Viewpoint - From dams to development justice: Progress with 'free, prior and informed consent' Since the World Commission on Dams

Joji Cariño
Former Commissioner, World Commission on Dams; Policy Advisor, Tebtebba, Baguio City, Philippines; tongtong@gn.apc.org
Marcus Colchester
Director, Forest Peoples Programme, Moreton-in-Marsh, UK; marcus@forestpeoples.org

ABSTRACT: The World Commission on Dams (WCD) helped establish as development best practice the requirement to respect the right of indigenous peoples to give or withhold their 'free, prior and informed consent' (FPIC) to development projects that will affect them. Recognition of this right helps redress the unequal power relations between indigenous peoples and others seeking access to their lands and resources. In this Viewpoint, we examine the evolution of policy in the ten years since the publication of the WCD Report, and how FPIC has been affirmed as a right of indigenous peoples under international human rights law and as industry best practice for extractive industries, logging, forestry plantations, palm oil, protected areas and, most recently, for projects to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. To date, relatively few national legal frameworks explicitly require respect for this right and World Bank standards have yet to be revised in line with these advances in international law. We analyse how international law also needs to clarify how the right to FPIC relates to the State'™s power to impose resource exploitation in the 'national interest' and whether 'local communities' more broadly also enjoy the right to FPIC. In practice, as documented in this Viewpoint and in the cases we review, the right to FPIC is widely abused by corporations and State agencies. A growing tendency to reduce implementation of FPIC to a simplified check list of actions for outsiders to follow, risks again removing control over decisions from indigenous peoples. For FPIC to be effective it must respect indigenous peoples' rights to control their customary lands, represent themselves through their own institutions and make decisions according to procedures and rhythms of their choosing.