ILC Asia Regional Assembly calls for Land Rights Now!

The International Land Coalition’s Asia Regional Assembly marks the beginning of a new phase of action plan for just, equitable and inclusive land rights 

On October 6th 2015, more than 80 representatives from organizations across the globe, including all 45 International Land Coalition (ILC) Asia members from 11 countries in Asia, gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with one objective; to develop a regional workplan that will guide ILC Asia in implementing the first phase of its newly approved 6-year strategy. Civil Society Organisations (CSO), Non-government Organisations (NGO), and International Non-government Organisations (INGO) came together with the common goal of promoting secure and equitable access to land for rural people by putting them at the centre of land governance. The 3-day ILC Asia Regional Assembly and Knowledge Exchange proved to be a fruitful opportunity to further networks within the region, to catalyse new collaborations and share updates on the situation of land rights, not only in Asia, but also all over the world.

Guided by ILC’s three strategic objectives of Connect, Mobilise and Influence, and framed around 10 People Centred- Land Governance (PCLG) commitments core, participants were able to leave Chiang Mai having made strides towards a collaborative, practical and bold workplan for 2016-2018.

The event was kicked off by a blessing ceremony, by elders from the Hmong indigenous group of Northern Thailand, who invited the traditional spirits to support the proceeding events. ILC Director, Mr Mike Taylor, and Ms Joan Carling, Secretary General of the local event host, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, took the opportunity to welcome the participants, to communicate expectations and to share the developments of their respective organisations, specifically in relation to land rights and governance.

For Mr Taylor it was an opportunity to meet many of the Asia membership base for the first time since taking on the role of ILC director in 2014. He introduced the newly adopted strategy and marked the commencement of the Regional Assembly and Knowledge Exchange which will go on to shape the global workplan. According to Mr Taylor, “These issues (land issues) we are working on are so entrenched, we need to work towards a long term horizon. That is why we are moving from a one-year planning process to a three-year planning process. Secondly, we are emphasizing collaboration. ILC will no long be supporting any organisation working by itself. Collaboration will be key to the diversity across our network.”

The succeeding sessions was an interactive mapping of members’ work in their various countries, including existing strategies and priorities in Asia on land, and presentations by organisations in the region, including Oxfam, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), PROCASUR and Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG). It was not long before the ILC Asia Regional Assembly and Knowledge Exchange had adopted it’s first formal resolution; to endorse the Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights. In doing so, ILC Asia collectively and unanimously support the campaign to ensure that land rights and land security are realised for the millions of indigenous peoples across the globe. The resolution also generated the groups mantra over the next few days; ‘Land Rights Now! Land Rights Now!’ as all participants joined in solidarity for the struggle of indigenous peoples over their right to land as a part of the overarching vision of a ‘just, equitable, and inclusive world in which land rights are secure and poverty is eradicated’. This was to be the first of many agreements, recommendations and ways forward as determined by the Asia delegates.

Members and participants reiterated their interest in engaging further with existing frameworks, including the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) and the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), issues around food sovereignty, and the monitoring of potential threats to the coalition’s mission such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the extractive industries. The undisputed theme of grounding the new ILC strategy at the local level and the facilitation of people-centred activities, with a persistent focus on gender equity, was reflected in the final strategizing and planning session and will, in turn, be articulated in the final regional workplan.

After two-days and much planning, collaboration and exchange, there was a vibrant solidarity event, characterised by the diversity of ILC Asia members, partners and friends. The festivity was not only a means to acknowledge the contribution of all participants, but a way to share in each other’s culture.

Finally, on the third day, the participants were able to give their planning-brains a rest, as they had the opportunity to travel into the emerald-green mountains surrounding Chiang Mai, and spend the day with local indigenous communities who have extensive good practices to share on natural resource management, as well as success in securing the collective land rights of their communities. Here, the Regional Assembly was able to share their own experiences, enjoy locally prepared food, and learn from the communities at the centre of their work. The field visit marked the closure of the ILC Asia Regional Assembly and Knowledge Exchange. The regional workplan 2016-2018 shall be validated by members before its adoption during the Coalition Council Meeting in December 2015.