REDD-Monitor | 19 March 2014
“Global efforts to curb deforestation are failing”: The Palangka Raya Declaration on Deforestation and the Rights of Forest Peoples
“Checking deforestation requires respect for our basic rights, which are the rights of all peoples and all human beings. Deforestation is unleashed when our rights are not protected and our lands and forests are taken over by industrial interests without our consent.”
Last week representatives of communities, indigenous peoples and NGOs met in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan Indonesia to discuss deforestation and the rights of forest peoples. The meeting issued the Palangka Raya Declaration, calling on the international community, governments and international organisations to secure and respect their customary rights to their forests, lands, territories and natural resources in conformity with international law.
The week-long meeting was organised by Forest Peoples Programme, PUSAKA and POKKER SHK Kalteng. In a press release about the meeting, Franky Samperante of PUSAKA, said:
“Governments and companies must recognize, respect and restitute the rights of communities. Governments must also terminate and suspend permits allocated to unjust development projects that violate communities’ rights and damage and destroy the forest. Only by guaranteeing and protecting rights and recognizing the communities that manage forests can deforestation truly be curbed and the well-being of forest peoples be secured.”
The Palangka Raya Declaration is available in English, French, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesia on Forest Peoples Programme’s website.
The Palangka Raya Declaration on Deforestation and the Rights of Forest Peoples
We, representatives of forest peoples, indigenous peoples, local communities, farmers, rubber tappers, rattan collectors, peatland dwellers, women, men and youth from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and supportive environmental, human rights and social non-governmental organisations, gathered in Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, make this call to the international community, our own governments and international organisations seeking to secure the global environment. We have met between 9th – 14th March 2014 to review and share our experiences and assess the progress being made locally, nationally and globally to curb deforestation and secure our rights and livelihoods.
Global efforts to curb deforestation are failing as forests are cleared faster than ever for agribusiness, timber and other land development schemes. We, forest peoples, are being pushed to the limits of our endurance just to survive. Checking deforestation requires respect for our basic rights, which are the rights of all peoples and all human beings. Deforestation is unleashed when our rights are not protected and our lands and forests are taken over by industrial interests without our consent. The evidence is compelling that when our peoples’ rights are secured then deforestation can be halted and even reversed. We call for a change in policy to put rights and justice at the centre of deforestation efforts. The world cannot afford further delays.
We therefore urge governments, international agencies and the international community to:
We will work in solidarity together to form a global grassroots accountability network to independently monitor, document, challenge and denounce forest destruction and associated violations of forest peoples’ rights.
The situation facing us and the planet is dire. The global deforestation crisis continues and recent scientific reviews show that forest loss is even accelerating, especially in tropical forest countries. This destruction does not just imperil the planet through climate change, loss of biodiversity and loss of ecosystem functions, it undermines our daily lives, our cultures, our own livelihoods and economies and sets in jeopardy all our futures.
Global efforts promoted by agencies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UNREDD) and the World Bank to address deforestation through market mechanisms are failing, not just because viable markets have not emerged, but because these efforts fail to take account of the multiple values of forests and, despite standards to the contrary, in practice are failing to respect our internationally recognised human rights. Contradictorily, many of these same agencies are promoting the take-over of our peoples’ land and territories through their support for imposed development schemes, thereby further undermining national and global initiatives aimed at protecting forests.
In Indonesia, deforestation is accelerating despite government promises to reduce green house gas emissions, while the national laws on lands and forests fail to secure our peoples’ rights and many rural communities are being rendered landless. Despite a moratorium on new concessions in forests, clearance for oil palm, timber estates, energy crops and mining is intensifying. Hard fought-for legal gains are not being followed up on by the executive.
In Malaysia, the same process of deforestation also continues with much oil palm expansion in Sabah and Sarawak. Mines and hydropower in various States are taking over our forests and lands. Despite numerous high court rulings affirming our peoples’ customary rights, State governments continue to deny our peoples’ rights to our lands and forests.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, our rights as forest peoples to our lands are not secured in law. We look after these forests as our source of livelihoods and our legacy for our future generations, but find our government is leasing out these areas to foreign-owned logging and mining companies through unclear and collusive processes, and when we challenge these permits or seek to continue our livelihoods we suffer violence and abuse.
