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Indigenous association to sue to shut down Panama’s REDD+ program

Panama’s largest association of indigenous people will sue the Panamanian government to shut down the country’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program.

The National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) announced its intent after it failed to reach agreement with the United Nation’s REDD+ program, which has been working to establish a forest conservation framework in the Central American country. REDD+ aims to compensate tropical countries for cutting forest loss.

The dispute dates back to 2009 and stems from COONAPIP’s view that indigenous peoples in Panama have not been properly engaged in the REDD+ process. Earlier this year COONAPIP said it was pulling out of negotiations with the UN-REDD Program over a financial dispute. COONAPIP alleged that UN-REDD failed to delivery on a $1.8 million payment to begin REDD+ activities.

Now COONAPIP wants to kill REDD+ in Panama. Citing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), COONAPIP will soon file a lawsuit against the government of Panama to close down the REDD+ program.

Rainforest in Panama. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

According to a statement issued on behalf of COONAPIP, the lawsuit is “the first major test of a key provision of the 2007 UN Declaration, which says indigenous peoples have the right to refuse projects and investments—such as logging and mining operations—that affect the natural resources in their territories.”

While REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, it potentially limits some activities in forest areas, thereby affecting natural resources. Since Panama’s indigenous population occupies about 31 percent of the country’s land mass, it is a key stakeholder on any land use and management issues. Indigenous territories have generally maintained forest cover better than government-managed areas, raising the question of why the native population wasn’t more meaningfully engaged from the outset of the program.

For its part, UN-REDD said in March that it was working to resolve the conflict.

“The UN-REDD Programme is taking immediate action to respond to the concerns raised by COONAPIP; this will include a proposal for independent mediation as well as the immediate implementation of the planned independent mid-term evaluation to assess the National Programme in Panama,” UN-REDD said in a statement.

However the lawsuit would seem to indicate that COONAPIP is tired of waiting for REDD+ to deliver.

Forest clearing in Panama. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

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