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The Forest Peoples Programme’s April 2011 ENewsletter starts with this sentence: “Closing the gap between international human rights law and realities on the ground is the most important challenge facing forest peoples.” This raises a question for REDD proponents: Is REDD helping to close the gap, or further widening it?

From the evidence presented in FPP’s newsletter, things are not looking promising. REDD is not the first intervention in the name of conservation in indigenous peoples’ lands and forests. FPP highlights the plight of the Ogiek who were evicted from their lands on Mount Elgon in Kenya in 2000, after Mount Elgon was declared a game reserve. On the Ugandan side of Mount Elgon, evictions took place in 1993 when the government declared the land a National Park. Evictions continued, partly the result of a tree planting programme around the boundary of the National Park. The trees were a project by the Face Foundation and were supposed to store carbon, generating carbon credits to be sold to people and organisations in the Netherlands who were unaware of the human rights abuses taking place in far away Uganda. The Face Foundation has now changed its name to Face the Future and seems to have abandoned its tree planting project at Mount Elgon. The conflicts over land in and around Mount Elgon National Park continue.

 

When it comes to REDD projects, unfortunately, there is little evidence that REDD is helping to strengthen indigenous peoples’ rights. According to FPP:

The lack of respect for indigenous peoples’ rights and international standards is also becoming commonplace in new projects to ‘Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD).

Here is FPP’s April 2011 ENewsletter with links to the relevant articles on FPP’s website:

FPP ENewsletter April 2011

Dear Friends,

Closing the gap between international human rights law and realities on the ground is the most important challenge facing forest peoples. Advances in international law have brought a general recognition that indigenous peoples do have rights to own and control their lands and territories and the natural resources within them. But it remains a hard struggle to get international organisations, like the World Bank, to adjust their standards to align with these advances in international law. This issue of our newsletter provides updates on the continuing tussles to get the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, to adopt acceptable policies on indigenous peoples and for their engagement in the palm oil sector. Sustained engagement has led to improvements in both policies but serious weaknesses remain.

By contrast, on paper at least, there has long been an international consensus that conservation organisations and agencies establishing protected areas should respect indigenous peoples’ rights. The shocking case of the Ogiek of Mount Elgon in Kenya, a hunting and gathering people who were expelled from their lands when the mountain was declared a Game Reserve in 2000, and who have since suffered severe discrimination and human right abuses, shows how wide the gap between policy and practice remains. Unfortunately their situation is far from unique in the African context.

The lack of respect for indigenous peoples’ rights and international standards is also becoming commonplace in new projects to ‘Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD). The Dayak peoples of Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) have appealed to the Australian government, which is funding a pilot REDD project there, to ensure respect for their rights to their lands, forests and consent. A new review by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and partners shows that pilot REDD schemes in Cameroon routinely fail to respect rights. A further global review of eight of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s ‘Readiness Preparation Proposals’, by FPP and FERN, exposes the World Bank’s failure to uphold its commitments on human rights and to apply its own safeguard policies.

Ultimately it will require reforms, and then effective implementation, of national laws if these gaps between principles and practice are to be bridged. Yet, in Venezuela a new Presidential Decree has been denounced by the country’s Amazonian indigenous peoples for placing even more obstacles in the way of recognition of their rights; and in Papua New Guinea, although 97% of the country is recognised as customary land, officials have found ways of leasing millions of hectares to developers without the peoples’ consent. Working with local partners FPP raised these issues at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which in turn wrote to the PNG Government to question these setbacks. Likewise, a regional conference following up on last year’s historic recognition of the rights of the Endorois, by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, showed East African governments the need for legal and procedural reforms to ensure rights are protected.

Even once the paperwork is in order real changes in favour of peoples’ rights depend on their own mobilisation. An encouraging case from West Kalimantan shows how NGO and community action can help people secure their lands in the face of the palm oil frontier. To further support forest peoples’ own mobilisation, FPP has prepared a tool kit for African Indigenous Women to inform them of how to advocate for their rights.

Marcus Colchester
Director
Forest Peoples Programme