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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

There are many NGOs, both national and international, that address land issues. They often focus on advocacy work, research related to land grabs, documentation and resolution of land-related conflicts, large-scale land acquisitions, government and military interaction with ethnic populations, forest degradation and illegal logging, and conservation issues. This work is essential for taking land issues forward in Myanmar. However, the nature of these engagements does not always enable collaborative work with public institutions, and sometimes results in confrontational positions with policy decision-makers.

Although major improvements were achieved over the last 10 years, Myanmar continues to have high levels of malnutrition. The phenomenon—of high stunting and anemia rates, overall malnutrition, an unbalanced and rice-dominant diet, and a focus on the development of the rice sector—is one that can be seen across Southeast Asia, similarly occurring in countries like Laos and Cambodia. So, the question becomes how these countries can create an enabling environment for producing and making available the necessary ingredients for a more diversified and nutrient rich diet.

The 15th Free Land Camp (Terra Livre, or ATL for its Portuguese acronym) brought 3,000 Indigenous Peoples and their allies together from all regions of the country at a massive encampment in Brasilia to call for justice for indigenous communities. Participants used the gathering—one of the largest ever—to create and present a unified political agenda before the Brazilian government.

UN Permanent Forum spotlights Indigenous Peoples’ contributions to global goals

The theme of this year’s UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was “Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories, and resources.” Indigenous leaders from across the globe noted the crucial role that secure rights play in their lives and livelihoods, and in the advancement of sustainable development and climate change mitigation.

More than 4,300 civil society representatives from 130 countries participated this March in the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62)—which focused this year on rural women and girls. Although the Agreed Conclusions adopted by all CSW Member States fell short of what advocates were pushing for, they still represent a shared commitment toward respecting the rights of indigenous and rural women.

Liberia’s new president must lead on land rights or risk conflict

President Weah has a choice: be “open for business” without recognizing community land rights and risk a backslide into conflict and insecurity or to move towards a new model by prioritizing the land rights of the people who voted him into office and consolidate peace and sustainable development in Liberia.

A silent war is being waged on Philippine indigenous communities

When I learnt that the Philippine government had accused me of being a terrorist, my immediate reaction was to hug my grandkids, fearing for their safety. Then, I started to speak out. Again.

A new analysis of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Mai-Ndombe province finds REDD+ investments in the region are moving forward without clear recognition of the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The findings come at a crucial time, as a decision on future investment by the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is imminent.

As Nepal wrote a new constitution and laid out guidelines for three tiers of elections, community forest users worried that the new government would leave little room for the voices of traditionally marginalized groups, like rural women and Dalits, a historically persecuted community in Nepal and India. The power to sit at the bargaining table and make important policy decisions, they agreed, had to come from adequate representation, particularly at the local government level.

That’s why women leaders and activists at a civil society organization called FECOFUN decided to run for office.

Photo Essay: Protecting the Forests, Protecting Dragon’s Blood

Indonesia faces a deforestation crisis: an estimated 55 percent of forests located in concession areas were lost over a period of 15 years (2000-2015), with an estimated total loss of more than 6.7 million hectares within and outside of concession areas. The country has been losing its forests at a rapid rate for decades, and in turn, adat and local communities’ livelihoods are under threat, and the wildlife and plant diversity in their traditional territories is being lost….

View the full photo essay here.

New data gathered from Afro-descendant community councils and state records reveal that the Colombian government has failed to address 271 claims for collective Afro-descendant land rights—threatening cultural and environmental sustainability, the rights of Afro-descendant community territories as established by Law 70 of 1993, and the successful implementation of the peace accords. Although all 271 communities have submitted formal applications for collective land titles, the government has largely delayed recognition of their claims—in some cases for over a decade.

There is a real need for community forestry to contribute to reducing emissions while securing immediate community benefits such as livelihoods diversification, climate change adaptation, and employment. These benefits can only become a reality if community tenure, and not simply access and benefits, is secured.

An unprecedented community forestry initiative in DRC

Indigenous and community organizations often find that progressive laws on land tenure do not always translate into progress on the ground. Even in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where forestry laws allow for community ownership and management of land, there are major obstacles hindering the realization of customary forestry rights.

The creation of platforms to acknowledge and address the role of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and rural women may represent a crucial step toward addressing the disparity between the lands Indigenous Peoples and communities protect and depend on and the legal recognition of their rights. These communities will have a formal platform at future climate talks to exchange knowledge, influence policy, and press for recognition of their rights before world leaders.