“Inequality is the talk of the day and land ownership is at the heart of inequality – the time is now to act for Indigenous and Community Land Rights,’’ said Lilianne Ploumen, Minister of Development Cooperation and Trade of The Netherlands at a side event during the UN General Assembly – “Scaling up Government Support for Land Rights’’ on 19 September.

The event, co-organized by the Government of the Netherlands and the Land Rights Now Initiative brought together representatives of governments, the private sector and civil society interested in discussing ways of expanding and strengthening ongoing work on Indigenous and Community Land Rights and bringing new stakeholders on board to work on an issue which, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, emphasized “is not going to go away any time soon’’.

“Every day I read the newspaper from my home country Uganda – and not one day passes when I don’t read about some land related conflict. Land rights are about human rights, hunger and climate change and while some action is being taken – this action does not match the scale of the problem.” she said.

This was echoed by Devasish Roy, a Traditional Chief from Bangladesh and a member of the UN Indigenous Peoples Major Group, “Indigenous People have been shouting for decades about land rights but Governments have not listened. Land Rights are the heart of sustainable development. Who manages a forest better – hunter gatherers or loggers?”

There was, however, a sense of optimism in the room.

According to Kees de Zeeu of Kadaster International we are living at a time when there is “unprecedented technical capacity to map and register land alongside political support – for example,land rights being a major component of the 2030 goals” and Minister Ploumen acknowledged that “20 years ago we would not even be sitting together in the same room like this.”

The Government of the Netherlands is the first Government to join the Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights which it sees as an innovative tool for bringing stakeholders together and scaling up support. Huairou Commission, Oxfam, Rights and Resource Initiative, International Land Coalition, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and the Indigenous Peoples Major Group were co-organizers of the side event alongside the Government of the Netherlands.

Towards the close of the event, participants identified as priorities the need for: Ongoing dialogue with the private sector – especially champions of land rights so that they can inspire others and contribute to understanding the negative impact insecure Indigenous and community land rights will have on their investments; Awareness raising work so that donors in particular connect the dots between land rights, hunger, conflict and human rights; Holding up as an example the initiatives of national Governments who are taking concrete steps to advance Indigenous and Community Land Rights; and seizing all opportunities to bringing Indigenous and Community Land Rights to global political spaces such as the COP22 and the Committee on Food Security.

But most important was the need to continue working to promote collective approaches to Land Rights.“There are land champions everywhere,” said Byanyima, “Women leaders at the forefront of protecting land and there are champions in the private sector and in governments. When we are all in dialogue together, things work better.”

Photo: From left to right: Mara Marinaki (E.U Delegation), Andy White (Rights and Resources Initiative), Winnie Byanyima (Oxfam International), Minister Lilianne Ploumen (Government of the Netherlands) and Devasish Roy (Indigenous Peoples Major Group)