In Cameroon, logging, oil palm plantations and new infrastructure schemes are causing galloping deforestation, aided by colonial laws which deny our rights to our lands and forests and corrupt government officials who allocate our lands to other interests without regard for our welfare. Evictions are common and impoverishment results. Even protected areas set aside to compensate for forest loss restrict our livelihoods and deny our rights.
In Liberia, we indigenous peoples, who make up the majority population in the interior, find that huge parts of our lands have been handed out by the government to loggers and Asian palm oil companies without consultation, let alone our consent. Deprived of livelihoods, our people find that, instead of our rights as citizens being affirmed by government, these same officials harass us when we protest these impositions.
In Guyana, despite a Memorandum of Understanding between our Government and the Kingdom of Norway to curb forest loss, deforestation is increasing with more logging and mining being permitted, even on our titled lands. The Amerindian Act fails to secure our rights over our territories, giving arbitrary power to the Minister to overrule our own authorities. When we present detailed alternative development plans for our lands and forests, these are ignored.
In Colombia, despite constitutional and legal protections of our rights, oil palm expansion on the Pacific coast has generated armed conflict and evictions of our peoples from their ancestral territories. Infrastructure developments, that are part of the IIRSA including those funded by the IDB, threaten the very cultural and physical survival of some thirty two indigenous peoples and many other rural communities. Most of our lands have been handed out as mining, oil and gas concessions without our consent.
In Peru, where current laws only title our immediate village lands, not our wider territories, road building, including as part of the IIRSA project, is a major cause of deforestation and threatens the future of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. With some 80% of our lands now overlaid by industrial concessions, and with logging and illegal mining causing major problems, new repressive laws have been passed to suppress our protests. Oil palm expansion now poses a new threat to our lands and forests.
In Paraguay, although there is a regional ‘zero deforestation’ law in the East of the country, forest loss continues nationally, while in the Chaco region the rate of deforestation is the highest in the world, as soya growers and ranchers take over our peoples’ ancestral lands in order to export beef and soy products, creating a particularly serious threat to those indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Many of those involved are politicians, who enjoy impunity. Rural people are increasingly marginalised, while foreign migrants are encouraged by government to take over our lands and forests.
This combination of unfair laws, industrialisation of our landscapes, corruption and false solutions has become unbearable and is pushing our societies to their very limits, threatening both our own survival and that of the forests we depend on.
What these local and national reviews show is that, despite global efforts to stem deforestation, an export-led, extractivist model of development continues to be imposed on our forests and wider territories by ignoring our human rights. These trades are driven both by global demand, notably from developed countries especially in Europe, for deforestation-derived products and by trans-national investment.
Our lands are being taken over and our forests are being cleared to produce timber, palm oil, soya, minerals, oil and gas for global and domestic markets and for infrastructure and hydro-power. Often these impositions are part of large-scale development programmes elaborated by governments and corporations without our involvement and funded by international development agencies.
In the process our rights to our lands and ways of life are being violated and our very survival is threatened. We are being forcibly evicted from our lands and forests and our protests suppressed, often by paramilitary, military and police forces, sometimes paid for by the companies. Land conflicts are proliferating, leading to further violence and even killings on the forest frontier, even between communities.
Many of these industries and land grabs are being imposed without due process, against our will, without respect for our free, prior and informed consent, contrary to the law and through corrupt and collusive practices. Too often bribery and manipulation of those appointed to represent us facilitate these expropriations. Frequently these abuses are justified by our governments as being in the national interest, when they actually undermine good governance and the rule of law as well as global agreements on sustainable development and human rights.
Our efforts to seek justice and remedy through the courts are too often frustrated, there is impunity for those who perpetrate these abuses, while many of our people who protest are persecuted. New laws are being passed which place further limitations on our fundamental freedoms and access to justice. The voices of forest peoples are not being heard and are now being suppressed, while our community leaders are being encouraged, pressured and co-opted by companies and government authorities to accept unjust and unsustainable national development plans, thereby further facilitating the destruction of our land base and forest-dependent ways of life.
