CELEBRATION OF INTERNATIONAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: An Appeal to StateParties of the UNFCCC COP28 to Protect Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Protect Biodiversity,Prevent Climate Catastrophe and Move towards a “Fossils out, Peoples In” World

Giovanni B. Reyes
President, Philippine ICCA Consortium
Chairman, Global Environment Facility – Indigenous Peoples’ Advisory Group

The 75th year of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights today comes with urgent calls on countries to the ongoing Conference of Parties 28 (COP 28 UNFCCC) to align Indigenous Peoples’ rights, prevent biodiversity loss and ensure rights-based nature solutions.

Comprising 476 million or 16% of the planet’s 8.8 billion population and inhabiting a quarter of global area, Indigenous Peoples manage 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity.

This role in biodiversity and climate response does not only limit temperature increase to 1.5 Degrees Celcius but has already simultaneously addressed three goals being sought by parties to the COP 28.

  1. Improve outcomes for carbon. Indigenous Peoples are already “managing at least 54,546 million metric tons of carbon (Mt C) or equivalent to 250 times gas emissions from global air travel.” One tenth of the total amount of tropical forest carbon traditionally governed is capable of holding 22,322 million metric tons of carbon (MtC) equivalent to gas emissions of more than 17 billion passenger cars annually. In the Philippines, 154,868 hectares of documented indigenous peoples’ community conserved areas (ICCAs) holds 10.5 million tons of carbon equivalent to gas emission of 7 million cars annually.
  2. Biodiversity goal. Science and policy have spoken: “Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are often better placed than scientists to provide detailed information on local biodiversity.” Global pillars of finance and conservation have showed findings and reported higher levels of deforestation and biodiversity loss in State-managed “strict protection zones” of Protected Areas (PAs) compared to areas managed under traditional governance of indigenous peoples.
  3. Livelihood and well-being. Biodiversity as managed by indigenous peoples are integral to livelihoods that help households respond to climate change stressors.

These goals as addressed reveal at which scale indigenous peoples’ role play in global climate response, and the level Parties to COP28 are, in terms of proportionate responsibility – here is a sector holding gigantic responsibility with few coins, whether from Asia or Africa, North America or South Pacific, Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe acting as one voice for humanity, and State Parties and Private sector meeting to determine who between developed and developing countries should take the lead in mitigation actions. While at this, Indigenous Peoples’ territories are seen as “goldmines” for carbon credits and offsets.

The eviction of 1000 families of the Ogiek people from the Mau forest they consider home for centuries followed an agreement between the Kenyan government and a Dubaibased firm Blue Carbon for the production of carbon credits. The Kenyan government’s reason for eviction is to stop illegal logging activities and remove “trespassers.” In recent years, court rulings from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) ordered the Kenyan government to restore Ogiek as rightful land owners. This was ignored.

A forum at the ongoing COP28 supports the court ruling, and showed that the Ogiek people “are not the corporations that are doing logging, we are not licensed loggers, we have no power to convert lands, and no power to give concessions. The same forum revealed that 14 Maasai villages numbering about 50,000 people in Loliondo, Ngorongoro, Tanzania have been evicted to pave the way for “conservation, a game reserve in agreement with a hunting company” resulting in, 2,700 Maasai people crossing the Kenya border as refugees (June 2022). Prior to eviction, 27 Maasai leaders were arrested and charged for murder.

A panelist from Cameroon said, Mbororo indigenous peoples’ pastoralists are targeted for eviction for reasons of being “strangers,” and are “from other parts of Africa.” The forum revealed that “Protected Areas are established that prevent indigenous peoples from doing their hunting, do fishing, and pushed to live in roadsides and unable to practice their indigenous knowledge and customary practices.”

Similar cases have been reported in world’s biodiversity hotspots of the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil and the Congo. In Asia, large scale mining operations, logging and hydroelectric dams pose the largest threat to the country’s biodiversity hotspots and indigenous communities that protect them. The defense of environment by indigenous leaders in the Philippine face red-tagging, trumped-up charges and designation as terrorists that alarmed not only the UN Human Rights Council. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reported that “many of those red-tagged are subsequently killed” while the United States Congress cited the Tumandok Massacre “as a responsibility of the Philippine National Police that amounts to crimes against humanity.” The U.S Congress said, “red-tagged activists have been demonized as terrorists.” In July this year, four Indigenous Igorot activists from the Cordillera of Northern Philippines were charged with “terrorist designation” under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 despite court dismissal of trumped-up rebellion cases against them.

The use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) has been observed as a strategy to silence critics of projects that pose significant risks or negative environmental impacts on biodiversity hotspots. The case of grave slander filed against Save River Network by a giant logging company drew international attention on the ravaging of Kenyah-Jamok indigenous peoples’ forests of Sarawak, Malaysia. The company withdrew lawsuit a day before the court hearing.

