The challenge of climate change has injected new energy – and funding – into forest policy-making. Ever since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed the need to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), there have been sustained calls by indigenous peoples and concerned NGOs, that forest peoples’ rights must be secured as part of this initiative. Texts agreed in Cancun accept that REDD must respect human rights and ensure the effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, and funders must ‘safeguard’ these principles and ensure countries observe their international obligations. A new funder of REDD schemes, the Global Environment Facility has been persuaded to take more time developing its new safeguard policies to ensure consistency with these obligations.
Most of the articles in this newsletter focus on the battle to put these commitments into practice. In Peru, voluntary REDD schemes in Madre de Dios and San Martin are proliferating without adequately taking rights into consideration. Indigenous peoples insist that their rights to their forests must be secured first before areas are allocated to conservation schemes, otherwise they will be excluded. A guest article from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation sets out their concerns with a similar challenge in Canada. In Cameroon, a study by FPP and partners shows that protected areas linked with REDD funding have been designed without adequate consultation. Although both the World Bank and WWF protest that it is too early to make this charge, we contend that prior engagement with and consent from rights-holders is required by international law. Indeed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples notes that ‘low-carbon development strategies’, such as dam-building programmes in Costa Rica, by avoiding meaningful consultation and adequate impact studies, are seriously compromising indigenous peoples’ rights and undermining their right to self-determination. In Peru, sustained advocacy by indigenous organisations has secured commitments from the government and the World Bank to provide additional readiness funds to address land tenure issues.
Building up the capacity of local communities and indigenous peoples to engage in these policy debates is a crucial part of this work. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we are working with local partners in Equateur Province to raise awareness about rights and REDD. In Uganda, DRC and Rwanda, FPP is helping Batwa communities to make 3-dimensional maps of their forest lands to show what these forests, from which Batwa have been excluded by protected areas, mean to them. Participatory map-making helps knit together communities and demonstrates to younger generations the value and relevance of the traditional knowledge of their elders. FPP and partners are now working with the IUCN to establish a new approach, dubbed the ‘Whakatane Mechanism’, to ensure protected areas respect indigenous peoples’ rights. We announce also an upcoming workshop on Gender and Land Tenure in Africa, taking place in Cameroon, to review how national land tenure laws need revising to meet each country’s international human rights obligations.
Getting forest peoples’ rights effectively recognised and protected requires mobilisation and advocacy at all levels from the very local to the most global. We go forwards energised by the vigour in this shared endeavour.
Marcus Colchester, Director, Forest Peoples Programme