In February 2013, the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama, COONAPIP, withdrew from UN-REDD. In a letter to UN-REDD, COONAPIP explained that, UN-REDD “does not currently offer guarantees for respecting indigenous rights [nor for] the full and effective participation of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama”.
“We thought REDD was going to help us strengthen our rights over our territories because no one looks after the forests like we do,” Betanio Chiquidama, the head of COONAPIP told the Guardian last week. “It sought to do the opposite and we have lost all trust in the UN.”
COONAPIP is now planning to bring a lawsuit against Panamanian National Environmental Authority in an attempt to stop REDD, according to an IPS report that quotes Héctor Huertas of the National Union of Indigenous Lawyers of Panama (UNAIPA), which represents COONAPIP.
The lawsuit will use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peopes, which includes Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent. Mongabay reports that a statement issued on behalf of COONAPIP explains that the lawsuit will be,
“the first major test of a key provision of the 2007 UN Declaration, which says indigenous peoples have the right to refuse projects and investments—such as logging and mining operations—that affect the natural resources in their territories.”
In response to COONAPIP’s letter, UN-REDD suspended all new activities in Panama and launched an evaluation of the UN-REDD programme in the country. The evaluation report is due to be completed on 24 June 2013.
Gabriel Labbate is the UN’s regional REDD co-ordinator. He believes COONAPIP’s withdrawal had more to do with demands for more money and internal indigenous politics over who controlled which projects,” the Guardian reported. Labbate told the Guardian that COONAPIP’s withdrawal from UN-REDD,
“fits into the more complex context of the conflicts between the indigenous groups and the government in Panama, which goes much further than just REDD.”
The government environment agency did not respond to the Guardian‘s questions.
Hector González, COONAPIP’s lawyer, points out that REDD is itself part of the problem. “It is a new form of colonisation,” he told the Guardian. “The government has always seen the land solely from a commercial point of view, and the UN doesn’t understand the indigenous issue.”
“When it comes to the forests of Panama, we are not mere stakeholders to be consulted”, says Betanio Chiquidama, COONAPIP’s president.
“More than half the country’s forests are on the lands of indigenous people. How can an effective plan to save these forests be negotiated if the indigenous leaders are not at the table?
“The pressure on the forests has never been greater – for food, fuel, fibre and mineral exploration. But we also know that there are other lands that could be used for these purposes; the answer is not to kill our forests.”
Chiquidama is not opposed to REDD, but he is opposed to the way it has been implemented in Panama. In a press release earlier this month, he explained that,
“We are not radicalized against REDD program, but it cannot continue as it stands. Our approach is to redesign, with real indigenous participation mechanisms, in order to be respectful of our culture, and make it stronger, rather than weaken.”
The REDD debacle in Panama is very important, for at least two reasons.
The first reason, as explained by Christine Halvorson, of the Rainforest Foundation US, is that,
“Any plan aimed at reducing climate change should strengthen the rights of the indigenous people to the forests that are central to their lives and livelihoods. Without the participation of those most likely to be impacted, efforts to save the world’s forests likely will fail.”
“In theory, implementing REDD readiness in Panama should have been easier than most, given the strength of its indigenous peoples and their success in forest management. It should be a red flag that REDD has run into such serious problems related to the participation of indigenous peoples.”
PHOTO Credit: From a poster by COONAPIP, displayed at a meeting with UN-REDD in May 2013. It reads “Without rights, No REDD! Mother Earth has rights!” Alianza Mesoamericana