# 17 UN’s Empty Declaration of Indigenous Rights

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

One World, September 14, 2007
Title: “UN Adopts Historic Statement on Native Rights”
Author: Haider Rizvi

BSNorrell.blogspot.com, December 11, 2007
Title: “Indigenous Peoples Protest World Bank Carbon Scam in Bali”
Author: Brenda Norrell

Common Dreams, December 12, 2007
Title: “Indigenous Peoples Shut Out of Climate Talks, Plans”
Author: Haider Rizvi

Forest Peoples Programme, November 30, 2007
Title: “NGO Statement on the World Bank’s Proposed Forest Carbon Partnership Facility”
Author: Tom Griffiths

Student Researchers: Jessica Read, Andrea Lochtefeld, and Christina Long

Faculty Evaluator: John Wingard, PhD

In September 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The resolution called for recognition of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their lands and resources. The adoption of this resolution comes after twenty-two years of diplomatic negotiations at the United Nations (UN) involving its member states, international civil society groups, and representatives of the world’s aboriginal communities.

The declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures, and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. The declaration was passed by an overwhelming majority vote of 143–4. Only the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand voted against the resolution, expressing the view that strong emphasis on rights to indigenous self-determination and control over lands and resources would hinder economic development and undermine “established democratic norms.”

Three months following the passage of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, however, a delegation of indigenous peoples were forcibly barred from entering the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bali, despite the fact that the delegation was invited to attend. Indigenous peoples from around the world protested the exclusion from the climate negotiations.

The indigenous delegates went to Bali to denounce what they contend are false solutions to climate change proposed by the UN—such as carbon trading, agrofuels, and so-called “avoided deforestation.”

The World Bank initiative, Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), was launched in Bali as part of the discussions on Reducing Emissions Through Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD), despite indigenous disapproval and the fact that 18–20 percent of annual global carbon emissions are caused by deforestation. The initiative, which allows tropical forests to be included in carbon offsetting schemes, fails to combat climate change, the groups say, because it allows industrialized countries and companies to buy their way out of emission reduction. The bank, which has a vested interest in carbon trading, has a particularly appalling track record in relation to funding deforestation and carbon emission projects.

The nongovermental organization (NGO) Statement on the World Bank’s proposed FCPF, endorsed by eighty-four organizations on November 30, 2007, pointed to shortcomings in the World Bank’s proposal: “As the World Bank Group positions itself to become a lead agency on climate change mitigation and the central administrative body of the proposed FCPF, we are concerned that the Bank risks losing sight of its central mission of reducing poverty as it adopts a narrow focus on carbon accounting. We note also that the Bank continues to undermine its own climate change mitigation efforts by persisting in funding fossil fuel industries on a global scale and enabling deforestation.”

The statement continues, “We are alarmed that to date the FCPF plans have been developed in a rushed way with little public discussion. Only weeks before it proposes to launch the FCPF at the 13th COP [Conference of Parties] of the UNFCCC in Bali, potentially affected forest peoples in tropical and sub-tropical countries have not been properly consulted about the design and objectives of the FCPF. It remains unclear who benefits from this accelerated timeline . . . The proposed governance mechanisms confine decision-making to governmental and commercial participants. They do not allow opportunities for civil society and affected forest peoples to take part in decision-making regarding readiness plans, packages and implementation, eligibility, and REDD strategies and transactions.”

Jihan Gearon, of the indigenous Environmental Network, responded to the ban on Indigenous participation by stating, “Our communities and livelihoods are the first affected by climate change. We are also the most affected by the unsustainable solutions being proposed to solve climate change. . . . This past September 13, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which protects the rights of Indigenous Peoples to their lands, territories, and environment. Yet through the faulty process and false climate change solutions of the UNFCCC, these fundamental human rights are being violated.”

Sandy Gauntlett of the Global Forest Coalition and chairman of the Pacific Indigenous Peoples Environment Coalition said, “With this proposal, the World Bank is violating the principle of Prior Informed Consent, which is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples should not just be consulted on this facility. Without their full and prior informed consent this facility should be disbanded.”


Indigenous peoples continue to expose carbon credits as a scam for profiteering corporations and the World Bank, fueled by the easily manipulated news media. While carbon brokers become millionaires, the reality of the carbon credit scheme hits indigenous peoples around the world with full force, particularly in South America, India, and Africa.

While the carbon credit scam is designed to be vague and lack accountability, Tom Goldtooth, Navajo and executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), said the carbon scheme serves as a means of relieving guilt for the rich, but is a fictional concept.

“It allows the polluter to continue to pollute and actually pays them to pollute,” said Goldtooth, while continuing IEN’s education campaign on carbon credits in 2008.

While the goal of carbon credits is reduction of greenhouse gasses, Goldtooth said there is no assurance that the schemes ever become reality. For example, Goldtooth said there is no guarantee that a tree planted today will live until maturity, without being chopped down, and then offset deforestation and fossil fuel gasses.

The promotion of carbon trading was a focus of caucuses of the 7th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2008.

