The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected indigenous peoples globally. It has put a strain on their rights, in particular their equitable access to health-care, education, land and natural resources. It has further exacerbated the existing economic marginalisation and discrimination of indigenous peoples. In areas of tropical forests, economic interests often have prevailed when amending social and environmental laws, policies and safeguards.
We are witnessing alarming developments: increase in exclusion of indigenous peoples from decision-making; expansion of industrial activity; increased land grabbing and illegal logging; and the rise in the criminalisation and violence against indigenous human rights defenders. Indigenous human rights defenders made up nearly a third of the more than 330 human rights defenders killed worldwide in 2020. Many of them were women.
Indigenous peoples’ culture, language, spirituality and politics, economies and survival are connected to their lands. We must honour their relationship with nature and customary lands. They globally contribute to the protection of around 80% of biodiversity. The pandemic has made clear that the time for a new social contract has come. The respect of the principle of free, prior and informed consent, culturally appropriate social protection and sustainable natural habitat preservation must be part of the COVID-19 recovery plans.
To this end, the EU continues to fund a number of projects under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. In 2020, the EU also extended its contribution to the Indigenous Navigator, an open-source, community-based data collection system and mapping tool led by indigenous peoples. With its timely reports, it is an invaluable resource for assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on indigenous peoples and when considering measures to address the injustice they are facing.
Today, we reiterate our firm commitment towards building and redesigning a new social contract through an equitable post-pandemic recovery everywhere, which ensures respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.