Comments on the new Guidelines for the Norwegian Foreign Service on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Rainforest Foundation, Norway
My name is Susan Fay Kelly and I work for Rainforest Foundation Norway. Rainforest Foundation Norway’s mission is to protect the remaining rainforests of the world and secure the human rights of Indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent groups. An understanding of the close relationship between local communities and the forests and its resources must be at the core of any strategy to protect the forests. The World Commission on Forest and Sustainable Development has estimated that 350 million of the world’s poorest people depend almost entirely on forests for subsistence and survival. At least 60 million of the forest peoples are Indigenous. Forest-based Indigenous peoples have strong social, cultural and spiritual bonds to their ancestral territories. If the forests disappear, these people lose not only their livelihoods, but also essential elements of their culture and identity. Indigenous peoples have fundamental rights to their territories, and forest protection strategies must therefore be rights-based.
Moving on, I would like to say that there is a lot of positive wording in the new guidelines developed by the ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the introduction, the former Foreign Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Development state that Norway is to be a promoter and protector of Indigenous peoples rights and Indigenous peoples living conditions all over the world. And the truth is that internationally Norway is indeed a strong promoter of Indigenous peoples’ rights. We hope that the new government will continue with these efforts.
The Rainforest Foundation Norway is happy to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consulted us during the process of finalizing the guidelines. Our main concern when we saw the new guidelines was the fact that they were supposed to replace the guidelines from 2004 and seemed to be an entirely different kind of document. Where the old guidelines stated strategic and political goals for Norway’s work within the field of Indigenous peoples, the new guidelines were in every respect non-political. Instead, the new guidelines proved to be in large a descriptive document about the human rights system concerning Indigenous peoples.
The Rainforest Foundation Norway had a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as corresponding with the state-secretary, explaining our concerns that replacing the old guidelines with a non-political document would seem like a weakening of the government’s position on Indigenous peoples’ rights. Luckily, our concerns were understood, and in the introduction to the new guidelines it is now clear that these do not replace the guidelines of 2004, but are in addition, and that the Minister of Foreign Affairs will consider the need for an action plan focusing on Indigenous peoples’ rights after the World Conference on Indigenous peoples in 2014.
The document we now have before us is a good descriptive framework that can work well as a first introduction to Indigenous peoples’ rights. Rainforest Foundation Norway sees the need for such short informative guidelines that raise the awareness and provide direction in the promotion of Indigenous peoples’ rights. In the guidelines, the MFA states, “These guidelines seek to ensure that Norway pursues a coherent, integrated policy that takes into consideration the rights of Indigenous peoples.” However, the new guidelines are first and foremost guidelines for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their diplomatic and consular missions, as well as the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and we fail to see how this document may contribute to ensure the overarching policies of Norway. The field of Indigenous peoples’ rights is much larger than what these guidelines are able to communicate and are able to ensure. The new guidelines include no strategic assessments or signals concerning what Norway will focus on with regards to Indigenous peoples in the future – neither when it comes to financial support, thematic or geographical areas of focus, or areas where there is particular need for efforts. Indigenous peoples’ rights are treated in many different forums and in different arenas and Norway should have a strategy that suggests how the country will focus its efforts. And it is important that such a strategy is created in the not-too- distant future, as the old guidelines are now almost ten years old and a lot has happened within the field of Indigenous peoples rights during the last decade. Thus, Rainforest Foundation Norway would like to take the opportunity to stress the importance of indeed creating a new document that is political and strategic.
Going a bit more into the document, there are mainly two things I’d like to comment upon content wise. One is the checklist. We consider such a checklist a useful tool for the Minister, and not least their diplomatic and consular missions. However, it is not clear to us what happens when someone “checks off” one or more points on this list. Are there any strategies in place that describes what should be done in such a situation, or will it be up to each and everyone to then decide what to do?
The second thing I would like to highlight is the inclusion of a separate part of the guidelines that deals with business and human rights. In our point of view, this is a highly relevant and positive inclusion. In addition to being very informative, this part of the guidelines is more concrete in stating what Norway should do when dealing with Norwegian businesses that operate in countries with Indigenous peoples. The Rainforest Foundation Norway also finds it positive that Norwegian authorities will prepare an action plan that deals with how Norway will follow up the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The newly written report by Mark B. Taylor from Fafo, that will be the foundation on which the action plan is built, draws attention to many interesting aspects on how the different parts of the Norwegian Government ensures that the business sector respects HR. As far as we’ve heard, a first version of the action plan should be ready by the end of this year and we’re very much looking forward to reading it at contributing with our points of view.
With regard to the relationship between Indigenous peoples, business and HR, we also find it extremely positive that the Minister of Foreign Affairs included one important paragraph suggested by us. This is: “If agreement is not reached with the local community, this can lead to protests, demonstrations and/or legal proceedings, and thus to delays and additional costs for the project. If consultations with Indigenous peoples are not carried out, Norway will not support the project in question, and Norwegian companies will be advised to pull out of it.” That the Minister is so clear on this is a strong signal to Norwegian companies that operate in countries with Indigenous peoples, and we would like to commend the Ministry for its strong position on this. We sincerely hope that the action plan will contain similar strong wording.
With the new government, there will be a few changes, as we all know. For instance, Norway’s International Forest and Climate Initiative is being moved from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Environment. There might be many good reasons for this, but the Rainforest Foundation Norway would like to stress the importance of factors outside of the mainly climate related ones in the initiative. This means, among other things, to take Indigenous peoples’ rights into consideration in this work. Therefore, it is important that expertise of Indigenous peoples rights also exists in the Ministry of Environment. And in all other Ministries that do work that touch upon fields that are related to Indigenous peoples.
In the governmental platform, the new government has a positive focus on human rights. However, the Rainforest Foundation Norway is worried that this focus is stated to be primarily on civil and political rights. In our point of view, one cannot only focus on one set of human rights. One set of human rights must be understood in the context of other sets. For the most part, each set of rights is dependent on the other. For example, economical and social inequality affects civil and political rights. Class – defined as resources, social status and economy – as well as ethnicity, affects who has access to political and judicial arenas, and thus have their civil and political rights met. The government must also focus on economical, social and cultural rights, and not least: on the collective rights of Indigenous peoples. We hope this is a message Mr. Willie can take home with him from this conference.