At the United Nations in New York, many indigenous peoples voiced outrage when the Permanent Forum’s final report praised the World Bank funded carbon trading, including the Clean Development Mechanism, without exposing human rights violations and environmental destruction.

Florina Lopez, coordinator of the Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network of Abya Yala, urged the forum to affirm the rejection of carbon trading mechanisms and concerns over specific implementations. Over thirty organizations called for the final report to include a section outlining their concerns.

The grave problems with carbon trading include violations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For example, those objecting to carbon trade promotion said the Wayuu people in Colombia did not give free, prior, and informed consent for construction of the Jepirachi Wind Project in their sacred territory. In fact, they were unaware of the project.

More than 200 Wayuu were assassinated prior to clearing the land for implementation of wind projects in the area, according to indigenous peoples at the forum. Further, the energy generated from the wind farm is used to power the mega coalmine, Cerrejon mine.

Goldtooth said the carbon market is a huge contradiction, which ultimately funds the nuclear power and fossil fuel industries. Citing human rights violations, Goldtooth said indigenous peoples do not want to be “seduced by the World Bank’s money.”

“In promoting the clean development mechanism projects and carbon trading, the Permanent Forum is allowing oil companies, who are the biggest emitters for greenhouse gases, to continue to pollute,” Goldtooth said. “Promoting the commodification of the air is a corruption of our traditional teachings and violates the original instructions of Indigenous Peoples. We have to make the transition to alternative energy solutions.”

For more information, see the Indigenous Environmental Network (http://www.ienearth.org), Censored News (http://www.bsnorrell.blogspot.com), and Earthcycles (http://www.earthcycles.net).


Since the NGO statement expressing serious concerns about the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) presented to the World Bank forest carbon team and several governments in a World Bank meeting in Washington, DC, in November 2005, things have gone from bad to worse.

First, the bank ignored the plea to withhold activation of the facility until public concerns were addressed. The bank plowed ahead with the public launch of the facility at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Bali in December 2007, generating a storm of loud protest by indigenous peoples and civil society representatives outside the meeting room. Inside the meeting room, Vicky Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, made a strong statement condemning the bank’s failure to consult properly with indigenous peoples about global climate and forest initiatives that may affect their communities and lands directly.

In response to these intense criticisms, the bank announced that it would conduct “retroactive consultation” with indigenous peoples on its FCPF plans. Bank meetings with indigenous peoples’ representatives went ahead in February and March 2008 through three meetings in Asia (Katmandu), Africa (Bujumbura) and Latin America (La Paz).

In Asia, indigenous participants presented a series of concerns about rights and accountability problems in the FCPF charter and proposed governance structure that bank staff could not address and only agreed to take away to study further. Some replies given to the participants were arguably misleading, suggesting that the bank’s safeguards would apply to the FCPF when the bank’s legal department in November had already confirmed that the safeguards do not apply in any binding way to FCPF activities unless monies are to be disbursed to specific projects through the facility (while much of its work will not be based on bank-funded projects, but rather policy making and strategy formulation).

In Africa, the same potentially confusing information on the bank’s safeguard policies was presented to meeting participants, and many answers to concerns raised were vague or very general.

In Latin America, some national indigenous organizations have complained that they were not invited to the bank meeting, and those that did attend on the first day rejected the meeting as a non-consultation and obliged the bank to acknowledge that the meeting was only an “information sharing” activity (as dissemination of complete information prior to the meeting, to properly prepare participants, had not taken place). In the same meeting, a statement by indigenous leaders was read aloud, condemning top-down climate change mitigation policies that have not been developed with indigenous peoples, like REDD and the FCPF.

Forest People’s Programme asked for clarification on the vital safeguards issue in May 2008, and was advised by the bank’s FCPF team that this issue is “still being discussed internally within the Bank.” The draft FCPF charter likewise remains inside a black box in the bank, and it is not clear if FPP and civil society concerns about the draft charter have been taken up in any revised legal instrument establishing this controversial forest carbon fund.

In short, the whole question of proper safeguards and accountability of the FCPF to affected citizens and communities and whether or not there will be guarantees for full FCPF conformity with international human rights and environmental law remains unresolved.

At the same time, the bank has pushed forward with even bigger plans on forest and climate change and now proposes to establish a mega forest funds called the Forest Investment Fund (FIF) with a possible budget of $2 billion USD.

It seems that the World Bank just cannot learn lessons: this new FIF is being developed in 2008 without meaningful consultation with forest peoples in developing countries and is coming under increasing public criticism for the lack of transparency in its formulation.

For further information on this news topic in briefings issued by FPP in February 2008, seehttp://www.forestpeoples.org/documents/forest_issues/bases/forest_issues.shtml. Check this website for more news and ongoing controversy over the bank’s forest carbon funds.

Also contact tom@forestpeoples.org and amarantha@forestpeoples.org, or call 44 1608 652893, for more information.

Other useful sources for information include http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/,http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/http://www.ifiwatchnet.org/http://www.sinkswatch.org/,http://www.foei.org/en/campaigns/climate, and http://www.globalforestcoalition.org/paginas/view/32.