created. This chapter was entitled “Strengthening of the Role of Indigenous Peoples and Their Communities.” 

Tauli-Corpuz said that since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) only used average outcomes as indicators, such as the percent of poverty reduction, the rights of the marginalized were violated in the process.

She used Vietnam as an example of such violations. In order to raise coffee production, trees were cut so that coffee trees could be planted in those forests, but this was done at the expense of the IPs who were driven from their communities and denied subsidies. 

Tauli-Corpuz used pastoralists in Kenya as a second example. The government of Kenya fenced off lands for agricultural development, and the pastoralists were deprived of their grazing lands as a consequence. 

“[These] situations show that if you don’t look at the human rights, then you will put vulnerable groups in danger,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the SDGs include many references to IPs in their targets, while in contrast, there are no mentions of IPs concerns in the MDGs. Despite this, the IPs only acquired about 15% of the targets they were fighting for in the SDGs. Some of these included Targets 1.4, 2.3, 2.4, and 10.3.

Respecting IP practices and livelihood

Tauli-Corpuz related Targets 2.3 and 2.4 of SDG 2 to indigenous practices and how these activities could be used to achieve Goal 2. 

Target 2.3 mentions IPs and pastoralists and aims to achieve its goal through “secure and equal access to land.”

Meanwhile, Target 2.4 aims to “implement resilient agricultural
practices” to increase productivity, maintain ecosystems, and adapt to climate change and other natural disasters. 

Tauli-Corpuz said that a map developed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Association for IPs Development showed that the last remaining forests in the Philippines overlap with the remaining ancestral domains of the IPs. 

Tauli-Corpuz attributes this to the strict forest management systems used by IPs. 

The Igorots, for example, employ the practice of batangan, wherein they cannot sell pine trees or cut them without replacing them. 

Tauli-Corpuz also mentioned the muyong practice of the Ifugao. This entails maintaining woodlands near their rice terraces to ensure continuous provision of water.

Achieving equal rights

Tauli-Corpuz emphasized the importance of SDG 1’s Target 1.4, which focuses on the equal rights to land and property ownership. She stated that this target is important for IPs, since they have been pushing for collective rights to their lands and territories. 

She said that IPs are often displaced by government projects or companies and then forced to live in poverty and undergo situations in which IPs are being offered money in exchange for their lands.

Tauli-Corpuz noted that while IPs have the right to decide on the development that takes place on their lands, they should conduct environmental impact studies and cultural impact studies to assess the risks and opportunities of such offers.

She mentioned Target 10.3, which includes “ensuring equal opportunity” and “eliminating discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.” She emphasized making the Philippine education system sensitive to IPs’ diverse cultures and worldviews in order to provide equal opportunities.

“[If this is not achieved] we will end up in a situation where only the dominant cultures and languages are being used,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

Monitoring and working for sustainable development

Tauli-Corpuz talked about how IPs have been pushing for the aggregation of data in order to make assessments of the UN’s SDG indicators. 

“[Data collection] should be done so that that the realities of the IPs will be reflected when these reports are made,” she said. 

According to her, if a country has agreed to respect the rights of IPs, then they can be assessed by looking at budget allocation, institutions formed, and laws developed by the government.

She also talked about the importance of conducting research on IPs “respectfully.” She recommended bringing back the results and asking the IPs to assess the findings.

“IPs do not just become the subjects of research,” Tauli-Corpuz said. “They should also take part [in it].”

Lastly, she called on students to go on field if they wish to help IPs by collecting data.

“The SDGs are a good framework that can be concretely measured and used to empower communities that are [often] left behind,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

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