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300 Indigenous and Local Groups Form Powerful Global Coalition

  • Brazilian protesters from various Indigenous ethnic groups rally for land and other rights in front of Planalto Palace in Brasilia April 15, 2015.

    Brazilian protesters from various Indigenous ethnic groups rally for land and other rights in front of Planalto Palace in Brasilia April 15, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 March 2016

An Oxfam official told teleSUR the global coalition has come together to fight for land rights, to which their survival and stability are closely tied.

Over 300 organizations including Indigenous and other local communities around the world fighting for land rights have joined forces to amplify their demands, making for a powerful global coalition, a land rights expert told teleSUR on Wednesday.

“Local and Indigenous communities are busy fighting their own battles for local land rights,” Oxfam’s Ed Pomfret told teleSUR, adding that despite these individual struggles groups have come together with international organizations to “strengthen the agenda” for legal land rights.

The cultural survival, livelihoods, and stability of Indigenous and other local communities around the world are closely tied to land access, yet these groups only formally own 10 percent of territory globally despite traditionally using and protecting half of the world’s land, according to a new report released Wednesday.

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The report, titled "Common Ground: Securing Land Rights and Safeguarding the Earth," found that 5 billion hectares of Indigenous and community territories are not protected by legal land titles, making them vulnerable to land grabs that could exacerbate poverty, inequality, conflict, and instability.

“If you want enviromental protection, poverty reduction, forest protection ... then one absolute key is to ensure Indigenous and community land rights,” Pomfret told teleSUR, adding that land rights guarantees also creates a more “stable economic environment” to promote investment.

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According to the report, released by Oxfam, International Land Coalition, and Rights and Resources Initiative, community land access and formal legal ownership are increasingly key to tackle poverty and hunger in vulnerable communities, protect and promote gender equality, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and avoid conflicts with corporations and governments.

As Pomfret argued, although corporate orthodoxy has long seen ignoring community rights as the pathway to development and profits, shifting the mentality toward respecting local land claims with free and prior consent can be a fruitful alternative that protects communities while also creating better long-term investment environments.

The new study comes with a clear call for action for a groundswell of community mobilization and efforts on behalf of world leaders, corporations, and other groups to tackle the global crisis of land insecurity and enshrine Indigenous and community rights to ancestral land.

Land Rights Now

The organizations behind the report have launched a new campaign under the banner of Land Rights Now to demand a push towards doubling legal rights to Indigenous and community territories by 2020.

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Communities lacking land title are particularly vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of private and government elite, and although they have been fighting land grabs and dispossession through their own movements and struggles for years, the road to land rights through social protest and the court system can be a long and uphill battle.

“It’s hugely unbalanced in terms of power dynamics,” Pomfret said, highlighting that disproportionate economic resources can leave Indigenous groups and other communities “tied up in legal wrangles for years.”

While there have been successes through these channels, the new campaign is focused on rebalancing power dynamics with a recognition of the vulnerability of communities fighting for land.

Pomfret explained that the international coalition is demanding political leadership at a national level to introduce stronger policies and practices around land rights, increased financial support from donors to help reduce economic disparities in legal cases over land, and leadership from the private sector to commit to taking an ethical approach when it comes to land use in traditional territories.

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What’s more, the campaign also focuses on gender justice, recognizing the structural barriers women face that make them particularly vulnerable to exploitation if their lands rights are not ensured.

It's Easy to Forget

Finally, the international push for land rights calls on consumers to take responsibility in the global crisis by demanding greater transparency as a way to pressure corporations and governments to clean up their acts when it comes to ensuring territorial rights.

Pomfret argued that the broad-based global campaign will provide crucial support to local communities engaged in these fights for land.

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“It’s easy to forget how risky it is to take forward these cases,” said Pomfret, pointing to the widespread threats, assaults, murders, and other intimidation tactics inflicted on land rights defenders around the world as a means to “keep communities silent.”

According to Global Witness, at least 640 land and environmental rights defenders have been killed for their activism since 2009.

The Land Rights Now campaign, backed by over 300 local and international organizations around the world, kicks off this week with events around the world to promote the ambitious new initiative, including in Italy, Cameroon, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Peru, and more.

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