It has been almost a year since we awarded the Prize to forest defender Leng Ouch, indigenous rights advocate Edward Loure and steward of protected areas Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera. We caught up with them again this week to find out — in their words — how the Prize has affected their lives and what they have been working on since being recognized in April 2016.
In the weeks following the announcement, my phone was buzzing daily with activity due to interest from national and international media, asking me to comment on illegal logging issues, and every week I was invited to meetings, workshops and public forums. Other communities across Cambodia called asking me to investigate cases of illegal logging and challenge the presence of timber businesses. The Minister of the Environment has asked to meet with me to discuss issues ranging from the public consultation of the environmental code to organizing public forums about illegal logging.
My increased recognition has helped my NGO (the Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces, CHRTF) secure capacity-building funding from local and regional donors. Due to my increased recognition, three fellow Cambodian environmental activists were released and the government has started to take real action against illegal logging and has organized several public forums to push for stronger cooperation between the private sector and local communities, but I am still waiting to see if the government will stand by its commitments before the general election.
Since winning the Prize I have been able to bring together different communities; students, soldiers, police, government officials, and activists to work together to protect the forest. The government has protected several forest areas including Prey Lang, and other forests found alongside the Laotian and Vietnamese borders. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Environment have committed to stopping large-scale illegal logging across the Vietnamese border and a reduction in land concessions. Just last month the Ministry of the Environment have announced they will take legal action against sawmill and furniture businesses, and have given the armed forces more power to raid sawmills operating inside protected areas.
- Sign the petition and urge the government to protect Cambodia’s forests from unsustainable development.
Since winning the Prize, the organization I lead, (the Ujamaa Community Resource Team UCRT) has been able to build trust with Tanzania’s local government authorities. This has helped us collaborate on the implementation of land and natural resources activities as well as speeding up the Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO) registration process. Having a higher profile has meant that local and international media are looking to UCRT to learn about the benefits of supporting indigenous communities to manage their land. I am also often invited to international conferences on land and natural resources management, which has been useful to make the connection between local community experience in safeguarding communal land and the management of available resources.
The government of Tanzania has also appointed UCRT as a member of National Task Force for Land Use Plan, which is this highest committee that advises government and policy makers on issues regarding land use. Since the announcement, the Task Force has passed three major resolutions that have positively impacted our local community. For example, by involving UCRT in a meeting with stakeholders in the ministry for budgeting and planning.
Apart from supporting the Maasai and Hadzabe communities, we are now working with the Akie; another hunter gatherer group living in the Simanjiro district in northern Tanzania who have now secured over 9,000 hectares of communal land.
The government of Tanzania is re-writing a new land policy and I call upon the government to ensure the new policy safeguards and promote the land rights of indigenous people. The writing of new policy will ultimately influence change of laws, an exercise which requires resources in order to enable full participation in this important process by UCRT and other equally important stakeholders.
- Support UCRT as they continue to as extend land rights to hunter-gatherer communities while protecting Tanzania’s treasured wildlife.
Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera
Being recognized by the Prize has raised my profile and that of my organization, (the Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor) with respect to our work with the Northeast Ecological Corridor Nature Reserve. Professionally, it has also raised my public standing, helped me to get engaged and have my opinion heard regarding other environmental issues or matters affecting other areas of Puerto Rico.
Last June, and along with other stakeholders, we were able to convince the then-Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, to veto a bill that would have allowed dozens of illegal beach houses built in La Parguera Nature Reserve in southwestern Puerto Rico to remain or be “legalized.”
If approved, this bill would have set a very dangerous precedent, since it would have opened the door for other instances to privatize public lands — including beaches used as nesting grounds for leatherback sea turtles — within the marine-terrestrial zone (MTZ) in Puerto Rico. The MTZ is a resource that has been declared public and for all citizens to enjoy since the Spanish colonial times back in the 19th century, which, as islanders, is a very significant element that defines our identity and character.
- Join Luis Jorge’s campaign to purchase the remaining privately owned land and return the Northeast Ecological Corridor to public hands.