Tribes from four continents have urged Britain to ratify a law that will "guarantee" their survival. It is the first time a group of tribal representatives have made such a direct appeal, reflecting the urgent need for the law's global endorsement.
Currently 22 nations have signed the law, known as ILO Convention 169, which is the only legally binding international law designed to protect tribal peoples' rights. It gives tribal peoples the right to own the land they live on, make decisions about projects that affect them, and ensures their freedom and equality.
Addressed to William Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the letter reads: "We write on the basis of our understanding of ILO Convention 169 and the principles it enshrines, convinced that: i) only through widespread ratification will they be recognized as an issue of global importance; ii) they represent the most effective way to guarantee our survival."
The letter further mentions that although there are no tribal or indigenous peoples in the United Kingdom, a number of British companies work on indigenous land.
"For centuries, tribes have been brutalized, forced off their land, murdered, marginalized, and sold into slavery. The British have historically played a key role in these abominations, which led to the extinction of countless peoples. Today, Britain can choose to ratify the only law that will prevent similar genocides. It's high time that it does so," Survival International's Director, Stephen Corry said in a statement.
Prominent Africans, West Papuans, Brazilians, Russians, as well as UK-based networks, have written the letter to Hague. Ratifying the law was official policy of the Liberal Democrat party, part of the ruling coalition.
The signatories urge the UK to set a precedent by backing a law that will not only save the lives of tribal peoples, but preserve precious eco-systems.
Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood, who is also Chairman of the UK's All Party Group for Tribal Peoples agrees with the urgent need to sign ILO 169, saying: "British ratification of the convention now would send a powerful signal around the world ahead of the forthcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit. The message is that Britain understands that sustainable development has to respect the human rights of the most vulnerable peoples of the world. This call by tribal representatives could not have come at a more important time."