Survival celebrates 40 years of success in campaign for tribal peoples’ rights 15 December 2009

The creation of the Yanomami Park was one of Survival's greatest successes.
The creation of the Yanomami Park was one of Survival's greatest successes.
© Fiona Watson/Survival

The human rights organization Survival International celebrates its 40th birthday this month, and is highlighting the huge advances in tribal peoples’ rights since 1969.

Survival focuses on supporting tribes under threat, and its campaigns alongside tribal people and local organizations have achieved many remarkable successes, including:

• The creation of the Yanomami Park in Brazil in 1992. A fifth of the Yanomami Indians had died in seven years after goldminers invaded their land, but since their territory was legally protected their numbers have recovered and are increasing
• India’s recognition of the Jarawa tribe’s right to choose their own future, 2004. The Indian government had planned in the 1990s forcibly to settle the isolated Jarawa of the Andaman Islands in villages outside their forest, which would have destroyed them
• The Kalahari Bushmen landmark court victory in 2006. The Bushmen were evicted from the Central Kalahari in 2002 to make way for future diamond mining. With Survival’s support they fought and won a case in the Botswana High Court, which affirmed their right to live on their land. Survival’s campaign with the Bushmen also targeted De Beers diamond company, which abandoned its exploration on the Bushmen’s land.

As the only organization dedicated to campaigning for tribal peoples worldwide, Survival has also supported tribal people in bringing about broader changes which help them better defend their rights. Survival’s director Stephen Corry says, ‘Tribal peoples’ rights are now enshrined in international law, and in the constitutions of many countries, particularly in South America. The indigenous movement worldwide is more vocal and powerful than it has ever been. Uncontacted tribes threatened with extinction are the focus of international public attention for the first time.

‘Attitudes are changing too: tribal peoples, once reviled as ‘primitive’ or patronised as ‘noble savages’, are much better understood now as the vibrant, contemporary societies they really are.

‘All of these things have changed for the better since 1969. Yet we continue to see the extinction of entire tribes. Tribal people are still disregarded, thrown off their land, and in too many cases, killed by those who want their land or what’s underneath it.

‘I’m incredibly proud of Survival’s many successes in the defence of tribal peoples’ rights. But there is a long way to go before we can say our job is done.’

Notes for editors:

Survival International does not claim sole responsibility for the developments listed above or below. Survival works closely with indigenous communities and organizations, and its campaigns serve to amplify existing indigenous struggles on a global stage. Other organizations and individuals also played a part in many of the victories cited here.

In addition to those mentioned above, notable successes include:

• 1974: Helping the Andoke tribe of Colombia, decimated during the rubber boom, buy themselves out of debt bondage.
• 1987: The World Bank ceased its funding of the Indonesian government’s hugely controversial ‘Transmigration’ programme, which moved millions of Indonesians from the central islands to remote areas such as Papua, displacing Papuan tribes from their land.
• 1989-1990: Survival funded an emergency healthcare project for the Yanomami in Brazil, stemming the spread of malaria that was decimating the tribe. The project was later developed by Brazilian NGOs, who trained Yanomami as healthcare workers.
• 1993: The Colombian government created a reserve for the nomadic Nukak Indians. The reserve was enlarged in 1997.
• 1997: The Bangladeshi government signed a Peace Accord with the Jumma tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, committing the government to removing military camps from the area and ending violence and theft of the Jummas’ land. Most of the provisions of the accord have yet to be implemented, but the current government has committed itself to doing so.
• 1999: A regional governor issued a five-year moratorium on all oil licences on the land of the Yugan Khanty hunter-gatherers in Siberia. Such exploration in other areas had polluted forests and rivers, and made the land uninhabitable for the Khanty.
• 2002: India’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of a highway running through the land of the Jarawa tribe. However, the road remains open, in violation of the court order.
• 2003: Following a twenty-year campaign by Survival, the Brazilian government legally protected the land of the nomadic Awá tribe, some of whom are uncontacted. Invasion of their land by outsiders had brought disease and violence, killing many Awá.
• 2007: The conservation organization African Parks withdrew from its agreement with the Ethiopian government to manage the Omo National Park, home of the Mursi and other tribes. African Parks had failed to consult the tribes, and had banned them from hunting and cultivating food in the park.


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