Intervention of the Pacific Caucus, Rio+20

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20, 20-22, June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Intervention of the Pacific Caucus DRAFT: Establishing an Independent Regional Indigenous Peoples Monitoring Authority for the implementation of regulating agreements impacting pacific peoples and our resources. Written by Santi Hitorangi,   The Pacific Caucus from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues welcomes the opportunity given by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to comment on the impact of the Fukushima reactor spill, large scale resource exploration, degradation and depletion by transnational corporations on indigenous peoples’ land and territories, affecting our environments and livelihoods, undermining our economic, cultural and spiritual life and threatening the existence of many indigenous peoples of our region.   Recognition and protection of core indigenous rights are critical to REDD+ projects taking place in indigenous territories and must be effectively addressed by the UN-REDD. We have four recommendations:  
  1. We, respectfully, ask the Permanent Forum to urge all States to recognize our right to our lands, oceans and resources, and that any military, industrial or mining uses be first approved by the free, prior and informed consent of our Pacific Peoples.
  2. We, respectfully, request that a percentage of the taxes and royalties States receive from companies who profit from our resources to be proportionately allocated to fund the establishing of an Independent Regional Indigenous Peoples Monitoring Authority.
  3. We, respectfully, call upon the United Nations Conference of Sustainable Development to urge all States to work with Indigenous Peoples to ensure the full implementation and the legal application of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recognize our human rights and fundamental freedoms to self-determination and self-governance.
  4. We, respectfully, call upon the United Nations to assist with the creation of a region wide, independent and indigenous rightsholders-led agency to review and regulate the environmental and economic impact of resource depletion in our region. We seek an agency whose principal rightsholders are the cultural and traditional practitioners whose economic livelihoods are most impacted by exploiting our economic and environmental resources.
  The very survival and future of Pacific Island Peoples is linked directly on the policies and practices of States and of international institutions and organizations.   The World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank[1]; have projects funded that have been negative and counterproductive to the interests of indigenous peoples and have often contributed to violating our fundamental rights by creating conditions of debt and poverty.   The World Bank has an operational policy on indigenous peoples that states that for any proposed projects that affect indigenous peoples, the borrower is required to engage in the process of free, prior and informed consent and that the projects include measures to (a) avoid potentially adverse effects on the indigenous peoples’ communities; or (b) when avoidance is not feasible, to minimize, mitigate or compensate for such effects.[2]   1) New Caledonia, a new nickel refinery belonging to Brazilian mining giant Vale is due to start full production next year.[3] Vale has brokered a so-called Sustainable Development Agreement with New Caledonia’s Kanak leaders in 2008. The company aims to become the largest nickel producer. In 2009, more that 40,000 litres of 98% pure sulphuric acid was released into a river leading into the mouth of Prony Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage bumper zone.[4] This resulted in peoples who depend entirely on the farming and fishing to survive are forced to endure serious ramifications to their health and their ability to sustain themselves in the territories belonging to the Thio, Kouaoua, Wawilu and Poum, among others.   2) Pacific Island countries and territories that have leased out swathes of the deep seabed in their Exclusive Economic Zones for exploration of minerals to transnational mining companies.[5] The Solwara 1 Project owned by Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian company, operates in Papua New Guinea and is the only deep seabed mining project that is in full operation. As the technology develops for the acquisition of lucrative gold, silver, copper, nickel, and rare-earth deposits, we are concerned that small island nations will be at a tremendous disadvantage in protecting themselves from potential accidents and mishaps resulting from these large transnational mining projects. As of yet, there has been no Environmental Impact Study that has conclusively shown the mitigation of the impact of the mining process on ecology of the deep seabed, on fisheries closer to shore, or on the fragile reef system that is home to the greatest diversity of life on the planet. 3) In Rapa Nui, our people are struggling against a tidal wave of developments proposals by the Chilean government in conjunction with international investment regimes, such as TransOceanica, for mining projects, airfields, ports, casinos, and hotels. Rapa Nui has been engaged in an unresolved decades long land rights and self-determination struggle with Chile. Now, Rapa Nui is at risk of being crushed under the weight of a regional free-trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which Chile ratified in 2005. This free-trade agreement and proposed development projects will irreparably damage a UN World Heritage site, to the detriment to Rapa Nui, while primarily benefitting the Chilean government and the non-Rapa Nui investment regimes.   