Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

FPP E-Newsletter April 2011

Dear Friends,

Closing the gap between international human rights law and realities on the ground is the most important challenge facing forest peoples. Advances in international law have brought a general recognition that indigenous peoples do have rights to own and control their lands and territories and the natural resources within them. But it remains a hard struggle to get international organisations, like the World Bank, to adjust their standards to align with these advances in international law. This issue of our newsletter provides updates on the continuing tussles to get the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, to adopt acceptable policies on indigenous peoples and for their engagement in the palm oil sector. Sustained engagement has led to improvements in both policies but serious weaknesses remain.

By contrast, on paper at least, there has long been an international consensus that conservation organisations and agencies establishing protected areas should respect indigenous peoples’ rights. The shocking case of the Ogiek of Mount Elgon in Kenya, a hunting and gathering people who were expelled from their lands when the mountain was declared a Game Reserve in 2000, and who have since suffered severe discrimination and human right abuses, shows how wide the gap between policy and practice remains. Unfortunately their situation is far from unique in the African context.

The lack of respect for indigenous peoples’ rights and international standards is also becoming commonplace in new projects to ‘Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD). The Dayak peoples of Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) have appealed to the Australian government, which is funding a pilot REDD project there, to ensure respect for their rights to their lands, forests and consent. A new review by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and partners shows that pilot REDD schemes in Cameroon routinely fail to respect rights. A further global review of eight of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’s ‘Readiness Preparation Proposals’, by FPP and FERN, exposes the World Bank’s failure to uphold its commitments on human rights and to apply its own safeguard policies.

Ultimately it will require reforms, and then effective implementation, of national laws if these gaps between principles and practice are to be bridged. Yet, in Venezuela a new Presidential Decree has been denounced by the country’s Amazonian indigenous peoples for placing even more obstacles in the way of recognition of their rights; and in Papua New Guinea, although 97% of the country is recognised as customary land, officials have found ways of leasing millions of hectares to developers without the peoples’ consent. Working with local partners FPP raised these issues at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which in turn wrote to the PNG Government to question these setbacks. Likewise, a regional conference following up on last year’s historic recognition of the rights of the Endorois, by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, showed East African governments the need for legal and procedural reforms to ensure rights are protected.

Even once the paperwork is in order real changes in favour of peoples’ rights depend on their own mobilisation. An encouraging case from West Kalimantan shows how NGO and community action can help people secure their lands in the face of the palm oil frontier. To further support forest peoples’ own mobilisation, FPP has prepared a tool kit for African Indigenous Women to inform them of how to advocate for their rights.

Marcus Colchester
Forest Peoples Programme  

Endorois decision on indigenous peoples’ rights informs high level regional meeting in Africa

14 April, 2011

The land rights of indigenous peoples and human rights of minority communities were discussed in Kampala, Uganda on 4th March 2011 during the first East Africa Regional Dialogue on Minority Community Rights. The event came as a result of the collaboration of many national and international organisations including the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda, Forest Peoples Programme, Minority Rights Group International, Institute for Law & Environmental Governance, Uganda Land Alliance and Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment.  The dialogue was attended by representatives of indigenous peoples and minority communities from throughout the East African region as well as government and civil society organisations from Uganda and Kenya. Honoured guests included the Minister of State for Gender and Culture from Uganda and the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, former Commissioner of the African Commission Bahame Tom Nyanduga, representatives from the African Commission’s Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities, as well as indigenous leaders from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania.

UN human rights bodies take note of massive land speculation in Papua New Guinea

14 April, 2011

Lands held and managed under custom in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are regularly quoted as covering the vast majority of the country’s land mass, 97% is the usually accepted figure. The remaining 3% of lands, no longer governed by tradition and custom, are referred to as ‘alienated lands’ and come under the management of the Department of Lands and Physical Planning.  However these remarkable figures of land tenure security hide a grimmer truth. Over the past 13 months alone almost 10% of the land mass of Papua New Guinea has been issued out as concessions under an arrangement known as ‘Special Agricultural and Business Leases’ (SABL). Under these lease agreements, the government leases customary lands from traditional owners and re-leases the same lands, often to a third party, with customary rights to the lands suspended for the term of the lease.  

Kenya’s High Hills honey gatherers need urgent help: the Ogiek of Mount Elgon and the Sengwer of the Cherangany hills

14 April, 2011

On 6 June 2000 the Chepkitale moorlands (the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon) were gazetted: the grazing lands and forests where the Ogiek have lived since time immemorial were turned into a game reserve without consulting the Ogiek. They were then forced to abandon their hills, forest, honey, cattle and transhumance and made to live on tiny 2.5 acre land parcels down in the lowlands. Here, dominant neighbouring peoples were given land around them. Whipped up by politicians in the run up to the 2007 elections, these people formed an armed militia gang, the SLDF (Sabaot Land Defence Force), who raped and murdered the Ogiek until they fled back up into the Chepkitale Highlands.

