Whenever someone remarks that a solution is being frustrated by ‘lack of political will’, I automatically ask myself: whose is the political will and what are the interests pushing for the opposite?
New field research from Costa Rica shows that the government has for decades sat back and allowed the wholesale takeover of indigenous peoples’ lands and is now failing to intervene when indigenous leaders are being threatened and killed. Is this happening just because of ‘lack of political will’ or rather because successive governments have over-close links to land-owning elites and so prefer to turn a blind eye to the discrimination, violence and hatred on the resource frontier, rather than confront these illegal land grabs?
When the Peruvian Government now allows new roads and other infrastructures to be hacked through indigenous lands and forests to connect up with Brazil, so threatening the very survival of the isolated Isconahua people whose lands the very same government earlier set aside for their protection, this is a conscious decision to sacrifice their rights and instead support the business interests pressing to open up the Amazon to their kind of development. Likewise, it is prioritisation of mining and lack of legal protection of indigenous rights, that is encouraging egregious decisions in the courts of Guyana.
This same domination of political processes by the short term priorities of narrow sectoral interests, is stalling any progress at the international negotiations to curb climate change. The latest meeting in Doha shows that this ‘lack of political will’ (domination by vested interests seeking to do the opposite) has led to virtual paralysis. All our futures, not just those of forest peoples, are set in jeopardy by this lack of action.
So when the British Government announces a new aid policy to address the drivers of deforestation by working direct with corporations, it is not surprising we have visions of them putting the fox among the chickens. Yes, changes in corporate behaviour have to be part of any solution, but to achieve this we also need a vigilant civil society and the mobilisation of forest peoples to hold these ‘reformed’ businesses to account. After all, that is how democracy is meant to work.
As a human rights organisation it is our task to champion solutions that respect rights, but as analysts and advocates, it is also our duty to expose the political and economic interests that are behind abuses. We do this by helping to create transparency and accountability. So, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where corporate interests are now seeking to profit from new voluntary markets in forest carbon, we expose their lack of compliance in order to oblige them to recognise and respect the rights of forest peoples. In the same spirit, we are working with the Baka people in Cameroon to ensure that their voice is heard in decisions about the future of their forests. While at the international level we work with indigenous peoples who are insisting that their traditional knowledge must also be respected and applied to defend the ecology of our precious planet.
Last but very much not least it is my honour and pleasure to welcome Joji Cariño as the new Director of Forest Peoples Programme. Joji, who has dedicated her life to the struggle for indigenous peoples’ rights, will be taking up her post in April and I look forward to serving under her leadership.
Marcus Colchester, Director