by Lalini Pedris
Dwarfed both in size and fame by the Amazon rainforest, the Gran Chaco, South America’s second largest vegetation complex, is a diverse mix of thorny dry forest and palm savannahs stretching across the far reaches of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. It is home to over 150 mammalian species, including the giant armadillo and giant anteater (both currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species).
The Gran Chaco is also home to roughly 250,000 indigenous people, stemming from around twenty different ethnic groups, who are embroiled in a bitter battle to lay claim to their ancestral forested lands – before they disappear.
Mapping deforestation and the Gran Chaco Americano
The forests and savannahs of the geographically diverse Gran Chaco Americano have been suffering a largely silent extinction – until recently.
Advanced mapping technology is bringing the Chaco into the spotlight. Indigenous groups are digitally mapping their territories in an effort to protect their forests from the encroachment of cattle ranching and soy farming, which threaten both wildlife and indigenous livelihoods.
In Paraguay, a game-changer for indigenous communities has been Tierras Indígenas(TI), an interactive map and online platform launched by Paraguay’s Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas/Federation for the Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples (FAPI) on November 28, 2017.
The TI platform combines Global Forest Watch’s digital Map Builder software and data and expertise from both Global Forest Watch (GFW) and thirteen different indigenous groups, the platform enables interested groups to map the extent and legal status of their lands and resources.
The Map Builder tool allows users to use the GFW data and tools to create their own interactive digital map using specified data layers and personalized styling, which can be shared over social media and submitted to the map gallery.
The software builds on GFW’s extensive data and tools to document land use change and deforestation, using interactive layers to display tree cover, land use types by industry, and other aspects of forest change on a global scale. By accessing these tools, TI users can view forest change (deforestation, forest growth, and reforestation) in particular areas within the Gran Chaco region, as well as land claims made to those areas.
Linking indigenous land rights and environmental welfare
Research shows how “tenure-secure” indigenous lands demonstrate lower rates of deforestation and can forestall conflict by demonstrating established land claims.
“Where indigenous people have rights to their land, they’re really good stewards of that land,” said Ryan Sarsfield, Latin America Commodities Manager with Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute. “Our research in the Amazon Basin shows that average annual deforestation rates are two to three times lower within documented indigenous forests than on similar lands that are not formally recognized by the state.”
Sarsfield described in an email the “really dynamic” changes in land use in Paraguay over the last couple of decades. “There’s been an expansion of soybeans in the east, and then movement towards expansion of cattle in the west, in the Chaco region,” he said. “And that has resulted in an explosion of deforestation, explosion of the cattle industry, a lot of which is going for export. And in the process, there’s been a lot of expansion of cleared areas within existing ranches and a lot of buying and selling of ranches, and indigenous people have been pushing back for their land rights in many of these places.”
According to Don Hipólito Acevei, President of FAPI, the groups collected tribal lands data through a series of internal coordination meetings.
“We contracted, thanks to the support of USAID and WRI, experts in GIS, who received copies of the titles and plans of the communities’ insured lands,” Acevei told Mongabay. “In the case of indigenous communities with claims procedures, their members brought copies of their efforts where the data on the property claimed were stipulated. The work was carried out through coordination of the platform…by FAPI, but with the participation of several indigenous organizations, also civil society organizations and international NGOs…” (Quote translated from Spanish by the author.)
Sarsfield and Acevei described how collaboration and standardization using clear protocols, precise data, and participatory management were key to making the smartphone-accessible map.
“The platform cannot guarantee the validity of regional territorial rights,” Acevei explained, “but I think it can serve as an inspiration so that the information is used to connect us with other [indigenous] peoples, since the borders of the countries are dividing the peoples. The people know where their ancestral territories are located, and through the platform they can see the location of the lands they have [already] legalized and they lands they claim. This information is also of vital importance for the State and for regional and local governments.” (Quote translated from Spanish.)
While several of Paraguay’s indigenous groups have taken to the courts to challenge forced displacement from their homes by cattle ranching and agricultural development, there is hope that the process of mapping territorial claims using the Tierras Indígenas platform would prevent transgressions from happening in the first place.
