There is much to celebrate since the 2007 signing of the Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)1. The internationalization of Indigenous rights has certainly not been without consequence. The signing of the Declaration, the development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights2, and an increasing corporate attention to the issues and practice of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) have confirmed the minimum standards of consultation and consent for proposed development on Indigenous lands. Indigenous communities have gained visibility and political profile both within Nation States and internationally. Indigenous communities globally are increasing their communication and collaboration with one another. The internationalization of Indigenous rights has contributed to increased Indigenous efforts to exercise rights to consultation and to decision making power regarding access to and development of Indigenous lands and resources. To what end?
Corporate and state responses have not reflected the hopes of the Declaration. In 2017, 10 years after the signing of the Declaration, there is documented evidence of increased criminalization of, violence against, and deaths of Indigenous leaders, activists and allies. It was reported that in 2016, 281 people were killed while defending Indigenous lands and environmental rights in relation to mining and other resource development projects. It was also reported that beyond the tremendous and tragic cost of lives lost, “Many other Indigenous human rights defenders are subjected to violent attacks and threats, enforced disappearances, illegal surveillance, travel bans, blackmail, sexual harassment and other forms of violence and discrimination… and subjected to false claims of criminal activities or terrorism.”3 A 2016 report from the Osgoode Law School has confirmed over 700 cases of criminalization related to Canadian mining operations in Latin America alone.4 The Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, stated that the “Forum is concerned, in particular, by cases where it appears that the interests of investors are better protected than the rights of indigenous peoples. It reiterates that States and the private sector must respect the human rights of indigenous peoples by ensuring the effective implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”5
The internationalization of Indigenous rights is a wake up call. The world’s 350 million Indigenous peoples have rights to, and responsibilities for, their lands and resources that have not previously been recognized, or respected. A decade after the signing of the Declaration nation states, and the global corporate community, should be held to account for the implementation of the Declaration and adherence to the Guiding Principles. Exercising inherent, treaty, and international rights must not put Indigenous peoples at increased risk of violence, criminalization, and death.