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Protect indigenous people to help fight climate change, says UN rapporteur
by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
The Tenure Facility, OHCHR, Guardian News, agencies
Global leaders must do more to protect indigenous people fighting to protect their land and way of life if the world is to limit climate change, according to the UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
Speaking ahead of key climate talks in Bonn next month she urged politicians to recognise that indigenous communities around the world were the most effective custodians of millions of hectares of forest “which act as the world’s lungs”.
“Indigenous people’s rights need to be protected in the best way possible, not just for them but because they are also able to provide solutions to many of the world’s problems from climate change to biological diversity.
“It is in the self interest of states and even corporations in the medium and long term to protect and listen to these people – the question is, will they realise this in time?” said Tauli-Corpuz.
A recent study found that a quarter of the carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests is found in the collectively managed territories of indigenous peoples and local communities.
In Brazil, deforestation in indigenous community forests from 2000 to 2012 was less than 1%, compared to 7% outside those areas.
“They are the most effective stewards of these key areas,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “The needs of these indigenous people are converging with the wider environmental needs to protect these areas.”
Indigenous people are locked in fierce conflicts with mining, logging and agricultural companies and their private security firms in hundreds of places from Indonesia to Brazil. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for land rights defenders with about 200 people killed in conflicts in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
In addition, thousands more community activists were threatened or harassed. A Guardian project working with Global Witness is highlighting the pressure many of these groups face and has identified at least 134 people who have been killed so far this year.
Tauli-Corpuz, who was speaking at the launch of a new global institution dedicated to securing the land rights of tens of millions of indigenous people, said there was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in many of these communities.
The event in Stockholm was the official launch of the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility which aims to help communities protect their land resources as well as combat climate change.
Funded by Sweden, Norway and the Ford Foundation, a US charity, the Tenure Facility, has already provided grants and guidance for pilot projects in six nations.
The Ford Foundation president Darren Walker said it was an important development in the fight against climate change and inequality. “Creating mechanisms that allow indigenous peoples and local communities to gain tenure over their land or forests is a way to tackle both these problems.”
The Ford Foundation has pledged $5m, and Norway has announced a grant of $20m over the coming years. Sweden pitched in $10m during the pilot phase and will fund future projects. Walker said he expects donations to rise to $100m overall within a year.
The project aims to boost forestland properly titled to indigenous peoples by 40m hectares, an area twice the size of Spain, within a decade. Organisers say this would prevent deforestation of 1m hectares and the release of 500m tonnes of CO2, more than the annual emissions of Britain or Brazil.
Indigenous leaders representing tens of millions of people involved in land disputes in Asia, Africa and South America attended the conference. They said the tenure programme was an important step towards stopping the persecution of indigenous communities – but warned more needs to be done.
Rukka Sombolinggi, the first female secretary-general of the world’s largest indigenous organisation, Aman, which represents 17 million people in Indonesia, said: “Our houses are being burnt down, people are being killed, tortured, and sent to jail as we speak.”
Sombolinggi said some progress had been made, with much of the forests where indigenous communities live in Indonesia mapped for the first time. And she said “dominant communities” would benefit, not only environmentally from more rights for indigenous people, but argued they could also learn important lessons from the way many of these groups lived.
“If we want to see the beautiful centuries ahead … we need to shift our paradigm of what constitutes wealth or prosperity because too many people see happiness only in terms of material goods and achievements and it is having a devastating impact. Many of us have lost our ability to connect with natural things and no longer seem able to live in harmony with the simple happiness around us.”

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Cameroon forest people: Land rights abuses threaten survival
by Inna Lazareva
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sept. 2017
Leaders of Cameroon''s indigenous forest peoples say their survival is at risk if they are further deprived of access to the lands that are the source of their livelihoods.
Speaking in Cameroon''s capital, Yaoundé, indigenous representatives said they had experienced increasingly serious violations of their land rights by palm oil and other agro-industries, mining firms and timber concessions, as well as the process of creating protected areas on their ancestral lands.
"This disturbing situation foreshadows a future where we, as indigenous peoples, will no longer have land," said Hélène Aye Mondo, president of Gbabandi, an organisation of more than 50 indigenous Baka and Bagyeli communities. "If we continue to lose our lands and forests, the very survival of our cultures and peoples is at risk."
At the meeting this week, forest community leaders signed a joint declaration calling for recognition and respect of their customary land rights, timed to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which Cameroon is a signatory.
The U.N. declaration says governments must consult indigenous peoples to gain their consent before approving any decisions that affect how their land and resources are used, and they are entitled to redress for any such activities.
Suzanne Ndjele, a member of the Baka ethnic group from the village of Assoumindelé in south Cameroon, said in a written testimony handed out to journalists that her community no longer has access to the forest they depend on for food and medicine.
Ndjele used to work in the forest, hunting and gathering food and other resources with women from her community. But for the past four years she has not been able to enter it.
"Eco-guards came and told us ‘nobody can go into the forest anymore''. If we continued to enter the forest we were threatened. I went in and was beaten," she said.
The forest in question was incorporated into the Ngoyla-Mintom Reserve, created in 2014. Access to parts of the forest was restricted and local people were instead given "community forests", smaller parcels of land which they say are not enough.
The community forest for Assoumindelé is located 10 km (6.2 miles) away from the village, which inhabitants say is not practical for their everyday activities.
Lydie Essissima, an official with Cameroon''s social affairs ministry who attended the meeting, said the government was aware of the problem, and stands by its commitments made in the 2007 U.N. declaration. Cameroon was one of 144 countries that voted in favour of its adoption in 2007.

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