Indigenous peoples participation vital to forest preservation

UN Photo/Joseane Daher

During the Rio Summit in 1992, indigenous peoples’ rights to forests was clearly recognized as a crucial component to preserve the environment and solve the global environmental crisis. However, the process in this regard has been slow, and indigenous peoples continue to lobby governments for the full legal recognition of their traditional land rights. 

In fact, in many countries, indigenous peoples lack any legal title to their land, and in other instances, even if they count on a title, governments can revoke it at any time.

Recognizing the urgency to find viable recommendations to solve the issue, experts from around the globe gathered during the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Peoples and Forests from 12-14 January at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Reaching solid conclusions and recommendations, the two-day discussion focused on the indigenous peoples’ right to participation and consultation.

Highlighting the importance of active participation, the group emphasized the crucial role that indigenous people have in all the initiatives concerning forests and its preservation. As a result, experts expressed that indigenous people should be active leaders and participants during the celebration of the International Year of Forest (2011). The group also agreed that it is time to recognize indigenous people as the stewards of many of the world’s most biologically diverse forests and take their ancestral and profound knowledge to learn how to preserve them.

It was also remarked that often indigenous peoples are not considered as decision makers, and yet, are forced into discussions regarding partnerships on forests. Participants agreed that it is crucial to fully and effectively implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which provides a framework for indigenous peoples’ rights to forests and recognizes the right to make decisions and to be involved in the decision making process.

Speakers also expressed the need to institutionalize non-discrimination and equality measures, reorganize indigenous peoples’ traditional property rights, recognize the responsibility of states in calling for corporate social responsibility and create the necessary frameworks for collaboration with indigenous groups.   

Participants said that to achieve the aforementioned outcomes there is the need to extend the scope of the United Nations Declaration on Rights if Indigenous Peoples enhance the collaboration among the UN, the States, and indigenous peoples, and strengthen the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues engagement with regional initiatives.

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