by Fernanda Almeida
Fernanda Almeida is the lead author of RRI’s “What Rights?” report and works as an international legal consultant on comparative legal, regulatory and policy research and analysis.
Indigenous Peoples and forest communities have long-established customary land rights to a large proportion of the world’s forests. The recognition of these rights by governments and international law and jurisprudence, has proven to be one of the few success stories in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Where these rights are recognized, Indigenous Peoples and other communities are not only able to enjoy their most fundamental human rights, but also to develop themselves sustainably.
For example, in the case of Amazonian traditional populations in the Extractive Reserve of Marajoí (Brazil), the açaí palm had virtually disappeared due to previous over-harvesting caused, at least in part, by unclear tenure. Once land tenure issues were resolved, traditional populations invested their resources in managing the açai area as a way to bring back wildlife, fish, and the açai palm itself. As a result, biodiversity was restored and the population had secured its means of subsistence.
In spite of the importance of such rights to the promotion of a sustainable development agenda, very little was known about the extent to which governments around the world had recognized them and how. The What Rights? report by the Rights and Resources Initiative begins to fill this gap. It analyzes national laws that relate to the forest tenure rights of indigenous peoples and communities in 27 developing countries, home to 2.2 billion rural people, that collectively contain about 75 percent of the forested land in all developing countries.