When outside agencies come onto forest peoples' lands, whether they are financiers, developers, conservationists or others, they come with their own visions and assumptions about what is important and how things need to change. Almost all these agents of change now agree, on paper at least, that in principle they must respect forest peoples' rights. But of course, what that means is that they should respect the right of forest peoples to control any interventions and ensure that they are in line with forest peoples' own visions of what is important and needs to change.
One of the first things that most forest peoples will want secured is their rights over their lands, territories and natural resources. In a world facing increasing resource scarcity, the pressure to take over lands and forests for fuel, fibre, food and conservation is mounting. The very survival of forest peoples is at risk if their basic rights are not respected.
The reluctance of outside agencies to properly recognise rights is apparent at all levels. As this issue of our newsletter shows, in Guyana the Government persists in denying the Amerindian peoples their rights to their wider territories. That should be a reason for outsiders to say: 'well, sorry, but we can't do business with you if you plan to deny your own people's rights'.
Yet, according to the President of Guyana, the Norwegian Government and the World Bank have just agreed to a clever way to avoid having to apply the 'safeguards' which the World Bank normally applies to ensure its projects do no harm. This could set a disastrous precedent for the global effort to stabilise the climate by 'reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation'. Likewise, along with our colleagues in Indonesia, we are struggling to get the World Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, to accept that it cannot go back into funding oil palm developments in Indonesia until laws and procedures are changed to secure peoples' rights first.
The recent intergovernmental negotiations, both on climate and forests in Bonn, and on how the Convention on Biological Diversity should deal with 'sustainable customary use' and implanted protected areas, ran into the same buffers - the reluctance at the international level to insist on rights. The very same governments, which almost unanimously declared their support for indigenous peoples' rights at the UN General Assembly three years ago, are now dodging the issue in other UN fora. We must redouble our efforts.
Forest Peoples Programme