Venezuela: Indigenous Peoples speak out against yet more obstacles to the recognition of their land rights

14 April, 2011

A new Presidential decree, which reduces indigenous participation in the process meant to recognise their rights to their lands and territories has been denounced by the indigenous peoples of the Venezuelan Amazon. The Constitution and laws of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela offer strong protections of indigenous peoples’ rights to own and control their lands and territories (referred to as ‘habitats’ in Venezuelan law). However, even though indigenous peoples have filed numerous well-documented land claims substantiated with detailed land use maps, actual recognition of these areas has been blocked by the President’s Office. The new Decree, it is feared, will make such recognition even more difficult.

Australia Indonesia Partnership fails to respect Dayak rights

14 April, 2011

Australia and Indonesia have been working together for several years now on REDD+. Their main cooperation is the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP) which seeks to rehabilitate 100,000 hectares of peat swamp in Central Kalimantan. The area is part of Soeharto's Mega Rice scheme which failed to grow rice but reduced the agroforestry systems of dozens of Dayak communities to burning peat wastelands. Now, with millions of dollars already spent on the REDD+ project, Yayasan Petak Danum, a Dayak community organisation from the area of the KFCP project, wrote a letter listing major concerns with the project, especially its failure to respect the rights of the Dayak communities in the area. Read Yayasan Petak Danum (YPD) Network’s Letter to the Australian delegation to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, February 2011, regarding the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership pilot REDD+ project:

Precedent-setting land deal in palm oil expansion zone in Borneo

14 April, 2011

A new oil palm plantation being developed in Indonesian Borneo (West Kalimantan) has relinquished community lands to which it had gained a government permit. The company PT Agro Wiratama, a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and subsidiary of the giant Musim Mas group, agreed to relinquish more than 1,000 hectares of its 9,000 hectare concession back to the community, following interventions by community representatives and NGOs. This is a breakthrough in the context of a pattern of development whereby millions of hectares of large-scale oil palm plantations have been established without consent on indigenous peoples’ land. Forest Peoples Programme spotted PT Agro Wiratama’s plans to open up this area on the RSPO website and alerted NGO partners in Borneo, who were able to work with the community and help them negotiate with the company and local government to get their lands recognised. 

Read recent FPP, Sawit Watch, Gemawan and Kontak Press Release

World Bank lifts suspension on financing palm oil

14 April, 2011

The long running struggle to get the World Bank Group, which includes its private sector arm the International Finance Corporation (IFC), to adopt a more responsible policy on the palm oil sector has entered a new phase. A final draft, submitted by Bank staff to the Board was adopted at the end of March, but NGOs including the Forest Peoples Programme, Oxfam, Greenpeace and World Resources Institute all raised concerns with the World Bank’s Executive Directors about it. Although it is clear that the text has been markedly improved after taking on board some of the comments made by NGOs and government agencies during the last round of consultations, other provisions remain weak. The policy would discourage but still allow the takeover of indigenous peoples’ and local communities lands without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent. The policy has weaker provisions on the clearance of peatlands and forests than industry best practice. The policy is also still unclear about how implementation will be monitored and evaluated. Nor are the IFC and World Bank offering to make reparations for harms caused by previous investments, something indigenous peoples and local communities in Indonesia have strongly demanded.  

Press Release: New study shows REDD may marginalize Indigenous Peoples and local communities in Cameroon

15 April, 2011

A new report by Forest Peoples Programme gives a critical and in-depth overview of the social aspects of projects intended to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in Cameroon. REDD and Rights In Cameroon: A review of the treatment of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in policies and projects shows that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are unlikely to gain from REDD as it stands and they might even be harmed by it.

Even though Cameroon’s national “REDD readiness” process is only in its first stages, so-called “pilot” or sub-national REDD projects are proliferating all over the country, potentially affecting 30% of forested land. Many organisations are jumping into REDD projects without necessarily thinking about the people who live in, and have been caring for, these forests.

Press Release: World Bank’s forest climate fund slammed for sidelining indigenous peoples’ rights and failing to protect forests

23 March, 2011

DALAT, Vietnam (23 March 2011) – A new report launched today at the 8th meeting of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) reveals that the Bank is not fulfilling its promises to protect the rights of forest peoples. Smoke and Mirrors: a critical assessment of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility by Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and FERN exposes the World Bank’s failure to uphold its commitments on human rights and its engagement in never-ending changes to its social and environmental policies, weakening its accountability to affected communities and the public.

Launch of toolkit on Indigenous women's rights in Africa

15 April, 2011

A new publication entitled “Indigenous women’s rights and the African human rights system: a toolkit on mechanisms” will be launched at the end of April 2011 during the session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, The Gambia. The toolkit was elaborated in consultation with local, regional, and international partners who work with indigenous women and indigenous peoples’ organisations. It consists of a series of informative notes that review human rights standards pertaining to indigenous women in Africa and the different mechanisms available to promote and ensure the protection of these rights. The toolkit aims at providing NGOs and indigenous women's organisations in Africa with a helpful resource to guide their effective use of the various African human rights mechanisms. The toolkit will be made available online and the launch will be officiated by Commissioner Soyata Maïga, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, who also contributed to the toolkit.