The interactive platform informs not only indigenous community members about their territorial rights, but also members of the government and the private sector. It is publicly accessible, which means that companies and government institutions can review land claims prior to launching prospective activities in the region.
“If land is accurately represented,” Sarsfield noted, “or at least the confusion around titling is represented, and indigenous people are better able to defend their claims and be transparent about their claims, there’s going to be better outcomes for indigenous people and for stewardship of the environment that they carry out.”
It’s still too early to analyze the effects of the Tierras Indígenas platform on forest conservation. But the project has already helped to establish transparency and legitimacy for indigenous land claims and has helped to increase visibility and community development for indigenous groups.
According to Acevei, “[The project] has impacted [indigenous communities] very positively because there was no map of indigenous communities that could show secured and claimed indigenous lands. The communities are [now] visible, and so are their rights. Also, companies and other actors will be able to show and talk about possible projects that can impact the lives of communities.” (This quote has been translated from Spanish by the author.)
“We had groups in the private sector who developed risk models for Paraguay, and they wanted to be able to fit the data into their risk models as part of their sourcing criteria,” Sarsfield said. “There was a pre-existing demand for data that could be used for those in the private sector who really are making an effort to avoid conflict involved in indigenous lands. That data’s already in their hands, and we filled that need by having the data available in the first place.”
One of the challenges of implementing the platform, according to Sarsfield, was being able to accurately and precisely display disputed land claims so that users – from government officials to corporations and members of civil society – could accurately interpret its status. The platform, launched in November 2017, is being continuously updated with new data.
Conserving the Chaco
When asked about how the platform can contribute to the conservation of the Gran Chaco ecoregion, Acevei replied, “The biggest challenge is how to protect the territories and their resources in a space where land use change for economic activity is being planned. For this reason, the real importance of indigenous lands to maintain forests and their resources is demonstrated through the platform. And you can also see where they are claiming lands to be legalized by the State as soon as possible, because it is a human right of indigenous communities.” (Quote translated from Spanish by the author.)
Published on Mongabay on March 26, 2018
By Jonathan Watts
A green-and-red flag flies over a cluster of bamboo and tarpaulin tents on the frontline of an increasingly deadly struggle for land and the environment in Colombia’s Cauca Valley.
It is the banner for what indigenous activists are calling the “liberation of Mother Earth”, a movement to reclaim ancestral land from sugar plantations, farms and tourist resorts that has gained momentum in the vacuum left by last year’s peace accord between the government and the paramilitaries who once dominated the region – ending, in turn, the world’s longest-running civil war.
The ragtag outpost in Corinto has been hacked out of a sugar plantation, destroyed by riot police, then reoccupied by the activists, who want to stop supplying coca (the main ingredient for cocaine) to drug traffickers in the mountains by cultivating vegetables on the plains instead.
Despite two deaths in the past year, the Nasa Indians – the biggest, most organised and most militant of the 20 indigenous groups in the valley – have staged waves of monoculture clearance and occupation operations. Almost every other week hundreds, sometimes thousands, of machete-bearing activists join these communal actions, known as minga, which involve burning and hacking down swaths of sugar cane, then erecting camps and planting traditional crops including maize and cassava.
The Nasa see this in historical, spiritual terms. For them, it is the latest phase in a centuries-old struggle for land and a clash between two contrasting world views: one that seeks harmony with nature, and one interested only in extracting as much profit as possible, regardless of the impact on the people and the environment.
“Liberating the earth means defending the land,” says José Rene Guetio, a Nasa elder. “You can see the blood that has been spilled in the cause for better land and a better future for our children.”
Environmental concerns are also among the motivations. The Nasa say they should not be living in such large numbers near sacred sites in the hills, particularly lakes, wetlands and waterfalls. “There are too many of us in the mountains. That’s not good because we are destroying our water source,” said Eduin Mauricio Capaz, human rights coordinator for the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (Acin). But this position has pitted them against the law, state security and some of Colombia’s biggest property owners and global sugar suppliers.
