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20 Apr 2022

Anouska Perram, Forest Peoples Programme

Preventing human rights violations associated with deforestation: why reliance on local laws is not enough

There are currently legislative initiatives underway in the EU, the UK and the US seeking to reduce the impact of consumption and business activities in these jurisdictions on global deforestation. All three legislative initiatives have included some kind of “nod” to the need to protect the tenure and other human rights of indigenous peoples and of local communities. However, none clearly requires the application of international human rights law standards. Instead, the laws rely explicitly on national laws, or, at best (in the case of the EU regulatory proposal), the position is left legally ambiguous.

Relying on national laws to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and of local communities whose lands, territories, resources, livelihoods and other rights are affected by agro-industrial expansion is not enough. This briefing highlights some reasons for this:

  • Many countries which produce forest risk commodities have no or limited protections for customary land rights under national law, meaning indigenous peoples and local communities are vulnerable to dispossession, often without any consultation or compensation.
  • Even in countries which have laws protecting indigenous peoples’ and/or local communities’ tenure rights, these laws are often substandard compared with international human rights law. Where the right to obtain a formal land title exists, titling processes are often extremely slow and often delimit and register only part – often only a very small part – of customary lands. There is frequently no interim protection for lands in respect of which a claim has been made by indigenous peoples or local communities, but which are not yet formally titled.
  • Rules under national law can be internally inconsistent or unclear, for example when court rulings have not been implemented in legislation, or when different sectors have incompatible requirements.

This briefing sets out 4 short case studies from Peru, Cameroon, Guyana and Indonesia, which demonstrate what “protection” by national law means in practice for indigenous peoples and local communities, and why it is critical that the legislative proposals are enhanced to support full protection of the rights of both indigenous peoples and of local communities that are affected by agricultural commodity production.

Part of the following timelines

UK: Environment Bill becomes law, following CSO & business pressure on Govt. to introduce due diligence requirements to tackle deforestation

EU adopts anti-deforestation law; CSOs welcome text but criticise weak protections for Indigenous Peoples & narrow coverage of ecosystems