From 8–11 February 2012, indigenous peoples’ representatives, civil society, NGO and state representatives gathered in Geneva to discuss the draft UN-REDD Programme Social and Environmental Principles and Criteria and the draft UN-REDD Programme Guidelines on Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), along with a number of NGO, state, and indigenous organisations (including FPP’s local partners from Paraguay, Indonesia and Panama), submitted written comments to both documents in advance. At the meeting in Geneva they then provided significant feedback to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representatives facilitating the event and taking the lead in drafting and revising the documents.
Forest Peoples Programme found the dialogues and exchanges to be very rich; reflective of an increasing understanding of indigenous peoples’ rights and the nature of human rights-based development. FPP also found the UNDP staff responsive to the suggestions for improvement as well as to the criticisms of content.
The earlier 2-day discussions around the Social and Environmental Principles and Criteria focused on a series of issues, including whether the document should clarify the mandatory versus voluntary nature of specific requirements, and whether greater flexibility should be written into the document to allow states to adjust their implementation and/or interpretation of the requirements against the backdrop of domestic circumstances. Some supported such suggestions while others felt this would merely diminish the value of the document and subordinate international legal obligations to country laws and frameworks. A significant question still left unanswered, however, is when and where these principles and criteria are to be applied, i.e. during the readiness phase only, or to REDD+ activities thereafter?
For two days participants provided further opinions regarding the draft UN-REDD FPIC guidelines. In breakout groups, participants focused particularly on the issue of who gives consent (for instance, just indigenous peoples and other forest dependent communities); when such consent is needed and how such consent processes should be conducted as well as verified for effectiveness and credibility.
On the last day, the UNDP benefitted from direct input and dialogue with a smaller set of experts in free, prior and informed consent, thus assisting UNDP in revising the guidelines and addressing the many comments and inputs received in the meeting and in written submissions. The participants agreed, among other things, that attempting to provide an exhaustive list of when FPIC does apply, or does not apply, was not preferred for the Social and Environmental Principles and Criteria. Participants also recognised that indigenous peoples’ right to FPIC was well enshrined in international law, but the same affirmations were not as clear with respect to local communities. Many agreed, however, that numerous local communities (whether they have self-identified as such, or whether the state has recognised them as such) would likely satisfy criteria for application of the FPIC standard.
Participants also reached greater consensus that FPIC processes are necessary not just at the local level, but also at the national level when national REDD strategies and programmes are being developed and contain elements that may affect the rights of indigenous peoples and/or specific indigenous communities (see, for example, Article 19 of UNDRIP). A significant discussion also circled around the recognition that while there is an urgency to preserve and conserve forests under threat, such urgency could not justify short cuts on FPIC and the overall human rights based approach to the guidelines.
The next UN-REDD meeting will be held in Paraguay in March.The UN-REDD has stated that it will soon post all of the discussions and outcomes of these Geneva meetings on their website. FPP will continue to follow the process and review the new drafts before the March meeting.