We also note that even international, government and private sector efforts to protect forests from destruction as parks, protected areas, ‘ecosystem restoration concessions’, ‘no go zones’ and ‘set asides’ tend to ignore our rights, deny our livelihoods and thus create further conflicts and instability. Enough is enough! ‘Green grabs’ are not the solution to land grabs.
Underlying all this destruction and these abuses, lies the fundamental problem of a lack of respect for our rights to our lands and territories, our self-governance, our own institutions, customary laws and distinctive ways of life based on our long familiarity with forests and how to make a living from them without destroying them. Too often our ways of life and knowledge systems are considered backward and we find we are discriminated against in all our dealings with national and international society.
By denying our rights and by failing to protect them, it is our forests, the forests of the world, that are being made vulnerable to these destructive forces.
We note, with approval, that the international community has affirmed the importance of these rights. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) upholds our rights to our lands, territories and natural resources and for us to manage them through our own institutions. International human rights treaties enshrine our civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, to non-discrimination, to food security and to traditional occupations and insist on the equal rights of women and the need to protect children. 
International environmental treaties and agreements have also affirmed our rights to customary sustainable use and to have a decisive voice about what happens in our forests. Our internationally recognised rights are invoked in, among others, the ‘safeguards’ for REDD+ agreed by the UNFCCC, the UNREDD standards and the Guiding Principles of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), although these are not being adequately observed. Nevertheless, these potentially positive standards risk being undermined by the lack of robust national, legal and governance reforms to ensure respect for forest peoples’ rights.
The UN Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (UNVGGT) endorsed two years ago by 194 countries stress the importance of ensuring land security for local communities and indigenous peoples, affirm the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent, and stress adherence to international obligations and respect for customary rights.
We recognise that in some countries advances have been made to revise Constitutions and adopt new laws that respect the rights of indigenous peoples, reform forest tenures and encourage community based forest management and while many obstacles remain in terms of implementation these cases point the way for other countries to follow.
We note the recent pledges by leading private sector companies to reform the way they do business, in order to halt their involvement in deforestation and to respect our rights in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, much less progress is being made on the ground to realise these pledges. These promises will only be made effective when there is genuinely independent verification and if credible procedures are established to hold those who make such promises to account and provide remedy for violations.
The solidarity of NGOs of North and South to partner our peoples in our struggles for justice is heartening and important to us. We appeal to them to ensure better communication and coordination between their efforts and ours and that they pay more attention to securing our rights and livelihoods in their campaigns to curb forest loss.
These experiences also show us how important independent forest monitoring is and how such monitoring is strengthened with our direct involvement. We, who live in the forests know them best, know immediately what is going wrong. We need to be linked to other concerned parties to ensure transparency.
All these positive developments are long overdue but much more must be done to reset the way we deal with forests and to assess the progress made in the actual implementation of company and government commitments.
The evidence is already compelling that forests are better protected and conserved and even restored where our rights are respected and there is room for our own alternatives, based on our rights and our own knowledge and forest wisdom, informed by our own beliefs and spirituality. Although progress has been made globally to promote community-based forest management, these schemes must be adjusted so that all the rights of forest peoples are secured and our own knowledge, beliefs, institutions, and customary laws are used to guide forest management.
For such approaches to flourish we need changes in national laws, policies and programmes so that our rights are secured.
We therefore make the following recommendations.
Governments and national legislatures must:
Developed countries, notably the European Union (EU), and other traders must:
International financial institutions must:
The private sector must:
From NGOs we ask that they:
Looking ahead we note that upcoming international events provide significant opportunities to adopt a revised approach to the crisis facing forests and forest peoples worldwide based on respect for our rights. In anticipation of these events we address the following recommendations to intergovernmental institutions:
Climate change negotiations:
UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (UNWCIP) (September 2014)
Post-2015 sustainable development goals