As regimes attempt to roll back human rights, Indigenous Peoples and local communities find power in partnerships

On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, RRI’s Latin America Program Director reflects on the human rights challenges facing indigenous, Afro-descendant, and peasant communities—and how they and their allies are joining forces to take on these challenges together.

The Chao Lay, or people of the sea, have lived on the shores of Thailand and Myanmar for generations, fishing and foraging. But the community may be facing its greatest threat yet as marine conservation efforts limit their traditional fishing grounds, and a tourism boom pits them against developers keen on the patch of land that their boats, homes and shrines sit on.

A recent Rights and Resources report provides strong evidence on the importance of recognizing and protecting indigenous rights towards mitigating forest-based emissions and curbing global warming. As a Ph.D. student coordinating the third round of data collection of CIFOR’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ in Ucayali, Peru, I was pleased to find an on the ground example of why this is important and how tenure security can help achieve the objective of REDD+.

India’s Land Conflict Watch: Tracking Land Conflicts to Drive Rights Recognition

Given that India is the seventh largest country in the world with a population of 1.3 billion people, it is not surprising that land conflicts that affect more remote communities and Indigenous Peoples rarely gain national or international recognition. Land Conflict Watch tracks these cases in order to make them more visible and actionable for journalists, researchers, and policymakers.

Forests and Biodiversity Need Indigenous Stewardship

Around 2011 or 2012, indigenous villagers outside Manu National Park, an internationally renowned biodiversity hotspot in southwestern Peru, noticed that bananas were mysteriously disappearing from the trees that ringed their huts. At the same time, they found that their huts were being ransacked while they were out. They only understood what was happening when they finally caught glimpses of their rarely seen neighbors, uncontacted Mashco Piro tribespeople who lived deep within the park.

With forest rights, indigenous Indonesians stave off mining, palm oil

Governments maintain control over more than two-thirds of global forest area, much of which is claimed by local communities, RRI said in a recent report. In Indonesia, indigenous people are estimated to have ownership rights over 40 million hectares of customary forest and other land.

An Historic Victory for Liberian People and Communities

On September 19, Liberian President George Manneh Weah signed into law the Land Rights Bill (LRB), a landmark piece of legislation that recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to their customary lands and gives customary land the same standing as private land in Liberia. This historic victory sets a precedent for land rights recognition in West Africa and can serve as a model for the region and beyond.

Around 1 in 9 people in the world — 821 million — are undernourished. After a prolonged decline, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that world hunger is rising once again.

The world’s food systems need to be transformed to curb this trend. Legally recognized and protected land rights for indigenous peoples and local communities in the developing world are a key part of revitalizing the world’s food systems. In particular, the rights of rural and indigenous women to support diverse, local agricultural production require urgent attention.

How Carbon Trading Became a Way of Life for California’s Yurok Tribe

A number of experts now believe that reclaiming land for indigenous people is the best way to protect the Earth’s forests. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, an N.G.O. that advocates for native land rights, legally recognized indigenous forests “tend to store more carbon and experience lower rates of deforestation.” But in a recent report supported by data from the Woods Hole Research Center, the initiative found that while indigenous communities currently manage forests and soil containing nearly three hundred billion metric tons of carbon—thirty-three times more than global energy-related emissions in 2017—they lacked legal titles to the sites of at least a third of that carbon total.” This puts “them, their forests and the carbon they store at great risk,” Alain Frechette, one of the authors of the initiative’s report, said.

Indigenous peoples and local communities in 64 tropical and subtropical countries occupy land storing nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon above- and below-ground. That’s equal to 33 years of pollution, given a 2017 baseline. Where indigenous peoples live, high-tech mapping indicates, deforestation rates are dramatically lower, especially in the relatively few places where they have land ownership rights.

Locally controlled forest enterprises are the whole enchilada

Mexico’s forests laws mean that 80% of its forests are owned by communities; the country has more than 3,000 community forests in total. Under the watchful eye of Monte Alban, from where the ancient Zapotecs once ruled, experts from 17 countries agreed to form a coalition that builds support for locally-controlled forest enterprises and increases collaboration between support agencies.

“If appropriately leveraged, natural climate solutions can contribute upwards of 37 percent of cost-effective CO2 mitigation by 2030 and evidence shows Indigenous Peoples and local communities are key to achieving such outcomes.” This is one of the key conclusions from the global baseline study described as “the most comprehensive assessment to date of carbon storage in documented community lands worldwide.”

Fight climate change by granting indigenous rights to forests: report

Granting forest dwellers legal rights to their traditional lands helps fight deforestation and climate change, but the vast majority of the world’s forests remain under government control with limited access for communities, researchers said. Only about 14 percent of forests, or about 527 million hectares, were legally owned or designated for local communities in 58 countries surveyed by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.

The NGO Rights and Resources International (RRI) estimates that indigenous peoples have legally recognized rights to just 10 percent of the world’s land, though they control as much as 65 percent through customary, community-based tenure systems. Anne-Sophie Gindroz, RRI’s facilitator for South East Asia, said that the law isn’t only failing indigenous communities when it comes to awarding them title to their traditional lands. 

Two new studies released on the eve of the Global Climate Action Summit illustrate the powerful links between securing indigenous and community land rights and protecting the forests that are vital to mitigating climate change. As climate researchers, advocates, and leaders gather in California this week to discuss priorities and goals at the Global Climate Action Summit, they must recognize the urgent need to secure the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as a key climate solution.

Estimate of carbon in indigenous lands rises five-fold

Land managed by indigenous people holds vastly more carbon than previously thought, according to a report that calls for an urgent strengthening of their land rights to avoid its release into the atmosphere. But while communities have succeeded in securing governmental recognition of their forest rights for 15 per cent of forests globally, the pace of recognition since 2008 has decreased, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the organisation behind a second report.

Estimate of carbon in indigenous lands rises five-fold

While communities have succeeded in securing governmental recognition of their forest rights for 15 per cent of forests globally, the pace of recognition since 2008 has decreased, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the organisation behind a second report.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and rural women have long struggled to have their customary rights to their lands and forests formally recognized—but a breakthrough in one province shows that this could be changing at a pivotal moment.