“Scaling-Up Strategies to Secure Community Land and Resource Rights: An International Conference to Take Stock of Current Efforts, Identify Promising Strategies, and Catalyze New Alliances and Action” was held from Thursday 19 to Friday 20 September 2013 in Interlaken, Switzerland. The meeting brought together over 180 participants from 40 countries, representing a wide range of stakeholders from governments, local communities, indigenous peoples’ organizations, private investors, food and resource companies, and conservation organizations, who have a common interest in clarifying and securing the ownership of community lands and resources.
The conference aimed to increase the profile and prioritization of community land rights as a global concern, catalyze new ideas and alliances, and secure commitments to take these strategies forward in the coming months and years. The co-organizers of the conference, Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Land Coalition (ILC), Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Oxfam, called on the international community to set a goal of doubling the amount of community land recognized and secured in the next five years.
Participants met in plenary and in strategy sessions to discuss the five following themes to securing community land and resource rights: mapping and documentation; legal recognition and empowerment; expanding and leveraging private sector interest in securing community land rights; making community land rights a global priority; and deepening synergies between community land and resource rights and conservation efforts. The main priorities that emerged from the sessions, as well as opportunities for scaling up existing opportunities and recommended next steps, were compiled and reported on in plenary. The co-organizers of the conference planned to meet the following week to discuss the way forward.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Ownership of roughly one-half of the rural, forest and dryland areas of the developing world is contested, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. This lack of recognition and clarity of community land and resource rights across the developing world has undermined progress on social and economic development, human rights, peace, food security, environmental conservation, and the ability to confront and adapt to climate change. These lands are also the targets of rapidly expanding investments in industrial agribusiness, mining, oil and gas, and hydroelectric-power production.
In 2012, representatives of the co-convening organizations of the conference, RRI, IUCN, ILC, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and Oxfam, began discussions on deepening coordination on securing community land and resource rights. Seeing the opportunities available to increase recognition of land and resource rights, and the need to scale up these activities, the co-convening organizations invited 16 key individuals from around the world to think about what can be done to garner global momentum for securing these rights, including the convening of a larger meeting with a diversity of stakeholders on the topic.
Following further virtual discussions and another meeting in Interlaken, the five organizations committed to call on the international community to adopt the goal of doubling the amount of community lands recognized and secured by 2018. They further discussed the strategies that needed to be developed to achieve this goal, which resulted in the strategic themes that would be discussed at the current meeting.
REPORT OF THE MEETING
On Thursday, Willi Graf, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, thanked the co-organizers and welcomed the participants on behalf of the Swiss Government. Using examples from the struggle for land rights reform in Switzerland and the application of modern community-based techniques in the Amazon, he illustrated how important it is to use land rights for development. He stressed the need to discern the various interests involved to better understand the layers of rights and risks that go along with them, and advocated for a high level of consensus from all interests, both local and other. Graf highlighted how the presence of foreign investors and climate financing, such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), bring opportunities and risks for local communities and countries, and noted that new e-governance and legal technologies can enhance opportunities for successful land reform. He called on all participants to avoid harming vulnerable groups when reforming land tenure, and cautioned that the right changes to land rights must be chosen, as they will have long-term impacts.
Andy White, Coordinator, Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), highlighted that the conference was convened because organizations are not doing enough to address the global crisis of insecure community land rights. He stressed the need to improve, accelerate, and expand work on this as quickly as possible before more people and natural systems are lost and more states fail. He said that “uncommon allies and uncommon partnerships” were needed to meet the challenge. Highlighting the commitment of the conference organizers to follow up on its outcomes, he said that by working together the amount of secure community lands could be doubled in the next five years.
As evidence of having reached a tipping point in this historical struggle, White highlighted: a proliferation of recent court victories; land crises and land-based movements that are starting to drive political change at the national level; investors that are increasingly seeing the importance of securing land rights; and governments that have made unprecedented commitments to support land reform. White warned that the opportunity to make significant progress will be squandered if business as usual is continued, and if stakeholders compete with each other rather than forming new alliances.
Poul Engberg-Pedersen, IUCN, outlined how land and resource rights were at the heart of IUCN’s programmes. He emphasized that it is not helpful to secure tenure rights without also promoting sustainable management of nature and ensuring that governance of nature’s use is both effective and equitable. He noted that IUCN was creating a natural resource governance framework and a knowledge product on humanity’s dependency on nature. Underscoring that communities were not homogenous structures, he recognized that securing community rights could often lead to inequities.
