Bernard Narokobi, constitutional architect
Politicians' grab power to misuse public money

Tribal peoples’ land rights need to be respected


Donigi I’M CALLING upon the governments of PNG and Indonesia to implement the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly by a vote of 143 to four. The countries that voted against were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US.

PNG was absent from the chamber when the vote was taken.

While Indonesia voted in favour, its representative distinguished between indigenous and tribal peoples.

This implies that tribal peoples have no customary laws in respect to their land, including territorial integrity. This is another way of saying that tribal peoples have no rights at law. This is a colonisation of tribal peoples by the State.

It makes the government not any different to the previous Dutch colonial government of Indonesia before Indonesia became an independent nation.

The PNG and Indonesian governments should recognise that both countries are made up of tribal peoples who have their own laws, governing systems and land rights.

There is no difference between tribal peoples and indigenous peoples. Historically, nations all over the world started off as tribal groups and nations.

In my previous role as chairman of the UN Decolonisation Committee, I went to great lengths to get the colonial governments of the remaining non-self-governing territories to come to the negotiating table by promoting a new agenda.

This was that granting the peoples of the remaining territories the right to self-determination did not necessarily include the right to independence. It can include the choice of self government within the metropolitan State.

In this regard, it is important for the territory concerned to control, manage and use its natural resources for its own advancement. Indonesia is a member of that UN Committee and I valued their friendship and support in this regard.

I therefore call on both governments to implement the Declaration and in particular Article 26 which states:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

“States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

A nation’s strength is in empowering its own people to become rich so as to alleviate poverty and increase economic and industrial growth within the nation.

PNG and Indonesia may have gained independence but have not removed the shackles of colonial mentality.

Adoption of their colonial masters’ philosophies of extracting resources from the tribal/indigenous peoples’ land is an abomination of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Such policies create poverty and perpetuate a dependency of its citizenry on the centrist government handouts.

Peter Donigi CBE LlB is interim president of the UN Association of PNG and a prominent PNG lawyer and author. He previous positions have included Public Prosecutor, Legal Advisor to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Special Representative to the UN and Ambassador to Germany. His analysis of weaknesses in the PNG Land Groups Act can be downloaded here.


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