Ten criteria for understanding the recognition of and respect for community rights

Study examines rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the context of REDD+ in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Village of Ikongo, DRC. Isolated communities face many obstacles to obtaining their rights. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

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Seven safeguard principles for REDD+ were adopted at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun in 2010. Two of these principles address participation and respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPs and LCs) directly. These principles are meant to be “interpreted” by REDD+ countries using their national legal frameworks, to decide, for example, who is recognized as an IP or LC, and what is meant by “respect” or their “participation”.

As countries move beyond the readiness phase towards REDD+ results-based payments, safeguards standards urgently need to be re-examined. Each national safeguards process is context specific; and in addition to the UNFCCC framework, there is a proliferation of voluntary market transactions, each with its own safeguards standards. How have safeguards been interpreted, and what does this mean for IPs and LCs?

As part of CIFOR-ICRAF’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ (GCS REDD+), we conducted a review of legal documents and interviews with specialists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to understand the level of recognition and protection of the rights of IPs and LCs in law and policy in the context of REDD+. We want to understand if safeguards assure that initiatives ‘do no harm’ and explore the possibility that they might even push them to ‘do better’.

The preliminary results of that review – the first phase of a comparative analysis of experiences with REDD+ safeguards in DRC, Indonesia and Peru – are available in a recent publication.

The contribution

In the publication, we synthesized our preliminary findings in a table with 10 criteria related to the recognition and respect of the rights of IPs and LCs in the DRC.

These are: (1) legal recognition of historically underrepresented groups; (2) alignment with the Cancun safeguards; (3) recognition of gender inequalities or women’s exclusion; (4) recognition of IPs’ rights under international law; (5) recognition of IPs’ and LCs’ land and natural resource rights; (6) recognition of community carbon rights; (7) recognition of IPs’ and LCs’ right to free, prior and informed consent; (8) formal benefit-sharing mechanisms; (9) formal grievance mechanisms; and (10) monitoring, reporting and verification of compliance with rights and social inclusion issues.

Each criterion has been evaluated to see if legislation in the DRC complies: fully, partially or not at all. In the DRC almost all of the results show partial alignment, with important progress in recent months.

The state of support for IP and LC rights in the context of REDD+

The interpretation of REDD+ safeguards was carried out in a context where, despite progress over the past two decades with regard to conservation and the environment, the rights of IPs had not been protected. Rather, IPs were lumped together with ‘local communities’, defined as groups that are “traditionally organized on the basis of custom and united by the bonds of clan or parental solidarity that underpin its internal cohesion [and] characterized by its attachment to a territory”.

This definition is problematic as it does not allow for the proper recognition of IPs, but it also merges them with some rural populations that tend to marginalize them, exacerbating their already vulnerable state and experiences of extreme poverty. At the end of 2022, a new definition of IPs passed into law with the President’s signature of the Law on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Pygmy Peoples.

With regard to land rights, the Constitution guarantees collective ownership of land acquired in accordance with law or custom. Nevertheless, land ownership is exclusively vested in the state and, in practice, communities and individuals can only hold rights of enjoyment, use, usufruct, passage and concessions on state land. Some progress regarding resource rights was made in the 2002 Forestry Code, which granted local communities the right to obtain forest and conservation concessions. However, implementing these concessions is challenging due to the costs and technical skills required.

Currently, the DRC is also making revisions to the Land Law. Together with the new law on the rights of Indigenous Pygmy peoples, these policy developments may catalyse progress towards the land and resource rights of IPs and LCs as they are implemented.

On gender equality and women’s rights, the DRC has ratified relevant treaties and conventions, and the Constitution establishes the principle of equality between men and women. Regarding natural resources, however, only the national REDD+ framework strategy requires the cross-cutting integration of gender concerns in the policies, planning and implementation of REDD+ projects.

On carbon rights, a 2018 Ministerial Order on REDD+ affirms that forest carbon stocks are the property of the state, and recognizes that units of emissions reduction are owned by those who invest in REDD+, which can include local communities. REDD+ benefit-sharing plans are expected to  be standardized, and sectoral reforms in the areas of land tenure and land use planning, among other areas, should help clarify benefit-sharing arrangements.

Looking ahead

Despite commendable progress with the Law on the Promotion of the Rights of Indigenous Pygmy Peoples, as well as the DRC’s position among the most advanced countries in Africa regarding REDD+, a number of important reforms remain. The second letter of intent signed between the DRC and the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) provides an opportunity to support these reforms.

This work was carried out as part of the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+ ( The funding partners that have supported this research include the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad, Grant No. QZA-21/0124), International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU, Grant No. 20_III_108), and CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP-FTA) with financial support from CGIAR Fund Donors.


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