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From Rhetoric to Action: Day 2 report

“First, you have to stop human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples.” – Rukka Sombolinggi, Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago, Indonesia

A clear, urgent message emerged from Day 2 of this conference. Putting an end to shocking human rights violations – imprisonment, torture, displacement, murder and others – against Indigenous Peoples is not only essential for justice, it is a prerequisite for ending conflicts over land and dealing with climate change.

The widespread and apparently growing incidence of such violations, perpetrated by governments and private-sector actors as they grab resources and lands, starkly demonstrates the gulf between the rhetoric of governments and reality on the ground. It also shows the challenge facing climate-change negotiators when they meet in Paris in two months.

“We cannot talk about climate change without talking about Indigenous Peoples’ rights,” said Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a member of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, in a panel discussion on strategies to advance Indigenous land rights in climate-change initiatives.

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and another speaker on the panel, supported this claim. “Human rights must be at the center of decisions made in Paris,” she said.

Other panelists spoke of the need to channel funds for climate-change mitigation directly to Indigenous Peoples, who are custodians of a large part of the forest carbon store and who claim rights to up to 65% of the world’s land area.

“Each day our indigenous brothers die protecting the forests,” said Cándido Mezua Salazar, from the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests. “We need strong rights, and we need funds.”

According to Edwin Vàsquez, General Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, Indigenous Peoples have 240 million hectares of legally recognized land, and they are keeping this huge carbon store safe from destruction. Indigenous Peoples claim a further 100 million hectares in the Amazon; honouring those claims would surely be a cost-effective – and just – way of storing carbon.

Three additional panel sessions presented developments in key countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Presenters showed how, against all odds, progress has been made in securing the tenure rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in Cameroon, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Liberia and Peru.

Lessons emerging from the three panels included the following:

• Representative Indigenous Peoples’ organizations are strong assets for sustainable development and community rights agendas – nationally, regionally and worldwide.

• In some countries, legal frameworks acknowledging community and Indigenous Peoples’ rights and tenure provided a foothold for bringing forward the community rights agenda.

• Continuous investment in community capacity – legal, governance, technical and advocacy – and the support of governments and international alliances is crucial for the effective devolution of rights to communities.

• In Latin America, falling commodity prices have led governments to relax environmental and social safeguards to encourage foreign investment, increasing the risk of land-grabbing.

• Land reform is almost always sensitive and difficult, and takes time. An important strategy is to develop alliances and inform and sensitize politicians and the public.

• In Cameroon, an alliance between civil-society organizations and traditional chiefs enabled an effective “back-door” approach to lawmakers.

• Achieving legislative reform is critical, but, ultimately, implementation is what matters; in almost all countries, however, this lags far behind the rhetoric.

• India and Indonesia could both be the cusp of major transformations on land rights, but powerful interests hold them back.

In the final plenary session, five speakers were asked to identify key action points for moving from rhetoric to action, summarized as follows:

  • Endorse and take part in the Global Call for Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights. This will generate momentum for the protection of the rights and safety of Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable communities.
  • Encourage donors and governments to support the struggle for community tenure, including by meeting the upfront costs of tenure security and for long-term support for the management and monitoring of resources.
  • Develop new instruments for the distribution of funds that are flexible and responsive and will ensure that funds reach those closest to realities on the ground and who will use them to best effect.
  • Leverage communication technology and social media to make the voices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities heard and to reach beyond the “converted” to other actors.
  • Learn the “language” of decision-makers in government and corporations as a way of better communicating the potential for win–wins.
  • Work with leading, sympathetic corporates to put the land rights agenda into other spaces, to build trust, and, ultimately, to scale up supply-chain influence.
  • Demonstrate the potential of the land rights agenda to address other pressing issues, such as employment and poverty. • Keep building alliances, including with those who are not natural allies, and inspiring others with successes.
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