The Colombian government sees things differently. It says the state has a responsibility to protect legally recognised property ownership and that indigenous land issues should not be confused with environmental protection. However, it acknowledges that peace has brought a destructive surge into land previously deemed off-limits because of occupation by the Farc. Deforestation in Colombia rose 44% last year. Coca production has also risen rapidly. To tackle this, President Juan Santos has demarcated more conservation areas and promised to use the army and work with former Farc combatants to protect forests.
The minister for the environment and sustainable development, Luis Murillo, said the state’s security apparatus was the answer to environmental problems, not the problem. “We need to move very quickly to establish a presence in areas where we didn’t have a presence before,” he told the Observer, noting that the government is working on measures to protect human rights and environmental defenders.
The Cauca Valley has long been the base of operations for many of the most belligerent paramilitary groups in the country. Even with the demobilisation of the biggest organisation, the Farc, 12 other armed groups are still active in the valley, which stretches for several hundred kilometres. Some are armed rebels, such as the National Liberation Army, but others are little more than death squads that charge two million pesos (£500) per killing.
Drug gangs, militias and private security firms – which often overlap – have made this one of the most dangerous places in the world for indigenous rights campaigners, environmental defenders and journalists. Last year a record 37 activists were murdered in Colombia, which is second only to Brazil in a world ranking of such killings, according to the NGO Global Witness. This year looks set to be a similar story, with 28 fatalities so far.
The worst clashes have occurred at Corinto, which is about an hour’s drive from Cali airport. This is where activists from the Nasa have stepped up their efforts to occupy land within a vast plantation owned by Carlos Ardila Lülle, a billionaire sugar, bottling and media tycoon.
On 9 May, 17-year-old Daniel Felipe Castro was killed and several others injured when police allegedly opened fire during a minga. “We were cutting down cane when police drove up in a pick-up truck and opened fire. It was as though they were trying to fumigate us with bullets. Those who didn’t get on the ground fast enough were hit,” said a relative of the dead teenager, who asked to remain anonymous. “They don’t want us here and we won’t move, so they are trying to kill us.”
The Observer spoke to three other activists who said police have been using live rounds. One showed a scar near his shoulder blade where he said he was shot last month. The bullet, still lodged in his body, could be felt beneath the skin on his back.
Hermes Pilicue, a Nasa elder, blamed the violence on the rising pressure for land now that the peace deal has opened up the region. “Colombia is supposed to be in the midst of peace, but in our territories the conflict continues,” he said at Acin’s head office in Santander de Quilichao. “The peace agreement has made our lives more difficult. More people are entering our territory to claim land, partly because the government is granting more concessions for mining and water use.”
A 2,000-strong guarda indígena formed from the 20 native communities in the valley has already closed down several mines despite threats from militias who are alleged to be in the employ of the owners. The volunteer force, dressed in green-and-red uniforms, is armed only with wooden staffs decorated with coloured tassels. Now that the Farc has laid down its weapons, the guarda are becoming more assertive.
Article one of the peace accord guarantees agrarian reform and states that land taken during the conflict will be given back to its rightful owners. The authorities do not specify what this means, but indigenous groups have interpreted this as a prompt to reclaim ancestral territory. “Until recently, the Cxhab Wala Kiwe (Nasa people) were absorbed in simply saving our community from war and preventing paramilitary groups from recruiting our children,” said Capaz, who is also a senior member of the indigenous guard. “Now there is no war, we can focus more on the liberation of Mother Earth. Extractive industries and monocultures are contrary to our belief system. People here are aware of what is going on elsewhere in the world. We know how the climate is changing. We know about contamination of the land. We don’t want that.”
Their campaign to carve out territory between the coca and the sugar cane challenges the colonial hierarchies in the valley. After the white Europeans pushed the indigenous people into the mountains, they built homes in the foothills and brought in African slaves to work on sugar plantations on the plains. Today, mostly black cane workers joke among themselves as they wait for a bus home after a harvesting shift that has filled a giant five-carriage truck. They express a mix of old prejudice and new admiration for the indigenous groups who want to clear their workplace.
