Indigenous peoples call on Global Environment Facility to honour its commitments

Indigenous peoples call on Global Environment Facility to honour its commitments

Indigenous peoples’ organisations have long called on the Global Environment Facility (GEF), as major global finance institution providing funding for government environmental projects and programmes, to adopt a specific policy on indigenous peoples in line with international standards. In October 2010, the GEF CEO, Monique Barbut, finally announced that the GEF would develop its own set of safeguard standards and would address the specific concerns of indigenous peoples (FPP E-news, October 2011).

After a somewhat rushed process with limited participation, in November 2011 the GEF adopted a set of minimum safeguard standards on social and environmental assessment, involuntary resettlement, natural habitats and indigenous peoples (FPP E-news October 2011). However, the final minimum standards approved by the GEF Council have been sharply criticised by indigenous peoples’ organisations for being based on outdated World Bank policies, and for restricting the GEF commitment to respect free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) only to those countries that have ratified ILO Convention 169.

“There is no justification for restricting FPIC only to ILO 169 countries as these states have to implement FPIC anyway,” said Minnie Degawan, of the Kankanaey people (Philippines), and member of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) to the GEF. “FPIC is a right of all indigenous peoples established under international law, and this is the current level of international understanding and consensus, as exemplified in other intergovernmental institutional policies on indigenous peoples like those used by UN agencies and international financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)”.

Meanwhile, GEF action to address indigenous peoples’ concerns as a specific issue made some progress in 2011 with the formation of an Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) on the GEF, which developed an Issues Paper with detailed recommendations on essential elements for an effective rights-based GEF policy on Indigenous Peoples. The Issues Paper was duly submitted to the GEF for their consideration in the summer of 2011.

At the beginning of 2012, indigenous leaders and organisations have been disappointed on the release of GEF’s draft “Principles and Guidelines for Engagement with Indigenous Peoples in GEF Projects and Processes”, which has disregarded most of the recommendations made in the IPTF Issues Paper as well as recommendations made in Indigenous peoples’ statements over the past decade (e.g. at the GEF Council and in Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings).

Indigenous leaders have expressed concerns that the draft guidance has downgraded GEF action from formulating a policy to the compilation of non-binding guidelines that would be approved by the GEF CEO without adoption by the GEF Council. The GEF admits that the guidelines would only be ‘supplementary’ and ‘additional information to explain or implement a particular policy’ (in this case, the defective minimum standards safeguard policy and out-of-date existing GEF policies).

Despite IPTF recommendations on the improvements needed to make the draft guidelines useful, the second draft released in mid-March still suffers from numerous defects. Remaining problems include ambiguous and weak language on rights, offensive treatment of FPIC and repeated linkages to defective provisions in the GEF Policy on Agency Minimum Standards on Environmental and Social Safeguards.  Indigenous peoples are especially disillusioned that the draft guidelines do not contain more explicit recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights and have used optional and qualifying language, even though the guidance is non-binding.

Statement calls for greater GEF recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights:

At the end of March, the Asian Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus issued a statement expressing serious concerns about the GEF policy process. The statement, which has been endorsed by 20 organisations from Asia, affirms that any interim GEF guidance on indigenous peoples must, as a minimum, include provisions that fully recognise indigenous peoples’ rights protected under international law and in related international instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also makes it clear that indigenous peoples in Asia expect the GEF to honour its commitments to develop a specific policy on indigenous peoples, which must require that indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in all GEF-financed activities that may directly or indirectly affect their rights, lands, resources, livelihoods and interests in general.

Further information:

Asian Indigenous Peoples' Caucus Statement on the GEF Policy Process:

Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) on the GEF Issues Paper detailing recommendations on essential elements for an effective rights-based GEF policy on Indigenous Peoples:

GEF Council to adopt revised Environmental and Social Safeguards in November, FPP E-news, October 2011

Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: an opportunity to influence GEF policy, FPP E-news, July 2011 Input into the proposed Global Environment Facility environmental and social safeguards, FPP E-news, July 2011 Global Environment Facility finally plans to adopt social safeguards, FPP E-news, December 2010 Indigenous peoples’ participation in the decisions and policy-making of the GEF, (2007), Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh desk-based review of the treatment of indigenous peoples’ and social issues in large and medium-sized GEF biodiversity projects (2005-2006), Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh Global Environment Facility (GEF) and its Local Benefits Study - A critique (2006), Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh, Peoples and the GEF (2005), Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh