Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Legal & human rights

Indigenous and other forest peoples experience racial and cultural discrimination, are denied rights to lands and livelihoods, to organise and to represent themselves, and, in short, are hindered in myriad ways from fully exercising and enjoying their right to self-determination. FPP provides technical legal and related assistance to help forest peoples tackle these injustices. By supporting their organisations, nations and/or communities to understand and use national and international legal processes, we assist forest peoples to challenge violations of their rights, promote alternatives, including through legislative and other reforms, and pursue legal cases through the courts and international bodies.

Regional and international human rights mechanisms

Indigenous and other forest peoples may use regional and international human rights mechanisms to promote and seek enforcement of their rights. Strategic use of these mechanisms may address specific problems affecting individuals, communities or peoples and also contributes to the interpretation and creation of international law. In support of its partners, FPP makes extensive use of the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the ILO, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights. In 2007, for example, the Saramaka People of central Suriname obtained a landmark judgment in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with the support of FPP's Legal and Human Rights Programme.

Country-level advocacy

Numerous actions are led at national level by forest peoples for the recognition of their human rights. Particular efforts are devoted to the effective implementation of international and regional standards and their harmonisation with national legislation. Community consultations and national and local advocacy processes can lead to submission of complaints to national human rights institutions or to litigation before national courts or tribunals, including by using human rights guaranteed by the country's constitution and international human rights law.

In Nepal, the process of drafting the new Constitution has failed to ensure that indigenous peoples are able to participate through their freely chosen representatives. Rather, the Constituent Assembly, the body tasked with drafting the new Constitution, is comprised solely of political party nominees and candidates. This was challenged in the Nepal Supreme court and was also raised with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, both in 2009 (see submission). The CERD adopted two communications under its early warning and urgent action procedures calling on Nepal to ensure effective participation by indigenous peoples in the drafting of the new constitution and that indigenous peoples consent be obtained. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Professor S. James Anaya, also conducted a country visit to Nepal in November 2008 and concluded that the procedures available for the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the Constitution drafting process were incompatible with Nepal's international commitments. His report is available here. The Supreme Court of Nepal finally issued a directive in April 2013 ordering the government to consider the representation and participation of indigenous peoples in constitution making processes. Although by this time the Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting the constitution, was dissolved after it failed to reach consensus on the new constitution, this decision by the Supreme Court will be significant for future decision-making processes at government level.

The advocacy work led by indigenous peoples in Africa is another example: drawing on the African Commission on Human and Peoples' rights' report on indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples on the continent are demanding the full recognition of their rights. As many African constitutions and laws do not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples per international and regional human rights law, indigenous peoples often make extensive use of those principles at country level in order to be heard. In Kenya, for example, the African Commission ruled that the government was responsible for the violation of the Endorois indigenous people’s rights when they were evicted to make way for a wildlife reserve. This landmark ruling marked a major step forward for indigenous rights in Africa. For more information please click here.

Relevant resources

Syndicate content

Mobilising for the Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights

25 November, 2015

Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights

The Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights is a worldwide campaign with the aim to double the area of land recognised as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities by 2020.

Read more

Indigenous peoples in Guyana call for strong protections for customary land rights and application of FPIC in timber trade agreement with the EU

24 November, 2015

In two newly released reports, indigenous leaders point out that the current concession allocations system in Guyana is unjust, severely flawed and facilitated by a national legal framework that does not fully respect their internationally protected rights to their customary lands and resources.

The foreign companies come and they have legal rights and we the people who have been living here all the time do not have legal rights.” [Resident, Kwebanna village]

Read more

Press Release: “We are going to kill you”: Indigenous activist’s life in danger after opposing destruction of Peruvian Amazon

18 November, 2015

London, 18 November 2015: Washington Bolivar, an indigenous activist in Peru has received another sinister death threat in the immediate wake of his efforts to challenge the destruction of Amazon rainforest for timber extraction and conversion to oil palm.

In the course of the last month, human rights defender, Mr Bolivar received the following handwritten and explicit notes in quick succession:

Read more

International civil society alarmed by Conviction of Cameroonian environmental human rights defender

15 November, 2015

Cameroonian authorities must stop the repression of environmental human rights defender according to an international coalition of six environmental and human rights organizations, which includes Greenpeace Africa, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), GRAIN, Fern, Oakland Institute and SAVE.

Read more

Indigenous peoples in Paraguay recommend action on land rights and national legal reforms to uphold community rights, slow deforestation and protect the climate

12 November, 2015

Asunción, November 12, 2015: Two new reports launched today by the Paraguayan Federation of Indigenous Peoples (FAPI) call for greater recognition of land rights and legislative reforms to secure community collective rights to land, tackle deforestation, curb land use emissions and harmonise national laws with international obligations to uphold human rights. [Only available in Spanish]

The reports can be downloaded here:

Read more

Press Release: Human Rights groups call for palm oil moratorium in Palawan, Philippines

11 November, 2015

***Press Information for Immediate Release: 11th November 2015***

Human Rights groups call for palm oil moratorium in Palawan, Philippines: End land grabs and forest destruction now!

Puerto Princesa: 11th November 2015 - A recent fact-finding mission by regional human rights groups in the south-western island of Palawan, the last ecological frontier of the Philippines, has revealed a pattern of land grabs and forest destruction by palm oil companies, partly owned by Malaysian and Singaporean investors.

Read more

Oil palm land grabs and deforestation in Philippines condemned by human rights groups

9 November, 2015

A regional network of Asian human rights commissions and supportive NGOs has issued a strong statement supporting calls for a moratorium on palm oil expansion in the Philippines southern island of Palawan. The call came at the conclusion of a week of fact-finding trips and discussions of the 5th South East Asian Regional Conference on Human Rights and Agribusiness which was hosted by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, the Coalition on Land Grabbing of the Philippines supported by the Forest Peoples Programme.

Read more

‘State of emergency’ for Paraguay’s tribal peoples

19 October, 2015

Indigenous peoples in Paraguay are in a state of emergency according to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples.

A new U.N. report [Spanish] found “persistent racism,” “discrimination” and a total failure by the Paraguayan state to uphold indigenous peoples’ land rights.

Read more

UN urges Indonesia to respect the land rights of Aru Islanders threatened by giant sugar plantation

7 October, 2015

In response to an appeal submitted by the Indonesian Indigenous Peoples Alliance (AMAN) and Forest Peoples Programme under its urgent action procedure, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on the Indonesian government to reconsider its plans to allow a private sugar company to take over half of the Aru Islands as a plantation.

Read more