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Collective Rights to Land and Natural Ressources

“In my understanding, land and recognition are very closely interlinked, and other rights more or less derive from these two main pillars. Because, if you have to design measures for indigenous access to health, to education, to employment, you can only make an appropriate design of any measures within the context of their land rights and the framework of their recognition.”

Albert K. Barume, Member of the ACHPR’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities (WGIP)

Land and natural resources constitute the basis of indigenous peoples’ livelihood, culture and identity. Supporting indigenous peoples to secure and defend their land and natural resource rights and subsequently develop frameworks for sustainable management of their lands, territories and resources is thus essential.

IWGIA supports indigenous partner organizations to lobby for the recognition of their collective rights to land and natural resources in laws and policies, carry out awareness raising activities, file court cases, undertake land demarcation and mapping, apply for land titles and develop land-use and management plans.

Below you can see examples of our work within this area:

Development with culture and identity

“There is a need for a human development model that provides indigenous peoples with the possibility to continue to live on their lands and to decide how their natural resources are going to be used, and this means that it is indigenous peoples themselves who should decide what kind of cultural, economic and spiritual development they want.” - Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Former chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The recognition and implementation of indigenous peoples' collective rights to land and natural resources are influenced by dominant development models. Through its international human rights advocact programme, IWGIA supports indigenous peoples to participate in and submit contributions to different international and regional processes where development is defined, debated and evaluated.

In 2010, IWGIA for example supported indigenous representatives to participate in the discussion of development and its impact on indigenous peoples’ rights to land and natural resources taking place at the 9th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Here they spoke about development aggression primarily based on the imposition of large-scale development schemes, supposedly in the interests of national development; a dominant development model that is being implemented without the free, prior and informed consent of those affected and which is creating poverty, severe inequality, gross abuses of human rights and massive environmental devastation. Experiences such as these form the backdrop to the formulation of a model of development with culture and identity which has been consistently promoted by the UN Permanent Forum.

The 29 recommendations adopted at the end of the UN Permanent Forum session reflect the fact that it is fundamental for indigenous peoples to preserve and develop their cultures and ways of life. Development for indigenous peoples is therefore closely linked to many aspects of their lives, from education and indigenous languages, to health, to respect for traditional knowledge and traditional ways of living.

IWGIA continues to promote that indigenous peoples’ visions of well-being and development are heard by States and that indigenous peoples themselves participate effectively in development processes.

Supporting rights to land and natural resources in Africa

In Kenya, IWGIA supports a land and natural resource rights project, implemented by Mainyoito Pastoralist Integrated Development Organization (MPIDO), which focuses on community mobilization and empowerment, policy advocacy and litigation. Amongst other things, this project aims to use the new Land Policy and the new Constitution to develop models for concretely securing and protecting land and natural resource rights for Maasai and other pastoralists in Kenya.

IWGIA also supports the Endorois Welfare Council (EWC) in order to strengthen the capacity of the Endorois community to effectively negotiate with the Government of Kenya with regard to the implementation of the ACHPR landmark ruling on restitution of land and natural resource rights to the Endorois people.

In line with this, IWGIA supports the land rights struggle of the Ogiek people in Kenya by providing the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP) with support to take their case relating to the forced evictions of Ogiek people from their ancestral forest home before the ACHPR.

In Tanzania, IWGIA supports the organisation 'Community Research and Development Services' (CORDS) with a project on collective land titling and land-use planning for Maasai pastoralists in the northern part of the country. In Tanzania, support is further provided to PINGOs Forum for a project aimed at securing the land rights of pastoralists who have suffered forceful evictions in the Loliondo area. Support was also given to Parakuiyo Pastoralists Indigenous Community Development organization (PAICODEO) for a project aimed at strengthening the human and land rights monitoring capacity of PAICODEO and its target communities in southern Tanzania.

In Burundi, IWGIA supported Unissons-Nous pour la Promotion des Batwa (UNIPROBA) with a land distribution project benefiting the landless Batwa people. The project is being implemented in collaboration with the government and local authorities. This cooperation has also led to the implementation of Batwa representation in national policy/governance structures on land matters.

Mobile legal clinics give results in Sarawak, Malaysia


The rampant grabbing of indigenous peoples’ lands in the Malaysian state of Sarawak with the involvement of the political elite, along with plans to further expand oil palm plantations and to build 12 new dams by 2020, is giving great cause for concern.

IWGIA supports the indigenous organization, the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), to operate a mobile legal clinic which assists indigenous communities in the legal defence of their ancestral lands. In 2010, two indigenous communities won important court cases regarding native land issues and, on the recent orders of a Supreme Court judge, a series of meetings have been held in order to go through all the 200 land related cases that have been filed with the hope of expediting their settlement.

Territorial defence in the Peruvian Amazon

Although many territories in the Amazon have been legalised in favour of indigenous peoples, there are now serious threats to the communities due to the presence of mining, oil or logging companies. The advance of the extractive industries is causing the indigenous peoples to lose real control over their territories.

After many years of support to demarcation and land titling in the Amazon, IWGIA now mainly supports  indigenous territorial defence strategies. One such case is that of the organization of the Awajún people of the Peruvian Amazon, who are fighting for respect for their rights and against the presence of illegal mining on their territory. Support include legal aid, institutional strenghtening and awareness raising.

Assisting indigenous communities in obtaining land titles in the Philippines

2010 was the final year of support to the Ancestral Domain Support Program being conducted in the Philippines, which began in 2004. The program has assisted indigenous communities in land demarcation processes and in obtaining land titles with the result that 12 ancestral domains now have an approved title and another 9 areas are at different stages in the process.

The program also focused on empowering indigenous communities to uphold recognition of their Ancestral Domain and to interact with other stakeholders. Following up on the results achieved by the Ancestral Domain Support Program, IWGIA has now begun to provide co-funding for an EU-supported project which aims to strengthen self-governance and consolidate the Ancestral Domains into contiguous areas, so-called “corridors”, by strengthening self-governance, management planning and self-determined development.

Restoring community rights over ancestral forests in India

In India, IWGIA has since 2000 supported the Bindrai Institute for Research, Study and Action (BIRSA) to implement a Forest Rights Campaign project in Jharkhand. One of the major results of the project has been the emergence of a strong popular movement called the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (JJBA), which has successfully re-established control over forests on the part of the indigenous communities.

“With a more than 20,000-odd strong membership, Jharkand Save the Forest Movement (JJBA) has now emerged as the widely recognized platform of the IPs in Jharkhand, who are engaged in their struggle to restore the community rights over their ancestral forests. The credit goes largely to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, which showed the courage to collaborate on the initiative to form the JJBA about a decade ago from scratch. By doing so, IWGIA not only provided a space to restore the IPs’ movement for self-determination but also encouraged and enlightened the process of organization building and policy formulation over the last ten years.” - Samar Basu Mullick, BIRSA/JJBA, India