Jump to Navigation

Putting people at the centre of forest law-making is essential

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
15 June 2011
Publisher Name: 
David Young
More like this


Imagine if your government suddenly passed laws that sold off the street your family had lived on for generations to an international property developer. Your land was to be "converted" into flats in the name of national economic development; bulldozers would soon be moving in to demolish your house and carve up the garden. You had no say in the process and were promised none of the financial windfall. But you were to be comprehensively muscled off your property – end of conversation.


This is the scenario that Hugo Che Piu, head of Peruvian NGO Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Dar), is currently fighting in association with Global Witness. In 2009, 30 people died during protests near Bagua in the Amazonas region, after laws passed by executive government decree allowed for huge chunks of forest inhabited by indigenous communities to be handed over to international logging firms to develop biofuel plantations. The episode was unusually tragic, but it fitted a pattern of rising tensions Che Piu knew well from his years defending the rights of communities in Peru's forests.


Forests are not like most other natural resources. People live inside them, and depend on them for everything – the poorer the people, the greater the reliance. The executive decrees of 2009 in Peru gave indigenous people no say in decisions to "convert" their land into space for biofuel plantations. Indeed, international agreements on forest use would mean these new plantations would still be classed as forests – try telling that to the people who had lived in them for generations, and seen their homes destroyed.

The events in Bagua proved a turning point for Che Piu and Dar. He and his colleagues sat down to analyse the causes of the violence, and to seek a constructive solution. The government wanted to increase private investment, while the companies they courted sought favourable terms to establish industrial plantations in the Amazon. There was no space in the conversation for respecting the rights and the homes of the people that lived on the land. "[Bagua] reaffirmed the need to deepen and improve the mechanisms for participation so that people who depend on forests may see their interests reflected," says Che Piu.

In an effort to create this space for dialogue, Dar made itself mediator. Consciously looking to build the trust of all groups, it remained neutral and created a forum for information sharing instead of direct or confrontational advocacy.

The results have been impressive. In the past two years, Che Piu and his colleagues at Dar have brought lawmakers, indigenous peoples' representatives and technical experts to the table to negotiate new policies. Two years on from violent conflict, this newly consultative and transparent approach has seen the opposing parties jointly draft a new forest law and a new "consultation law". The second of these is key, as it will ensure the government consults civil society on any new legislation relating to forest use.

This newfound transparency and consultation will not resolve the conflict of interests in Peru's forests by itself – far from it. But it is a necessary starting point, and its success has profound implications for international forest management. Meaningful consultation with local civil society and transparent access to information must be a part of international thinking on forests if we ascribe any value to them outside of corporate balance sheets and net GDP.

More than 1 billion people live in the world's forests. How forests are managed is fundamentally a human rights and development issue as much as an environmental or commercial concern. It is crucial that the international community remembers this as it searches for a way to preserve them while driving development in the countries to which these forests belong.

David Young is a Global Witness campaign leader for forest sector transparency


Extpub | by Dr. Radut