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Shooting the messenger: How EDF’s Chris Meyer reacts to allegations of rights abuses in the context of REDD

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In October 2017, CIFOR put out a report titled, “Rights abuse allegations in the context of REDD+ readiness and implementation: A preliminary review and proposal for moving forward”. In early November, REDD-Monitor wrote a post about the report.

CIFOR’s report starts with a list of key findings. The first states:

“This review reveals multiple allegations of abuses of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) readiness and implementation.”

The report argues that safeguards should be transformed and “reframed to recognise, inter alia, the key role of Indigenous Peoples in climate change initiatives and protecting forests”.

Clearly this is an important message. But Chris Meyer at Environmental Defense Fund is not listening. He responded to CIFOR’s report with a blog post on EDF’s website, accusing CIFOR’s researchers, Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti and Anne M. Larson, of getting “the facts wrong”. He calls CIFOR’s report, “shoddy”.

Meyer highlights five issues in his blog post. None of them stands up to scrutiny.

1. The mafia, not REDD+ supporters, are killing indigenous and community leaders

“The biggest problem with CIFOR’s publication,” Meyer writes, “is they fail to identify who is murdering indigenous and community leaders trying to protect their rights and forests, which gives the impression that it’s people connected to REDD+.”

This is a straw man fallacy. Meyer is refuting an argument that Sarmiento Barletti and Larson do not make.

Sarmiento Barletti and Larson write that,

REDD+ is being carried out in forests that are seeing increased violence against environmental defenders in on-going conflicts over territory and resources that pre-date current climate change agreements.

CIFOR’s report includes the following list of the types of rights abuse allegations mentioned in the review articles – clearly Sarmiento Barletti and Larson are not trying to give the impression that people connected to REDD+ are murderers:

Self-determination;
Protection from cultural destruction;
Freedom from forced removal from their lands;
Participation in the decisions that affect them;
Recognition and protection of their lands and resources;
Redress for lands and resources taken or damaged without consent;
Use and develop their lands and resources, and consultation on projects that would affect these

A footnote in CIFOR’s report provides a link to a collaboration between the Guardian and Global Witness that records the killing of environmental defenders. In response to the question, “What’s driving this violence?” the Guardian and Global Witness respond: “industry”. Mining is the most deadly industry. Agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging are also key drivers of violence.

2. CIFOR’s publication relies on unreliable sources

“Some of CIFOR’s sourcing for its publication is untrustworthy,” Meyer writes. The only example he gives is REDD-Monitor. He points out that REDD-Monitor “has a clear anti-REDD+ agenda”. No shit, Sherlock.

This is another straw man fallacy. CIFOR’s report mentions REDD-Monitor only twice.

The first is to note that, “grassroots and international movements (and related media like REDD-Monitor) have successfully publicised claims of rights abuses, likely preventing others”.

The second is a footnote following this sentence:

Erazo (2013) states REDD+ is at odds with indigenous plans for the protection and consolidation of their traditional territories, which are threatened by illegal logging and mining, oil extraction, and inclusion within national parks.

The footnote links to a post on REDD-Monitor about the fact that Ecuador’s continued oil extraction impacts indigenous rights in the country. The post includes a letter from the Indian Law Resources Center to the UN-REDD policy programme board that requests the Board to identify concrete actions to be taken by UN-REDD and the Government of Ecuador to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples.

3. CIFOR’s article’s peer-review is weak

Meyer doesn’t explain why he thinks CIFOR’s peer-review is weak. Instead his entire argument under this point is as follows:

While many of the reviewers are knowledgeable about rights and the REDD+ field, they are not the people who are most well-acquainted with UNFCCC REDD+ decisions.

Meyer’s argument makes no sense whatsoever. CIFOR’s report is based on a review of the peer-reviewed literature on REDD and rights violations. It is not based on a review of peer-reviewed literature written by people who Meyer considers to be most well-acquatinted with UNFCCC REDD+ decisions.

Sarmiento Barletti and Larson explain how they conducted their review:

Using EBSCO PUCP7 and Google Scholar, a search was undertaken for journal articles that self-identified as addressing REDD+, using combinations of the following key terms: REDD, REDD+, human rights, human rights violations, human rights abuses, indigenous peoples, indigenous rights. The resulting articles were screened for information, and their bibliographies were checked for further relevant background, including grey literature, after which the search was expanded to include the following terms: eviction, displacement, forced relocation, land rights, land tenure, FPIC, and prior consent (in conjunction with the term REDD+). A total of 85 relevant journal articles dealing with REDD+ processes and projects were considered to fit the criteria for the review.

