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UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, recently presented his annual report to the UN General Assembly. The report provides a summary of activities carried out during his third year in the mandate, particularly communications with governments concerning 25 cases of specific human rights violations in 15 countries.  The Special Rapporteur devotes the second half of the report to a preliminary analysis of the impact of extractive industries operating within or near indigenous territories, following the distribution of a questionnaire on the issue to Governments, indigenous peoples, corporations and civil society.

The growing awareness of the impact of extractive industries on the rights of indigenous peoples is further raised by the concerns expressed by many of the responses received confirming the assertion that these projects and industries are becoming the greatest challenges to the exercise of the rights of indigenous peoples. This situation is further evidenced by the lack of understanding of basic minimum standards on the effects of extractive industries affecting indigenous peoples and about the role and responsibility of the State to ensure protection of their rights. The Special Rapporteur concludes with the need to continue the study of this issue through further consultations towards the operationalization of the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of natural resource extraction affecting indigenous territories in order to be able to present a specific set of guidelines or principles by 2013.

Download the 2011 Report (pdf, english)

Extracts from the 2011 Report :

Extractive industry activities generate effects that often infringe upon indigenous peoples’ rights; public agencies and private business enterprises involved in the extraction or development of natural resources, in both developing and developed countries, have contributed to these effects. Notably, some Governments have attempted to mitigate the negative effects of extractive operations, yet human rights continue to be violated as a result of an increasing demand for resources and energy. The Special  Rapporteur considers the ever-expanding operations of extractive industries to be a pressing issue for indigenous peoples on a global scale.

(...) The majority of indigenous representatives and organizations also listed environmental impact as a principle issue of concern. Responses highlighted examples of the  degradation and destruction of ecosystems caused by extractive industries, as well as the devastating resultant effects on indigenous peoples’ subsistence economies, which are closely linked to these ecosystems. Common negative environmental effects reported in the responses include the pollution of water and lands and the depletion  of local flora and fauna. With respect to the negative impact of extractive operations on water resources, it was noted that water resource depletion and contamination has  had harmful effects on available water for drinking, farming and grazing cattle, and has affected traditional fishing and other activities, particularly in fragile natural habitats.

A second major issue cited by questionnaire respondents focused on the adverse impact of extractive industry operations on indigenous peoples’ social structures and cultures, particularly when those operations result in the loss of lands and natural resources upon which indigenous communities have traditionally relied. In such cases,  resource extraction can jeopardize the survival of indigenous groups as distinct cultures that are inextricably connected to the territories they have traditionally inhabited.
Several indigenous and non-governmental organizations reported that the forced emigration of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands – either because of the taking of those lands or environmental degradation caused by resource extraction projects – has had an overall negative impact on indigenous cultures and social structures. (...) According to respondents, non-indigenous migration into indigenous territories and its related consequences also have a negative effect on indigenous social structures.

(...) Indigenous organizations and leaders reported a significant deterioration in communal social cohesion and the erosion of traditional authority structures with the increase of extractive operations. Community members often take opposing positions regarding the perceived benefits of resource extraction, resulting in conflict that, at times, erupted into violence. (...) Submissions by indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations also reported an escalation of violence by Government and private security forces as a consequence of extractive operations in indigenous territories, especially against indigenous leaders. Furthermore, a general repression of human rights was reported in situations where entire communities had voiced their opposition to extractive operations. In this connection, political instability, violent upheavals and the rise of extremist groups in indigenous areas have also reportedly resulted from the presence of extractive industries in indigenous territories.

Conclusions and recommendations

...the Special Rapporteur has come to identity natural resource extraction and other major development projects in or near  indigenous territories as one of the most significant sources of abuse of the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide. In its  prevailing form, the model for advancing with natural resource extraction within the territories of indigenous peoples appears to run counter to the self-determination of indigenous peoples in the political, social and economic spheres.


James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples