Indigenous Leaders Call for Greater Respect for their Rights

© Art Wolfe

This week in New York City, indigenous leaders from across the globe are coming together for the 12th annual meeting of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The gathering will facilitate discussion on a variety of issues faced by the world’s more than 370 million self-identified indigenous people, ranging from economic and social development to health and the environment.

The right to “free, prior and informed consent,” known within the indigenous policy realm as FPIC, is a key component of the implementation of both the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and social safeguards for REDD+ projects, two of the major topics being discussed at the Forum. REDD+ is a mechanism that involves communities in combating deforestation and climate change.

The FPIC principle refers to the right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their consent for any action that would affect their lands, territories or rights.

Ensuring that the right to FPIC is respected is critical for indigenous and traditional peoples to determine their own development path. World history is plagued with countless stories of exploitation, in which indigenous communities were forced or tricked into ceding rights to their lands, territories and access to resources.

In this context, “free” means that their consent cannot be given under force or threat; “prior” indicates that indigenous peoples must receive information on the activity with enough time to review it before the activity begins; and “informed” means that the information provided is detailed, emphasizes both the potential positive and negative impacts of the activity, and is presented in a language and format understood by the community.

“Consent” refers to the right of the community to agree or not agree to a project before and during a project’s life cycle.

CI’s Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG), launched in 2009 through the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, is providing guidelines to CI so we can ensure this right throughout our projects.

Led by six indigenous peoples representing six countries, the group aims to strengthen collaborations between indigenous peoples and NGOs, bring advice from indigenous experts into the strategies of CI and promote understanding of the needs, priorities and concerns of indigenous peoples related to REDD+ and other forest-related activities.

By offering their ideas and experiences, IAG members can use their collective influence to advocate for solutions that will include — and benefit — everyone.

IAG members are attending the U.N. Forum to support indigenous rights and share with other NGOs examples of how to implement FPIC on the ground. As an organization that is developing its own FPIC guidelines, CI understands the importance of basing guidelines on case studies demonstrating how FPIC has or has not worked in real situations.

To provide a foundation for creating CI’s FPIC guidelines, each IAG member recently conducted a case study examining how FPIC is being implemented in their own countries.

One member is Kanyinke Sena, an Ogiek from Kenya who is an indigenous lawyer. As chairman of this year’s U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, he is the first African to serve in this capacity.

Molly Bergen is the managing editor of Conservation News.

Cover image: Patagonian landscape. (© Art Wolfe)