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International Conference “Defending the Defenders - New Alliances for Protecting Indigenous Peoples’ Rights”

Copenhagen, Denmark
5 - 6 September 2018

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) with the financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark is organising the international conference “Defending the Defenders - New Alliances for Protecting Indigenous Peoples’ Rights” that will be held on 5th and 6th September 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The conference will bring together indigenous rights defenders, high-level officials, development practitioners, decision-makers, key influencers, politicians and other key actors. Participants will include indigenous rights defenders from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America who are at most risk to be subjected to gross human rights abuses, United Nations mechanisms dealing with indigenous peoples rights (the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, high level officials of regional human rights institutions (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights), international experts, officials from relevant inter-governmental institutions, and representatives of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, private sector, experts, key influencers, academia and international and Danish civil society organisations.

Human rights defenders are dying, attacked and criminalized all over the world. This is happening at an increasing alarming rate.
Many violations against indigenous human rights defenders take place in the context of the extractive industry, land defense and large-scale development projects. Despite the recognised role of indigenous peoples as protectors of biodiversity and key actors for
sustainable development, indigenous leaders and other human rights activists who seek to defend their land rights are often presented as a threat to the economic development of the country, enemies of the State or even persecuted as criminal or terrorists.
According to recent reports, 197 individuals were killed in 2017 while protecting their community’s land or natural resources. Approximately 40 percent of these individuals belonged to indigenous peoples.

The conference will address the intersection between increasing violence against human rights defenders and indigenous peoples’ rights. It will seek to answer why indigenous peoples in developing countries are particularly affected and what measures need to be taken to protect them. This will be done by focusing on three themes:

1) Criminalisation and stigmatization of indigenous peoples and outlaw of their activities with responses such as illegal surveillance, arbitrary arrests, travel bans, threats, dispossession and killings. One of the most serious shortcomings in human rights protection is the trend towards the use of legislation and the justice system to penalize and criminalize indigenous peoples’ non-violent protests.
A key issue to address is the main trends in criminalisation of human rights defenders in developing countries and the ways in which indigenous peoples are more affected.

2) Land rights and conflicts, including forced evictions, internal displacement, destruction of livelihoods, and loss of cultural identity, with a special focus on the gender dimensions and impact on indigenous youth. The current global land rush in some of the poorest countries in the world, and the intensification of the exploitation of natural resources are pushing into indigenous peoples’ lands and territories and rapidly dispossessing them of their primary source of livelihood.
A key issue to address is how the changing nature of land grabbing in developing countries leads to increasing conflicts, and the role of the private sector in this.

3) Access to justice and remedy, including the use of redress and non-judicial grievance mechanisms. Non-judicial redress and grievance mechanisms offer possibilities for addressing human rights abuses and improving the human rights policies and practices of multinational corporations.
An important aspect to address is what opportunities and barriers exist for indigenous rights defenders in seeking redress and remedy, especially those from marginalised and poor communities.

The conference will identify suggested actions at international, regional and national levels required for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights defenders, including possible ways to strengthen the role of the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies.

For further information: please, download the programme below.