As news of vaccines begins to emerge, signalling at least the beginning of the end of the pandemic that has so altered our ways of living this year, we offer this report as a contribution to understanding the impact of COVID-19 on indigenous and tribal peoples. It joins – and hopes to complement and contribute to – an increasingly broad and nuanced collection of papers, research and stories, and discussions which reflect that this pandemic has had a disproportionate and specific impact on these communities.
Our report “COVID-19 and indigenous and tribal peoples: The impacts and underlying inequalities” builds on the stories and responses of indigenous or tribal communities and peoples in ten countries. These foundational stories reflect both the specific nature of impacts felt, and also the grounded responses developed by peoples and communities who faced severe lack of direct support from health, hygiene or disease control, and crucial communication and information services of their central government.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, in his recent and powerful report into the impact of COVID-19 on indigenous peoples, also highlighted this absence of appropriate State response and the powerful, local efforts made – including voluntary isolation. Data generated by indigenous peoples’ organisations themselves under the Indigenous Navigator tools also reflected a lack of government services and highlighted indigenous responses that emerged from, and strengthened, governance and self-determination at the territorial level.
However darker stories about the roll back of legal protections for the rights of indigenous peoples, raised in our report, have also been researched and recorded, including in the excellent ‘Under the Cover of COVID’, by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and Rights and Resources Initiative. We have see evictions increase in Kenya. We have seen rushed, on-line and largely inaccessible ‘consultation’ processes in Colombia and in Peru, continued incursions into indigenous territories by private sector actors despite the spreading infections. The Omnibus Law in Indonesia, rushed through during the pandemic, is being challenged by Indonesian organisations in front of the UN human rights system.
As this report outlines, and as has been the case in the face of previous challenges, the ‘original sin’ of State failures to recognise and realise the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to their ancestral lands, and to self-determination as peoples, continues to stain their futures. Without security of tenure and self-determination, and full and effective participation in relevant planning and decision-making processes, catastrophic events such as this global pandemic that we are all living through will continue to have disproportionate impacts on indigenous peoples. It is only through recognition and protection of these underlying rights that indigenous and tribal peoples will stand as equals with all other peoples in facing challenges yet unknown.
Joyce Godio, the lead author, presented the report at the UNPFII expert group meeting on 9 December 2020. The meeting was livestreamed and can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/unpfii
Read the 11 country case studies studies here:
- Bangladesh case study: Sundarbans mangrove forest communities further marginalised by COVID-19 measures as super cyclone devastates livelihoods
- Cameroon case study: Indigenous peoples draw on spirit of solidarity to cope with COVID-19 and the measures to contain it
- Colombia case study: Rays of hope and a ‘March of Dignity’ during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Guyana case study: Wapichan nao (people) stand strong and resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic
- Indonesia case study: Minangkabau community observes lockdown by restoring their forest in West Sumatra
- Kenya case study: Forced evictions in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic leaves Sengwer community with no homes
- Peru case study: A Kichwa family, hungry and exposed to COVID-19, in eternal exodus
- Philippines case study: The Dumagat’s fight against the Kaliwa dam amid the COVID-19 pandemic
- Suriname case study: Indigenous village leader becomes teacher during pandemic
- Thailand case study: Highland indigenous communities on self-sufficiency, food security and land tenure during COVID-19
- Uganda case study: The COVID-19 pandemic sees hunger and poverty on the rise among the dispossessed Batwa
A note on terminology: While we use the term ‘indigenous and tribal peoples’ in this briefing, these terms are often not the ones chosen and used locally, and all case studies included in the briefing continue to use the terms most familiar to, and preferred by, local contributing authors.