Seabed mining a threat to indigenous and customary rights


During the recent Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance Youth Workshop which took place in the Solomon Islands, on the island of Ysabel, the participants updated and added to the Lelepa declaration of 2014.

The Buala Declaration 2016

In response to continued and increasing severity of threats to customary land and sea systems, posed by the land reforms, and deep sea exploration and seabed mining and other foreign development agendas of international financial institutions, aid agencies, governments and elites within our own countries. The fourth meeting of the MILDA re- affirms its commitment to indigenous control of customary land systems and seas in relation to Melanesian ways. We recognise that external threats to customary land and seas are directed against the Melanesian Pacific as a region. We, therefore, are united and organized as a region to defend the continued control of Melanesian communities over our land, sea, water, air and ancestral heritage. We re-assert that the customary land and sea systems are the basis of life and community in Melanesia.

MILDA is an alliance of groups and individuals with a shared vision and commitment to working together united by a common cause to protect our indigenous land extending from the surface of the ground to the centre of the earth and underneath the sea, including our ecosystems, biodiversity, and intangible cultural heritage, the waters of our rivers, streams and air. Our members comprise of traditional leaders, community members including men, women, youths, children and people with special needs, churches, academics, regional NGOs and international supporters.

The Melanesian definition of land is collective and inclusive which includes the sea. Land has and always will be of the highest value to the lives of our peoples, and so it will be for generations to come. In all Melanesian traditions, land is regarded as a non-alienable resource that cannot be parted with. The relationship which we have with our land and sea is special and unique, and cannot be replaced by foreign value systems. We are custodians of the land and sea since time immemorial.

Land, including the sea, is our mother and the source of life for our people. Land secures life, fosters and strengthens relationships that sustain our society. It embodies the connections to our past, present and future and therefore sustains everything we aspire to. MILDA members, hailing from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Fiji, Kanaky, Papua New Guinea, Maluku, Solomon Islands, West Papua, and Vanuatu, reaffirm the sanctity of land and sea.

We declare the following:

  1. As Indigenous Peoples of Melanesia we are committed to upholding and safeguarding our Melanesian indigenous traditional and cultural heritage, customs, values and beliefs.
  2. We acknowledge and support the value and use of Traditional Resource Management, Traditional Knowledge and vernacular language in the sustainable management of, and cultural links with, the environment and natural resources.
  3. We oppose any form of alienation of land and sea from customary landowners, whether by outright sale, leases or acquisition which remove landowners’ capacity to effectively control, access and use their land and sea.
  4. We believe that the ways in which land and sea is used and distributed should be determined by Melanesian custom, and not by foreign systems.
  5. We assert the value of our traditional economy, which promotes self-reliance amongst our people and communities, and we oppose actions and policies which promote the dependency of Melanesian peoples on others, including the State.
  6. We say NO to all policies which require customary land be registered as a precondition for business or development activities, and demand that Melanesian governments and aid donors cease all pressures for customary land registration, whether voluntary or involuntary.
  7. We say NO to all legislative changes with respect to land and sea resources that takes away rights and control from our people and give exclusive rights and control to governments and foreign investors.
  8. We further call for review of current and new legislative changes with respect to land and sea resources in Melanesia that does not favour our people and Melanesian Ways.
  9. We are opposed to any form of experimental seabed resource extraction (including exploration activities) from our seas.
  10. We oppose all foreign programs, bribes and other methods that take away the right to self-determination over our lands, reflective in Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including customary land registration, foreign land and sea (ocean) grabbing, and extractive industries in Melanesia.
  11. We call for a total review of the current land administration in Melanesia to eliminate corrupt land dealings and fraudulent land practices. All customary land acquired by these means should be returned to the rightful ancestral inheritors.

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