Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has just put out the 2012 edition of its flagship annual report, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012. The publication “provides concrete evidence of how the generation of vast revenues from logging and dams, oil and mineral extraction, coastal tourism, fish farming, conservation parks and large-scale agriculture, is often at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.” MRG points out that while such threats are not new, it is the present extent of their severity and scale that is so alarming. This is the result of a combination of dwindling resources and greater technology which enables extraction of such resources in remote parts of the world, thereby affecting previously isolated minorities.
As is often noted in regards to Africa, natural resources are a double-edged sword—some of the most resource-rich regions throughout the world are home to some of the poorest minorities and indigenous peoples. Revenue streams from extraction are filtered out of these areas, while their inhabitants are left to deal with the consequences. The reason for this paradox of sorts is the fact that minorities and indigenous people are “more vulnerable to harmful natural resource development because their right to equality is not respected fully in society. Discrimination is one major root cause. This can lead to practices such as ‘environmental racism,’ whereby higher incidence of pollution or other environmental degradation is found” where marginalized groups reside. The report “sets out for the first time corporate responsibility in relation to minority rights, and provides evidence of companies’ ongoing disregard for minority and indigenous peoples’ rights (even when their Corporate Social Responsibility policies say otherwise).”
Such disparity is significantly worse for indigenous women, since their land rights and access are controlled by customary law; traditional territories are retained by communities, often with no legal title. As a result, entire communities are displaced in the name of conservation or development projects. Furthermore,
When communities are dispossessed of their land, women are often disproportionately affected because of their traditional role in procuringwater, fuel or trading goods for their families. . . . Women may also lack the education or information necessary to allow them to exercise formal legal rights. Overall, unequal access to land can limit the economic independence of indigenous women, making them more vulnerable to economic or social upheavals.
However, there have also been positive developments in this realm, especially pertaining to the status of ratification of major international and regional instruments relevant to minority and indigenous rights over the past five months. To view a comprehensive table, as well as more in-depth thematic essays and regional overviews, you can download the entire report at the link above.