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International Law Principles for REDD+: Indian Law Resource Center

Leonardo A. Crippa and Gretchen Gordon of the Indian Law Resource Center have produced a document titled “International Law Principles for REDD+: The Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Obligations of REDD+ Actors” (pdf file, 688.4 KB). The document is an updated version of a working draft released in May 2012, the changes reflecting recent developments in REDD+ institutions.

In a statement about the report, the Indian Law Resource Center explains that, “The REDD+ Principles is a tool to help indigenous peoples, States, and international agencies understand the human rights implications of conservation initiatives for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+.”

The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is currently working on a Carbon Fund Methodological Framework (more on that below) and earlier this year finished its Readiness Assessment Framework. In January 2013, UN-REDD launched its Guidelines on Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Also important for REDD, is the World Bank’s revision of its environmental and social safeguard policies, especially the Indigenous Peoples Policy, issues relating to land tenure, and free, prior and informed consent.

The Indian Law Resource Center notes that,

Some indigenous peoples have been able to use REDD+ to negotiate greater land rights protections, while others have withdrawn from REDD+ citing a lack of respect for their rights. While the experiences of indigenous peoples have been both positive and negative, they all have highlighted the seriousness of the risks and the difficulty of the challenges that REDD+ poses, especially regarding indigenous peoples’ collective ownership rights to their lands and resources.

The document outlines 10 REDD+ Principles divided into two sections:

    Legal Obligations for States and International Agencies Engaged in REDD+
    Principle 1: Obligation to Respect Human Rights
    Principle 2: Obligation to Adopt Domestic Measures
    Principle 3: Obligation to Prevent Human Rights Violations
    Principle 4: Obligation to Redress Human Rights Violations

    Rights of Indigenous Peoples in REDD+
    Principle 5: Self-Determination & Self-Government
    Principle 6: Lands, Territories, & Natural Resources
    Principle 7: Participation in Decision-Making
    Principle 8: Free, Prior & Informed Consent
    Principle 9: Benefit-Sharing
    Principle 10: Effective Remedy

In an introduction to the International Law Principles for REDD+, Armstrong Wiggins, Director of the Indian Law Resource Center’s Washington DC office, explains that the purpose of the document is “to address the significant risks that REDD+ initiatives pose for indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and rights”.

A large part of the remaining forest land in the world is indigenous land. The lure of future REDD+ payments is already encouraging plans and projects that involve the takeover and even the theft of Indian lands in several countries. In the REDD+ readiness programs already underway, land is being identified that is forested or suitable for reforestation, and much of this project land will be the land of indigenous peoples. There have been numerous complaints: that land is being identified for REDD+ projects and management plans are being developed without the consent or even the involvement of the Indian owners and that individual Indians are being used to provide an appearance of Indian consent. In some countries Indians are being violently evicted from their lands to make way for REDD projects. These problems are severe, because Indian land is very vulnerable to takeover by almost anyone — especially the government of the country itself. Indian lands and indigenous communities often posses their traditional homelands without formal legal title. Indian land ownership is often poorly protected or not protected at all by domestic legal systems.

Wiggins points out that protecting indigenous peoples’ rights is necessary to prevent injury to indigenous people and is an effective strategy for protecting the environment. He highlights the articles in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that are important for REDD:

  • Article 3 is of particular importance because it declares that “indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
  • Article 18 affirms indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision making in matters which would affect their rights. Article 20 protects indigenous subsistence and other traditional economic activities.
  • Articles 26 and 29 recognize indigenous peoples’ right to lands, territories and resources and “the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity” of those lands, territories and resources.
  • Article 32 provides that indigenous peoples have the right to determine how to use or develop their lands and resources.

The importance of the International Law Principles for REDD+ is revealed by the draft of the Carbon Fund’s Methodological Framework, which sidelines the issue of collective ownership of land and resources, a critical issue for indigenous peoples. The Indian Law Resource Center points out that during the negotiations of the Methodological Framework,

Requirements that countries respect indigenous peoples’ rights were whittled down or removed. Now indigenous communities may see their lands and resources claimed by governments or other entities interested in profiting from carbon credits.

Gretchen Gordon, an Attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center has produced a series of comments about the Methodological Framework, available here (pdf file, 73.2 KB).

In a submission to the FCPF, Rainforest Foundation Norway points out the importance of land tenure and the dangers of transferring carbon rights without recognising land rights and indigenous peoples rights:

The fact that the draft MF [Methodological Framework] focuses strongly on clarifying the title to ERs [Emissions Rights], in combination with insufficient incentives for making progress on land tenure, is a reason for concern. In the absence of a more holistic effort to make progress on recognizing customary and traditional user rights in line with international obligations, a strong push to establish new legal regimes to clarify carbon rights or ER titles could potentially lead to further dispossession or marginalization of forest-dependent peoples.

The Methodological Framework is to be finalised in December 2013, by the Fund Participants: the European Commission, Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, BP Technology Ventures, CDC Climat, and The Nature Conservancy. (Yes, that really is BP, the large multinational oil and gas company. Yes, that’s CDC Climat, a pro-carbon trading subsidiary of the French government owned Caisse des Dépôts group. And, yes, that’s The Nature Conservancy, which has US$1.4 billion investments, but refuses to answer Naomi Klein’s questions about how much is invested in fossil fuels.)

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