Michael Taylor, International Land Coalition (ILC), noted that development partners were waking up to the centrality of land rights in overcoming poverty and food insecurity, but that, at the same time, abuses of community land rights were more frequent due to increasing competition for natural resources. He reviewed discussions among the co-convening organizations that led to them calling for the establishment of the goal of doubling the amount of land under secure community tenure by 2018, as well as the strategies that would serve to achieve this goal.
Duncan Pruett, Oxfam, reiterated that the aim of the conference was to increase the profile and prioritization of community land rights as a global concern, catalyze new ideas and alliances, and secure commitments to take these strategies forward in the future. He recalled the assumption that participants agree that “scaling up” of this agenda is urgently needed, and discussed the logistics of how the five parallel strategy sessions would assess and prioritize opportunities and strategies by the end of the conference.
PANEL DISCUSSION - SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE MEETING
On Thursday, a panel discussion was held in plenary to set the stage for the meeting, where panelists were invited to comment on why land rights and this conference were important.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba Foundation, emphasized that the conference was meant to challenge participants to engage each other on issues that might make them uncomfortable. She stressed that indigenous peoples have been fighting for the issue of community land rights from the time of colonization to the present. She noted how crucial the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is for community land rights, and highlighted the importance of the upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014. She also noted the presence of a variety of tensions, not just with governments and the private sector, but also with civil society organizations, such as those promoting conservation and individual land rights over indigenous land rights.
She highlighted a number of reasons why the conference is important, including that it: is the first of its kind to bring together such a wide variety of stakeholders on community land rights; provides a platform to confront differences and tensions; enables opportunities to promote tangible outcomes on land rights issues; and provides the opportunity for new alliances that will work towards global targets.
Chris Anderson, Rio Tinto, noted that bringing the private sector “into the tent” is an important change. Anderson highlighted how the private sector can be an enormous force for good when working in partnership with civil society and government. He welcomed the progress of the land rights discussion into other sectors, such as agribusiness, and noted how “engineering thinking” and governments that allocate rights without consideration of community land rights dominate mining.
He noted a shift in the mining industry, and in particular how Rio Tinto has a strong policy and practice of developing agreements with indigenous peoples, which incorporate both traditional and western law and operate along the lines of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). He emphasized the challenges of implementing FPIC, stating that “nobody knows how to do it.” Anderson raised two additional issues: that there is a tendency to “fetishize” communities and treat them as homogenous wholes; and that the green movement, which identifies wilderness as independent of human beings, is at odds with the land rights agenda.
Iris Krebber, UK Department for International Development (DFID), discussed five ministerial priorities in the UK that have led DFID to increase support to land tenure, namely food security, supporting economic development, governance, empowerment of women and girls, and humanitarian assistance. She challenged participants to bridge the gap between different stakeholders and different issue areas. She noted that the window of opportunity to make changes was limited and encouraged participants to, rather than produce a conference statement, use the momentum to get incremental commitments from some of the stakeholders involved.
Samuel Nguiffo, Centre for Environment and Development (CED), noted that securing land tenure was essential to: avoid violations of local rights; repair historical injustices; promote integrated management of resources; and reduce violent conflicts between communities and companies and governments. He highlighted the value of bringing together many different stakeholders, particularly from governments and the private sector, and encouraged participants to think of strategies for efficient land law reform.
On Thursday and Friday, participants met in five parallel strategy sessions to discuss strategies for scaling up community land and resource rights recognition. Participants heard reports back from each group in plenary sessions on Thursday and Friday afternoon. The objectives of each strategy session is outlined below.
MAPPING AND DOCUMENTATION: This session aimed to explore the difficulties of mapping community lands, the use of maps to secure community land tenure claims and territories, the challenges involved in consolidating land maps at the national and regional level, and opportunities for expanding adoption and scaling mapping and documentation efforts. The session was co-organized by Instituto del Bien Común, World Resources Institute, and the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).
LEGAL RECOGNITION AND EMPOWERMENT: This session aimed to examine the dynamics of legal pluralism and the opportunities and threats present in forms of legal recognition of customary law, customary land tenure and community land rights. The session was co-organized by International Institute for Environment and Development, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), and Namati.
