Human rights excluded from COP21

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Indian Country Today Media Network, Paris

Indigenous communities are considered some of the most vulnerable to climate change but their traditional knowledge could be part of the solution

The Greenpeace giant polar bear was brought to COP21 on Wednesday to add pressure on governments to agree an ambitious climate deal. The bear stood over civil society activists and representatives of Indigenous Peoples from north and south, demanding climate action and for the rights of Indigenous Peoples to be specifically included. The manifestation was a response for the exclusion of human rights from the negotiating text this week.

 Vyzcheslav Shadrin from the Yukagir people in the Russian Far East said that it is unfair that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are not included in the text. “We are on the frontline of climate change, and are suffering its first and worst impacts. So we have a right to be recognized in this international forum”, he said.

Including human rights in the agreement is also about people like Maria Leuza, from the Mundurukus people, who live along the Tapajos River in the Amazon basin in Brazil and talked about the construction of the big dam Belo Monte that, according to her, is destroying her community because it requires the flood of a huge part of their lands and affects fishing. 516 km2, a space bigger than the city of Chicago, will be flooded for the dam.

Maria Leuza denounced the death threats they have faced in her community. “We are the people of Tapajós and we are suffering because they are destroying our forests, our land and our fishing”, she said. She explained the dam will destroy her culture and she asked the people to spread the word so everybody knows about what is happening in Tapajós.

 Also Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace talked about it and said that “with less than three days remaining, negotiations must not stall. Ministers have to bring ambition to the long term goal, so that we have full decarbonisation by 2050 and financial support for the most vulnerable”.

 He emphasized that “as we fight to protect the climate, we must also fight for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, who are on the frontline of the growing climate crisis. When this polar bear roars, she roars for billions of people, and she roars loudest for those on the frontlines of climate change”, he said.

 Advances away from the communities

 Meanwhile, without mentioning the indigenous, negotiators announced this week they are optimistic about the advance in the negotiations regarding forests. In a press release, Daniel Vicente Ortega Pacheco, delegate from Ecuador and Henri Djombo, from the Republic of Congo said that they perceive a general understanding on the importance of forests for the mitigation and adaptation of climate change. “This will be, in a way, reflected in the agreement”.

 They announced that parties have already identified what are their ‘must be’ issues and their possible commitments to get there.

Outside the rooms of negotiations the International Indigenous Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) insisted that measures and policies in achieving the objectives of the climate change convention should be anchored to the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples.

 “The respect and protection of our rights is a critical element in order to further the maximum potential of indigenous peoples, traditional knowledge, innovations and sustainable livelihoods”, they pointed.

 The organization emphasized that “the agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, and in accordance with the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.

According to the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, 5% of global population are indigenous; they are the owners of 25% of global land and are responsible for 80% of world's remaining biodiversity. Population, land and biodiversity are some of the key issues of the negotiation. Nevertheless the communities directly involved with them are not seated in the negotiating table.

Deforestation, mainly conversion of forests for agriculture activities, has been estimated at an alarming rate of 13 million hectares per year. Forests, where most indigenous communities live, capture close than 5% of all emissions made by humans, according to the Center for International Forestry Research.