in Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Peru, Tanzania

New CIFOR infobrief: Rights abuse allegations in the context of REDD+ readiness and implementation

In 2007, the Forest Peoples Programme put out a briefing paper about reduced emissions from deforestation, or RED, as REDD was called back then. The briefing warned of the risks of the rapid expansion of avoided deforestation schemes without due regard to rights, and social and livelihood issues.

The risks included government support for anti-people and exclusionary models of forest conservation, targeting of indigenous peoples and local communities as the drivers of deforestation, land grabbing and land conflicts, increased inequality, and violations of customary land and territorial rights.

Ten years on, and CIFOR has published an infobrief intended as a follow-up to early warnings about REDD such as Forest Peoples Programme’s briefing paper.

CIFOR’s brief, written by Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti and Anne M. Larson, is titled “Rights abuse allegations in the context of REDD+ readiness and implementation: A preliminary review and proposal for moving forward”.

The brief is based on “the preliminary results of a systematic search of academic literature”. Barletti and Larson note that the Paris Agreement “calls on Parties to ‘respect promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights [and] the rights of indigenous peoples’ when taking action to address climate change”.

Barletti and Larson list three main issues that increase the risks of REDD impacting the rights of forest-based communities:

  1. REDD+ focuses on tropical forests in countries with weak systems of governance, and histories of land tenure conflicts, structural discrimination and violence towards Indigenous Peoples (see Luttrell et al. 2014);
  2. REDD+ is highly technical, which further problematizes Indigenous Peoples’ participation throughout its process, unless there are concerted efforts for capacity-building at the grassroots (see de Sy et al. 2016); and,
  3. although payment schemes require clearly defined safeguards and benefit sharing schemes, these are not being properly implemented by governments or enforced by the international community.

CIFOR’s brief includes examples of allegations of rights violations related to REDD in Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Peru, and Tanzania. The allegations come from a set of 85 journal articles. Other sources are used for “additional context”.


Ecuador’s REDD+ strategy and lack of clear land laws “have resulted in a series of alleged rights abuses”, Barletti and Larson write. Ecuador’s REDD+ strategy was initially opposed by Indigenous Peoples because of the lack of safeguards for their territories and autonomy. A recent paper in Forest Policy and Economics found that,

Despite great advancements that have been made, establishing equitable mechanisms to engage IPs and forest owners and stakeholders across many sectors in REDD+ is required. Especially in Ecuador where oil extraction is a priority and the central government has an exclusive competence over eco- system services including carbon rights. Implementing fair methods for participation, benefit sharing and transfer of knowledge remains a challenge.

Things are further complicated by the fact that Ecuador’s legislation on indigenous autonomy and self-determination is contradictory and difficult to implement. In any case, no serious attempt has been made to implement it.

Indigenous territories are threatened by illegal mining and logging, oil extraction, and inclusion within national parks.

In 2005, a US-based company called Eco-Genesis, signed an agreement with Nacionalidad Waorani del Ecuador (NAWE), the political organisation of the Waorani Indigenous People. The agreement handed over the rights of large areas of Waorani land to the company, allowing it to generate carbon credits from the forest. Under the agreement, the Waorani renounced any claim for the next 30 years. The vast majority of the Waorani were neither consulted nor even aware of the agreement. After the contract was made public, the Waorani convened an assembly and fired NAWE’s president, who they accused of corruption and collusion with the company.


In 2011, the Forest Peoples Programme reported that,

REDD+ project developers working at the sub-national level have not adhered to FPIC [free, prior and informed consent] and the right is being abused (e.g. in Sumatra and in Central Kalimantan), while REDD+ pilots in Aceh have sidelined traditional authorities.

In 2014, the Indonesian government submitted a paper on lessons learned on implementing REDD safeguards to the UNFCCC. But CIFOR’s brief notes that “evidence demonstrates that without clear political will to apply them, REDD+ is less likely to bring real benefits to key rights-holders”.

A failure to address rights to territory could lead to an elite land grab. But an Indonesian government land reform programme covers a total of 21.7 million hectares. Under the programme, 9 million hectares will be handed over to citizens (4.5 million hectares degraded forest and 4.5 million hectares uncertified land), and 12.7 million hectares will be managed by Indigenous People. And a recent book by Sébastien Jodoin about REDD in Indonesia and Tanzania argues that indigenous rights recognition in Indonesia is a result of the “transnational legal process for jurisdictional REDD+”.


In Kenya, Wildlife Works’ Kasigau Corridor REDD Project chose to work in an area where Indigenous Peoples had been violently evicted from their land, based on the argument that they were destroying the forest.

