Quotes on Criminalization and Violence against Indigenous Peoples 


Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


I’ve been alerted to hundreds of criminalization cases from nearly every corner of the world. The rapid expansion of development projects on indigenous lands without their consent is driving a global crisis. These attacks—whether physical or legal—are an attempt to silence Indigenous Peoples voicing their opposition to projects that threaten their livelihoods and cultures.

My new report finds a pattern of abuse, with the private sector often colluding with governments to force Indigenous Peoples from their lands by whatever means necessary to make way for infrastructure, agriculture, mining, and extractive projects.


At the same time that justice systems are wielded as weapons against Indigenous Peoples defending their rights, there is widespread impunity for those who commit violence against Indigenous Peoples. At the root of this global crisis is systematic racism and the failure of governments to recognize and respect indigenous land rights. 


I myself was put on a list of terrorists by the Philippines government in retaliation for advocating for the Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao, many of whom have been displaced by growing militarization. Although the case against me has been dismissed, there are still many others on the list who have been falsely accused and whose safety and security are under threat, including long-time indigenous advocate Joan Carling.


Andrew Anderson

Front Line Defenders Executive Director


What is happening now across the world is nothing less than a systematic attack on peasant communities and Indigenous Peoples. In their insatiable greed for wood and oil and gold, corrupt elites, who have no ambition beyond their own enrichment, risk not only destroying the lives and culture of Indigenous Peoples, but also destroying the environment on which our collective future survival depends.


Jorge Nahuel

Confederación Mapuche de Neuquén


When we stand up and take direct actions we are exercising a right. We are not protesting or simply expressing our discontent. We are exercising a right, a right to defend the territorial integrity, and our right to exist with our own identities.


Keikabile Mogodu

Botswana Khwedom Council


This goes to speak about accountability of government, but especially on this point I would like to speak about the African governments, who seem not to think that they are accountable to the indigenous societies or the indigenous communities. It appears that among African communities, and Botswana in particular, when you bring an issue but especially that speaks to the issue of indigenous people, it looks like then they are not accountable to your community. The only way to speak to the issue that affects you is as a citizen of the country, say Botswana, as a citizen of Botswana. As a Botswanan, the government is prone to hear me, and when I come as an indigenous person, it’s very difficult for the government to listen to me, and that has an aspect of denying our access as indigenous San people in Botswana.



Inaye Gomes Lopes

Aty Guaso Kaiowa E Guarani


The rates of criminalization are high. There are a lot of people dying in Brazil. Well, not dying, they are being killed. These are two very different things: dying and being killed. And, this is happening quite often in Mato Grosso, in the south, near the border with Paraguay. It’s happening in many places, you’ve heard of what’s happened in Rio de Janeiro. So, nowadays, shooting and killing leaders is something that has become very common.


Aida Marina Vivas

ONIC (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia)

I'll give you a very important example of one thing that happens very often in Colombia, and—I’m sure—in many other countries as well. This is the case of Feliciano Valencia, who was prosecuted because the local authorities judged an intelligence agent working undercover in a mine. I served as counselor for nine years during that time. So, they charged him for torture, kidnapping…, for many things, and he had to serve three months in the INPEC and after this, he was transferred to the Centro de Armonizacion. These are things that people don’t really think about. Our own justice system, just as the ordinary justice system, have judges recognized by the Constitution of Colombia. But, in Colombia, these justice systems persecute each other. The ordinary justice system includes everything, and judges the actions of natural judges.


For example, there are some community landholders that live, for instance, near the pacific coast, near the ocean. When these people are under threat, they are first given what is called a “panic button.” When someone feels threatened, they are supposed to push this button. But this button won’t work in the pacific coast because that’s only for the city. So, these types of solutions don’t actually work. Or, they’ll give you a bulletproof vest. For a poor indigenous brother that, according to his culture, to his practices or knowledge…I have a bulletproof vest, but I almost never use it. Why? Because it’s not in my way of thinking to wear one. So, in Colombia, not a lot has been done about this. Currently we’re in the same process of mobilization that we were in last year.



Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic

Maya K'iche' People for the Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Land and Territory


Indigenous leaders in Guatemala who raise their voices face arbitrary detention, torture and sexual harassment from the police, and even murder. The justice system not only fails to address our concerns—it is a tool for the state and private interests to attack the authorities and leaders of our communities.


The current situation, with widespread impunity and ongoing violation of our rights is very problematic. We are not only attacked because we are social leaders. Crimes against us are not considered attacks, but merely an offence which is forwarded to the Juzgados de Paz, through which we are expected to reach an agreement with the perpetrators of these crimes. This happens very often in Guatemala. On the other hand, when we are accused of something and we go to jail, they claim that the crimes they accused us of are real. Moreover, when our sisters are put in jail they are sexually assaulted. I face this particular risk, because there is no penitentiary in my territory, so if I were accused of something, I would have to be transferred to a jail outside of my community, where all of this police mafia is.



Anne-Sophie Gindroz

RRI Facilitator for Southeast Asia


There is widespread impunity for those who commit violence against Indigenous Peoples. At the same time, justice systems can be used against indigenous human rights defenders. In Indonesia, for example, people have been arrested for remaining on their land after it was granted to palm oil companies by the government.



Alfred Brownell

Founder of Green Advocates


In 2016, I had to flee my country, and my entire organization went underground. These communities are not opposed to development, but they want a say in what happens to the lands they have called home for generations. Some 3 million Liberians depend on customary territories, but their rights are in limbo until we pass vital legislation that has been debated for four years now.



Yator Kiptum

Executive Coordinator of the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme 


Conservation has been given as an excuse for escalating violence against the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples living within their ancestral lands in the Embobut forest in Kenya. Some have even been killed. The Kenyan Forest Service has repeatedly forcefully evicted and burned Sengwer homes and arrested community members—in spite of the fact that the court issued an injunction to prevent such evictions. Sengwer Indigenous Peoples want to live in, govern, manage, and own their ancestral lands working hand in hand with the government and other stakeholders—this is the only way to ensure sustainable conservation of forests. Eviction will only lead to further destruction.


29th March last year a human rights group from Brussels and Nairobi assisted inside the forest. When they left the Kenyan Forest Service were not happy about the human rights stories being submitted, because before when evictions had been going on, a number of institutions in government like the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights and the National Land Commission had been trying to go and meet the communities in the forest. But the government denied them entry to go and meet with these communities. Even Amnesty International and other groups have tried to get into the forest, but they were refused. It was unfortunate during this day that when the EU officer went and met with the community members that now the Kenyan Forest Service retaliated, burnt homes, and shot guns. On 2nd February one of the community members who had been recording all the violations was attacked and even as we speak now he is undergoing reconstructive surgery. He was hit by a gun and still undergoing surgery.


On the 16th January a member of the Sengwer community was shot dead by the KFS scouts in the forest and another was injured and taken to the hospital. Because when that man was shot dead by the KFS scouts that was when the EU stopped funding. When you speak to the Sengwer community and even the organizations that are supporting the community, we have been branded as those who supporting the bandits, the ones that are arming and supplying guns to the bandits in the forest. These accusations are false. We are just against what is going on.



Daniel Mpoiko Kobei

Ogiek Peoples Development Programme (OPDP)


One of the greatest problems we are facing in Kenya is the issue of corruption among the police, that the offenders always get support from the police if you have money. That means you can be protected—even when you have done something wrong, you can still be protected. I want to give an example of one of the Ogiek was killed two years ago because he was defending his land, or rather he wanted to pick things, the properties were removed, were taken away, some were burnt down, and he was shot at close range. The police protected the person [who shot him] and took him in and gave him protection all the way to safe custody.


The name conservation in Kenya is a term being used put in people who are not indigenous to get land, but in the place they are saying this for conservation. This has happened in Mau Forest Complex, in my places where the Sengwer or the Ogiek are said to be in government land. In the real sense they want to bring in other new people.



Ole Kaunga

Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT)


For the first time in history, we have had the Kenyan army being used to kill livestock as a way to create economic suffering for pastoralists.



