OPINON: Under cover of COVID, new laws in Asia threaten environmental and social protections

In addition to its devastating toll on public health, COVID-19 has exacerbated global food insecurity and economic crises. These costs have been particularly acute for Indigenous Peoples and local communities on customarily governed territories and lands.

Yet some of the worst impacts have originated not from the crisis, but from decisions made to protect vested interests. A recent analysis by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, the Coalition for Tenure Justice in Indonesia, and the Rights and Resources Initiative shows that governments across Asia have used the pandemic’s cover to promulgate detrimental laws that counteract the advances made in recognition of Indigenous and community tenure rights.

Governments have taken advantage of limits on public mobilization to push through controversial economic policies predating COVID-19, leveraging lockdown regulations to quash opposition and target activists. Governments have continued pushing this misguided bid to revive economies despite evidence that these practices increase the probability of spreading zoonotic diseases by degrading the very ecosystems that prevent them.

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Kundan Kumar