On December 8, 2023, an indigenous Tagbanua youth was arrested for grave slander by a police officer. Earlier labeled as “communist,” he led against destruction of their seaweed farm and threats of eviction. Showing proofs of official recognition of ancestral domain ownership under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), this was met with mockery, “we do not recognize the IPRA law!” Last month, Ian Fry, the First UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the context of Climate change described the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, as “a law that harass, vilify and kill environmental human rights defenders. He proposed government disbandment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for operating with impunity.

Of urgent concern globally are plans at doubling fossil production by the world’s top 20 producers of fossils from developed countries, and are responsible for 86% of emissions. A grim future has been spelled that by 2030, coal extraction shall have increased by 460%, oil at 29% and gas at 82%. This moves humanity into a loss and damage world where adaptation will not be possible.

To avert moving to a grim world, it is here recommended that:

  1. Parties align just transition processes and the Global Stocktake with the rights and interests of indigenous peoples given the unmatched role they provide at the core of climate action. This puts into action Art. 7, Par 5, of the Paris Accord which takes into consideration knowledge of indigenous peoples in environmental policies;
  2. Parties affirm Indigenous peoples Rights to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) including the right to give or withhold FPIC to a project. These rights are reflected in UNDRIP (2007), American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2016), the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazu Agreement, 2021). These instruments mark a departure from historical attitude towards indigenous peoples from discrimination to one of recognition and respect that State parties are under international obligation to recognize and respect;
  3. Parties conduct negotiations with indigenous peoples without coercion and manipulation, and by utilizing their traditional decision making and governance systems as reflected by treaty conventions and declarations. This includes consultations and negotiations done in a language indigenous peoples understand, and ensure that their participation puts them as co-creators, co-producers, and coowners of decisions made;
  4. That parties hold a ceasefire on fossil use by moving for a phase out of fossil fuels to avert moving into a “loss and damage” world;
  5. Parties to urge countries to stop criminalization of indigenous peoples’ organizations in the forefront of defense of environmental and ancestral domains, and take appropriate actions in line with State parties’ international human rights obligations; and,
  6. That indigenous peoples play relevant role in financial systems under their own terms as a true reflection of their unmatched roles in biodiversity conservation and climate action.


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  9. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights twice ruled in favor of the Ogiek people, first, in a Landmark Ruling on May 26, 2017 followed by a Reparation Ruling on June 22, 2022.
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  15. Oxford Business Group. Philippines, the 5th most mineralized county globally, and 3rd largest deposit of gold (See also Cruz Marcelo and Tenefrancia in “mining in the Philippines – Lexology. https://www.lexology.com
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  17. ICJ Legal Briefing. “Danger in Dissent: Counter terrorism and Human Rights in the Philippines.” January 2022.
  18. Nine (9) Tumandok leaders opposed to the Jalaur Dam massacred on March 7, 2021. 6
  19. Wild, Susan et. al. U.S Congress. Letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to “address the human rights crises in the Philippines.” Washing D.C. January 24, 2022.
  20. NTFP EP. “Malaysian Timber Giant Drops lawsuit against Save Rivers Network.” September 19, 2023 .
  21. Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title No. RO4-COR-0110-150-A of Tagbanua-Calamian covering Barangays of Malawig, Tara, portion of Buenavista and covering the Islands of Tino-ol Dicatub, Dialiinget, Napacud, Kamanga Maliit 1, Kamanga Maliit 2, Kamanga Malaki, Dipasok, Ditubay, Tara, Lagas, Bantak and Kalangayaon, Municipality of Coron,and Island of Dinumpalik, Municipality of Busuanga, Province of Palawan containing an area of 82,856,259 hectares. National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Office of the President, Quezon City. March 28, 2023.
  22. Philippine State Law recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights to ancestral lands and domains. 1997
  23. Reyes Giovanni. Conversation with Quijano, Jeruel who expressed dismay saying, “that’s generally the view of non-IPs who have made it here as migrants in our islands. After we’ve welcomed them, they’ve turned against our interests as they go about their elective position. Whom are they working for?
  24. Fry, Ian. Press Conference on his findings of Human rights Situation in the Philippines. Quezon City. Philippines. November 25, 2023. Anti- Terrorism Council under the Anti Terrorism Act of 2020 passed under the Duterte Administration.
  25. Statement, Head Delegate from Colombia. Opening, Plenary Session COP 28, UAE. December 9, 2023 26. Online Conversation with UP Anthropology Professor Fras Abaya. Quezon City. December 6, 2023.
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