EXPANDING AND LEVERAGING PRIVATE SECTOR INTEREST: The goals of this session were to examine both current efforts from leading companies to respect and help secure community land rights and the work of civil society organizations to hold business to account and push the land rights agenda across the private sector. The session was organized by RRI.
MAKING COMMUNITY LAND RIGHTS A GLOBAL PRIORITY: The goals of this session were to consider strategies for generating greater global attention and collective action on community land rights, as well as identify key steps to take advantage of existing international processes that can advance the issue. The session was co-organized by Oxfam and Tebtebba.
DEEPENING SYNERGIES BETWEEN COMMUNITY LAND AND RESOURCE RIGHTS AND CONSERVATION EFFORTS: This session aimed to examine ways to deepen synergies between community land rights and conservation efforts around the world, exploring both challenges and opportunities for active collaboration and new alliances. The session was co-organized by IUCN, Conservation Initiative on Human Rights, and Maliasili Initiatives.
PLENARY – REPORTS FROM STRATEGY SESSIONS
Stephan Dohrn, Radical Inclusion, introduced the Thursday afternoon plenary session where participants heard reports from each of the strategy sessions.
Joji Cariño, FPP, on behalf of the legal recognition and empowerment group, noted the wide range of views in the group. She highlighted a number of legal pathways for local land rights, which included: the declaration approach or overnight change of law; the domain or boundary-focused approach; the governance approach, which distinguishes between local and national jurisdictions; the indigenous approach of native titling; the case-by-case titling approach; the backdoor approach, which interfaces with different arenas such as conservation; and finally the incremental approach, which tackles legal issues through small gains. She also highlighted the importance of international law in leveraging political space at the national level.
Rukka Sombolinggi, AMAN, spoke on behalf of the mapping group. She stressed the urgency for more mapping of: boundaries; rights and communities; policy processes at the national level; and global threats to indigenous communities. She highlighted the challenge of identifying what types of maps are needed and emphasized that social processes are very expensive and take time, noting the lack of donor support for these initiatives. Highlighting the complexity of different localities, she said that the group will next discuss how to find a common regional approach and how to develop a strategy for mapping indigenous rights and local communities. She suggested that one output from this group may be a global map of indigenous peoples and local communities.
Mark Constantine, International Finance Corporation (IFC), for the private sector group, noted that progress has been made and good practice examples exist from the private sector. He highlighted an example of a company that changed its behavior for the better as a result of civil society’s efforts of naming, shaming and then engagement. Through these processes, the private sector and civil society organizations have learned to work together more collaboratively, particularly in the area of land governance. He noted that a key challenge is to include companies that are not in the “progressive camp.”
Jane Carter, HELVETAS, for the global priorities group, highlighted that there was disagreement within the group on definitional issues, for example on the use of terms such as “indigenous” versus “place-based” people. She said the role of women in indigenous groups also needed to be debated, and emphasized that there was no shortage of international instruments, but that the big issue was enforcement. She explained that “carrots” such as investment can be used, but that “sticks,” such as international treaties, grievance mechanisms, and World Bank inspection panels and safeguards can be explored further.
Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN, on behalf of the conservation group, discussed approaches in conservation arenas to address community concerns. He highlighted many good examples from the ground where communities have obtained rights, but also recognized associated challenges, such as differing understandings of what community rights mean in practice. He stressed that the impacts of political economy on tenure rights need to be recognized. Oviedo explained that new conservation approaches like REDD should have a precondition to support community rights for them to be successful, and recommended that stronger broad-based alliances should be established because growing pressure on the economy, land and resources are issues that affect both conservation and communities.
Participants were then invited to comment and make additions.
On making land rights a global priority, one participant underscored the issue of questioning the current development model that perpetuates lack of respect for community land rights. Another called for further efforts in areas where those working on community land rights were not managing the evidence as well as those managing the counter-narrative, and called for distinguishing between where evidence was lacking and where differing ideologies existed.
On mapping, one participant noted that there was huge potential for scaling up due to improving technologies in mapping and documentation. Another participant noted that mapping information was fragmented, and called for a land rights repository.
