The October 2014 issue of the FPP’s newsletter carries stories about forest rights and forest wrongs, as conflicting interests and approaches battle to decide the fate of the forests and forest peoples in different countries.
The violent assassination in September of four Ashaninka leaders from Saweto, Peru in the hands of illegal loggers was a sobering reminder of the continuing vulnerability of forest peoples in their struggles to secure legal title over customary lands and forests against vested interests. Peruvian law requires legal recognition, demarcation and titling of indigenous peoples’ traditional lands prior to permitting resource extraction, yet Saweto’s lands remain untitled, leaving these open to forest conversion and commercial exploitation.
Peru will also host the UNFCCC COP20 talks in December, when forest issues relating to climate change mitigation will be further negotiated. An international public hearing with community testimonies on deforestation and human rights will be organised by FPP and Peruvian Indigenous peoples’ organisation AIDESEP, with the presence of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. A ground-breaking report demonstrating that securing the human rights of forest peoples goes hand in hand with securing forests around the world will also be launched.
By actively engaging other actors affecting their forests and their rights, forest peoples are transforming institutionalised practices and seeking creative solutions combining respect for human rights in decision-making about forests. The Sengwer people of the Embobut Forest in Kenya secured a commitment from the World Bank’s President Kim to directly communicate with President Kenyatta, following forced evictions this year by the Kenyan Forest Service, associated with a World-Bank funded forest conservation project. Community leaders have called for a robust action plan by the Kenyan government to resolve the forest crisis.
The Mambuti-Batwa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) conducted 3D community mapping of their territories and use zones in support of redress mechanisms in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The IUCN Whakatane Mechanism, which promotes dialogue, field assessments and joint problem-solving with park authorities’ conservation organisations and affected communities, is being piloted in DRC, Thailand and Kenya. Lessons will be shared in the upcoming World Parks Congress in Sydney.
The pattern of community territories overlain by conservation and private concessions continues to fuel land conflicts across the region, exemplified by recent threats against community rights around the Boumba Bek - Nki Conservation Area of southeast Cameroon, including violence by eco-guards.
There are also new prospects and challenges in forest governance. In September 2014 the Indonesian government agencies concerned with lands and forests declared their support for indigenous peoples’ rights, providing a helpful starting point for the incoming President Joko Widodo, who takes office in October 2014.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) recently decided to establish a Permanent Indigenous Peoples Committee (PIPC) in its governing structure, a welcome boost to its earlier commitments to respect free prior informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples among its principles and standards.
This growing political attention on forests must also build momentum to secure the rights of forest peoples.
Director, Forest Peoples Programme