Indigenous Rights Get Little Mention In Climate Agreement


Barbara Fraser, Xinhua News Agency/REX

Date of publication: 
18 December 2014

Indigenous groups called for international climate change agreements to respect human rights and land rights at a United Nations summit here, but the meeting ended with an agreement that made little mention of those issues.

Their call was underscored by the recent deaths in Peru and Ecuador of indigenous leaders who had been defending their territories or natural resources.

Negotiators at the summit, held December 1 – 12 in Lima, Peru, were to lay the groundwork for a new international treaty to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The new treaty, to be finalized in December 2015 in Paris, will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2020.

“We are extremely concerned that governments do not have indigenous representatives at the negotiating table,” said Cándido Mezúa, who heads the National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous People of Panama, at a panel discussion on the sidelines of the main climate talks.

“The life of our forests and of the forests of developing countries is at stake,” Mezúa said. “We want to have a voice and vote in decisions.”

An indigenous people’s caucus met during the negotiations and presented its proposals to the negotiators. Key points included respect for rights to land and resources, as well as free, prior and informed consent regarding climate-related projects affecting indigenous people.

The caucus also called for support for community-based monitoring of those projects and a climate fund for Indigenous Peoples.

“If you give funds to governments, often the funds stay with the governments and don’t reach the communities,” Mezúa said.

He also urged strong measures to protect indigenous people’s rights in projects aimed at reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, such as those known as REDD+, for “reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”

But negotiators discussing REDD+ made no decisions about those safeguards, which will be on the agenda again next year.

Amazonian leaders emphasized the role of indigenous people in protecting the region’s tropical forests, which store large amounts of carbon. Deforestation releases that carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Forests in the Amazon basin contain an estimated 86 billion metric tons of carbon, about half of that in parks and indigenous territories, but those areas are increasingly threatened by farming, ranching, road construction and other development, according to a study released during the climate summit.

Deforestation rates often are even lower in indigenous territories than national parks, research has found.

“In many places, there aren’t even government officials to patrol the areas. The only ones who safeguard the areas are Indigenous Peoples,” said Jorge Furagaro of the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

About 247 million acres of indigenous territory in the Amazon still lack legal title, jeopardizing the communities’ rights, said Edwin Vásquez, COICA general coordinator. Indigenous leaders said about 49.5 million of those are in Peru.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the new UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, said indigenous people around the world are being forced to fight for their land rights, and that some are dying for those rights.

Shuar leader José Isidro Tendetza Antún of Ecuador, who had planned to attend the Lima summit, disappeared on November 28. His body was found in a shallow grave more than a week later. He had been bound and beaten.

Four men from the Asháninka community of Saweto in Peru, near the Brazilian border, were murdered in late August. Two were community leaders who had been trying to get government officials to grant Saweto its land title and crack down on illegal loggers in the area.

Their widows, who attended events organized during the climate change summit, said illegal loggers had repeatedly threatened their husbands. The government canceled two timber concessions that overlap the community’s land, but Ergilia Rengifo said that would not stop the illegal logging and prosecutors are moving slowly on the murder case.

She said the community would continue to pressure the government to title the community and evict the loggers.