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Philippines Mine Standoff: Indigenous And Environmental Rights Must Be Respected, Say UN Experts

A group of UN experts* urged the Philippines government not to discriminate against indigenous peoples in favour of business interests and when enforcing anti-COVID19 measures.

On 6 April, around 100 police forcibly dispersed some 30 indigenous and environment defenders who were blocking three fuel tankers from entering Oceanagold Didipio mining site in Nueva Vizcaya province.

“The protesters were exercising their right to freedom of assembly to object against the continued operations in the Didipio mine. The government and mining company should have engaged them in peaceful and constructive talks instead of dispersing the crowd forcefully. The use of force by the police was unnecessary and disproportionate,” the experts said.

An indigenous leader was charged with ignoring quarantine and isolation measures and with civil disobedience. Other protesters were reportedly injured during the forced dispersal.

“Indigenous peoples are doubly impacted in the COVID-19 global pandemic, as they face threats to their territories while suffering from lack of access to basic health services,” the experts said. “The community is left with the impression that the COVID restrictions are more strictly enforced against them, than against businesses operating on their lands without their consent.”

The mine site has been blockaded since June 2019 when the company continued mining while it waited for renewal of an expired permit.

“The tensions within the communities will escalate if the company and the national government do not act transparently and with consultation of affected peoples, particularly in relation to the contested right of the company to operate after expiration of their official permit,” the UN experts said.

Charges against the indigenous leader should be dropped and the company’s operations at the Didipio site, other than maintaining a water pump, must stop until indigenous and local communities have been consulted and their consent obtained, the experts said.

In 2019, several Special UN Mandates sent a joint communication to the Government of the Philippines and Oceanagold company highlighting their concerns over the environmental impact of the company’s activities and the lack of consent of indigenous and local communities for the mine to operate on traditional lands. A response by the company was received in April 2019.

*The experts: Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association; David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

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