“The Indians have land, but they don’t work hard on it. They are coming down from the hills because the price of coca and marijuana has collapsed,” said José Milton Mosqueira. “But they are making such a commotion that I guess they must feel like they have a genuine claim to the land.”
As he and his colleagues talk, dusk darkens the sky and lights start to appear on the distant slopes. First just one or two strings, then 10, then 100, until finally the hillsides are illuminated like a giant Christmas tree. Every bulb is a grow-lamp for marijuana crops – evidence of the continued reliance of small farmers on the drugs trade.
After agrarian reform and the demobilisation of the paramilitaries, the eradication of coca and marijuana crops was one of the key tenets of the peace accord. All three have hit snags that have added to violence and pressure on the land. The tension is evident in the once small coca-growing community of Monte Redondo. Here the locals – a mix of Nasa and mixed-race farmers – are signing up to a crop-replacement scheme, with the government promising compensation if they switch from drugs to citrus or coffee.
The farmers do not need much persuading. Economic forces are driving people away from drugs and towards the plains. The price of coca – which was never high at this bottom rung of the narco industry – has plunged. Growers say they are now selling for 1,000 pesos per pound – less than half the price before the peace deal. Many farmers are tired of the violence and disruption associated with the drug business, so about 95% are willing to switch despite intimidation by narco gangs who have murdered advocates of crop substitution.
“Even though they are afraid, people are signing up because they want a change,” said Briceida Lemos Ribera, a leader of the cocaleros (coca growers). “We are betting on peace, but it has made us a target of the people who benefited from war.”
The risks take many forms in this period of transition as former adversaries are now living in close proximity. Monte Redondo used to be a no-go area for the authorities because it was controlled by drug cartels and paramilitaries. Now it is home to three new encampments that sit almost side by side on the road: a police base piled high with sandbags; an army outpost with a dozen green tents; and rows of prefabricated housing for demobilised Farc guerrillas.
“If an area isn’t occupied, armed groups will move in,” said an officer in the military camp. “We are operating in areas where the state hasn’t been before. We are just a small part and we are taking turtle steps.”
But the peace is fragile. The week before the Observer’s visit, three police officers were killed in a grenade ambush. Former Farc warriors say the tension has increased, though in the long term they express optimism about the future. They see the peace as a victory for their long campaign for agrarian reform and fairer distribution of land.
“We’d like land. We want to have a farm,” said Oscar Aragón, who has just been released from prison, where he served six months for collaborating with the Farc.
“I want to be a cowboy and raise cattle,” former Farc combatant Henry Menézez tells the Observer. After seven years in the jungle, he says he would like to write a book about his experiences and his future work to build a new community. Eight days later, he is murdered in what is rumoured to be a revenge attack for the ambush of the three policemen.
While that killing is a hangover from the civil war, others are connected to the renewed Mother Earth campaign. Ultimately, however, despite the plethora of conflicts and militias, the fundamental cause is the same as it has been for centuries – land – and the victims are those who defend it.
At the other end of the Cauca Valley, a crack of thunder rumbles through the hills as a crowd of mourners joins a funeral procession for the latest indigenous victim of the campaign to liberate Mother Earth.
Efigenia Vásquez, a radio and video journalist from the Kokonuko community – which is allied to the Nasa – was shot in Puracé on 8 October as she recorded an attempted occupation of Aguas Tibias, a farm and hot-spring resort inside the indigenous reserve, owned by a former general. The Kokonuko activists were driven back by riot police. There was an exchange of teargas, stones and, from somewhere, a gun. Vásquez was hit twice and died later in hospital. Her colleagues at the Renacer Kokonuko radio station say she was aware of the dangers, but was determined to cover a conflict that was the central concern of her community. “She used to say ‘the family grows, but the land doesn’t. We must take back the land of our ancestors’,” recalled Marcela Abirama, who was with Vásquez in hospital when she died. “Eight days earlier, she told me we must cover the Mother Earth campaign even if we might get killed.”
Who fired the gun is disputed. The Kokonuko blame the police, who they say wanted to silence the community and scare them away from the land.
