Globally oil palm plantations continue to expand at a rapid rate. World leader, Indonesia, has raced past Malaysia to become the number one producer. Latest data from the Indonesian watchdog NGO, SawitWatch, suggests that oil palm plantations in Indonesia now cover 11 million hectares, up from 6 million hectares only five years ago. New plantings are spreading to the smaller islands of the archipelago and to the less developed areas of eastern Indonesia. Hopes that a Presidential promise of a 2 year moratorium on forest clearance would slow the crop’s expansion – part of a deal to reduce green house gas emissions - have also evaporated as the government has excepted areas where preliminary permits have already been handed out.
At its 50th Session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution condemning the recent decision of the World Heritage Committee to inscribe Lake Bogoria in Kenya on the World Heritage List. The issue at stake was the almost complete lack of involvement of the Endorois (the indigenous owners of the territory) in the decision-making process. This is particularly problematic in light of the African Commission’s earlier decision on the case of Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group International on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council v Kenya adopted at the 46th Ordinary Session held from 11–25 November 2009 in Banjul, The Gambia, and endorsed by the Heads of State and Government of the African Union in February 2010. This earlier decision and the recent resolution both emphasize that the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) must be adhered to in the lands and territories of indigenous peoples. Failing to involve indigenous peoples in decision-making processes and failing to obtain Free, Prior and Informed Consent constitutes a violation of their right to development under Article 22 of the African Charter, and other international laws.
Many statements from indigenous peoples organisations were made on the occasion of the 50th African Commission session held in Banjul in October 2011. As well as the implementation of the 2010 African Commission’s decision regarding the Endorois in Kenya, the situation of indigenous women in Burundi and Kenya were addressed. Burundi was also examined under the state reporting procedure, which raised issues pertaining to the rights of indigenous peoples.
In terms of natural resource endowment, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa. However its citizenry are amongst the poorest in the world. Some of the most impoverished and politically marginalized people – indigenous and local forest communities - live here. They mostly rely upon forests and other natural resources to secure their basic livelihoods through subsistence forest hunting and gathering, and small-scale agriculture. These forest peoples currently have little or no influence over national and provincial decisions about how their customary lands will be used by commercial or conservation groups, whose interests are often in conflict with forest communities’ needs, priorities and basic human rights.
In Africa, Asia and Latin America alike, forest peoples are speaking out against the continuing violations of their rights imposed by development and conservation plans that ignore their interests and deny them a voice. They go beyond resistance, insisting on their own ways of managing their lives, lands and forests.
In dialogue with parliament and the government
Compared to the 1990s and the start of the 21st century, the question of giving recognition to the indigenous peoples of Cameroon has, in recent years, become a central issue, if still in a somewhat tentative way.
Indeed, on the 1st and 2nd of September 2011 in Yaounde, Cameroon, parliament and the government held a dialogue on indigenous peoples. The meeting brought together members of the National Assembly (under the umbrella of the Parliamentarians’ Network, REPAR), representatives of ministries with projects affecting indigenous peoples, development partners, UN special representatives and a substantial delegation of indigenous peoples: Baka, Bakola, Bagyeli and Bororo. A new phenomenon was the willingness to consider what is involved in giving recognition to indigenous communities, as was demonstrated by the extensive question and answer sessions between the members of the National Assembly and the indigenous peoples.
The government of Cameroon has signed a MoU for the creation of a 200,000 ha palm oil plantation by BioPalm Energy Ltd (a subsidiary of the Singapore-based SIVA Group) in Ocean province, Cameroon. This project was launched on Wednesday 24th August 2011 – despite the indigenous Bagyeli people opposing the decision to allocate their customary lands to the BioPalm plantation.
Recent fieldwork by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) has found that neither the project nor the state has secured the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the Bagyeli, as required by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights, which Cameroon has ratified.
Conservation organisations have been making great strides towards recognising that protected areas must respect the rights of indigenous peoples as enshrined in international law, including the right to give or withhold their free prior and informed consent to the establishment of new protected areas in their customary territories. Yet in practice conservation organisations often continue to exclude local people from using forest and other resources, and only consult them after they have drawn up management plans rather than jointly writing them.
A regional workshop entitled ‘Gender and land tenure in Africa’ will take place from July 26 to 29, 2011 in Edea, Cameroon. Organized by Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the Réseau des Femmes Africaines pour la Gestion Communautaire des Forêts (REFACOF), and Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), this workshop’s goals include creating a discussion forum on gender, rights to land, and forest resources in Africa and clarifying the applicable legal framework and protection mechanisms created to secure the rights to land and resources. This workshop will also provide an opportunity to share information on land and forest reforms that are taking place in several African countries. It will bring together approximately thirty participants, including representatives from forest communities and indigenous peoples.
In 2009 a group of Batwa representatives from Uganda travelled to Ogiek communities in Kenya to learn about their situation and the different advocacy strategies they were using. One of these strategies was the use of Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM), which helped the Ogiek engage Kenyan agencies on their rights to their ancestral territory, the Mau Forest. The Batwa walked away from this visit impressed by the simplicity of the P3DM technique and hopeful of replicating it in their own context.
Two years later in June 2011, the Batwa, with support from the ARCUS Foundation, began their own three-dimensional modelling of their ancestral territory, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. More than 100 representatives from the Batwa communities surrounding Bwindi, including youth, elders, women and men attended the exercise over a three-week period.