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Participation in Forest Sector Governance

Since the Making the Forest Sector Transparent programme started in 2009, there has been an encouraging trend towards greater participation by civil society and communities in the development of new forest-related norms across the countries. This has successfully challenged some top-down approaches to forest sector governance, notably in the negotiation of VPAs in the African countries and the development of a new forest law in Peru. Less encouragingly, the consultation processes on REDD+ preparations and strategies have tended to run in parallel with little shared coordination and learning.

Legally recognised procedures for consultation are important to ensure that there is a consistent and accessible framework for involving stakeholders in the development of new norms. The most significant advance in 2011 was in Peru, where the Law on the Right of Prior Consultation of Indigenous or Native Peoples establishes a legal mandate requiring consultation on new norms. There is optimism that the lessons learnt from consultation carried out to develop these laws can guide future practice, for example by allowing sufficient time and support to ensure that all stakeholders, in particular rural communities and indigenous peoples, understand how they can engage effectively.

The advances in participation have generally been consolidated in 2011, for example the National Forest Forum in Cameroon adopted statutes and other measures to define its role. There are unresolved issues at the regional and local levels in particular over how participation can become a consistent formal part of decision-making with clear practices in terms of representation, timeliness and influence, rather than a set of uncoordinated and irregular consultation events that limit the ability of civil society to participate in decision-making. A common problem is the lack of integration between different forums, for example between ones instigated by civil society and others by the state, and the lack of information to judge representation. More positively, Community Forest Development Committees in Liberia continued to develop greater recognition and coordination in 2011. These also have a clear role in supervising the use of the community revenue share, which provides an additional incentive for them to perform and be accountable.

The fundamental right of communities to free prior informed consent (FPIC) over activities that affect them is widely promoted by international conventions and initiatives, but translation of this principle firstly into national laws and regulations and then into actual practices has been difficult due to the challenge it presents to state control. Although some countries recognise the principle of consent in parts of their legal frameworks and/or forest regulations, in practice there are often limited opportunities to exercise these rights. It is also debatable how far consent is actually enshrined in new laws such as the one passed in Peru, as the text refers to free prior informed consultation leading to an agreement or consent. Until the law is tested by real-life cases it remains to be seen what impact it has on decision-making.

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