During the funeral procession, the mourners express defiance as well as sadness. “Adelante compañero (forward, comrade),” they sing, then stop outside the police station to taunt the officers inside: “You kill our women, we continue our struggle. You kill our journalists, we continue our struggle. Until when? Until forever!”
The authorities have a different version of events. A police officer said Vásquez was probably the accidental victim of a homemade gun used by Kokonuko renegades to fire clusters of ball bearings. He showed a video clip on his phone of what he said was indigenous protesters using such a weapon on the day Vásquez died.
There are multiple images of them using what looks like a crude rifle, but the friendly-fire theory does not account for the fact that two other members of the community were shot and wounded on the same day at different places and different times. The father of one of them – Wilmar Yace – said a bullet entered one of his son’s cheeks and exited the other – a wound that is more likely to be caused by a high-calibre rifle than a makeshift ball-bearing gun.
The journalist’s death has resonated internationally. The director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, denounced the killing and called for an inquiry. Vásquez’s parents hope her death can raise awareness of the indigenous cause.
“She became a journalist so she could be a voice for the voiceless,” said her mother, Hilda María Astudillo. “She was always campaigning for her family and her children so they could live in peace when they grow up.”
But the peace Vásquez hoped for remains more elusive than ever. After the burial, the Kokonuko crafted shields from plastic barrels sawn in half. Others collected bottles and fuel for petrol bombs. The following morning, the battle for Aguas Tibias recommenced. Several hundred Kokonuko men descended on the beautiful site from all sides of the valley. They were met with volleys of teargas from about 80 riot police camped at the farm who had been fighting off encroachments for four days.
The activists charged forward carrying a large wooden door as a shield against rubber bullets, so they could get close enough to throw firebombs at the police. Behind them, young and old used slingshots and a makeshift catapult to hurl stones, which were collected in satchels from the road and stacked by the Kokonuko women. The police also threw stones and bolts as their arsenal ran low.
On this occasion there were no guns, no deaths, no serious injuries, but the campaign to liberate Mother Earth shows just how violent Colombia’s peace has become.
“After 50 years of war, we still have this,” said a local government official, who was turned away as she attempted to take supplies to the besieged police officers. She departed with a warning. “If we are not allowed through, the army will get involved. They will be coming soon.”
Published on The Guardian on October 28, 2017.
By Sue Branford
Brazil’s Supreme Court made two key decisions that strongly favored the country’s indigenous communities Wednesday, rulings that appear to refute the current administration’s recent attempt to link all indigenous land claims to an arbitrary 1988 occupation date, rather than to a long history of documented occupation, as required by Brazil’s Constitution.
The court ruled that both of the civil actions that the Mato Grosso state government had brought against the indigenous agency, Funai, were inadmissible. About a hundred Indians, gathered in the courtroom, greeted the decision with cheers. Outside the building, dozens of Indians, who had spent the night waiting in Brasilia’s central square (the Praça dos Três Poderes), celebrated noisily.
In both cases, the Mato Grosso government claimed that federally established indigenous reserves had been set up on land that belonged to Mato Grosso state, and that had not been traditionally occupied by the indigenous people living there today. Through ACO 362, Mato Grosso claimed compensation for land the federal government used to establish the Xingu Indigenous Park, created by the Villas-Boas brothers in 1961. Through ACO 366, Mato Grosso claimed compensation for land federally demarcated as indigenous territories for the Nambikwara, Pareci and Enawenê-Nauê Indians in the 1980s.
Judge Marco Aurelio Mello said that there was enough evidence to show that indigenous communities had occupied the area of the Xingu Indigenous Park for at least 800 years. Judge Alexandre de Moraes concurred: “Indigenous communities cannot be denied this traditional settlement. Funai does not need to compensate the state for the use of its own lands.” Similar statements were made with respect to the Nambikwara, Pareci and Enawenê-Nauê reserves. The Mato Grosso state government was ordered to pay Funai’s legal fees.
The rulings are a major setback for President Michel Temer, who had openly supported the state government claims, reportedly under pressure from the powerful bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress on whom he depends for his political survival.
