Asia's tribal people decry continuing threats to survival

Despite some progress many governments in the region are still reluctant to recognize rights to ancestral lands
Asia's tribal people decry continuing threats to survival

A member of an indigenous tribe in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao join a demonstration in Manila on July 24 to protest the implementation of martial law in the region. (Photo by Mark Saludes)


The traditional way of life for Asia's indigenous peoples remains under threat as many governments in the region are still reluctant to recognize their rights to ancestral lands, a regional tribal community movement has said.

"The continuity of our existence … remains under threat by militarization, development aggression, displacement and cultural domination," the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact said.

The group marked International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on Aug. 9 by calling on Asian governments "to strengthen dialogue and partnership with indigenous peoples."

The 25-year old organization of Asian tribal groups said their traditional institutions "have been greatly weakened by the imposition of state structures and external legal systems."

Yet despite this the group, said the cause for indigenous peoples has made "strides" in some countries.

At least five countries in the region — Nepal, Cambodia, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines — have passed laws recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples. 

In Myanmar, the government has adopted a new land use policy that recognizes the customary land tenure of indigenous peoples.

Indonesia has also adopted in recent months guidelines for the identification of customary people and recognition of their customary territory.

The tribal group said the implementation of these state policies "have the potential to change the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters in a significant way."

But threats, especially from government-sponsored "development projects," continue in many parts of the region.

In the Philippines, tribal communities in the southern part of the country have been displaced by mining operations, according to the government's National Anti-Poverty Commission.

The commission noted that mining interests in Mindanao are behind "massive environmental destruction, human rights violations, and widespread displacement of tribal communities."

In "unity actions" to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on Aug. 9, Philippine tribal groups reiterated calls for an end to attacks against their communities.

Pya Macliing Malayao of the tribal people's alliance Katribu said that in the past 12 months at least 23 tribal people have become victims of summary executions.

She said that since last year, military operations in Mindanao have resulted in the displacement of some 17,500 indigenous peoples, including the forcible closure of 27 tribal schools.

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