As awareness of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has grown, we as indigenous peoples have actively sought the implementation of this document in all institutions, policies and programmes that have the potential to impact us. To be able to address the exclusion that indigenous peoples face at the grassroots, we have consistently fought for the right to full and effective participation in mechanisms that affect us. Moving the battle upstream is not easy as we have to educate ourselves in a language and cultural environment that is far removed from our own processes of participation and decision-making. It takes time away from the priority – the persistent violation of our rights and resources at the community level.
The links, however, are there, from the casual trespassing of illegal loggers on our lands to local authorities that misreport or take no action, to national level politics that reinforce this culture and to the global marketplaces that continually demand resources without understanding at what price they come. Environmental and development projects can have the same impact, where there is no consciousness of what happens down the chain that links the local to the global.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is the largest funder of environmental projects. Except for the Small Grants Programme, these funds are mostly disbursed through partner agencies including UN bodies, international and regional banks and governments. The GEF also serves as the financial mechanism for 4 environmental conventions.
The GEF’s proposed safeguards thus provide an opportunity to reflect our concerns and our thinking on what needs to be done, in order to ensure that projects that are meant to improve the environment do indeed do just that, while at the same time upholding international commitments to rights. A strong set of safeguards can outline the expectations of what needs to be done to ensure an effective outcome, potentially shaping the way implementers interact with the communities affected by GEF projects.
Such safeguards can be best achieved through our collective, generous participation in this safeguard review. This can be done through specific proposals on amending or deleting text in the draft, analysis or review of a section, reflections on broader principles that should be applied or sharing of experiences with GEF projects in our communities.