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 this newsletter, we recount how conflicts over imposed palm and pulpwood plantations in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia have led to brutal killings by security forces. This same pattern of land-grabbing without peoples’ consent is now repeating itself in Africa, where the Bagyeli people of the Cameroon now find themselves one of many forest peoples losing land to palm oil developers. Further east in Cameroon, Baka ‘pygmies’ are speaking out against the way conservation and REDD schemes are taking control of their forests without their participation. At a major meeting in Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon, indigenous peoples have just issued a Declaration denouncing the way politicians claiming environmental, populist, left wing or indigenous credentials are nevertheless spurring the development of oil and gas, mines and dams on indigenous peoples’ lands without their consent. On the other side of the globe, Nepali indigenous lawyers appeal to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to censure the way State policies deny effective indigenous participation and disadvantage indigenous women. A workshop of NGOs and indigenous activists in Cameroon notes that legal reforms securing peoples’ rights, especially to control of their territories, are needed to halt these continuing abuses.
These calls are not unheeded. Two separate new studies by the World Bank and the Centre for International Forestry Research demonstrate that community-controlled areas are more effective for conservation than conventional exclusionary protected areas, while indigenous peoples’ territories are most effective of all. Responding to the pressure and this kind of evidence, the Global Environment Facility, belatedly developing its own policy on indigenous peoples, now needs to adopt measures that ensure its projects effectively secure indigenous peoples’ rights under international law. Such studies should also energise the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is holding two significant meetings to review how it can best ensure countries meet their commitments regarding sustainable use and indigenous knowledge. Meanwhile the World Bank is again revising its ‘safeguard’ policies, though the emphasis needs to be as much on implementation as the standards themselves, as new internal studies shamefully reveal once again that World Bank staff routinely fail to apply the policies and procedures they already have designed to protect indigenous rights.
We dedicate this issue of our newsletter to our dear departed colleague, Ricardo Carrere, who led the World Rainforest Movement for so many years. Himself a forester who had worked in plantations in his own country, Uruguay, Ricardo then dedicated this life to the defence of people’s livelihoods against the sweeping tide of mono-cultural plantations engulfing the developing world. Ricardo’s tireless campaigning has helped inspire the work of many, including ours, in support of alternative development and conservation initiatives based on respect for forest peoples’ rights.
Marcus Colchester, Director