Foreign Policy Blogs

The right not to develop?

In a move that will likely need to be repeated in coming years, the Supreme Court of India ordered a controversial resort in the Andaman Islands to close down pending further deliberations of the Court on the possible effect the resort will have on the endangered Jarawa tribe. The decision came just weeks after the last member of the neighboring Bo tribe died and is part of an effort to protect uncontacted or newly contacted tribes from the dangers of disease brought by modern outsiders.

The resort company in question, Barefoot India, operates a small tourist camp inside a 5km buffer zone designed to protect the Jarawa following outbreaks of disease that occurred when the government built a road through Jarawa territory. Barefoot India argued to the court that their commercial activity would not impact the Jarawa, but the court found that no tourists should be allowed to interact with the Jarawa and the buffer zone should be protected and enforced by the government.

The Andaman Islands are home to several threatened tribes, many of whom have inhabited the islands for millennia. The Bo civilization, whose last living member died in early February, is thought to date back 65,000 years; their destruction is largely attributed to disease brought by settlers followed by years of bad colonial and government policies that sought to civilize them. In contrast, the Jarawa were only recently contacted. So far, this has allowed them to avoid the fate of the Bo, but without further protection by the government it may just delay the inevitable.

The Supreme Court’s decision is a positive step towards protecting the human rights of uncontacted tribes even when they cannot participate in the process. But as modern populations expand, development continues, and commercial opportunities in tourism and natural resources exist, the fundamental issue of this case will need to be re-litigated time and time again. For all the talk about a right to develop, situations such as this suggest that the opposite must be true as well, where those who thrive without the knowledge of modern life must have the right to resist development in order to save themselves.

 

Author

Kimberly J. Curtis
Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa

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