Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples in South-East Asia

Article excerpt

[Very little has been written on indigenous rights in South-East Asia. This article attempts to address issues concerning indigenous land rights in the region, arguing that there is a clear gap between the existing situation and the relevant standards of the international human rights system. After a short overview of the international human rights framework currently binding South-East Asian states, the article analyses issues of indigenous land ownership and control by indigenous peoples over matters affecting their land rights. The article then discusses traditional economic activities, natural resources, indigenous environmental management and finally to issues of relocation and compensation. In each of the aforementioned areas, indigenous land rights are generally non-existent or very weak. Even on occasions when national legislation has recognised strong indigenous land rights, the lack of political motivation to properly enforce these rights impedes their full realisation. The article demonstrates that this inadequacy is inconsistent with international standards on the prohibition of discrimination, protection of minority cultures and more specifically on indigenous land rights, as are recognised in international instruments, interpreted by international bodies and transferred into national practices.]

CONTENTS

I    Introduction
II   The General Framework
III  Collective Ownership and Possession
IV   Consultation and Participation
V    Traditional Activities and Natural Resources
VI   Relocation
VII  Restitution and Compensation
VIII Conclusions

I INTRODUCTION

Recent reports suggest that indigenous peoples in South-East Asia face serious problems, some of which endanger their very survival in a rapidly changing environment. (1) Despite the gravity of the indigenous peoples' situation, indigenous rights in South-East Asia have attracted relatively little interest from the international legal community. Voices from Australia, New Zealand and North America have been more prominent within the transnational indigenous movement. Although their perspectives have given voice to needs that are similar to those of indigenous peoples in other regions, by virtue of their prominence they have also muffled the voices of their South-East Asian counterparts. These voices do not pierce the global consciousness with the same force--few Asian groups have had the means to maintain active involvement in the international arena and to put their claims on the international agenda.

At the same time, South-East Asian states consistently abstain from participating in the international human rights fora and monitoring bodies that address indigenous rights issues. For instance, United Nations treaty-based bodies have repeatedly reprimanded South-East Asian states for not submitting the required monitoring reports. (2) Likewise, these states have not been vocal in UN debates on indigenous rights. (3) This reluctance to become more directly involved leads to the limited availability of credible information regarding indigenous peoples' rights, and more importantly, a lack of serious discussion with the states about the situation of indigenous groups in their territories.

This article attempts to shed some light on the situation of indigenous peoples in South-East Asia, namely Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Although the broad geographical focus of the article runs the risk of making some generalisations, research has shown that land rights disputes constitute a fundamental concern for all indigenous peoples in the region.

Projects implemented by transnational corporations currently pose the main threat to indigenous land rights and continuing survival on these lands. Developing states generally welcome international corporations and are willing to cooperate with them, even at the expense of the environment and local populations, because they view further involvement with these corporations as a means to advance their own country's economic development. …