News in brief - January 2015

15 January 2015

Many tropical timber-producing countries continue to suffer from high levels of corruption, according toTransparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (November 2014). Burma, Cambodia, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Laos are all placed in the bottom fifth of the annual list, which ranks countries according to expert opinions of public-sector corruption. There were a few bright spots: Ghana nearly made the top third of the global ranking, and Côte d’Ivoire’s progress from the previous year was highlighted as one of 2014’s success stories.

Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), in collaboration with AIDESEP (Peru’s national Indigenous Peoples organisation), presented “Revealing the Hidden: Indigenous perspectives on deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon,” which denounces the fact that, in Peru alone, 20 million hectares of indigenous territories have no legal guarantee and are under pressure by extractive and commercial interests. Indonesian NGOs Pusaka and Pokker SHK joined FPP to issue a number of country studies titled “Securing Forests, Securing Rights”. The event also presented proceedings of the March 2014 international workshop on deforestation and forest peoples in Palangka Raya, Indonesia.

Local groups in Central African Republic are hopeful that the VPA process will resume soon following positive signals from the government and the EU. The violent civil conflict in 2013 put a halt to important reforms in the key forestry sector. The policy vacuum resulting from the conflict, weak law enforcement and corruption created anarchy in the sector and led to rapid deforestation, forest degradation and growing insecurity for forest communities. In a December 2014 joint statement, the local civil society forest platform, urges the government and EU to restart the VPA process so that forest reforms are effectively implemented, and revenues used for economic recovery and responding to people’s basic needs. The platform is concerned that illegal logging and environmental destruction threaten community rights, and sees its role as contributing to the independent forest monitoring that is critical for strengthened governance.

The 2014 State of the World’s Forests reportsays that forest policies should do more to put people, not forests, at the centre of lasting, responsible solutions for forests. Published by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the report says that this paradigm shift will enable forests to meet the growing needs of people across the world, while ensuring that the livelihoods of rural communities who depend on forests for food, energy and shelter are upheld. The report examines measures that countries already take to develop benefits from forests and suggests where concrete information can be improved and reforms initiated – including strengthening forest tenure – so that these benefits are enhanced. FERN agrees, and its work with the Community Rights Network aims to promote recognition of community rights and ensure that communities participate in decisions affecting them.

Is the tide turning against Herakles Farms? In December 2014, the magazine Jeune Afrique paid homage to Nasako Besingi, community leader directing the local Cameroon organisation “Struggle to Economise Future Environment” (SEFE) as being among the human rights defenders who marked 2014. Nasako and his group have worked alongside other activists and organisations to protect human and community rights and to preserve forests in the area where the New York-based palm oil company Herakles farms operates. They have been subjected to intimidation, lawsuits, arrests and violent attacks. More than a year ago, local authorities had suspended the operations of another NGO, Nature Cameroon, for their efforts to mobilise communities affected by Herakles Farms’ activities. Nature Cameroon recently received encouraging news: the suspension has been lifted meaning they can resume their activities.

FERN works to achieve environmental and social justice with a focus on forests and forest peoples' rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.

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