Forty three organisations fighting climate change, from 24 countries around the world, have said that the BJP-led government is threatening the fight against climate change by attacking the rights of tribals and forest dwellers. Referring to the Modi government’s silence in Supreme Court cases against the Forest Rights Act (next hearing expected to be on July 24th), and the government’s proposal to bring in draconian amendments in the Indian Forest Act, these organisations say that “The Indian government’s steps imperil the livelihoods of millions of people, threaten to restore a colonial and autocratic model of forest management, and threaten the global fight against climate change.”
Saying that “The protection of local communities’ rights over forests and land is a crucial weapon in the fight against climate change” and that the “international community has repeatedly recognised this fact” – including in agreements that India has signed – the groups “call upon the Indian government to refrain from such steps, to vigorously defend the Forest Rights Act in court, and to ensure that all legal and policy changes strengthen the rights of local and indigenous communities rather than weakening them.”
The statement and signatories are below. The signatories are from Peru, Tanzania,Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, France, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Palestine – Israel, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Vietnam.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
In Solidarity with Indigenous People and Local Communities facing Evictions in India
We, as organisations working to fight climate injustice around the world, are dismayed by recent developments in India and call upon the Indian government to take an active stand in favour of the rights of indigenous and local communities in the country.
The protection of local communities’ rights over forests and land is a crucial weapon in the fight against climate change. The international community has repeatedly recognised this fact, whether in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, the agreement on REDD+, or other international covenants. Indeed, the 23rd Conference of Parties specifically finalised the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform for precisely this purpose, to ensure that these communities’ vital contributions are recognised and heard.
In the Indian context, the 2006 Forest Rights Act attempted to reverse over a century of colonial, centralised forest management and to attempt to recognise the rights of local, indigenous and forest dwelling communities in India’s vast forest areas. The law was hailed the world over as a step forward for conservation and justice. Using this law, communities across the country have been resisting monoculture plantations, protecting wildlife habitats, challenging pollution of soil and water sources, and opposing forest destruction from commerce and industry.
Unfortunately, however, it appears that recent policy steps have sought to undermine this historic achievement.
First, it is alleged that, when some retired forest officials and NGOs approached the Indian Supreme Court to reverse key elements of the new Act and restore the absolute power of forest officials over forest land and indigenous communities, the Indian government remained silent and did not defend the Forest Rights Act for over two years.
Secondly, the government has recently proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act (India’s main forest management legislation). These new provisions would grant forest officials the power to arbitrarily take over local and indigenous’ communities rights, and also provide them with draconian powers including the right to arrest and search without warrant, to use firearms with impunity, and to impose collective punishments on entire communities by barring them from exercising their rights.
As a result of the government’s silence in the Supreme Court, the Court ordered the en masse eviction of millions of forest dwelling households in February 2019. The proposed eviction on an unprecedented scale led to a nationwide uproar (the Court subsequently placed its order on hold). The next hearing for this case is on July 24th.
The Indian government’s steps imperil the livelihoods of millions of people, threaten to restore a colonial and autocratic model of forest management, and threaten the global fight against climate change.
As groups working on climate change from around the world, we recognise that one of the most important and effective ways of protecting our planet’s biodiverse ecosystems is by safeguarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Actions done in the name of climate change or environmental protection hence must not threaten their rights.
We therefore call upon the Indian government to refrain from such steps, to vigorously defend the Forest Rights Act in court, and to ensure that all legal and policy changes strengthen the rights of local and indigenous communities rather than weakening them.
- Plataforma Boliviana frente al Cambio Climático, Bolivia
- Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia), Malaysia
- Abibiman Foundation, Ghana
- Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, Colombia
- Friends of the Earth – England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA)
- Vaagdhara, India
- Amnesty India
- Andaman Nicobar Environmental Team, India
- EcoHimal, Nepal
- Environics Trust, India
- Tadbeer Consultancy and Research, Afghanistan
- Arjon Foundation, Bangladesh
- UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), United Kingdom
- Association For Promotion Sustainable development, India
- Dignité Pygmée (DIPY), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
- Beatriz Roglá, Spain
- Igapo Project, France
- Solidarité des Volontaires pour l’humanité, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
- Humane Trust, Koraput, India
- Women Major Group, India
- Association Chamade, France
- PLANT (Partners for the Land and Agricultural Needs of Traditional peoples), USA
- Asian Indigenous Women’s Network
- Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Culture of Peru
- Centre for Indigenous Peoples Research and Education, Nepal
- Centre of Research and Development for Upland Areas, Vietnam
- Ugnayang Pambansa para sa Katutubong Kaalaman at Talino (UPAKAT), Philippines
- Nuwekloof Rural Development, South Africa
- Luna Creciente, Ecuador
- War on Want, United Kingdom
- Punaruthan, India
- Ingénieurs sans frontières Agrista, France
- HATOF Foundation, Ghana
- Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation-BAWF, Bangladesh
- Jahalin Solidarity, Palestine – Israel
- Global Rainbow, The Netherlands – International
- Association pour le Développement et la Reintégration Socio-Economique des Populations Autochtones et Locales”ADRSEPAL”en sigle, Burundi
- Amis De La Justice, Democratic Republic of Congo
- Center for autonomy and development of indigenous peoples (Cadpi), Nicaragua
- Pastoralists Indigenous Non Governmental Organizations (PINGO’s Forum) Tanzania
- Tanzania Indigenous Peoples Network on Climate Change (TIPNCC)
- Lelewal, Cameroon