Indigenous Communities Fighting For Land Rights More Than Ever - Governments & Corporations Fighting Back


Image: Rights and Resources

A new report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) has some good news and bad news. The good: recognition of land and resource rights for indigenous populations has been on the rise in recent years, but the bad: that increase stagnated last year, despite new governmental commitments, at least on paper, to support such rights. That means land grabs are up.

"On one hand the necessity of secure rights is now widely promoted by climate change negotiators and development specialists," said RRI Coordinator Andy White. "Yet on the other, the rate of recognition is not at all keeping up with the rate of large commercial land acquisitions—so called 'land grabbing'."The report, "Pushback: Local Power, Global Realignment," is academic, but it's also dotted with stories from the ground: troubling ones detailing how efforts by indigenous groups to assert their rights have been intentionally crushed, sometimes violently. As forest lands become increasingly valuable for agriculture, carbon and biofuels, writes RRI, "there is greater pressure from investors and less interest by many governments to recognize local land rights."

Similar Struggles Worldwide
In Mali, for example, closed-door deals have handed more than 300,000 hectares in the main agricultural region of Segou since 2008 to agriculture and biofuel companies, both local and foreign. "So far, violent evictions and uncompensated or poorly compensated displacements have been the norm."

In China, Stora Enso, a giant paper company and regarded as one of the world's greenest, gained control illegally of thousands of hectares of forest lands in southern China's Guangxi Autonomous Region, where the government had recently moved to allow greater control over the land by individual farmers rather than collectives. The land grabbing, technically by middlemen for Stora Enso rather than the company itself, effectively undid those efforts.

In Peru and Nepal, forest rights advocates were assaulted and imprisoned, while regulations in Papua New Guinea have undermined community property rights.

What About REDD?
The report also talks about the highly controversial REDD (Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation). In addition to expectations that the program will not be as cheap, quick, or as effective as first anticipated, the report writes, "many Indigenous Peoples and forest community representatives were originally hostile to REDD for fear that it would further deprive them of rights to their forests—and many still are."

One example of the loopholes seen in REDD:

Norway promised Indonesia up to $1 billion to reduce carbon emissions caused by deforestation. Yet Indonesia's draft REDD strategy does not recognize the importance of establishing community land rights, even though 50 to 70 million people—about a fourth of the country's population—live in or around "state forest lands," most of which have no clearly defined legal status, RRI found.

The report also points out, however, that some of these groups have recognized some upsides to REDD, and have focused on making sure it is adopted with indigenous rights incorporated as a priority:

Those who were successful in their pushback find themselves rewarded with more voice, political clout, and a seat at the table.

As a result of sophisticated and hard-fought advocacy, the international negotiations and the multilateral funds guiding REDD+ have opened their doors to more participation by Indigenous Peoples and forest community representatives in their decision-making structures. In 2010, Indigenous Peoples and forest communities had more seats at the table. More than 500 Indigenous Persons from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Arctic, and North America were present in Cancún, organizing a wide range of meetings and actions to ensure that their concerns were taken on board by COP-16.

Overall, the report "shows the need to read the fine print of laws and polices that purport to establish tenure rights," and calls on governments around the world "to strengthen forest rights and governance as a necessary step both to build a foundation for effective investments in forest-based climate change mitigation and to halt further erosion of land rights."

More on land grabs, indigenous people and governance
World Bank Warns of Risks, Then Endorses Land Grabs in Poor Countries
Indigenous People's Climate Change Summit Giving "Unified Voice"
India Climate Tribunal Gives Voice to People Affected by Climate Change, Demands Action from Governments
After Years of Refusal, U.S. Endorses UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights

Tags: Africa | Biodiversity | Deforestation | Developing Nations | Forestry | Poverty

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