Rights in the Landscape: lnspirational Leadership from Indigenous Peoples

By | 3 July, 2019

vicky tauli-corpuz

Rights in the Landscape: lnspirational Leadership from Indigenous Peoples.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Presented at the Global Landscapes Forum Bonn Annual Conference ,
Bonn, Germany, 22 June 2019

First let me thank the Secretariat of the Global Landscapes Forum, CIFOR and the Bonn City Government for inviting me to speak before you today. I will speak about the leadership of indigenous peoples in promoting the landscapes approach since time immemorial and their contributions to forest and biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. I will end with some recommendations to various actors.

Indigenous Peoples are the best guardians of the forests and biodiversity hotspots we all depend on. Research shows that lands managed by Indigenous Peoples with secure rights experience lower rates of deforestation, store more carbon, hold more biodiversity, and benefit more people than other lands—including protected areas.

Research has also established that the recognition of indigenous and community rights directly contributes to:

  • Carbon storage: Indigenous and community lands hold nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon—equivalent to 33 times global energy emissions in 2017. They manage at least 22% of the total carbon found in tropical and subtropical forestlands;
  • The livelihoods of nearly a third of the world’s poorest, generating over 80% of the food consumed in the developing world;
  • Reduced risks of conflict, violence, and landgrabs;
  • Ecosystem services worth billions in long term benefits. From $54 billion in Bolivia to $1 trillion in Brazil, while avoiding the release of 40-60 million metric tons of carbon a year from deforestation. The cost is less than 1% of the total benefits.

For all intents and purposes, recognizing their rights is therefore critical to meeting the critical aims of the Paris Agreement, the SDGs, global forest and restoration targets, and protecting 30% of the earth by 2030.

However, we also know that while Indigenous Peoples and local communities directly manage over 50% of the world’s lands, they have legal ownership rights to only 10%.This gap leaves lands vulnerable to threats from agro-industrial production, destructive mining and logging practices, and large-scale infrastructure developments.

It also drives violence and criminalization. Data from Global Witness show that over 200 land rights and environmental defenders were killed in 2017. Four countries, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines have registered the biggest number of indigenous persons killed. While the percentage of indigenous persons killed dropped from the 2016 data, this is still disproportionately high, as indigenous peoples only compose 5 percent of the world’s total population. This impunity against indigenous peoples need to be stopped at all costs.

The rights of indigenous and community women—who play significant roles as leaders, forest managers, economic providers and transmitters of traditional knowledge and cultures—are not provided any adequate legal protection. There is a need to disaggregate data on the differentiated impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples in general, and indigenous women, in particular. It is also important to make more visible their contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation by using and developing further their indigenous knowledge. Thus, the role of the UNFCCC Platform for Sharing of Traditional Knowledge and Practices should be supported and enhanced.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities are clearly among the most vulnerable to climate change, even if they have contributed the least to this problem, because they often live in ecologically fragile areas such as high mountains, low-lying islands and the Arctic and rely directly on threatened resources for their survival.

The scaling up recognition of indigenous and community land rights is an achievable goal. The recognition of community forest rights increased by 40% in the last 15 years. We could more than double that progress if existing legislation was implemented in just four countries (Colombia, DRC, India, Indonesia)—which will benefit 200 million people. Research shows that 54 of 58 countries examined have legal frameworks in place to recognize community forest ownership.

Closing the gap in rights recognition for Indigenous Peoples and local communities represents the world’s single greatest opportunity—in terms of land coverage, number of people affected, and conflict resolution—to advance global climate and development goals. Recognizing and protecting human rights is not only limited to achieving climate and development goals but to also address the historical and continuing social and environmental justice and discrimination and racism, which indigenous peoples suffer from.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group (IPMG) is leading the creation of a gold standard to ensure that conservation and restoration efforts respect rights and embrace the solution offered by the world’s Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This is a work in progress and it is meant to complement existing international norms and standards which protect indigenous peoples’ human rights.

Together with the IPMG and other indigenous leaders, I am also helping to organize and a global machinery and initiative to combat the criminalization and impunity that so many indigenous peoples’ rights defenders have to deal with. We want to ensure that indigenous peoples are able to lead this initiative in collaboration with international, regional and national human rights organizations and institutes.

It is in this context that I call on governments, the international community, conservation and environmental organizations and the private sector to:

1. Adopt and effectively implement the landscape approach and the gold standard on rights-based approaches to conservation, sustainable use and ecosystems restoration.

2. Significantly scale up recognition of the land and forest rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

3. Secure the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples and local communities—including women within these groups.

4. Ensure that the UNFCCC Platform for sharing traditional knowledge implements its plan of action effectively and improve and continuously expand Indigenous Peoples’, local communities’, and women within these communities’ use and transmission of these knowledge as well as have access to innovations and knowledge which are culturally appropriate.

5. Prioritize bilateral and multilateral investments in indigenous- and community-led climate, biodiversity and development initiatives and ensure that safeguards, such as the Green Climate Fund Indigenous Peoples Policy, which protect indigenous peoples’ rights are effectively used and implemented.

6. End the criminalization, impunity and persecution of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.




Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Email: indigenous@ohchr.org, unsr@vtaulicorpuz.org
Websites; unsr.vtaulicorpuz.org, ochr.org

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