4. UNFCCC REDD+ uses a rights-based approach

Meyer argues that “A rights-based approach for REDD+ was already enshrined in the UNFCCC COP 19’s decision on the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ in 2013.” He writes that,

The Warsaw Framework includes the “Cancun Safeguards” and also mandates reporting on how the safeguards are addressed and respected. The Cancun Safeguards were agreed to in 2010 and were one of the first REDD+ decisions that guided all subsequent decisions.

Meyer doesn’t seem to have read CIFOR’s report all the way through. Sarmiento Barletti and Larson also refer to the Cancun safeguards,

The Cancun Agreements adopted at UNFCCC COP16 include a set of social safeguards for REDD+ that refer to ‘respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities’ and the ‘full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders.’

But unlike Meyer, Sarmiento Barletti and Larson are concerned that the safeguards agreed in Cancun are not adequate to protect indigenous peoples’ rights. They point out “three key challenges hindering fulfilment of the Cancun Agreements”:

  • Firstly, the review demonstrates a varied understanding and application of the rights established in UNDRIP and ILO 169, leading to a vague reproduction of key rights to self-determination, participation, and territory recognition in the safeguards.
  • Secondly, research shows that the national level implementation of safeguards is affected by country specific political, economic and social priorities (Pham et al. 2015), and by existing legal interpretations of relevant rights (Jodoin 2017). As REDD+ initiatives are framed within country-specific legal systems based on different histories of interactions between states and their citizens, longstanding discriminatory and exclusionary decision-making practices may be reproduced through REDD+.
  • Thirdly, whilst the UNFCCC’s adoption of safeguards for REDD+ is laudable, they only provide that countries should promote and support safeguards in their REDD+ activities (UNFCCC 2011: 26), rather than legally require them do so. It is worth noting that the Warsaw Framework requires countries to maintain Safeguard Information Systems as a pre-condition to receive results-based payments for REDD+, but it remains to be seen how this will work in practice. Furthermore, the World Bank’s operational policies currently do not require FPIC, applying a lower standard of free, prior, and informed consultation.

Meyer writes that,

The Cancun Safeguards was one of the first decisions to reference the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (also known as “UNDRIP”) in an international agreement. Nearly all of the world’s countries approved the decision and the insertion of a reference to UNDRIP forced many countries who had not previously acknowledged the Declaration to do as much.

The Cancun Safeguards are paragraph 2 of Appendix I of the “Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention”. Paragraph 2(c) refers to UNDRIP:

(c) Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities, by taking into account relevant international obligations, national circumstances and laws, and noting that the United Nations General Assembly has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

So, under the Cancun Safeguards, governments are encouraged to “promote and support” their “respect” for knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, by “taking into account” international obligations.

“Taking into account” means only that this is a matter relevant for a decision to take action – paragraph 2(c) does not state that governments must comply to international law.

Meyer argues that countries that had not previously acknowledged UNDRIP were now “forced” to do so by approving the Cancun Safeguards. But the word “noting” in UN texts is the weakest possible way of referring to anything. All it means is that governments accept this is a relevant fact or event. By approving the Cancun Safeguards, countries did not commit to do anything relating to UNDRIP.

5. The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ does not include project-based REDD+

Meyer argues that the examples in CIFOR’s report are linked to REDD projects. He points out that the UNFCCC decisions on REDD are aimed at jurisdictional REDD programmes, not “one-off REDD+ projects”.

CIFOR’s report highlights that the risks of rights abuses will increase with the massive scaling up of REDD implied by jurisdictional REDD programmes. Sarmiento Barletti and Larson write that,

All illustrative cases serve as examples of deep-seated concerns and ongoing risks that will be exacerbated by the growing interest by international bodies to fund a scaling up of REDD+, or to streamline private sector participation.

Meyer claims to be concerned about abuses of indigenous rights in the context of REDD. “One such violation is one too many,” he writes.

But when confronted with the allegations of rights abuses in CIFOR’s report, Meyer attacks the messenger and ignores the message.
 

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