Millions of native people are being deprived of their land

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August)

The increase in global land theft is a threat to the livelihood of millions of indigenous people. To mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August), the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) will be drawing attention to this situation with a new Human Rights Report. The STP is very concerned that the great demand for fertile agricultural land on the part of investors has deprived indigenous people of many million hectares of land over the past ten years. “The boom in palm oil, in particular, has lethal consequences for indigenous populations because it systematically encourages land grabbing while destroying both the economic and the cultural existence of native communities”. The human rights organisation estimates that there are about 6,500 indigenous communities worldwide with more than 370 million members.

Using twelve examples from Asia, Africa, South and Central America the STP documents how not only national and international agricultural companies but also investment funds frequently lease out agricultural land that has been utilised by the indigenous populations for generations, on a long-term basis, without the natives’ knowledge. “Authorities and institutions assist this state-approved land theft by declaring tribal territories to be “ownerless” or “abandoned”. Nor do they do shrink from intimidating or threatening the native people.

The situation is particularly dramatic in the South-East Asian states of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia. On the island of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines, for instance, around 4.5 million Lumads are affected by land theft. In Indonesia, many of the 40 million indigenous inhabitants are suffering the consequences of the expansion of the oil-palm plantations. There are plans for new oil-palm plantations to be set up over seven million hectares of land by the year 2020. Indigenous Dayaks on the island of Borneo and the Papuans of New Guinea are protesting against the destruction of their economic resources. In 2011 alone, there are records of 2,791 legal proceedings over land rights in Indonesia.

The position is hardly better in neighbouring Malaysia, where 150,000 Orang-Aslis and three million Dayaks are fighting for their existence. They are involved in legal battles over land theft. More than 200 legal proceedings are pending in the courts of Malaysia. But land grabbing in Russia (Siberia), Burma, Ethiopia, the Sudan, South Sudan, Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina means the indigenous populations of these countries also fear for their survival.

You can download our Report (in German) here.