The UN Human Rights Council – the highest body in the UN tasked with overseeing human rights law – has just finished meeting in Geneva. In a statement, a group of indigenous peoples’ organisations and non-governmental organisations urged the Council to urgently consider, and provide guidance on, the human rights obligations of multilateral finance institutions, an issue of key importance as these institutions review and update their safeguard systems.
By Samuel Nnah Ndobe. The notion of indigenous people has sometimes been controversial in Africa. There are some opinions that consider all Africans as indigenous people liberated from colonial powers, while others simply stress that it is very difficult to determine who is indigenous in Africa.
Projects and programme interventions of multilateral development banks have a record of systematic and widespread human rights violations for indigenous peoples in Asia. In many countries, indigenous peoples have been subjected to widespread displacement and irreversible loss of traditional livelihoods. Behind these human rights violations is the denial of indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources and to their right to give their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to projects and programme interventions, including those in the name of sustainable development and human development. Among them, the large infrastructure (dams and highway construction) and environmental “conservation” projects have had the most detrimental adverse impacts on indigenous peoples. There are a good number of examples of such projects that have negatively impacted indigenous peoples’ communities in Asian countries, some of which follow below.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) is nearing completion of its new set of environmental and social safeguard policies. The AfDB is currently the only multilateral development bank without a standalone safeguard policy on indigenous peoples, and the new environmental and social safeguards are not expected to change this. This is despite strong advocacy from indigenous peoples’ organisations in Africa, and despite the existing jurisprudence and standards on indigenous rights in the African human rights system.
As multiple international agencies adopt and update their social and environmental policies, this special edition Forest Peoples Programme E-Newsletter reviews experiences of communities and civil society with the safeguard policies of various international financial institutions.
In 2010 the African Development Bank (AfDB) committed to develop new ‘safeguard standards’. These are policies which are intended to provide the Bank and its borrowers with a framework to assess and mitigate social and environmental risk. In so doing, the Bank is following the lead of other regional multilateral development banks (Asian, European, Inter-American) and the World Bank and International Finance Corporation.
The importance of ensuring respect for the rights of forest peoples’ to control their forests, lands and livelihoods, becomes ever clearer and yet more contested. As the articles in this edition of our newsletter starkly reveal, land and resource grabs are not just being imposed by commercial developers but are being actively promoted by governments, whose principle responsibility should be to protect the rights of citizens. Yet these same impositions are also being resisted, sometimes at great personal cost, by local communities and indigenous peoples.
The African Development Bank is in the process of developing a new Integrated Safeguards System to guide its future lending in Africa. This paper argues that the measures to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in the proposed draft fall far below accepted international norms and standards and need substantial revision. The African Development Bank needs to adopt a standalone policy on Indigenous Peoples consistent with the rights of peoples and indigenous peoples as set out in the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The current draft text puts the AfDB itself, its borrowers and its clients all at risk of developing projects that are not only contrary to African and international standards, but which are likely to generate social conflict rather than promote sustainable development.