Indigenous Peoples reclaim decision-making power and protect territories, lives and rights using Autonomous FPIC Protocols

by Helen Tugendhat, Cathal Doyle, Andrew Whitmore

What we want is that they leave us our own model of development and our autonomy to protect and realize this”

Luz Gladis Vila Pihue, Founder and former President of the Founding Congress of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP)

The publication “Free Prior Informed Consent Protocols as Instruments of Autonomy: Laying Foundations for Rights Based Engagement” is being released in Spanish in April 2020. It complements the English version launched at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in November 2019. It explores the potential for these Autonomous FPIC Protocols to contribute to indigenous peoples’ struggle for self-determination, self-governance and territorial control.

The rights, well-being and survival of Indigenous peoples throughout the world are at grave risk as a result of extractive, energy, agri-business and tourism industries. To protect them against these threats, international law recognises the self-determination right of indigenous peoples to decide what happens in their own territories. This right is implemented through the requirement for governments to obtain indigenous peoples’ free prior and informed consent (FPIC). Governments and companies are increasingly paying lip-service to FPIC. However, in practice, they continue to consult with indigenous peoples in ways that manipulate indigenous ways of making decisions and ignore the outcome of their decisions-making processes.

In response, indigenous and tribal peoples are increasing documenting their governance rules around consultation and FPIC and demanding that all external actors comply with them. Different indigenous peoples refer to these documents in a range of ways. Many indigenous and tribal peoples call them “Autonomous FPIC Protocols”, while others refer to them as their regulatory or normative frameworks or manifestos.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for governments and other external actors to respect these autonomous FPIC protocols. Diseases introduced through colonisation and subsequently by encroachment of outsiders have decimated indigenous peoples. To this day, disease and contamination caused by imposed development activities have profound impacts on indigenous peoples’ lives, health and well-being. Faced with the latest grave threat of Covid-19, indigenous and traditional peoples are once again asserting their right to regulate access to their territories, closing them where needed to prevent the influx of individuals, government agencies and companies, and sharing informational materials highlighting the risks posed by loggers, miners and tourists when they enter indigenous territories now. To date these actions have helped slow the spread of the pandemic within these communities, despite cases being confirmed on their peripheries some weeks ago.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is also providing cover for many companies and government agencies to continue, or to expand, unwanted exploitation in indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples’ territories, as illustrated by continued killings of indigenous and Afro-descendant human rights and land defenders. In some countries, such as in Colombia, Covid-19 has even resulted in government attempts to impose “on-line consultations” which are completely at odds with indigenous peoples’ self-governance rules and their full and effective participation in decision-making.

Published by the European Network for Indigenous Peoples, INFOE, Forest Peoples Programme and the University of Middlesex School of Law with support from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation, the publication reviews initial experiences with Autonomous FPIC Protocols in South America. It finds that they have made tangible contributions to tackling critical shortcomings in national laws and State and corporate practice, around consultation, FPIC and respect for indigenous peoples’ self-governance and territorial rights. Case studies contained in the book – from the Wampis (Peru), the Juruna (Brazil) and the Embera Chami (Colombia) – show that these protocols can act as tools for resistance and defence of human rights. These community rules, internal laws and collective affirmation of the right to self-government and community-based justice, challenge inadequate or absent consultation processes and establishing standards and procedures with which external actors, project proponents and state consultation and FPIC processes must comply.

In addition to the three case studies, the book also provides a review of global experiences with FPIC protocol development. It finds that their development is increasingly common among indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the world. It shows that because indigenous peoples are diverse, there is no one-size-fits-all consultation and FPIC process. Instead, diverse processes must be defined by each people in accordance with their own realities and practices. It concludes that the autonomous development of such protocols“can open spaces for reflection and dialogue among and between indigenous peoples. These spaces can be highly empowering and contribute to the creation and maintenance of unity and self-governance among indigenous peoples. They facilitate the development of tools and strategies that allow indigenous peoples to challenge structural discrimination and pursue the implementation of international standards in their lived experiences.”

The aim of this Spanish language publication is to contribute to the realisation of the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and autonomy in Latin America. We believe the publication’s reflections on the many challenges involved in the development and use of FPIC protocols offers food for thought at this critical juncture facing indigenous peoples, where effective territorial control is more urgent than ever for their futures. Our hope is that Latin American indigenous and tribal peoples will find the materials and experiences shared in this resource useful in their efforts to assert self-governance and territorial control, and to realize the rights and well-being of their peoples throughout the region.