But the rulings did not directly address the controversial “marco temporal,” the recent recommendation made by the Attorney General’s office and signed by President Temer, stating that indigenous groups should only have the right to legally claim land if they were physically occupying it on 5 October 1988, the day the current Brazilian Constitution was promulgated. If this recommendation is applied throughout Amazonia, scores of indigenous communities, forcibly evicted from their land during the military government (1964-1985), will lose their land rights.
However, all members of the Court, with the exception of Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes, indirectly rebutted the idea of a 1988 cut-off, by clearly stating that the basis of “traditional occupation” — which the Indians must demonstrate to have their land rights confirmed — is founded on very different criteria. “The vast majority of the ministers of the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the concept of traditional occupation is related to the way they [indigenous people] have occupied their land, and is based on legislation much earlier than the 1988 federal Constitution,” said Cleber Buzatto, the director of Cimi, the Catholic Church’s Missionary Indigenous Council.
Rafael Modesto dos Santos, legal consultant at Cimi, said that in his view the rulings were a serious setback for the federal government: “Despite not being directly examined in the rulings, the concept of the marco temporal was severely damaged and the indigenous communities have been strengthened. This directly affects the recommendation from the Attorney General’s office signed by Temer.”
Minister Luis Roberto Barroso made it clear, in his vote, that he opposed the marco temporal: “In my understanding, traditional indigenous occupation will only lose its validity if it is demonstrated that the Indians voluntarily left their territories or it is shown that their cultural links with the area have been broken.”
Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes, the main advocate for the marco temporal, was not allowed to vote on ACO 362 because he had already made his position clear in the 1990s when he was Attorney-General and, at the time, believed that the state government was wrong in its claim. As a result, the vote on ACO 362 was unanimous.
Although he was the last to speak and was thus defending a lost cause, Mendes made a long speech that denigrated indigenous land rights, saying that, without the marco temporal, “we will end up handing back Copacabana [Rio’s most famous beach] to the Indians.”
Luis Enrique Eloy, a Terena indian and lawyer for the Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil (Apib), expressed a different view: “The Supreme Court decided that these lands never belonged to the Mato Grosso government, and it’s impossible to ignore the presence of the Indians,” he said.
Though important, it is unlikely this week’s decisions will be the final word on the marco temporal, but experts suggest the rulings may cause Temer and his rural caucus allies to pause for thought and to reconsider their strategy. Although Brazil’s top judges have often been overruled by the executive in recent years, they are still a power to reckon with, and able to put a check on perceived presidential excesses.
Published on Mongabay on August 17, 2017.
By Adil Sakhawat
It has been four months since the attacks happened and a lot of Santals are still homeless and living in desperate conditions. Dwijen Tudu who was blinded in the left eye during the attack on Santals in Gaibandha last November came to Dhaka to speak at a public hearing on Tuesday even though he and his wife were both threatened not to attend.
He spoke about the inaction of local lawmakers and the Chairman of Shapmara Union Parisad at the public hearing on the violation of human rights of indigenous people organised by the Institute for Environment and Development at CBCB Centre.
Speaking on how their land was being taken by land grabbers, he said: “We are still being threatened to not return, even today when we were coming to attend the programme we were warned.
“No one has been arrested for the attack even though it has been four months. We demand the government let us return to our land and build permanent homes for us there.”
The indigenous people from Pahan, Santals and Oraon spoke of the continuous harassment they faced with false cases being filed in their names, which they say is a ploy by Bangalis to grab their lands.
They demanded these allegations be properly investigated by NGOS and the government.
It has been four months since the attacks happened and a lot of Santals are still homeless and living in desperate conditions.
“We are continuously being harassed by the police with these false cases being filed against us. We are so scared that our children do not leave the house, not even to go to school,” said Olivia Hembrom at the hearing.
Three indigenous people were killed and seven people disappeared during the attack on the indigenous people in Gobindaganj of Gaibandha district on November 6, 2016.
Even though so much time has passed no progress has been made by the government, the speakers at the public hearing said.
