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Enough Rainforest Martyrs - Rainforest Foundation Statement
07 October 2014
RAINFOREST FOUNDATION STATEMENT
Four Peruvian indigenous environmental and human rights activists, including outspoken Asháninka leader Edwin Chota, were brutally murdered on September 1st or 2nd, 2014, near the Brazilian border, presumably by illegal loggers from whom they had been receiving death threats. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident, but follows a long-term pattern of deadly violence against environmental defenders worldwide.
25 years ago, Chico Mendes was assassinated by ranchers in the Brazilian state of Acre, right across the border from where Edwin and the others were killed. In the wake of Chico’s murder, his concept of extractive reserves – protected areas established and managed by forest peoples – gained force. Around the same time, the “union of the peoples of the forest” was born in Acre, uniting rubber tappers like Chico and indigenous peoples, including the Asháninka. Today, there are some 50 Extractive Reserves in the Brazilian Amazon, covering 12 million hectares of forest. And the forest movement born in Acre has since given rise to a world-wide movement, promoting a successful model of forest protection based on securing traditional lands and promoting community forestry.
Today, both the threats against forest defenders and the promise they represent remain. According to Global Witness, over 900 people were killed for protecting their lands and resources over the past ten years - nearly 60 of them in Peru. The key drivers behind these deaths are disputes over logging, mining, and land rights. Impunity for these murders is the rule, and the violence doesn’t seem to be slowing, especially not after the recent murders in Peru.
People like Edwin Chota are being killed because they are actively defending their lands and forests. They are also proposing effective solutions that protect the environment, promote community development, and stem climate change. We therefore urge the Peruvian government, as well as heads of state converging in New York for the Climate Summit on September 22, to take firm and decisive measures to:
1. Secure land tenure: According to a recent study by Rights & Resources Initiative, indigenous peoples and local communities have legal or official rights to over 500 million hectares of forests worldwide. Even larger areas are not yet recognized or titled. Land rights are the number one priority of indigenous peoples the world over. Edwin Chota's community of Saweto has been struggling to have their lands titled since 2003. In the Peruvian Amazon alone, indigenous peoples demand titling of 20 million hectares over 1124 communities.
2. Promote community forestry: community-managed forestry works. According to the World Bank, 80% of the world's biodiversity is found on indigenous lands. In Brazil, indigenous lands had a deforestation rate of less than 1% between 2000 – 2012, compared to 7% outside these lands. In Honduras, forest loss was 140 times less in community-led forest initiatives than elsewhere. Promoting indigenous and community-based forestry through policy, funding, and promoting their participation in decision-making is key.
3. Protect environmental defenders: Publicly acknowledge the heightened level of threat posed to environmental defenders, and work with them and their organizations to develop specific plans that ensure that they are provided with resourced protection plans. States must ensure that all threats and violence are followed up by prompt and impartial investigations that lead to prosecutions. Peru must thoroughly investigate the killing of Edwin Chota, Leoncio Quintisima Melendez, Francisco Pinedo Ramirez, and Jorge Rio Perez, and sanction all those involved.
4. Reduce production of commodities that cause deforestation: according to recent data from Forest Trends, over 70% of deforestation stems from clearing forests for commercial agriculture driven by demand for commodities including palm oil, beef, soy, and wood. The EU, China, India, Russia and the US are the largest buyers of these products. Consumers should seek to reduce consumption of these commodities, too.
Deforestation and violence go hand in hand. But there are enough rainforest martyrs. Those who killed Edwin and his fellow activists must be brought to justice. Their community lands must be titled, and their efforts to protect their forests rewarded. Government leaders have the opportunity, next week and in the coming months, to honor Edwin and the others who have gone before him by taking energetic measures to scale up these actions. They can thereby help ensure that the people fighting on the frontlines of climate change – and proposing effective solutions – are protected, their rights respected, and voices heard.