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A change of attitude in favor of indigenous peoples

Despite the fact that in recent decades the forest area designated for and in the possession of indigenous peoples has grown, governments still have 60% of these areas under their administration and corporations and private agents have 9%. Pressure from indigenous peoples in recent decades has allowed the forest area recognized as property and designated for indigenous communities to increase by 50%. Latin America and the Caribbean, where indigenous peoples control 40% of the forests, is the region with the greatest progress. Other regions of the world also show similar trends.

For indigenous peoples who have always lived in the forest, it represents their space for cultural reproduction, food production and spiritual security. For governments and companies, the forest contains important assets for food production, economic development, security, climate change mitigation, carbon sequestration, water, minerals, and gas extraction. To these divergent perceptions about ownership and use of the forest has been added in recent decades the multiplication of conflicts over the control of territory and forest resources. With the growing international demand for primary goods (minerals, hydrocarbons, soybeans and other basic agricultural products) there is greater economic dynamism from their exploitation. However, this has been at the cost of serious environmental impacts, spatial reclassifications and effects on the rights, interests, territories and resources of indigenous peoples.

States, indigenous peoples and allied organizations have platforms that seek to reduce the rate of deforestation, ensure their participation in the administration of protected areas and broaden the recognition of indigenous territories. More than 300 organizations in the ILC (International Land Coalition), recently launched a global campaign (i) that seeks to double by 2020 the global area of land that is legally recognized as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities.

There is evidence that free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an adequate tool to define and regulate contractual relationships for forest management and ensure an open, continuous and equitable relationship between the different stakeholders.

Despite regulatory and practical advances, conflicts related to the control and use of territory and natural resources are a frequent phenomenon in all regions of the world. The analysis of conflicts over extractive industry projects in indigenous territories documented by the Special Rapporteur in the period 2009-2013, allows us to distinguish some conflict nodes:

  • inadequate or non-existent legal protection;

  • affectation of sacred places;

  • weak or non-existent independent impact assessments;

  • breach of the state duty to consult and adopt safeguards and measures to protect rights before granting concessions;

  • exclusion of indigenous peoples from participation in the benefits derived from the exploitation of resources in their territories;

  • criminalization of indigenous protest.

The processes linked to REDD+ and climate change are also contributing to the recognition that the legal security of indigenous territory is a prerequisite for avoiding conflicts, reducing deforestation, and facing food and climate crises, when they are designed in a participatory manner with all actors, guaranteeing territorial rights and strengthening decentralized processes of forest management. The Paris Agreement of December 2015, reaffirm the use of forests to achieve the goals and, in addition, recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge for forest management. Its implementation offers new possibilities to continue changing.

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