Uzzal Pahan from Akkelpur upazila of Joypurhat lost his uncle Mohonlal Pahan in August last year. He was killed by land grabbers.
“The only reason I lost my uncle is because the land grabbers lost the false case they filed against us and they took revenge by killing him,” Uzzal alleged.
“They also attacked our home,” he added.
The hearing was full of people saying the practice of land grabbers filing false cases was rampant.
“There is a huge financial burden that comes with having to hire a lawyer and going to court. At this rate, we are going to be left landless and destitute,” said Robisoy from Nawabganj, Rajshahi.
Bicitra Tikri of Chapainawabganj lamented on the extent of their rights being violated, having been raped by land grabbers when she tried to get her deceased husband’s land.
“The government is blind to the level of harassment the indigenous people are subjected to. They should form a land commission for the indigenous community,” she said, adding that the government’s inaction has been nothing short of frustrating.
After hearing all these allegations Srijoni Tripura, a Supreme Court lawyer, urged the government to take separate initiatives to stop the human rights violation of indigenous people.
She also suggested lawmakers be stripped of their position if found guilty of being involved in land grabbing of indigenous people.
Published on the Dhaka Tribune website on March 29, 2017.
By Matthew Ponsford
Scandinavian banks are funding industrial developments responsible for deforestation and violence in the rainforests of Borneo, despite commitments to respect the rights of indigenous forest-dwellers, a campaign group said on Tuesday.
Seven financial institutions have backed mining projects and palm oil plantations that caused rapid rainforest destruction and a human rights "crisis" on the Southeast Asian island, Swedwatch said in a report.
Frida Arounsavath, a researcher for Swedwatch, said banks were failing to ensure that companies they funded acquired meaningful consent from indigenous people before clearing forests where they live.
"These companies have breached indigenous people's rights to be consulted and their rights to keep their traditional forests," Arounsavath told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"These forests are at the centre of indigenous people's rights, of their identities, and of their ability to survive as peoples and as cultures."
Indigenous people have faced threats and intimidation, destruction of agricultural land and violent confrontations as a result of deforestation, the report said.
Swedish banks Nordea and Handelsbanken, and insurance company Lansforsakringar welcomed the report by Swedwatch, which monitors the impact of Swedish companies on the environment and human rights.
Stockholm-based Skandia said it would take the findings into account in vetting investments.
But a spokesman for Nordea said the report did not give the "full picture" of the banks' responses.
Borneo - which is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei - has lost 19 million hectares of forest over the last four decades, according to a December report by the Center for International Forestry Research.
Just half the island is now covered by forests compared with 76 percent in 1973, it said.
Arounsavath said the most shocking finding was the contradiction between the banks' strong policies on protecting indigenous rights and a lack of systems to check they were implemented.
Many banks have allowed investees and local governments to 'self-report' on rights issues raised by developments, she added.
In many cases, firms list land for development as "unoccupied" or "state-owned" and ignore the ancestral claims of indigenous people, despite commitments to obtaining their 'free, prior and informed consent', the report said.
Arounsavath called on banks to make urgent improvements by raising awareness of indigenous rights at investor conferences and expanding resources for monitoring policies.
This article was published on Reuters' website on March 7, 2017.
BY AMY LUMBAN GAOL AND LIA DAHLIA
President Joko Widodo has bestowed the right to manage customary forests on nine indigenous communities, heralding the end of decades of uncertainty and the beginning of a new era of secure right to land. The World Agroforestry Centre and Global Affairs Canada have helped one community regain control of their forests.
Indonesia has had a long history of conflict over control of its massive areas of tropical forests that are spread across the many thousands of islands that make up the archipelagic nation. Declaration under former Dutch colonial rule of state ownership of all forests was rarely accepted by the millions of people who lived in them and who had managed them sustainably for centuries.
Widodo’s formal handover of titles is a highly symbolic step in the long fight for recognition by indigenous communities, whose customary rights remained contested by the new nationalist government after independence in 1945 despite being enshrined in the founding constitution. The islands now known as Indonesia have long been home to thousands of distinct ethnic groups with their own languages, customs and identity.
