Indigenous peoples’ rights to forests

International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Peoples and Forests will be held in New York from 12-14 January

Forests account for 30 percent, or 3.2 billion hectares, of the earth’s land area and are the traditional territories for many indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples living in forests possess clearly defined rights to land and natural resources, including communal ownership of their ancestral lands. They manage the natural resources on their territories, exercise their customary laws, and represent themselves through their own institutions.

However, these rights are often denied by development and conservation schemes. Indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately from large-scale development and conservation projects and are often forced to relocate, while their rights to compensation are often denied or overlooked. These actions very often result in serious consequences for indigenous peoples.

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests and invited Governments, the United Nations system, relevant non-governmental organizations, the private sector and other actors to make concerted efforts to raise awareness at all levels to strengthen the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.

Sustainable forest management is seen to contribute extensively to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals with respect to poverty eradication and environmental sustainability. It is also seen to contribute towards the global effort to fight climate change and combat desertification and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, along with numerous other benefits for the betterment of the livelihoods of people.

For indigenous peoples, the International Year of Forests has the potential to have a central voice in the global debate on forests, as well as find a way forward to the often contentious interactions that occur between indigenous peoples, States, commercial and corporate forest interests.

At its ninth session, the Permanent Forum decided to hold an Expert Group Meeting, coinciding with the International Year of Forests. At its regular session on 22 July 2010, the Economic and Social Council approved the Permanent Forum’s recommendation in decision 2010/248.

The meeting will include indigenous experts from the seven Permanent Forum regions as well as Permanent Forum members, States, UN Agencies, Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations and academics. The findings of this Expert Group Meeting will be presented to the Tenth Session of the Permanent Forum in May 2011.

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