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27 novembre 2014 4 27 /11 /novembre /2014 17:42
ASIA
15 November 2014
New life

Asia's indigenous peoples

Ambitions of the international community to eliminate global poverty by the year 2030 will be challenged by the large numbers of indigenous people, especially in Asia, who live in deep poverty.


Ambitions of the international community to eliminate global poverty by the year 2030 will be challenged by the large numbers of indigenous people, especially in Asia, who live in deep poverty and suffer from widespread deprivations.

Indeed, economic growth, the main driver of poverty reduction in Asia, is now having a weaker impact on poverty than before. It is very difficult to bring certain groups like indigenous peoples into the mainstream of the economy.  

There are some 260 million indigenous peoples in Asia, three-quarters of the world's total, making it the most culturally diverse region in the world. The average poverty rate of Asia's indigenous peoples is three times higher than the Asian average. And education, health and other social conditions are also much worse.

Who are Asia's indigenous peoples? Where do they live? As the International Work Group for Idigenous Affairs documents, indigenous peoples live in most Asian countries, for example:

-- Burma/Myanmar has over 100 different ethnic groups, with Burmans making up an estimated 68 percent of the country’s 50 million people. The other “ethnic nationalities” include the Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Karenni, Chin, Kachin and Mon. These indigenous groups suffered greatly from the oppressive policies of the former Burman-dominated military regimes. As the country has begun moving towards democracy, hundreds of political prisoners have been released, and the government has engaged in ceasefire talks with ethnic armed groups. However, many critical issues remained unresolved, most notably the persecution of Muslim Rohingya in Arakan State.

-- China proclaims itself a unified country with a multiple ethnic make-up, and all ethnic groups are considered equal before the law. Besides the Han Chinese majority, the government recognizes 55 ethnic minority peoples within its borders. The population of ethnic minorities is 114 million persons, or 8.5 % of the country's total population. The government has made great efforts to improve the lives of China's indigenous peoples, in the areas of education and health. They are also allowed to have two or three children, and are thus exempt from the one-child policy. But certain groups like Tibetans and the Uighurs still suffer terrible human rights abuses.

-- In India, 461 ethnic groups are recognized as Scheduled Tribes, "Adivasis", who are considered to be India’s indigenous peoples. With an estimated population of 84.3 million, they comprise 8.2% of the total population. There are, however, many more ethnic groups that would qualify for Scheduled Tribe status but which are not officially recognized. Estimates of the total number of tribal groups are as high as 635. The largest concentrations of indigenous peoples are found in the seven states of north-east India, and the so-called “central tribal belt” stretching from Rajasthan to West Bengal.

-- Indonesia's population of 250 million includes 50-70 million indigenous peoples, from 1128 officially-recognised ethnic groups. Perhaps the most egregious case of human rights abuses in Indonesia is the human tragedy of West Papua. The people of West Papua have been calling for self-determination for half a century. The struggle for liberation from an Indonesian military occupation has seen as many as 500,000 Papuans killed. A recent development in this long campaign is the suspicious death of a commander of the rebel Free Papua Movement, Danny Kogoya, in December 2013.

-- Japan has two main indigenous peoples, the Ainu and the Okinawans. The Ainu mainly live in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, although large numbers have migrated to Japan’s urban centers for work and to escape the more prevalent discrimination on Hokkaido. As of 2006, the Ainu population was 23,782 in Hokkaido and roughly 5,000 in the greater Kanto region. The Okinawans live in Japan's southern islands of Okinawa. Socio-economically, Okinawa remains Japan’s poorest prefecture, with income levels roughly 70% of the national average and unemployment at double the national average.

-- Nepal's indigenous peoples comprise 36% of the country's population of 26 million, although indigenous peoples’ organizations claim a larger figure of more than 50%. Throughout the history of Nepal, indigenous peoples have been marginalized in terms of language, culture, and political and economic opportunities.

-- The indigenous peoples of Malaysia represent around 12% of the national population of 29 million. The Orang Asli are the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, representing a mere 0.6% of the population. Indigenous peoples account for around half of the populations of Sarawak and Sabah.

-- The Philippine national population of 92 million includes an indigenous population of between 10% and 20%. The indigenous groups in the northern mountains of Luzon (Cordillera) are collectively known as Igorot while the groups on the southern island of Mindanao are collectively called Lumad. There are smaller groups collectively known as Mangyan in the central islands. These indigenous peoples generally live in geographically isolated areas with a lack of access to basic social services and few opportunities for mainstream economic activities or political participation.

-- Vietnam's 53 recognized ethnic groups, beyond the Kinh majority, account for around 14% of the country’s total population of 90 million. The ethnic minorities live scattered throughout the country, but concentrated mostly in the Northern Mountains and Central Highlands in the South.

Beyond standard deprivations like access to food, education and health services, Asia's indigenous peoples suffer from a profound lack of "empowerment". This is due to problems like denial of self-determination, the loss of control over their land and natural resources, discrimination and marginalization, heavy assimilation pressure and violent repression by state security forces. Several countries have legislations that to some extent protect the rights of indigenous peoples. These rights are, however, systematically watered down, often simply ignored or overruled.

Asian governments cannot rely on economic growth alone to free its indigenous peoples from poverty. The challenging experiences of indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada and the US demonstrate that a broader range of sophisticated policies will be necessary. However, the regrettable reality is that Asia's authoritarian regimes and fragile democracies usually see indigenous peoples as at best a nuisance, and all too often as a threat to their fragile grip on power.

Author

John West
Executive Director
Asian Century Institute
 

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