Abel Barrera

Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña, Tlapa de Comonfort Community


The state knows that one way to fracture our movement is through the detention of our leaders or by stigmatizing them within our communities. Communities think of their leaders as wise individuals who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their people, but the government sees them only as criminals, kidnappers, as perpetrators of serious crimes. The situation is the same in other countries, and this is how they try to fracture our movements.


There’s also been much discussion about how women have played a very important role in our resistance, but, it’s also true that in part, the fracture of our movements has to do with the way that patriarchal culture has conquered and colonized Indigenous Peoples. So, instead of empowering and recognizing our women, our women are stigmatized and accused of taking part in actions that, most of the times, create division within our communities.


​Indigenous Peoples are not recognized as legal subjects. At the same time, perpetrators of crimes against us are shielded and protected. Corruption silences the voice of Indigenous Peoples; their voices are discredited; their demands are not listened to. Obviously, when they speak their native languages, justice is unattainable, because they cannot access justice using their native languages. In these instances, our rights are limited and there are some tensions between the applicability of indigenous law and national law. While our legal systems have some recognition, they are not used. Indigenous Peoples are sentenced to very long terms; they are victims of the state’s judicial system and they are unable to use their own legal systems to bring to justice people who threaten their territories.


Tijah Chopil

JKOASM (Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia)


So when the Orang Asli did organize a blockade over their land to stop logging, mining, trespassing by outsiders, the fully armed police and other government agencies went to the site to dismantle and disperse the Orang Asli from continuing their blockade and arrested all of those involved.


There were also attempts to bribe the Orang Asli as previously with a huge amount of money to stop the Orang Asli from protesting.


So there were also many cases where the Orang Asli were accused and charged of being instigators, stopping public officers from exercising their duty, despite the fact that Orang Asli is the real victim and the oppressed. So, the Orang Asli have also been accused of intentionally causing problems while they were seeking the truth through their methods.



Rodrigo Lauracio Apaza

ONG Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente


For us, in cases dealing with human rights and the environment, criminalization includes not only the use of criminal law as a means for repression, but also a series of actions that includes laws and regulations implemented by states. In the case of Peru, there have been a series of constitutional reforms. In the past, preliminary detentions could only last 24 hours. Now, in this context of conflict, people—especially social leaders—can be detained for up to 15 days.


In states of emergency, for instance, police can use force, which oftentimes will lead to serious threats to the life of social leaders, and to their physical and psychological well-being. Unfortunately, many organizations have—ironically--reached the conclusion that, unless some lives are lost, the state will not take action. In other words, with practice we’ve found explanations for the killing of our peasant community leaders and representatives. In the term of current president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, nine people have already lost their lives: nine human rights defenders that, most of them, were indigenous representatives.


José Bayardo Chata Pacoricona

ONG Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente


We’ve also noticed that, for example, businesses have mechanisms at their disposal when their interests are affected. They can find ways to protect their own interests. But, what mechanisms do we have as Indigenous Peoples when our rights have been affected?

© 2018 by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition of 15 Partners, 7 Affiliated Networks, 14 International Fellows, and more than 150 collaborating international, regional, and community organizations dedicated to advancing the forestland and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The views presented on this site are not necessarily shared by the agencies that have generously supported this work, nor by all the Partners and Affiliated Networks of the Coalition. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0. View our privacy policy,


© 2018 por la Iniciativa para los derechos y recursos (Rights and Resources Initiative, o RRI por sus siglas en inglés). RRI es una coalición mundial de 15 socios principales, 7 redes afiliadas, 14 miembros internacionales y más de 150 organizaciones colaboradoras a nivel internacional, regional y comunitario, que se dedica a
fomentar los derechos de los pueblos indígenas y las comunidades locales sobre la tierra y los recursos forestales. Los puntos de vista presentados aquí no necesariamente los comparten los organismos que generosamente patrocinaron el presente trabajo o todos los socios y redes afiliadas de la coalición RRI. Este trabajo es bajo Creative Commons License Atribución Creativa CC BY 4.0.