On legal recognition and community empowerment, one participant brought attention to capacitating traditional and local systems of dispute resolution that could complement legal mechanisms. On engaging the private sector, one participant queried how to engage high-ranking individuals in the private sector. Another noted that the private sector is saying some very progressive things on land rights and FPIC, in some cases going far beyond what some governments in developing countries are doing. On synergies with conservation efforts, one participant noted that indigenous people were disproportionally impacted by conservation interventions.
Panelists then wrapped up the discussion by reviewing topics yet to be discussed in their groups. Cariño added that the discussion needs to move beyond the law to embedding land rights in a broader governance structure, and that better tools were needed for direct community engagement. Constantine called for changing the way of doing business so that companies engage communities as their first order of business, and noted the transformative power of promoting traceability along the supply chain. Carter highlighted the need to differentiate between access rights and land rights.
Reporting back to plenary on Friday, Mark Freudenberger, Tetra Tech ARD, for the mapping group, stressed that maps have many uses which can help protect community rights, enable community empowerment, and lead to legal reform. He outlined a variety of opportunities for the mapping of community land rights, which included:
- positive and enabling infrastructures, laws, and regulations that increasingly recognize community maps;
- technologies and software that are reducing the costs of maps;
- emerging platforms for recording and storing maps;
- incentivizing use and construction of maps by the private sector; and,
- the increasing use of community maps by governments around the world.
He said the group proposed the development of a global land tenure map of community land rights, and called for continued discussions on creating this prototype with assistance from the World Resources Institute.
Jeff Campbell, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, for the conservation group, stressed that the group agreed that conservation goals depend entirely on community land rights, governance and tenure, and suggested that conservation objectives and outcomes can strengthen community tenure efforts. He highlighted that conservation groups have changed their narratives and efforts over the last decade to appreciate and work more closely on community engagement, participation and rights. He presented opportunities for action, which included:
- strengthening community and indigenous organizations through redirecting funds to support them and linking them to coalitions of civil society and other organizations;
- supporting activities at the national level, such as conflict resolution mechanisms and new legal mechanisms;
- bringing conservation voices forward to promote land tenure and resource rights security at high-level global events, such as the World Parks Conference and World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; and,
- including the target of doubling the amount of secure community lands in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He also stressed the need to distinguish between corporate or large-scale interests and small- and medium-sized private sector interests.
Tapani Oksanen, Indufor, for the private sector group, said that much of the discussion revolved around developing a business case for companies to pay attention to land rights, and exploring opportunities to target companies who do not yet operate in this way. On making the business case, he highlighted the need to develop risk assessment tools to quantify risks and costs of risk avoidance, and to help companies to know what needs to be done to avoid these risks. On how industry leaders can influence others, he noted that leading companies should use political influence at the national and international levels, as well as sectoral influence through, for example, trade associations. He also noted the need to work systematically with the investment community.
On how to build transparency in land use and supply chains, Oksanen discussed the importance of making data and maps public, through partnership with governments. He also noted that during investment planning processes, companies should make information available to communities, adding that communities need capacity strengthening to use this information. On bringing land rights issues into supply chains, he stressed the importance of finding ways to leverage change in the more difficult supply chains, such as in China.
Luca Miggiano, ILC, for the community rights as a global priority group, reported that the group was unified in a common message, but had diverse agendas and perceptions on rights. He said the group discussed the need to: focus on operationalizing international instruments at the national and local level through enforcement mechanisms and multi-stakeholder platforms; clarify definitions of community land and resource rights; and build on evidence in a way that ensures coherence across regions and groups without undermining existing struggles. He called for a contact group to bridge information across different processes, and for acting on the SDG post-2015 agenda. He noted that there was political space to talk about land rights in the negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
For the legal recognition and empowerment group, Michael Ochieng Odhiambo, People, Land and Rural Development, reiterated that legal recognition is a necessary condition, but not adequate since it cannot be assumed that laws are functional in all countries. He noted that the group had come up with three priority areas, namely the need for:
- national legal systems to recognize community land rights;
- improving the internal governance within communities to ensure equity and accountability, to be able to implement these land rights; and,
- more effective linkages between different actors, including governments, NGOs, the private sector, development agencies, and community groups.
He added that these were linked to the idea of having an effective platform to share knowledge and experience, and help build capacity. He said the group stressed the need to identify and clarify different typologies of legal recognition, and identify which ones work in order to scale up, while considering unique country contexts. He added that the group discussed how to translate the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests into national action.
In the ensuing discussion, one participant requested that the conservation community set the target to return some of the two billion hectares under terrestrial protected areas to the customary owners of the land for protection. Another participant said a similar target should be set for returning concessions to communities, particularly those concessions that had not yet been used.
One participant queried how to promote real equity in community-company relations, rather than the usual social contracts that only commit companies to building a school or a clinic in the community. Another participant called for creating an international litigation network to push for global jurisprudence and build local-level capacity in legal issues.
A participant recalled meaningful discussions on the differences between rightsholders and stakeholders, and large corporations and local small- and medium-scale businesses, and cautioned against a loose definition of rights that might include a community’s right to receive compensation or rent, but not the right to govern. One participant added there was a need to define responsibilities as well as rights. Another participant called for building local technical and administrative capacity for risk assessment, rather than depending on consulting firms as middlemen. One participant asked how the mapping group envisaged linking maps to the frameworks of existing government institutions, and another queried how to engage the private sector in countries with weak governance.
A participant stressed the need to bring the human rights community into the land rights discussion, as the two movements shared many commonalities. Representing several indigenous peoples at the meeting, one participant requested referring to community and indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights, and called for indigenous groups to be represented on any coordinating committees following up on this meeting.
On legal reform, one participant noted that donors may not have long-term support for profound tenure reform, calling upon governments to contribute to paying for it. On more responsible business practices, a participant queried whether the group had considered government-established trade-related programmes such as the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade programme of the EU. Another participant asked whether the group had considered how to support communities that reject industrial projects, “when no means no.” Campbell added that the global push for food security through industrial agricultural development was further threatening community land rights.
The closing plenary took place on Friday, and was chaired by Arvind Khare, RRI.
Chris Anderson, Rio Tinto, noted how the private sector could assist in providing focused actions on global land rights, such as getting behind Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign, but added that very clear standards should be set for industry in order for change to occur. He highlighted the importance of civil society in both campaigning and engaging on issues related to the private sector, citing Global Witness’ work in Southeast Asia. He also noted the importance of certainty for investors on issues related to land tenure. He suggested that more indigenous peoples and community, government, and private sector representatives come to the next meeting, particularly those from agribusiness and those that are “sitting on the fence” or “have some baggage.”
Samuel Nguiffo, CED, stressed that clear leadership would be needed to facilitate the follow-up process from the conference. He underscored that it is a political, not technical, issue to double the amount of secured community lands in the next five years, and stressed that “changing minds” was the most challenging part of it.
Andy White, RRI, for Iris Krebber, DFID, noted that she felt the conference made a great start on the way to delivering something useful, but more needed to be done, soon. White underscored that energy would dissipate if the outcomes were not followed up on shortly.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba, stressed the need to build a new development model that would bring the needed transformative shifts. She noted that there have been lots of failures in the past, and that a historic opportunity exists to define what global transformation in the 21st century could look like, to make inequality and poverty a thing of the past. She stressed the importance of implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labour Organization Convention 169 (Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples), and underscored that building alliances was an important outcome of this conference.
Duncan Pruett, Oxfam, on behalf of the co-convening organizations, summarized some of the main messages emerging from the conference, including:
- a call to start restituting indigenous lands from conservation areas;
- there is excitement about the target to double the amount of secured community lands;
- bad governance is the “elephant in the room”;
- indigenous peoples continue to be at the forefront of the struggle for recognizing land rights;
- new instruments are far less needed than effective enforcement of existing ones;
- maps can be powerful in leading to legal reforms; and
- there is a need for improving internal community governance.
Pruett then noted that several of the strategy session groups would continue to work together, including on analyzing scaling-up strategies and developing indicators to measure progress. He added that there was a need to translate the discussion to a language that the private sector can understand. He outlined some messages to the “outside world,” including that: the issue of land rights needs urgent attention; a target on strengthening rights is needed; the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure is a huge opportunity to advance the issue; and community land rights are a pre-condition for conservation. He said the co-conveners would meet the following week to discuss the way forward.
Jürgen Blaser, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, noted that strong foundations for concerted actions already exist, and that the momentum created at this conference should be taken advantage of. He called for assessing the pace and quality of any changes resulting from these actions, and reminded participants of the need to be more nuanced in their analyses. He commended and thanked the organizers of the meeting.
Khare closed the meeting at 4:55 pm.
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