“Forest peoples’ voices are increasingly being heard, and attended to, in debates about the future of the forests,” writes Marcus Colchester, the Director of the Forest Peoples Programme in FPP’s October ENewsletter. He describes how the movement for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples has made great progress in the past two decades.
However, in an article about REDD: “Unsafeguarded Norwegian money for REDD triggers controversy,” FPP notes that the Norwegian Government’s claims that it would respect indigenous peoples’ rights in its financing of REDD, “are beginning to seem increasingly hollow.”
FPP is particularly concerned that Norway will be transferring money to Guyana via the World Bank, with no requirement that the Bank applies its safeguard policies:
The first test of its resolve has come in Guyana, where the Norwegians agreed to a creative way of passing US$250 million of this money through to Guyana via the World Bank but without requiring that the overall funding be assessed using the World Bank’s safeguard policies (see FPP July Enewsletter). No progress has been made resolving the Amerindians’ claims to their lands and forests, beyond the small titles granted for their villages and restricted farmlands which fail to embrace the territories to which they have rights under international treaties ratified by Guyana.
While the issue of Amerindian rights remains unresolved, the Guyanese government then announced that a large part of the Norwegian funds was going to be spent building a controversial dam deep in the forested interior at the Amaila Falls. Just how this will slow deforestation is anybody’s guess. Barely a day passes in Guyana without allegations being published in the local press of skulduggery in how this project was assessed and contracted. The company that secured the road-building contract has no experience with road construction and is now way behind schedule.
The announcement about the launch of the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF), includes the following statement on safeguards:
Both Governments believe that the issue of safeguards must be resolved within the UNFCCC negotiations, but this issue is still being discussed as of today. To develop a globally relevant model and therefore help give insights that may advance the negotiations, the Governments of Guyana and Norway will invite internationally reputable institutions to act as GRIF partner entities, starting with the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and specialized agencies of the UN that are members of the United Nations Development Group.
The safeguards of any one of these organizations, which are internationally accepted, will be used in the implementation of the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund. As on all other aspects of the agreement, adjustments will, if necessary, be made whenever agreement on a REDD+ mechanism is reached under the UNFCCC, to ensure conformity with that agreement.
From this, it’s difficult to tell which safeguards will be applied and how. However, the GRIF Administration Agreement (pdf file 97.5 KB) makes it clear that the Trustee, which is the International Development Association – the arm of the World Bank that gives loans to the world’s poorest countries, will not apply its safeguards:
The Trustee will have no fiduciary and safeguards responsibility in respect of the use of the funds, once transferred to the Partner Entity or for the activities described in the GRIF Verification Framework. The Trustee will have no liability for the use of the funds, once transferred to the Partner Entity. It is understood that the Association’s operational policies and procedures and corresponding accountability mechanism pertaining to projects, including those relating to environmental and social safeguards, will not apply to the activities of the Association as Trustee;
The money will be transferred from the Trustee to the Partners (the Inter-American Development Bank, the IDA and members of the United Nations Development Group). The partner organisations will be required to ensure “consistency with the Partner Entity’s fiduciary, safeguards, and operational policies and procedures.” So a series of different safeguards will be applied, depending on which partner organisation is involved.
In July 2010, FPP produced an article outlining its concerns that the World Bank’s safeguard on indigenous peoples will not be applied to Norway’s money in Guyana:
During May, the Norwegian Government announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Guyana to contribute US$230 million towards the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). It only remained to be decided which financial agency would act as the intermediary with the fiduciary responsibility to make sure the monies were handed over with due care. Would this be the World Bank and what standards would the World Bank follow to supply this money?
This question was repeatedly asked of World Bank employees who advised that the World Bank would have to apply its ‘safeguards’. These are the standards which Bank staff are obliged to follow to ensure that the Bank’s projects are not damaging, and are part of its normal ‘due diligence’.
The World Bank’s safeguard on indigenous peoples is quite strong, even if not perfect. Indeed, two previous World Bank projects, proposed for Guyana to develop the country’s protected area system, had to be shelved because the Government of Guyana was not prepared to revise its policy towards indigenous peoples to properly recognise their rights. So when, in early discussions, the World Bank staff made clear to the President of Guyana that if he wanted the Norwegian money to flow through the Bank then they would have to apply their ‘safeguards’, the President was apparently displeased. There was an impasse.
The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) wrote a detailed letter to the Norwegian Government pointing out that not only the World Bank, but also the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), had requested the Government of Guyana to change its laws and policies towards indigenous peoples so that they recognised their rights. The APA asked the Norwegian Government to insist on respect for their rights. The reply from the Norwegians was equivocal, spoke only in generalities and avoided direct reference to the legal issues raised.
By early June, the reasons for this reticence had become plain. The Guyana Government was insisting that the World Bank should adopt ‘creative instruments’ for passing through the Norwegian climate funds, which would allow it to avoid applying the Bank’s ‘safeguards’ to all its projects. According to the Guyanese press (June 2010), the Norwegian Government had agreed to this ‘creative’ approach, which would suggest that it may be keener to move money than to guarantee rights. Under the new arrangement the World Bank will pass on the Norwegian monies to Guyana once it has reached ‘certain benchmark applications’. The monies will then be released to other ‘partner entities’ once they submit project proposals related to the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy, but they will then only have to apply the specific safeguards required for that project by the delivery agency.
Just how badly the indigenous peoples of Guyana are being left out became clear in a new report just issued by the Amerindian Peoples Association (Our Land, Our Future). Reviewing the past decade of Amerindian participation in policies and projects on their lands, the report details the rapid expansion of mining in Guyana as mineral prices have soared on global markets. Small- and medium-scale gold mining have intensified and new technologies have expanded operations into new areas. Exploration permits for other minerals, including for uranium, now cover about two-thirds of the country, while new prospects to develop bauxite, with associated hydropower and smelting plants, pose major threats both near the mouth of the Essequibo River and in the heart of the Pakaraima Mountains.
Whereas the impacts of mining on the Amerindians are very severe, the study found no evidence that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has been serious about curbing damage. Social and environmental impacts include forest loss, polluted waterways, mercury contamination, criminality, drug abuse, and sexual exploitation and abuse of very young Amerindian girls. Amerindians themselves are also heavily engaged in mining with serious consequences for health, nutrition and their own cultures. Cases from Regions 1, 7 and 9 focused on in the study reveal that, even where efforts are made to help communities raise their concerns with the Government and companies, these agencies ignore community voices. In one case the GGMC has even defied a court ruling calling for mining to be halted on a community’s traditional land. Permits are being granted to miners without due consultation with communities, and their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is being ignored.
The current disagreements between the Amerindians and the Government of Guyana over its natural resource management plans are only likely to be resolved if legal and policy adjustments are adopted which recognise the Amerindians’ rights in line with Guyana’s obligations under international law. New initiatives are also needed to control mining, mitigate social and environmental impacts and ensure that Amerindians participate in plans for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in fair and transparent ways that respect Amerindian rights to their territories and to give or withhold their free prior and informed consent to measures that will affect them.