Call for action on UN Indigenous Peoples' Day


Sunday the 9th August 2009 marks the UN's Indigenous Peoples' Day as Survival International renews its call for countries to sign up to the international law for tribal peoples.

ILO Convention 169, which marks its twentieth anniversary this year, is the only international law to recognise and protect the land rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. It is also a key instrument in the battle to save the world's rainforest, putting control of the land back in the hands of the people who have looked after it for generations.

There are approximately 100 million hectares of land, or 20 per cent of the Amazon region, held illegally according to the Brazilian government. The victims of this are almost always indigenous people whose only crime is to live on ancestral land with a high natural resource value. The result of these forced evictions can sometimes be violent clashes and the native people are then forced to live as peasants if they can't find another suitable area of forest. With dwindling forest reserves this is becoming harder and harder and it is estimated there are now 400,000 landless peasants in Brazil.


Yanomami people in Demini, Brazil

Fiona Watson, Survival International

Only 20 countries have ratified ILO 169 and of these only three are members of the EU.

Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami shaman from the Brazilian Amazon - dubbed the Dalai Lama of the rainforest - says: "I'm asking all governments to sign ILO 169 to guarantee our rights."

Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, a firm advocate of indigenous rights and former director of Kew, visited Yanomami communities several times between 1968 and 1980 and Davi Yanomami was his guide to the top of Pico Rondon. Prance told Plant Talk: "The conservation of the rainforest goes hand in hand with conservation of indigenous peoples. Some of the best preserved rainforest of the Amazon is in indigenous reserves such as that of the Yanomami."



Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Fiona Watson, Survival International


The UK refuses to ratify ILO 169 on the basis that there are no tribal peoples in the country, which ignores the impact of British-run projects on tribal communities. So far, 93 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion in parliament calling the government to ratify the convention without delay.

Prance continues: "My work with the Guarani people in the Atlantic Forest of Argentina has convinced me that we will need to protect these people if the forest is to survive. It is essential that as many countries as possible sign up to ILO 169."

Survival International's director Stephen Corry said: "Tribal peoples are among the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the world. When their land is taken from them, often in the name of development, they lose everything. If world leaders are serious about human rights and saving rainforests, they will ratify this law."