Indigenous-to-Indigenous Concept on Human Rights Training


Miri (Sarawak): 20 Indigenous Peoples from all over Malaysia representing the indigenous community of Orang Asli in Peninsula Malaysia, KadazanDusun of Sabah and Dayak of Sarawak are current attending a Training Course on International Human Rights Standards and Policy Process for Indigenous Peoples, held in Miri, Sarawak from 16th to 22nd July 2002.


The training is jointly organised by the Saami Council1 and the Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia (BRIMAS), aims to give indigenous representatives the opportunity to gain a comprehensive knowledge about relevant human rights standards and mechanisms, and international policy processes which would enable them to more effectively promote and protect their rights in a competent manner based on a sound foundation of human rights and policy processes which are taking place today.


Indigenous Peoples all over the world are confronted with enormous legal and socio-economic barriers. They are often deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms and are among the most vulnerable and socially disadvantaged groups in any country. They have little or no say in decisions affecting them and are often subjected to policies and projects harmful to their health and well-being. Yet, as a general rule, they are the ones who have to pay the price of disproportionately high social costs for these projects and policies. They have lost most of their ancestral lands, and are struggling to retain what they have now.


The struggle of indigenous peoples for equity and justice has not contained only to the countries wherein they live. They have taken their fight to protect their rights to the international arena. For the past two decades, indigenous representatives from around the world have been attending different international meetings and events to make their voices heard. They have been working tirelessly to create space for indigenous peoples within the international system, including at the United Nations, with the aim of ensuring they are taken into account in all important global deliberations which may have an impact on their lives and livelihoods.


Indigenous peoples realize that they can no longer afford to live in splendid isolation, but must participate actively in the different processes ongoing in today's world of globalisation and reduced trade barriers in order to exert some influence over the outcomes.  This has become imperative when analysed within the context of the significant and substantial achievements which have taken place with relevant to indigenous peoples. Of these, the following are important:


·       In 1982, the UN established a working group for indigenous peoples. The annual meeting is attended by many hundred of indigenous peoples, organizations and institutions and has become the main avenue for indigenous peoples at the international level. Its mandate is to review developments relating to indigenous peoples, and the evolution of international standards relating to indigenous peoples.


·       In 1984, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations started drafting a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (DDIP), and finalized the document in 1994 the Declaration was submitted to the parent body of the WGIP, the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights the same year. And in 1995, the Commission on Human Rights established a working group for the draft. Work, and discussions, on the Draft Declaration continues, and although the United Nations has not yet adopted the draft declaration, it is significant as an important benchmark for indigenous rights and freedoms.


·       In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004) with the objective of strengthening international cooperation to solve problems faced by indigenous peoples, in such areas as human rights, environment, education, health and development. The General Assembly has also state that the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples should be adopted before the close of the Decade.


·       In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna recommended that the United Nations should look into the question of establishing a Permanent Forum for indigenous peoples. This was endorsed be the General Assembly, and a working group established, by the commission on Human Rights, to see how this could be done.


·       In a major breakthrough, after many years of hard work and intensive lobbying by indigenous peoples, in 2001 the General Assembly recommended that the Permanent Forum be established. The first session of the Permanent forum was held in May 2002, and for the first time in history of the United Nations system, indigenous peoples are to participate on an equal footing with government members in this forum.


In another development in 1989, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention ~o. 169), which revises the earlier ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal People No.107, this provides another avenue for indigenous peoples to protect and promote their rights.


There have been important achievements in the environmental fields, as an outcome of the UN conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. UNCED mobilized attention and action on the need to protect the world's fragile ecosystems. The Commission on Sustainable Development and the Convention on Bio-Diversity are two important results of this conference, as in Agenda 21, which outlines an action plan for the international community to implement.


"With all these developments which have taken place, and are ongoing, it is essential that indigenous peoples in Malaysia are able to participate effectively in the workings of these different processes. They can only do so by learning what is relevant to their needs and concerns and how to interact in these bodies", said Mr. Raymond Abin, Programme Co­ordinator of BRIMAS.


Atty. Jose Molintas, Representative of Saami Council states that, "only by gaining an insight into the formal and informal structures can indigenous peoples make informed choice of how and where to target their attention and involvement as a way of best utilizing the human and financial resources they have access to.  Only through meaningful engagement of indigenous peoples will there be an opportunity for them to exert influence over policy processes affecting them at the local, regional, national and international levels, all of which are inter-linked in today's world of rapid development."


The Training Programme is implemented with the financial assistance of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Development (DG VIII) and from the Norwegian agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).


The venue of training is at Dynasty Hotel in Miri. - BRIMAS



1The Saami Council is an organisation for the Indigenous Saami People in Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden, established in 1956. The Saami Council is in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Saami Council has permanent participant status in the Artic Council, an organisation of Artic States.