Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia – Indigenous and forest peoples today claimed unique success in keeping the world’s fast shrinking rainforests intact, proven by the fact that most of the world’s remaining tropical forests are on their traditional lands and territories. They asserted the importance of their continuing guardianship of forests on the third day of a ground-breaking week-long international workshop on Deforestation Drivers and the Rights of Forest Peoples held in Palagkaraya,Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Indigenous and forest peoples’ and civil society delegates from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America had spent the first two days of the event assessing the alarming rate of deforestation worldwide, the direct and indirect causes of forest loss, the impacts on forest communities, and the unmatched capacity of indigenous peoples to manage forests sustainably.
Workshop participants emphasized that business-led industrial and often illegal logging, oil drilling, large-scale mining, infrastructure development of major highways and dams, and plantation agriculture including rapidly spreading oil palm cultivation are among the primary causes of forest destruction. Powerful underlying factors they identified include corruption, weak forest protection and governance, unsustainable natural-resource-based and export- oriented economic growth and, crucially, the lack of effective enforcement of the rights of indigenous peoples to use and manage their traditional lands and territories – despite the many international and national laws that recognize such rights.
“We indigenous minorities rely on the rainforest for our food and other means of subsistence,” said Ms Marie-Dorothée Lisenga Bafalikike, a Democratic Republic of Congo Pygmy delegate. “Companies regularly urge our communities to sign agreements with promises of benefits, but then they cut the trees and leave us nothing – not enough clean water, no electricity, no schools. And the deforestation is changing our climate.”
Corruption, along with intimidation of those who peacefully work to protect the forests, were key issues among representatives. “Political elites in our countries help companies grab huge areas of forest land without consulting forest peoples. The same elites control the legal system and the police and use these to threaten our communities,” observed Mr Robert
Guimaraes Vasques, an indigenous leader and environmental and human rights activist from
Ucayali, central Peru.
Mr Noerhadi, representing indigenous communities from Kapuas, Indonesia, commented: “We urgently need to overcome the contradiction between government initiatives that seek to exploit the forest and take land from communities, and conservation initiatives like REDD1 schemes. Both are seeking land and forest but continuously exclude local communities.”
Delegates agreed on the need for both international and country-specific approaches to tackle the mounting threats that rainforests and forest peoples face around the world. All saw securing the right of indigenous peoples to inhabit and protect their customary lands as essential if governments are to safeguard the rainforests for future generations and meet
their own human rights obligations.
“Destructive so-called ‘development’ on indigenous peoples’ lands deprives us of our means of survival,” said Ms Asmidar Vira Binti Les, representing the Orang Asli indigenous people
of Peninsular Malaysia. “At this workshop we will develop strategies to strengthen our movement and defend our ancestral forests and indigenous rights.”
Participants will issue a joint public declaration at the close of the workshop on the morning of Friday 14 March. The declaration will include recommendations formulated over the workshop’s remaining three days, which include a field visit to a forest community in Central Kalimantan affected by palm oil plantation development.
Key to the Declaration will be the empirical finding, referred to time and again during the workshop, that where indigenous and forest peoples’ land and territorial rights are effectively protected and enforced, there the forest survives, but where these rights are violated or neglected, deforestation and forest degradation inevitably occur.