‘The recognition of customary management of forests is not restricted to the acknowledgment of communities’ rights as stated in the 1945 Constitution. Recognition also means an appreciation of Indonesia’s original values and its identity as a nation’, said Widodo in his opening speech at the Declaration of Recognition of Indigenous Forests event held at the presidential palace in Jakarta, 30 December 2016.
The event was attended by international and national figures, including representatives of the nine indigenous communities receiving customary titles, including the leader of the Kajang people of South Sulawesi, Andi Buyung Saputra. Abdullah Mojaddedi, representing the Government of Canada, was also a special guest along with James M. Roshetko, senior agroforestry scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre and the leader of the Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi (AgFor) project. AgFor had supported the Kajang people in their struggle to achieve legal recognition of the management of their sacred forests. AgFor itself was supported by the Government of Canada.
Of the nine recipients, the Kajang were noted by Widodo as a national model from which others could learn. The road leading to recognition was long and fraught, with conflict between the Kajang, different levels of government and the private sector over control of the forests. The fight began when a previous national government had changed the management status of the Kajang’s forests from ‘indigenous’ to ‘production forests with limited uses’, bringing them under the management of the government for various purposes, including allocation to the private sector for the development of rubber plantations.
Roshetko explained that, ‘Good coordination between AgFor’s partner organizations, the Kajang community and local government was a key to assisting the creation of the Bulukumba District Regulation on Inauguration, Recognition and Protection of the Indigenous People of Ammatoa Kajang. The regulation has led to the current point: recognition of indigenous management of forests, issuing of the presidential decree, and handover of title’.
L-R: Andi Buyung Saputra, head of Kajang sub-district and the Labbiria, a Kajang leader; H. Mansur Embas, secretary of the Ammatoa Customary Association; Jaja Icci, village head and daughter of the Ammatoa, the highest Kajang leader; President Joko Widodo; Salam, Galla Lombo, a key Kajang figure; Jamaluddin Tambi, Galla Malleleng, another key figure in the Kajang community. Photo Credit: World Agroforestry Centre/Center for International Forestry Research/Agus Mulyana
Andi Adriardi, a member of Balang, an NGO working with the AgFor project that had helped the Kajang achieve ownership of the title, said that, ‘The Indonesian national government identified the case of the Kajang indigenous forest as a good lesson that approaches perfection it is a well-managed forest where the Kajang have developed a set of local regulations that affirm, recognize and protect based on traditional management, which is supported by modern spatial mapping’.
Even though the Kajang’s forests are relatively small and isolated, the struggle to protect them has had a great impact on the Government of Indonesia’s policy. Not unimportantly or perhaps unsurprisingly, the Kajang’s forests are home to a wealth of endemic species that provide important cultural functions for the people. The forests also store carbon on an island with nearly all of its carbon stock—also known as trees—removed in the last few decades. The deforestation not only increased carbon emissions and contributed to global warming but subsequent agricultural uses have struggled to maintain soil fertility and productivity owing to increased erosion and general degradation of the land that followed the loss of the forests.
Saputra, in his acceptance speech in response to the handover of title by Widodo, noted that, ‘Our traditional wisdom has played an important role in managing and preserving our forests. This has contributed to keeping our Earth greener and reducing the negative impacts of climate change’.
The process toward resolving the conflict and achieving the return of customary title had begun some years before when, in 2008, the Bulukumba District Forestry Agency, assisted by Hasanuddin University, took the initiative to draft a regulation about the Kajang’s forests. That first initiative faced many challenges and for various reasons could not be implemented.
In 2012, the AgFor project started in South Sulawesi with support from the Government of Canada. One of its objectives was to increase the awareness, understanding and technical capacity of participatory governance of agricultural land and forests. Picking up on the government and Kajang’s desire to resolve the conflict, experts in governance from the Center for International Forestry Research, one of the partners of AgFor, provided training in collaborative processes to address complex problems, conflict-resolution techniques, participatory mapping, database development and analysis, and how data can be linked to creating policies.
This is an excerpt of an article published on Agroforestry World's website on February 15, 2017.