February 6th, 2014
11:47 AM ET

Time to put people before land profits

By Joji Cariño, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Joji Cariño, an Ibaloi-Igorot from the Cordillera region of the Philippines, is director of the Forest Peoples Program. The views expressed are the writers’ own.

At the end of last October, Elisa Lascoña Tulid was shot at point blank range in front of her husband and four-year-old daughter. She died as the result of retaliation for daring to defend the rights of her people to the lands where they live and farm in the Philippines’ Quezon Province.

Her story was not unique in 2013, nor was it limited to the Philippines. In Thailand, assassins reportedly killed Prajob Nao-opas after he demanded a clean-up of dangerous industrial toxins that were polluting farming communities in Chachoengsao Province. In Colombia, gunmen killed Adelinda Gómez Gaviria, who led a campaign against a gold mine that was damaging her community’s farmland. Pedro César García Moreno, another Colombian leader, was shot, likely for his role in resisting yet another mining operation.

The murders of these community leaders took place against a backdrop of an inexorable grab for land in tropical forest regions, and are becoming a prominent feature of investment trends in these countries.

Increasingly, the land on which Indigenous Peoples and local communities live is becoming more valuable for food producers, industrial manufacturers, and the investor community for its ability to produce the raw materials that power the global economy.

So the question of who owns the land should define the shape and outcome of this persistent global quest for new sources of food, fuel, water and fiber. States have the duty to protect the customary land rights of Indigenous Peoples and communities, yet even when legally recognized, these are rarely enforced. And on too many occasions to count, human rights defenders face death.

The reports of unsavory and often illegal corporate and government behaviors have damaged reputations and consumer confidence. In response, some of the world’s largest companies, including Nestlé and Unilever, have pledged to clean up their supply chains, promising to make sure the palm oil, timber, gold and other minerals and raw materials they purchase or source will not come at the cost of violating the land rights of the people who live on the land.

International initiatives such as the United Nations’ REDD+ scheme and multinational organizations such as the World Bank, meanwhile, have also required greater protections for the rights and resources of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. They have called them essential to eliminating political conflicts, mitigating climate change, and increasing the world’s food supply.

All of these commitments sound like great news. Yet, a new report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) finds that the area of forestland secured for community ownership since 2008 is less than 20 percent of the area that was secured in the previous six years – meaning that governments are actually slowing down in their efforts to protect community land rights. The research examined 33 countries representing 85 percent of forests in the world’s low and middle income countries. Perhaps even worse, laws passed since 2008 are weaker, recognizing fewer rights than those passed before, and none of the recent laws in the countries studied recognize community ownership of land. Governments still claim 61 percent of the forests in low and middle income countries, home to tens of millions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The RRI report also finds that governments of developing countries continue to pursue economic development by allocating lands and resources to investors through long term concession agreements, which seldom involve consultation with the people that depend on these lands and resources for a living, or due diligence on the part of many investors to address rights infringements.

True economic security is impossible when people are denied ownership rights to the lands that they have lived on for generations – and when their future continues to be determined by governments or other actors. Industry and government leaders must translate their words into action; their failures generate tragedies, not profit.

What happens on the ground when their promises aren’t kept? More injustice will lead to more horrific crimes and more poverty. Ultimately this will undermine global economic development, social stability and efforts to slow climate change before they even begin.

Recognizing rights delivers good results. The violence against Elisa Lascoña Tulid and her heroic peers will stop only when humans are valued more than profits from their land. It is past time for governments – my own included – and financial interests to embrace this reality, with no strings attached, before the next advocate is gunned down in cold blood.

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Topics: Asia

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    What is disturbing with state-sponsored land-grab is that those evicted get little or no compensation from state authorities. On the contrary officials involved often benefit at the cost of those, who lost their homes and means of subsistence. They sell the land to property developers and enrich themselves.
    In the Philippines, President Aquino's family owns a lot of land and he is hesitant to forge reforms.

    February 9, 2014 at 11:29 am | Reply
  2. emil kaiypov

    My name is Emil Kaiypov. I am a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, a lawyer, and a father of two children. The proposal for which I am asking your kind support is the suspension of all currently existing hostilities on Earth.

    The main goal of my entire project is to save and improve the lives of children who are suffering from the present conflicts and violence.

    The challenge is to create a moment of "pause" [a technical term from video language] in hostilities now and in the future, as well as to refusal to restart them at all. I believe that in this context, such "pause" in the war action seems do-able and practical, much more effective than the idealistic and utopian pressing of an imaginary "stop" button. In the future the first action will equate to the second: "pause" will become "stop". In order to alert the international community and potential supporters, I made a demonstration of my own at 18 October 2013 on the territory of Syrian embassy in Beirut, with poster "pause the war".

    The purpose of this demonstration, is to show through an example that:

    1) one person has the power to perform an action directed to the benefit of all mankind.

    2) no one should be indifferent, when war is concerned.

    3) war requires us to drop everything else, in order to stop it. Daily activities, against the background of war, look meaningless and empty.

    I believe, that this idea will resonate and supporters will wish to join it. The age of information technologies, will help to spread it around the globe. Definitely there will be supporters among the world's famous celebrities. In the event that a large number of ordinary people and celebrities join this campaign, the dream to stop all military actions on the planet will be realized. This will serve as an occasion to announce the call for volunteers in the "international army of peace". It will consist of unarmed "soldiers" who are ready at any time, to go to the hot spot to "pause" the hostilities with the fact of their presence and to encourage the warring parties to engage in dialogue. Ideally, this army should consist of a world-famous and beloved celebrities from all spheres of human activities.

    I suggest that countries be ready to support my initiative, in solidarity, by placing on the cloth of their national flags, the well-known pause symbol "II". I believe that in the course of implementation of this anti-war action, the reasons for which the suspended armed conflict began, will be resolved or continued in a civilized manner. This anti-war action will bring about a new peaceful reality, when there will be no state left, which "international army of peace" had not visited.

    The termination of all hostilities, will become the point of departure for further continuous progress in all directions.

    We are able to bring about the time, when the world will be fairly managed by a workable international organization which will be trusted by all citizens of the earth. When this happens, all kinds of weapons will be transferred to international United Nations control, the purpose of which, will be the preservation of peace and sustainable development of mankind.

    We live in a world, when the collective effort makes possible the colonizing of other planets in the foreseeable future. I believe, that we have enough strength and resources for the child born tomorrow to see a world, where uniform international standards of education, labor, pension and medical care, will be established everywhere. A world, where the primary human needs will be satisfied for free.

    A world, where nobody talks about freedom, because absolute freedom will accompany each person from the moment of birth, to his last breath. A world, where the happiness and freedom of the individual, will not happen in isolation but will include freedom and happiness of all of humanity. A world without war.

    A world without war is undisputed goal, that sooner or later humanity will definitely reach. It is the primary duty of every adult to fulfill a "world in peace"– everyone’s childhood dream. Every child surrounded by the horrors of war dreams that one day somebody will come and say "It is enough!" and by saying it bring war to an end. Then war will stop. That day has come! It's time to combine our efforts in order to make that dream come true.

    February 11, 2014 at 2:35 am | Reply
  3. Rick McDaniel

    These are the issues of human overpopulation of the planet.........something we have to have a global conversation about, and we have to get under control. This planet can only support X number of humans.........and we have about reached that point.

    February 14, 2014 at 11:11 am | Reply

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