Beyond tenure: Rights-based approaches to peoples and forests
In large parts of the world, forests remain the domain of the State in which the rights of forest-dependent peoples are denied or insecure. Efforts to restore justice to and alleviate the poverty of these marginalized communities have often focused on tenurial reforms. Sometimes these reforms have led to important improvements in livelihoods, mainly by stabilising communities’ land-use systems and giving them greater security but this has not prevented communities suffering other forms of social exclusion and impoverishment. Based on a review of 17 years of programmatic work with forest peoples in Latin American, Africa, and Asia by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), this paper explores the complexity of rights that need recognition if community-based livelihoods in forests are to be secured and well-being improved. The conclusion from this review is that programs to reform tenure in forests need to be based on a broader understanding of the basis for asserting rights and take into account a far wider range of human rights than is generally considered in forest policy debates. An effective rights-based approach to forestry reform to ensure justice and poverty alleviation requires attention to a much wider spectrum of rights than just the assertion of the right to property. Tenures must be appropriate to the culture and context of the communities concerned. Systems of representation require effective recognition. Communities need to be able to control their lands and resources. Cultural heritage should be protected. Basic rights to health, life, and to civil and political rights and freedoms need to be secured and social, cultural, and economic rights respected. Although such rights are often recognised in countries’ constitutions, in international customary law and in nationally ratified human rights treaties, they are rarely taken into account in narrow sectoral decision making about forests. Forest governance systems need to secure this broader spectrum of rights if forest peoples are to benefit from forestry reforms.