European Parliament Incorporates Indigenous Rights into Green Transition Legislation, but Concerns Remain

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A man carries a EU flag, after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall
REUTERS/Neil Hall

SIRGE Coalition Celebrates Initial Progress

Cambridge, MA – INDIGENOUS NEWS — The Securing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Green Economy (SIRGE) Coalition is celebrating a milestone achievement as the European Parliament officially embraced Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), aligning with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This crucial step was taken during the adoption of the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) on September 14, 2023, marking significant progress toward justice and sustainability within the European Union’s (EU) transition legislation.

“We applaud the inclusion of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent, as enumerated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as required criteria for projects to be considered ‘Strategic Projects’ in the European Parliament’s official position. And while this is a very positive development, we urge the European Parliament, the Commission, and the Council to secure FPIC in the certification schemes criteria. Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not negotiable. Our future and the future of our children depend on decisions made today,” states Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director, Cultural Survival.

Lingering Concerns Over Indigenous Rights

While the adoption of the CRMA represents a significant stride in the right direction, concerns persist regarding the comprehensive protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Failure to address these concerns during the upcoming trilogues could potentially jeopardize the rights of Indigenous Peoples, triggering resistance that could impact both Indigenous communities and the success of the European Green Transition. It’s important to highlight that over 50% of mining for energy transition minerals occurs within or near Indigenous Peoples’ territories.

The Promise of a Green Economy

The primary goal of the CRMA is to play a pivotal role in fostering a green economy within the EU—one that is environmentally and socially responsible. In light of this, the SIRGE Coalition is urging European Member States to follow the European Parliament’s lead and adopt Critical Raw Materials legislation that leaves no room for ambiguity in safeguarding Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

“Inclusion of Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the Critical Raw Materials Act is a strong step towards ensuring the integration of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and perspectives in decisions that affect their livelihoods and lands. A stronger step is a whole-text approach to ensure that the considerations and criteria necessary for robust economic decision-making are prioritized via policy,” comments Kate R. Finn (Osage), Executive Director, First Peoples Worldwide.

Specifics Matter: The Absence of FPIC in Certification Schemes

Regrettably, the FPIC principle has not been integrated into the certification schemes as a specific criterion in Annex IV, as suggested in Amendment 23. While Annex IV does contain favourable language regarding Indigenous Peoples, it is considered too ambiguous to provide a firm guarantee of their rights.

Unpacking Concerns

Several additional concerns surround the CRMA:

1. Balancing Interests and Rights: The use of the concepts “public interest” and “overriding interest” is problematic. Article 7, numeral 2, numeral 19 lacks a clear definition of “overriding public interest,” leaving significant questions unanswered. This ambiguity could potentially allow for a trade-off between combating global warming and the economic benefits of a mining project, potentially at the expense of Indigenous Peoples’ interests and rights.

“The fast-tracking of strategic projects in the Critical Raw Material Act poses considerable risks for the Saami People in Europe and for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. The inclusion of Free, Prior and Informed Consent as a criterion to assess strategic projects is an important first step, but falls short of truly safeguarding Indigenous Peoples’ rights, leaving too much room to circumvent these criteria altogether,” says Christoph Wiedmer, Co-Director, the Society for Threatened Peoples.

2. Inadequate Inclusion: The CRMA falls short of taking a comprehensive approach to include Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Indigenous communities are often grouped under the term “local communities,” diluting the distinctiveness and strength of Indigenous Peoples and undermining the protection of their specific rights.

“The EU must not place Indigenous lands and rights at risk from irresponsible mining,” states Payal Sampat, Mining Program Director, Earthworks.

3. Sámi Peoples’ Rights: The CRMA neglects to protect the rights of Sámi Peoples. The absence of Amendment 15, which would have mandated respect for Sámi Peoples’ rights in projects under the Act, sends a concerning message about the CRMA’s ability to ensure Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

“The Coalition regrets the omission of Amendment 15, which would have required that projects planned or implemented under this Act must respect the rights of the Sámi Peoples,” sumarizes The SIRGE Coalition

Coalition Voices Concern

The SIRGE Coalition comprises members who have shared their concerns:

  • Pavel Sulyandziga, President of the Batani Foundation, emphasized the need for effective control mechanisms and genuine interaction with Indigenous Peoples. “We welcome the steps taken by the European Union to protect human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, based on the practices and experiences that exist, we believe it is important that effective control mechanisms and real, rather than declared, interaction with Indigenous Peoples be created,” states Pavel Sulyandziga (Udege), President, Batani Foundation

In conclusion, the European Parliament’s recognition of FPIC in the CRMA is a positive development, but it is imperative that the EU takes further steps to ensure the rights of Indigenous Peoples are unequivocally protected, thus aligning the green transition with principles of justice and sustainability.

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