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In battles over land rights, activists are branded as criminals - UN

by Karla Mendes | @karlamendes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 27 August 2018 18:17 GMT

A woman dressed in an indigenous costume participates in the protest against privatization of water in San Salvador, El Salvador June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

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Last year, more than 200 activists were killed, the highest since 2002

By Karla Mendes

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments and corporations are increasingly using legal persecution to portray indigenous activists as criminals and terrorists, putting them at heightened risk of violence, the United Nations said on Monday.

Indigenous leaders and campaigners fighting to protect land from development are being stymied and silenced by rising militarization, national security acts and anti-terrorism laws, according to a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Globally, up to 2.5 billion people live on indigenous and community lands, which make up more than half of all land worldwide, but they legally own just 10 percent, according to rights groups.

The U.N. report cited a "drastic increase" in violence against indigenous people actively opposing large-scale projects such as mining, infrastructure, hydroelectric dams and logging.

"It's a new war," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who authored the report.

"It's getting worse because many of the remaining resources in the world are found in indigenous territories," Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This month, an indigenous leader was murdered in Brazil, part of a battle over logging in the Amazon.

In Guatemala, seven indigenous members of farmers' organizations advocating for land rights and political participation were killed, it said.

Last year, more than 200 activists were killed, the highest since 2002, according British campaign group Global Witness.

"In the worst instances, escalating militarization, compounded by historical marginalization, results in indigenous peoples being targeted under national security acts and antiterrorism legislation, putting them in the line of fire, at times literally, by the army and the police," it said.

Governments and corporations are using legal means to designate indigenous people as trespassers subject to eviction, while arrest are made on vague charges or uncorroborated witness testimony, followed by long periods of pretrial detention.

Criminal charges have been filed against activists, showing prosecutors and judges colluding with companies and landowners in some cases, it said.

In Ethiopia, indigenous land rights defenders have been prosecuted and imprisoned under antiterrorist legislation, it said.

There are no tallies of criminal charges filed against indigenous peoples worldwide, but Tauli-Corpuz cited recent upticks in the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico and Peru.

"What disarticulates a community? Arresting its leaders, criminalizing the leaders," said Dinaman Tuxa, executive coordinator of Brazil's Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples known as Apib, an umbrella group of advocacy groups.

(Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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