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Advancing Human Rights-Based Approaches and Conflict Sensitivity in Forest Monitoring and Management

Monday, December 21, 2020

Emily Donegan

National Forest Monitoring, FAO

Julian Fox

Team Leader, National Forest Monitoring, FAO

Harbouring the vast majority of life on Earth, forests are a vital natural resource that provide ecosystem services essential for life and livelihoods. Forests are sources of important raw materials such as timber, wood fuel, and non-timber-forest products. However, competition to access forests, like many natural resources, is often a motive for human conflict. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that in the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all intrastate conflicts have had a link to natural resources.

This places natural resources as one of a country’s most critical assets for peacebuilding, with efforts to address corruption and improve governance often focusing on natural resources and their revenues. To facilitate the peacebuilding process and protect the world’s forests, it is essential that natural resource management is integrated in conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and recovery efforts.

Tropical forestOn December 10, International Human Rights Day, FAO and the Environmental Peacebuilding Association’s Forest Interest Group, in collaboration with the governments of Myanmar and Indonesia, held a webinar that examined emerging and established human rights-based approaches to forest monitoring and management. Aiming to scale up collective action toward human rights-based and conflict-sensitive approaches in the forestry sector, the webinar offered a unique forum for exchanging knowledge, best practices, and challenges.

In Myanmar, the work to develop human rights-based approaches for forest monitoring has commenced under a recently launched project in collaboration with the governments of Finland and Myanmar, designed to allow for the monitoring of forests in a manner that is sensitive to conflict dynamics and protects human rights. Earlier development efforts in Myanmar had failed to consider the complex situation in the country—with regional conflicts between ethnic groups that have been ongoing for decades. At the same time, Myanmar, a tropical country with extensive forest cover as well as many forest-dependent peoples, is experiencing one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. The new project marks the first time that a forest monitoring project is explicitly conflict-sensitive, with extensive planning and stakeholder engagement in particular with local and Indigenous Peoples. The project also includes a staggered conflict-sensitive approach to field activities based on consultation, grievance mechanisms, contingency plans, and clearly established lines of communication, along with the development of open data-sharing policies.

In her opening remarks, Finland’s Ambassador to Myanmar, Ms. Riikka Laatu said: “This project is highly relevant and needed to prevent deforestation and forest degradation for policy-making, for national and international reporting, for land use management—all the traditional benefits of forest monitoring—but here especially we also want to prevent human rights abuses and to ensure that the rights of people, especially Indigenous Peoples, are protected.”

Marco Piazza, Forestry Officer from FAO’s National Forest Monitoring Team, commented on the potential to scale the approach globally: “FAO is pledging to use the human rights-based approach to forest monitoring developed for Myanmar toward global guidelines for conflict sensitivity and human rights-based approaches in forest monitoring for application around the world.”

Similarly, the Director General of the Forestry Department, Myanmar, Dr. Nyi Nyi Kyaw declared that “the products developed from this project in Myanmar will contribute to knowledge and best practices at the global level, and other countries can benefit from our experience and we can in turn from their experiences.”

Another case of working toward inclusive participation of Myanmar’s Indigenous communities—specifically people of the ethnic Karen group—was presented by International Alert. Inclusive participation was highlighted as a key factor in the conflict sensitivity of forest governance issues. Drawing on field research, International Alert presented gender and power dynamics around forest management in Karen areas of Myanmar, highlighting the role of women. Women’s participation in forest management is shaped by gender norms and representation that influence how and why conflict turns violent, and how violence is perpetrated. Bringing a gender analysis to forest management offers a unique opening for a transformative approach that is conducive to building sustainable positive peace. Jana Naujoks, Country Director for Myanmar, International Alert, presented practical recommendations and safeguards to put in place that enable women to overcome some of the barriers to meaningful participation in forest management and decisionmaking.

In Indonesia, the government has already started implementing approaches to address Forest-/Land-Conflicts in Sumatra and Sulawesi. The training approaches presented by Bernd Unger (AHT GROUP), consultant for the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, constitute concrete examples of conflict resolution by strengthening local rights and local ownership. Head of Sub-Directorate Recognition of Customary Forest and Protection of Local Wisdom, Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Mr. Yuli Prasetyo Nugroho highlighted that the “Indonesian government is strengthening its efforts to prevent deforestation and stopping illegal logging and implementing systems of conflict resolution.”

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Carl Bruch, who directs international programs at ELI and serves as the president of the Environmental Peacebuilding Association, said “We can improve forest livelihoods, conflicts, and gender equality at the same time with the right approach. Central to this collaboration is the need to listen to the people, and we must ensure that our approaches are flexible, so that if problems do occur, we can change and adapt. We need to have contingency plans and we need to continuously analyze and consult with the people. The Do-No-Harm approach is central but there is more than that—there is also win-win. We start from there but we aim to also actually build peace and prosperity. It’s not changing our mandate—it’s investing more fully in our outcomes, to ensure they are sustainable.”

The webinar conveyed a clear commitment from organizations and governments to continue to work together to scale up collective action toward human rights-based and conflict-sensitive approaches in the forestry sector.

All blog posts are the opinion of its author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ELI the organization or its members.