Finding steps forward

The legal standing of indigenous people improved earlier this week when Nicaragua ratified the only binding international law for tribal people, the International Labour Organization Convention 169.

While ILO Convention 169 covers many of the same provisions as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, unlike the UN Declaration it is legally binding on governments that ratify it and provide mechanisms for indigenous people to seek redress when their rights under the ILO Convention are violated. Nicaragua’s ratification is the latest in a series of events over the last few months that has given new momentum to the indigenous rights movement, including Canada and New Zealand’s recent change of heart for the UN Declaration and the Central African Republic’s ratification of the ILO Convention last month.

Despite these advancements, exploitation of indigenous groups continues throughout the world with little attention being paid to its consequences. One key example is the awarding of the Botswana Tourism Board the prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow award by the World Travel and Tourism Council despite continued human rights violations against the Kalahari Bushman in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve for the promotion of tourism and mining interests.  Even though books like Heart of Dryness by James Workman have brought this particular issue more into mainstream knowledge, the Botswana government continues its program of denying the Bushman access to water in a way to force them out of the homelands that even the country’s High Court acknowledges they have a right to. This past March, the Bushman marked eight years without access to the water source they relied on for years.

The situation in Botswana highlights the importance of the advancements in indigenous rights as seen in Nicaragua, Central African Republic, and New Zealand. The more states that recognize the value of indigenous culture and the universality of human rights as they apply to everyone, including indigenous peoples, the more force provisions such as the UN Declaration and ILO Convention will have and the better off we will all be.

Originally published at Foreign Policy Blogs