ZTI SOLIDARITY STATEMENT ON COVID-19

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Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities know very well that they are at risk and highly vulnerable both to human rights violations as well as to viral infections. They have for generations learned how to protect themselves to survive and thus have become strong and resilient communities.

Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities around the world have already responded to the pandemic by using their self-determined protection mechanisms, traditional medicine, control of their territory, and have taken advanced measures to seal off their villages or to retreat further into nature to avoid contact. Several of these communities have set up their own quarantine centres at village level where returnees undergo a 14-day quarantine with the support of village volunteers. Additionally, communal health committees are being established in some of the villages to carry out contingency actions against the spread of the virus, which involves coordinating actions with authorities, contacting potentially infected people, as well as treating confirmed cases.

Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local communities are proactively rising to the challenge to meet the critical need for information with radio/podcast communications disseminating COVID-19 information to their communities, as well as details of which precautionary measures communities should take, presented in local languages. Furthermore, these communities have shown strong solidarity and have actively engaged in relief support to their brothers and sisters in need.

 

Taking into account that indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities are more at risk of being targeted by those who wish them harm, as movement is restricted as governments introduce new legislation which favour the extractives industry and land incursions.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries have introduced or increased the presence of military and police in rural areas, where indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, and local communities live. These measures can be used to escalate violence in their territories and increase human rights violations. The lack of access to information as well as to communication, justice and legal systems, further increases the risk of human rights violations. It also means that that those violations can go undetected by monitoring and protection mechanisms and without anyone being held accountable.

As areas were locked down, governments are increasing their powers through snap emergency legislation, or revising legislation. In some countries they have deployed military forces to implement the new legislations; this in turn has restricted human rights defenders’ movements, putting them at further risk as they can be easily located by those who wish them harm. Restricted movement also means that the defenders are not able to access emergency support and mobilise their networks. Authorities continue to target them, and every effort is being made to silence their demands and essential work.

 

Companies interested in exploiting the natural resources on community lands have supplied these communities with emergency aid, in an attempt to gain permission to access to their resources. In many cases, COVID-19 has been spread to indigenous, Afro-descendent, and local communities through the presence of workers engaged by the logging, oil, and mining companies.

 

Noting that indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities that are already marginalised, chronically lack proper access to health resources and information, and often live in extreme poverty, further exacerbating the risk to their communities in times of emergency.

 

History has demonstrated that newly introduced diseases can wreak havoc on indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities due to a variety of factors, such as lack of knowledge about the pandemic, poor connectivity, lack of basic government services and lack of access to infrastructure. They already face marginalisation, high poverty, and inadequate health services and information, including a lack of sufficient and pertinent intercultural information in their local languages. This in turn is makes it difficult for them to receive the care they need to either test and identify cases of infection or treat those who become infected. Additionally, many communities often lack clean or sufficient water sources either due to poor infrastructure or drought, meaning that one of the main measures in preventing the spread of the disease – frequently washing one’s hands with soap – is a difficult preventative step for communities to take.

 

WE CALL ON COMPANIES TO:

  • Suspend any activity that might impact on indigenous peoples, local communities and Afro-descendant communities’ lands, territories and resources, and which pose a threat to their health.

  • Establish whistle-blower functions and effective recourse mechanisms, where potentially affected persons can contact the company.

  • Closely monitor their supply chains and establish means of communication with community representatives if due diligence checks are not possible during the pandemic, including respecting the preferences of local communities for methods of communication and informing them of any changes which impact them.

  • Use public and private communications to emphasise that the role of human rights defenders is as important as ever and that reprisals against them will not be tolerated.

  • Not use the pandemic as an excuse to weaken standards on consultation, such as free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and communication.

 

WE CALL ON STATE ACTORS TO:

  • Immediately address the risks of further spread of COVID-19 on indigenous and Afro-descendant lands, and operate quick, inter-culturally appropriate, and coordinated responses with local NGOs to provide relief, medical care, medical tests to communities in need.

  • Refrain from using the pandemic as an excuse to militarise territories, repress defenders and increase pressure in areas where communities have already been under threat due to conflicts or predatory economic activities

  • Use public and private communications to emphasise that the role of human rights defenders is as important as ever and that reprisals against them will not be tolerated.

  • Dedicate resources efficiently to identifying increased reprisals-related risks across investments, operations and supply chains, and take action to prevent and mitigate any risks identified, and to support human rights defenders globally.

  • Use secure channels to ensure that information on the environmental or human rights impact of potential business projects reaches those affected, allowing them the opportunity to engage in decision-making in a safe way during the public health emergency.

  • Commit to putting indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent rights, as well as land and environmental rights, and those who protect them, at the centre of any response to COVID-19. Any response must be developed in consultation with indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities and other human rights defenders. It should be implemented by indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities, respect their cultural diversity, and build on traditional medicine and knowledge systems.

  • Include indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities’ representatives, leaders and customary institutions and ensure respect to their FPIC in the prevention, development, and implementation and monitoring of measures to address COVID-19.

  • Ensure all information related to COVID-19 can be found in indigenous and local languages and is culturally appropriate in public announcements and communication.

  • Make sure that communities have access to clean water and sanitation in remote areas to avoid risk of infection. Local health centres should be properly equipped with equipment, personnel and medicines.

  • Ensure all restrictions and/or surveillance introduced to support the relief effort in response to the pandemic be repealed as soon as the pandemic passes.

  • The reactivation of the economy should not be prioritised over the life and integrity of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities.

  • Guarantee access to justice, especially during the pandemic.

  • Ensure there are food sovereignty strategies during and after the pandemic.

 

WE CALL ON INVESTORS TO:

  • Closely monitor the companies they have invested in during COVID-19 to ensure that no human rights violations occur during this time, when public attention is on the pandemic.

  • Ensure clients cease activities/operations that risk of bringing the disease to communities.

  • Establish whistle-blower functions and recourse mechanisms, where potentially affected persons can contact the investors directly.

  • Use public and private communications to emphasise that the role of human rights defenders is as important as ever and that reprisals against them will not be tolerated.

  • Use secure channels in communication with human rights defenders including indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities.

 

WE CALL ON NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS TO:

  • Develop mechanisms to monitor and report corporate impunity and human rights abuses.

  • Ensure environmental impact assessment laws and procedures are reviewed where human rights assessments, or human rights that stand to be potentially affected, are included.

  • Organise national platforms and dialogues between investors/corporations and indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant and local communities.

Photo: FECONAU, Peru

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