4) We are deeply distressed by the growing radioactive plume engulfing the Pacific Northwest region from to the ongoing Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster. We must participate in the development and implementation of a comprehensive plan, based on reliable scientific data, to assist Pacific peoples in monitoring and protecting health, food and regional resources due to this nuclear disaster. The impact of Fukushima on Pacific island peoples[6] whose health and resources have already been compromised by international nuclear testing and experimentation cannot be ignored. As evidenced by the continued negative health indicators and unusually high cancer rates of those living in the islands in Micronesia where massive nuclear testing was conducted fifty years ago. The States and corporations responsible for nuclear proliferation in the Pacific must be held accountable for impacts and remediation to health, economic and the environment of the indigenous Pacific peoples.   For many years, indigenous peoples have advocated at the UN for the full recognition of core collective rights, such as full ownership rights to their lands and natural resources and the right to self-determination. Recognition and protection of these core rights is critical to REDD+ projects taking place in indigenous territories, and must be effectively addressed by the UN-REDD. The UN Declaration entailed a process of more than 30 years in which indigenous peoples and States forged common ground on the need of protecting indigenous territories and governments.   The UN Declaration is a global statement of the law concerning indigenous peoples, which enjoys today full support from the world community. It is by virtue of these rights that indigenous peoples can control, use, manage and benefit from their lands and natural resources according to their governing institutions, laws and customs.[7]   Yet, currently, UN-REDD has no policy specifically protecting indigenous peoples’ territories and governments, which are indispensable for survival as distinct peoples within existing nation-states. The obligations of human rights and climate agreements, we have not seen a UN-REDD policy in which larger economies, implementing agencies or investment regimes are fulfilling these obligations; governments negotiate regional trade agreements that are reinforcing investor-state frameworks, often with the support and encouragement of our sub-regional institutions and without consultation or approval by indigenous peoples.   SOPAC, the geo-science and technology subsidiary of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has secured funding to draft a framework that would enable Pacific Island nations to mine the deep sea for minerals, and this SPC-authored framework would disenfranchise Pacific Island communities, impacting the livelihoods of Pacific Islanders without their free, prior and informed consent.[8] With respect to mining and other industrial investments among Pacific islands, negotiations and agreements are often kept secret from public purview. Citing limited negotiating time limits, inadequate access to legal representation, or governments who are not aligned with indigenous interests, Pacific Islanders require an agency that would enable farm and fish practitioners and our cultural rightsholders to participate from the initiation of such negotiations and agreements, and have access to the legal resources and adequate time to adequately represent our interests. Decisions over the ocean environment cannot be made by governments or investment regimes, or even by regional organizations like the Pacific Island Forum, without free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous community. An independent regional body comprised of indigenous peoples adversely impacted by the decisions of governments, trade representatives, and corporate stakeholders to develop a specific policy aimed at protecting the rights contained within the UN DRIP, must be established and funded. We, the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific respectfully request the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development implement our requests to ensure that policies enacted will provide protection of indigenous peoples’ substantive rights, especially the rights of self-determination and permanent sovereignty of our natural resources.
[1] Special Rapporteurs, U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Tenth Session, “Study on indigenous peoples and corporation to examine existing mechanisms and policies related to corporations and indigenous peoples and to identify good practices.” New York, 12-27 May 20122, Item 3 (a) of the provisional agenda.
[2] World Bank, Operational Manual. OP4.10-Indigenous Peoples (,,contentMDK:20553653~menuPK:4564185~pagePK:64709096~piPK:64709108~theSitePK:502184,00.html)
[3] Gooch, Nicole. “Nickel and Maligned”. 2012, Apr, 27. The Global Mail. (
[4] Radio Australia, “Thousand of fish dead after acid leak at New Caledonia Nickel plant.” April 6, 2009. (
[5] ACT NOW! and PANG Joint Media Release, “Economics of experimental seabed mining don’t add up for Pacific island countries.” May 15, 2012. Papua New Guinea Mine Watch, (
[6] U.N. General Assembly, Fourth Committee (GA/SPD431). “Fourth Committee delegates urge more funding for scientific committee to enable it to assess emerging risks of atomic radiation on human health, environment.” 16 Oct. 2009. (
[7] Crippa, Leonardo A. & Gretchen Gordon. “Comments on the UN-REDD Programme Guideline on Free, Prior and Informed Consent.” Indian Law Resource Center. January 2012. (
[8] Papua New Guinea Perspective.