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Rights Group: Indigenous Peoples Exploited in Rush for Resources

Boonrian Chinnarat holds a net he once used to catch giant catfish at his house in Chiang Kong district of Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Feb. 7, 2011. He blames the disappearance of the fish partly on China's upstream dams.
Boonrian Chinnarat holds a net he once used to catch giant catfish at his house in Chiang Kong district of Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, Feb. 7, 2011. He blames the disappearance of the fish partly on China's upstream dams.
Ron CorbenVOA

BANGKOK -- Human rights organization Minority Rights Group International says unprecedented demand for natural resources globally, but especially across Asia, is leading to ethnic conflict and displacement of indigenous communities.

In its annual report released Thursday, the group says the demand for resources covers such areas as logging and dams, oil, gas or mineral extraction, coastal tourism, commercial fisheries, conservation parks and large scale agriculture.

Carl Soderbergh, a spokesperson for Minority Rights Group International, says the global economic downturn, pressures to boost revenue sources, the emerging bio-fuel market, and resource exploitation has created a "perfect storm" in which minorities and indigenous peoples bear the brunt of demands.

“In terms of the trends globally, there’s been an intensification of the exploitation of natural resources pushing into areas populated by minorities and indigenous peoples," Soderbergh said. "We see this with regard to Latin America, in terms of mining in North America, the Alberta tar sands project. In Europe, we see, for example, wind farms and iron ore mining in the Arctic.”

In Africa, attention has focused on the leasing of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land for corporations and foreign governments for cash crops. The trends are of concern, said Soderbergh.

“This is a wave that has been mounting and increasing over the last 16 years or so. Everyone is chasing, all governments are chasing, a dominant development paradigm in which today minorities and indigenous peoples don’t really have a place, and that is the problem,” he said.

In Asia and South East Asia, mining development, dam construction and project development have had a widespread impact on the region’s hundreds of indigenous communities.

In China, investment in mining has forced herders off traditional grazing lands and ancestral villages in regions such as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, as well as in Tibet.

In Vietnam, over 90,000 people, mostly ethnic Thai,  were relocated to make way for the Son La hydropower plant with Vietnamese scientists warning many were left without access to agricultural land.

In Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest region, home to the Kuy indigenous people, official land grants of tens of thousands of hectares of forest for mineral extraction, timber and rubber plantations have forced many people to give up traditional livelihoods.

Conflict has also been evident in Indonesia where increased palm oil plantation development has been given priority as well as the mining industry in Papua.

Nicole Girard, the right’s group’s Asia Program Director, says conflict over land is on the rise in South East Asia, driven by foreign investment, especially from China.

“It’s definitely increasing, like the resource exploitation in indigenous peoples' territories. But one of the reasons in South East Asia is because the economies of Laos and Vietnam are opening to more foreign investment, including lots of Chinese investment, including Burma," said Girard.

Increased fighting in Burma’s ethnic-Micontrolled Kachin State over the past year is directly linked to conflicts over resource investment largely from Chinese business, she adds. 

In a separate report, the non-government group, Asia Indigenous People’s Pact (IPP) called for Asia’s governments to adhere to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People to ensure communities are fully consulted before development projects go ahead.

A spokesperson for IPP said the region’s governments had a “moral obligation” to respect United Nations agreements. Both groups say indigenous communities back natural resource development, but need the protection of and respect for human rights.

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