News / Africa

Slowdown Reported on Indigenous Rights

Clear cutting of tropical forest in Liberia's Sinoe County to make room for palm oil plantation. Many of the trees are left to rot. Credit Dan Klotz
Clear cutting of tropical forest in Liberia's Sinoe County to make room for palm oil plantation. Many of the trees are left to rot. Credit Dan Klotz

Multimedia

Audio
  • Listen to De Capua report on tropical forest land rights

Joe DeCapua
Two new reports say there’s been a dramatic slowdown in recognizing the rights of indigenous people to tropical forest land and resources. The Rights and Resources Initiative says it’s happening despite favorable court rulings and statements by corporations and governments.


The Rights and Resources Initiative says the slowdown comes “as the global hunger for food, fuel, water and mineral wealth continues.”

“Our main concern is that there are indigenous peoples and local communities around the world who have customary rights before us – but often those rights are not recognized legally by governments. And we have seen some progress over time in the legal recognition of those rights, but in fact our most recent research is showing that there’s been a slowdown in the recognition of rights since about 2008,” said Jenny Springer, the group’s director of global programs.

The reports find that land tenure laws passed since 2008 are “weaker and recognize fewer rights than those passed before.”

Springer said over the last 20 years or so, Latin America has led the way in recognizing indigenous land rights in tropical forest nations.

“At this point, about 39-percent of the forests in Latin America are either owned or designated for use by indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Indigenous people have not fared as well in some other regions.

Springer said, “A couple of the areas that our analysis shows where the forests are still largely controlled and administered directly by governments are Central Africa. About 99 percent of the forests are directly administered by government -- and also peninsular Southeast Asia.”

More countries are discovering they’re rich in natural resources, such as oil and minerals. But Springer said that does not mean those countries automatically will be exploited. In some cases, she says, there’s been a positive effect.

“Local communities, including in Africa, are often the best stewards of their forests and the wildlife in them. So, for example, I spent some time in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There’s an area around a place called Malabo where there are still very well functioning and traditional governance systems of the local communities. They have done a very good job in conserving the forests in their area and also a species of bonobos – a primate species that at this point is only found in DRC,” she said.

But the global demand for resources, she said, does increase pressure on tropical forest land.

“So we see a lot of corporations, a lot of investors, moving into rural areas in developing countries --and the governments want to encourage foreign investment. They want to have revenues and have a means for economic development. But often these large-scale land acquisitions – these industrial concessions – are overlaid right on top of indigenous peoples and community lands.”

The Rights and Resources Initiative reports that “At least one out of every three hectares licensed to natural resource development overlaps with land inhabited by indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Springer is encouraged, though, that some corporations are making statements about protecting rights.

“We think it’s really just the beginning – that there’s a lot more than needs to be done. There’s more that needs to be done in terms of turning verbal commitments into real action – into implementation. And there’s more that needs to be done in terms of spreading these kinds of approaches more broadly across global and local private sector actors,” she said.

The issue of land rights is expected to be addressed in September at the World Conference on Indigenous People at the U.N. Also, the next climate change conference, COP 20, will be held in December in Peru, where there are disputes over land rights in the eastern Amazon.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs