Our key takeaway: The proposed EU deforestation regulation will fail if policymakers do not consider the crucial role that indigenous peoples and other communities with customary land tenure play in stopping destruction of forests. The law must hold companies to account for adverse human rights impacts on people in their supply chains by requiring meaningful consultation, FPIC and protection of defenders.
22 associations of indigenous peoples and local communities with customary tenure, with the support of nearly 170 allied civil rights organisations, have issued an open letter to the European Commission with recommendations to strengthen respect for land rights in the proposal for an EU regulation on deforestation-free products:
- Protecting indigenous and customary land tenure means protecting forests: According to the letter, “[t]he evidence is solid. In country after country, deforestation rates are lower in lands securely held and managed by Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities.” There are clear links between curbing deforestation-driven climate change—an aim of the proposed EU regulation—and protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples and other communities to land and property. The group “welcome[s] the draft Regulation to restrict imports linked to deforestation. However, the Commission’s approach is likely to fail unless it also protects the customary tenure rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, who are among the most effective protectors of forests.” Therefore, the letter calls on the Commission “to ensure that the EU Regulation includes robust provisions that require businesses to respect the tenure rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in line with international human rights law requirements, and to respect the right of forest defenders to conduct their work without retaliation.”
- Regulation must require businesses to respect land rights, along with everything that this entails: Specifically, the letter calls for the proposed regulation to explicitly require that companies selling products into the EU market respect the customary tenure rights set out by international law and standards. This would also serve to protect forest-dependent peoples against the harmful “domestic regulatory rollbacks of rights protections” recently seen in Indonesia and Brazil, among other examples. Companies must meet the fundamental standards set out by international law for respecting land rights, including “ensur[ing] that their suppliers meaningfully consult affected communities, and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples and local communities with customary tenure rights where business activity impacts their ownership, tenure, or access-rights. They should also identify and address adverse impacts and risks that their operations pose to forest defenders.”
- Respect for land rights must also be baked into oversight and risk assessment mechanisms: The group recommends that the proposed EU Observatory to monitor implementation of the regulation should “monitor respect for land rights, for example by superimposing satellite deforestation data over national land registries and data generated by civil society and local communities about the delimitation of traditional territories. The EU Observatory should also be able to receive and investigate specific instances of non-compliance raised by third parties.” In addition, the Commission should consider existing land rights abuses and attacks on defenders when determining the risk level of producer countries considered under the proposed law.