Indigenous forest peoples worldwide seek greater inclusion

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Native Brazilians from the Amazon at public protest rally
Native Brazilians from the Amazon basin demonstrate against the construction of the planned Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil February 8, 2011. Proposed to be built along the Xingu River in the state of Para, the dam would be the world's third largest according to its planned capacity. Environmentalists and native Brazilians have raised concerns that the project may displace indigenous tribes and damage the environment. The sign reads, "No Belo Monte dam on the Xingu." Image: International Rivers/Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

(WNN) Moreton-in-Marsh, ENGLAND: With a combined effort to ensure policies that promote the inclusion of indigenous people worldwide who face corporate development land projects without their consent or cooperation, indigenous groups are calling upon the GIF – Global Environment Facility to help bring better standards and safety to what is often “a rushed process” by developers.

When land projects are placed on corporate tables, indigenous communities can face numerous impacts to their region which can include climate change, biological diversity and degradation, persistent organic pollutants, impacts on regional waters, land degradation through desertification and deforestation and/or regional atmospheric ozone layer depletion. These and other impacts can have a long-standing and negative affect on indigenous lives.

Insuring original and natural habitat is an issue now facing an increasing number of indigenous people who’s land and larger regions are being swept up by corporations who may not be working for the best interests of people who have lived and farmed their land for centuries.

“The continuous, sometimes subtle, violence of conservation and development against indigenous peoples continues, unchecked even at the highest levels by the most worthy-sounding agencies of the United Nations,” says Marcus Colchester, Director of the Forest People’s Programme, a reporting and advocacy organization that supports Forest People’s rights.

“…the Global Environment Facility, the international mechanism of choice for helping developing countries meet their global obligations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is stumbling badly, adopting an out-dated policy on indigenous peoples designed to ‘mitigate’ impacts rather than respect rights already affirmed by the UN,” added Colchester. “Meanwhile, conservation organisations in Central Africa are paying lip service to a requirement to consult with indigenous peoples, before asking for international recognition of protected areas as UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Sites,” continued the Forest People’s Programme Director.

The fear for indigenous people worldwide is now focusing on the latest ‘Green Economy’ standards, which are promising to do more, but it is feared they will do much less, to promote corporate interests than human rights for people who are the most affected by development.

In June this year the United Nations 20th anniversary of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development will be meeting in the capital city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Rio +20 conference five years after the UN General Assembly agreed to place ‘minimum standards’ to protect indigenous people that were officially recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is to insure the human rights, respect and dignity deserved for all indigenous people everywhere.

“And this is doubly anomalous when it is these same UN-derived standards that are being, slowly but surely, applied through national and local problem-solving processes,” says Colchester. “The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples is working hard to remedy the problems of the Teribe people of Costa Rica, who are facing forced resettlement from their territory due to the Diquís dam,” he outlines.

‘Informed consent’ is a pervasive problem faced by many indigenous communities who are not educated or properly briefed on impacts made by corporate decisions in their region. Known officially as ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) the standard requires that impact actions by corporations be made clear and apparent to indigenous people who are on-the-ground, and consent beforehand is given before development can begin.

Without advocacy ‘unchecked’ large transnational corporations may divert the desire and intention of indigenous communities. Today the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is working with negotiations between the Vai people of western Liberia and the Malaysian transnational corporation Sime Darby. Other negotiations are also now swaying the Liberian Government to rethink the policy of development ‘at all costs’ and replace it with a rights-based approach to development.

The “forest peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose lands are subject to carbon brokers speculations, can now ensure the same respect for their rights by companies like Wildlife Works Carbon, which ascribe to similar principles through the ‘Verified Carbon Standard,'” reminds Colchester.

Climate change and development impacts under land projects ushered into operation by corporations can cause not only impacts to indigenous communities, but to worldwide climate balance. “Forests play a vital role in the global carbon cycle, as they store about half of the world’s terrestrial carbon. When forests grow, they take up carbon from the atmosphere and store it in trees and soil. Tropical forests are particularly good at this, sequestering about 50 percent more carbon than non-tropical forests. But the world’s great tropical forests are disappearing at faster annual rates than in previous decades…,” said a Center for Global Governance & Accountability (CGGA), Washington D.C. report for green economy advocates Heinrich-Böll Foundation in November 2009.

“We all know that so-called sustainable development only works if people’s rights are respected. We need joined-up-thinking by the UN to make this real,” adds Marcus Cochester. “The [upcoming] ‘Rio +20’ conference in June would be a good place to make this evident.”


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