A global fight for community rights: Securing indigenous and community land rights at scale

The widespread lack of indigenous and community land rights, has become a global crisis, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of at least two billion people. It is therefore that activists and representatives of rights-holders, communities and indigenous peoples from all over the world are gathering at the Global Land Forum in Dakar, Senegal (12-16 May) to address the need to secure indigenous and community land rights.

Although indigenous and community land rights are increasingly being recognized globally, governments fail to deliver on their commitments in protecting those rights. At the same time pressure on community lands is rising, whilst judicial systems lack in providing the necessary security. Today the ownership of roughly half of the rural forest and dry land areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America is contested, placing the lives and livelihoods of at least two billion people at risk. In the last decade alone this tenure insecurity has resulted in the acquisition of more than 81 million acres of land worldwide – an area the size of Portugal - with unspeakable consequences for many rural and forest dwellers.

Those consequences derive from the problem, as Samuel Nguiffo (Director, Center for Environment and Development, Cameroon) states, that "economic development too often consists of large-scale projects that take away property and community land, leaving farmers with little compensation. Their governments - often the ones who sold the land - either look the other way or play the role of enforcer. If the communities are compensated, it is hardly adequate, and the few resulting jobs do not pay enough to make up for the permanent loss of livelihood and way of life." This leaves many dwellers in great despair. It is, therefore, not exaggerated to state that the widespread and enduring lack of clarity and recognition of indigenous and community land and resource rights have become a global crisis. No development agenda can be taken serious without addressing this global tenure crisis.

Moreover, the global development agenda can also benefit from closely involving indigenous peoples and communities. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: "Taking Indigenous knowledge and traditional technology into account internationally could contribute to solving many of the world’s major crises in relation to the environment and climate change, and ultimately bring sustainable development."

The importance of scaling-up efforts in securing indigenous and community land rights is increasingly being recognized. In May land experts and activists from all over the world will gather at the ILC’s Global Land Forum in Dakar, Senegal (12-16 May) to address the centrality of land and natural resource rights to our vision of building a better world in the post-2015 era. During this week a variety of topics will be discussed: securing indigenous and community land and resource rights will feature high on the Forum’s agenda.

The discussions will be centered around the Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights. The Global Call aims to serve as a mechanism for facilitating greater collaboration and coordinating collective action on Indigenous People’s and local communities’ land rights around the world, with the ultimate goal to double the area of land recognized as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities by 2020.

This entry posted by Stefan Verwer, Oxfam Campaigner on Community and Indigenous Land Rights, @stefanverwer, on 11 May 2015. The blog was co-written with Maarten van Bijnen, @MaartenvBijnen.

Photo: Indigenous farmers in Cambodia. Credit: Oxfam

What you can do now

Join the debate at the Global Land Forum and join in the Global Call to Action in order to help our unified voice ring out!

Watch the video from the Global Call to Action on Land Rights kickoff event:

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