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Saturday, February 4, 2023

COP15: EU failed to protect our land rights – Indigenous communities

In a response to EU Legislation to Rid Agricultural Supply Chains of Deforestation & Human Rights Violations, members of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities said in a statement released at the CBD COP15 ongoing in Montreal that they feel betrayed by the rollback of their rights in the current legislation and urged COP15 negotiators to adequately protect their rights according to global human rights standards. Excerpts:

European Parliament
The European Parliament

As Indigenous leaders and members of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities – representing Indigenous peoples and local communities in 24 of the most forested tropical countries of Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia – we are disappointed in the European Union for failing to protect our rights, including our land rights, in a new regulation that aims to prevent EU companies from importing agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested lands.

The law will require companies to show their supply chains are not contributing to the destruction of forests in the production of goods imported into the EU.

But instead of requiring companies to ensure that products are sourced in accordance with international human rights laws and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, the EU have placed our fate in the hands of the very governments that have violated our rights, criminalized our leaders and allowed an invasion of our territories that have put at risk ecosystems that are vital for preventing biodiversity loss, climate change and the risk that future pandemics will consume our planet. 

Here at COP15, we are calling on negotiators not to make the same mistake that the EU legislators and climate negotiators made in failing to adequately protect our rights according to global human rights standards. Participation in any biodiversity agreement should require that policies at the national level be aligned with the highest standards to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

The EU Parliament’s decision will have a global impact. The parliament has left open a path for governments to continue to violate our rights. It is true that human rights requirements remain in the new legislation, but the decision has caused great harm to Indigenous Peoples, the EU’s most effective partner in protecting the ecosystems that the World Economic Forum says are worth $44 trillion to the global economic system as vital sources of clean water, air and soil.

In 2022, the world’s top climate experts called securing our land rights critical for reducing and adapting to climate change, and the UN’s biodiversity panel of experts called securing the rights of Indigenous peoples vital for addressing the extinction risk that threatens thousands of wild species and traditional communities with genocide. Furthermore, the EU failed to cover deforestation in regions outside of rainforests, despite evidence that our savannahs and other biomes are equally biodiverse and in need of protection.

We also look forward for the legislation to be more ambitious by including other wooded lands and not only tropical areas. We need to remember nature represents an interconnected system, not one divided by categories invented by academics and financiers. The rainforest needs the savannas, chacos and deserts to thrive. By not mentioning other lands, we risk giving companies an out to harm other ecosystems we need to keep the delicate balance of Mother Earth.

Our efforts to communicate with the EU and its citizens began in 2019, when Indigenous leaders began visiting Brussels to speak to legislators to tell our stories. In 2020, the European Commission proposed an unprecedented law requiring companies to rid their supply chains of the deforestation that scientists say is fueling climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemic risk.  But a growing body of evidence revealed that such rules are not enough.

To succeed in preventing the destruction of the natural world would require political and economic actors to partner with Indigenous peoples and local communities, and to demand that we have strong rights to our territories. Organisations representing Indigenous peoples and local communities joined forces with civil society allies to report the great harm companies have done to our peoples and our territories, and how rarely they have been held accountable.

The message got across to the EU Parliament and, in September, EU members of parliament voted overwhelmingly to include measures in the regulation to ensure that companies verify their goods are produced in accordance with international human rights laws, and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

We feel betrayed by the rollback of our rights in the current legislation.

The European Union had offered hope to Indigenous peoples during our darkest times, particularly for those of us from Brazil under President Bolsonaro. Many of us had focused our advocacy efforts on EU nations, traveling there often to tell our stories of the violence and criminalisation that greets our efforts to stop the destruction of intact ecosystems of priceless value to us and to all humanity.

Most recently, in June 2022, a delegation of Indigenous leaders from Brazil, representing the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, or APIB, traveled to Brussels to demand that the EU legislation include protections for human rights, including our land rights.

We are willing to die to protect ancestral territories that are vital to the survival of the planet and of humanity itself, but we should not have to pay with our lives.

We hope that the EU Parliament will revisit their decision, and we will be reporting from our territories the impact of efforts to violate our rights and destroy our ability to protect some of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world. 

For now, however, our hopes – and those of a global public – rest on the outcome of biodiversity negotiations here in Montreal.

The UN’s top biodiversity experts, in research presented during the Biodiversity COP in Montreal, have said that to be effective, protected areas must “be inclusive of Indigenous peoples and local communities,” and avoid displacing us.

The experts call our traditional knowledge, embedded in our ancient languages, fundamental for protecting 80 percent of the biodiversity that remains on the planet, and for preventing the deforestation that fuels climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemic risk.

What will it take for the evidence to convince the political and economic sector from burning down the house we share? Here in Montreal, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres asked the same question in opening the biodiversity conference known as COP15. He called on governments to recognize our rights as one of three urgent steps that must be taken if humanity is to stop treating nature as if it were garbage.

He blamed humanity globally, while acknowledging that we are the only humans who remember another time, when all of us treasured nature as a place we turned to for physical, spiritual and emotional sustenance. Without us, there is no transformative change. There is no planet. There is no us.

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