In 2014, Ogiek people were evicted from the Mau forest, as part of a forest conservation and reforestation programme. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights subsequently ruled that the Kenyan government was wrong to evict the Ogiek, and that they have the right to live in the Mau Forest.

Similarly, the Sengwer people have been violently evicted from their homes in the Embobut Forest in the Cherangany Hills. Milka Chepkorir of Maseno University in Kenya, is a Sengwer woman who carried out a series of interviews with Sengwer women and concluded that the “evictions affected women and children more than other members of the community”. Between 2007 and 2013, the World Bank funded the US$78 million Natural Resource Management Project for Kenya. An investigation carried out by the Bank’s Inspection Panel recognised the Bank’s responsibility in failing to protect the Sengwer from evictions in the context of REDD readiness.


CIFOR’s brief notes that, “Indigenous organisations have criticized REDD+ in Peru for the lack of spaces for meaningful participation in readiness and implementation, and use of the few spaces that exist as tools for communication rather than consultation.” In 2010, the Australiancarbon cowboy”, David Nilsson, turned up in and promised indigenous communities billions of dollars in return for signing over the rights to their forests.

A 2014 report by the Forest Peoples Programme, based on an important meeting of Indigenous People in Palanga Raya in Indonesia, reported that REDD is seen as a threat to indigenous territorial rights.

The Peruvian indigenous organisation AIDESEP has criticised REDD as “a danger to [indigenous] peoples and to humanity” because “contaminating companies . . . will continue contaminating” under REDD, while “the contracts will control the life of the community in relation to the forest . . . it will control the extraction of products, logging for subsistence [purposes], hunting, construction of new farms or homes, etc.”

A REDD programme funded by Norway, Germany and Peru includes the aim to formalise five million hectares for Indigenous Peoples. But the Open University’s David Humphreys argues that titling and formalisation is a means to an end, rather than a policy change. Also, communities in more contested areas are left out of the land titling process.

Land rights of communities in Peru threatened by illegal logging and industrial plantations remain unaddressed, as are invasions of titled indigenous territories by people granted overlapping titles by subnational governments. CIFOR’s brief points out that,

Despite donor demands and some positive responses among a few national government offices, the wider REDD+ effort has not yet been able to tackle such concerns, and therefore risks exacerbating this rights situation.


In 2012, a paper in Global Environmental Change, under the title “The REDD menace: Resurgent protectionism in Tanzania’s mangrove forests”, took a critical look at a WWF project:

Within the context of the Tanzanian state and WWF’s climate change ‘adaptation strategy’, mangrove reforestation reduces the ability of Rufiji farmers to cultivate rice for subsistence needs and thus poses a direct threat to their livelihoods.

A 2016 paper in Land Use Policy starts with a quotation from a villager:

Before REDD there weren’t any conflicts about land. But with REDD and every village to get its land title, conflicts started.

The paper looks into a Norwegian-funded project with the title, “Making REDD+ and the carbon market work for communities and forest conservation in Tanzania”.

A 2017 study published in Forest Policy and Economics looked at a REDD project in Kilosa district, Tanzania. The study found that he REDD project affected local livelihoods by limiting charcoal production, and some people were forced to move to land of lower quality. “[P]astoralists were not included in the REDD+ process,” the authors note.

CIFOR’s brief notes that in his book, Sébastien Jodoin found that some REDD projects led to the clarification of community tenure rights.

CIFOR’s brief includes a list of key messages:

  • This review reveals multiple allegations of abuses of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) readiness and implementation.
  • Findings from the review should be transformed into opportunities for REDD+ to promote and strengthen the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • A rights-based approach to REDD+ requires engagement with indigenous men and women as rights-holders, rather than as project beneficiaries.
  • Parties should be pressed to investigate abuse allegations, enable access to justice, and develop grievance mechanisms within REDD+ processes.
  • REDD+ risks exacerbating issues of unsecured rights and pre-existing conflicts over land in the contexts in which it is being readied and implemented, unless it is re-oriented to enhance the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Evidence suggests Indigenous Peoples’ undefined tenure rights will negatively impact REDD+ targets.
  • Ensuring the consistent participation of indigenous men and women throughout REDD+ processes is imperative, following clear guidelines for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), and with capacity-building efforts for their effective participation.
  • Rather than being seen as a tool to discourage negative impacts, REDD+ safeguards must be reframed to recognise, inter alia, the key role of Indigenous Peoples in climate change initiatives and protecting forests.

CIFOR’s InfoBrief was funded by Norway’s aid agency, Norad, and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Norway and Germany are two of the biggest REDD funders. It remains to be seen whether anyone in either government is actually listening to this sort of analysis of the problems that REDD creates for Indigenous Peoples.

Leave a Reply