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ILO Convention 169 comes into force in Germany (June 23)

Better protection for indigenous peoples

There are around 6,000 indigenous peoples in the world – and in many places, their guaranteed rights are violated. There is only one internationally binding treaty that protects the rights of the indigenous peoples: Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is threatening that his country could pull out of the convention, thus undermining its importance. In Germany, however, the convention will come into force on June 23, 2022 – one year after the ratification document was submitted to the ILO. By ratifying the convention, Germany is sending an important signal. However, the symbolically important ratification should be followed by tangible actions.

The Coordination Group ILO 169 had appealed to the German Federal Government to draw up and implement an interdepartmental strategy for the protection of indigenous peoples – within this legislature. Such a strategy would have to involve all relevant ministries. "All German projects and investments must guarantee the protection of biodiversity as well as the rights of indigenous communities. We are rights holders, not just pawns in political narratives," stated Harol Rincón Ipuchima on behalf of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). 

Globally, we are witnessing an unprecedented escalation of conflicts and crises in connection with geopolitical problems, human rights issues, and environmental and climate-related matters. It is becoming increasingly evident that a peaceful coexistence is directly dependent on how we treat our natural resources. "Against this background, we see that the territories and the traditional knowledge of the different indigenous communities are more important than ever before with regard to biodiversity, cultural diversity, and the survival of all mankind," stated Vicky Tauli-Corpuz on behalf of the Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education, Philippines).

Indigenous human rights advocates and environmental activists are key figures in the increasing conflicts in connection with the exploitation of resources all over the world. Although indigenous communities make up only five percent of the global population, more than a third of all attacks on environmental activists and human rights advocates – in the period from 2015 to 2019 – were targeted at members of indigenous communities. ILO Convention 169 is coming into force at a time where the governments of Germany and Colombia are negotiating on stepping up coal exports from Colombia to Germany. However, an increase in coal production poses a major threat to the indigenous communities of the Wayuú, whose rights have been violated by the mining project El Cerrejón for years.

After ILO Convention 169 has come into force, the German Federal Government must live up to its responsibility and pay close attention to the conditions under which imported raw materials are mined. It must try to ensure that the convention is applied consistently – and that the respective rights of the indigenous peoples are respected. This includes the right to preservation of cultural identity, the right to participate in state decisions, and the right to land and resources. "It needs more than just international solidarity to support indigenous peoples and their communities all over the world. Now that ILO Convention 169 is about to come into force, we expect Germany to respect the rights of the indigenous communities and to meet its responsibilities," stated Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim on behalf of the Association of Fulani Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chad (AFPAT).

The German Coordination Group ILO 169 is a coalition of German civil society organizations, networks, and experts focusing on strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples, human rights, and the protection of the rainforests and climate protection. In 2019, there were 476 million indigenous people in the world, belonging to a total number of 6,000 peoples. They are protecting about 80 percent of the world's biodiversity. Five percent of the global population are indigenous peoples. At the same time, they make up 15 percent of the people who are living in poverty – and they are especially affected by extractive activities of international corporations. Their territories are destroyed by non-sustainable development policies, and their diverse cosmovisions and their knowledge are part of the immaterial world heritage.