Full house during workshop on indigenous rights at Ministry of Foreign Affairs
While last Thursday afternoon half the Dutch population sat outside on a terrace to enjoy the last tropical heat of 2016, more than seventy people gathered in a room at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Why? To attend a workshop on 'Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), an international guideline which stipulates that indigenous peoples should be involved in and give permission for developments taking place in and around the area where they live.
The workshop was organised - at Both ENDS initiative – by the "Land Governance Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue" in which government, businesses, financial institutions and civil society organisations, including Both ENDS are represented.
Not only the organising group, but also the audience was diverse. "What particularly struck me was the amount of representatives of financial institutions and the government that attended the workshop," said Karin van Boxtel from Both ENDS, who was closely involved in the organisation. "Businesses, governments and financial institutions investing in projects in areas where indigenous peoples are living, must comply with the FPIC rules. Before plans are carried out in such an area the indigenous people and local communities need to be informed. But more importantly, after this they should be given the opportunity to give free consent (or not) to the plans.”
FPIC, how do you do that?
This sounds beautiful, but being a company or investor, how do you know that you’re applying FPIC rules in the right way? How do you identify local land users? How do you know if the spokesmen of the local land users actually represent the opinion of the entire group, when in practice this not always appears to be the case? And if you’re a Dutch financial institution or business, not physically present in the area, how can you be sure that FPIC is carried out well? A lot of uncertainty exists about these matters and too often things are going wrong. According to the initiators of the workshop all parties should be working together to eliminate these doubts and ambiguities.
Indispensable, but it can be even better
"Both ENDS promotes FPIC to ensure that the rights of indigenous land users are respected in investments," says Karin, "even though the mechanism leaves room for improvement. To start with, we find it a missed opportunity that under international law, FPIC only applies to indigenous peoples, while other local land users are also entitled to a participatory process. Another disadvantage is that indigenous peoples can only 'yes' or 'no' to a plan. They are not involved in the design of such a plan or project, which would be the ideal situation. Therefore, we would strongly support the idea of remodeling FPIC the future."
Nevertheless, it would already be a very good start if FPIC would be implemented adequately everywhere, says Karin. "The first step is to make investors aware of what impact their investment may have on local communities and land users, and step two is to see how this impact can be minimised as much as possible. What should we work on to make FPIC more effective on one hand, and easy to carry out on the other hand?" Dr. Marcus Colchester, founder of the Forest Peoples Programme ( FPP), was one of the main speakers at the workshop. He was pleasantly surprised to feel the positive energy during the workshop: "It's good to see that government and industry in the Netherlands are taking the protection of indigenous peoples seriously and that they work together with civil society to improve their performance on FPIC. This is certainly not always the case in other Western countries! "
Back to practice
Both ENDS is going to actively engage in organising two follow-up workshops at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one in November and one in January, according to year. During these workshops we hope to go into more detail of the reality on the ground, and to develop – together with financial institutions and the government - real tools for conducting FPIC.
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