Vietnamese Forestry law should ensure the rights of ethnic minority people over their forest resources

  • The rights of ethnic minority people (EM) over their traditional forest resources [1] are the most discussed issues at lobby workshop to make sure the  livelihood of people living in and close to forests, and sustainable development of forests are secured. The workshop is co-organized by Ethnic Minority Council of the National Assembly Office and NGOs (CENDI/CODE/CIRUM) on 26th April 2017 in Hanoi for recommendations to forestry law revision 2004. Participants are LandNet/key farmers, NGOs, Researchers, local experts, National Assembly Members Representatives from different provinces; officials from National Assembly Office and drafting members for forestry law revision, and policy makers of Vietnam Administrative Forestry, MARD and different media (VTV1, People’s New News, National Assembly News, Youth News, People Representatives News, Communist Party New online). The workshop is followed up our progressed lobby results in the fifth draft that has included the most important right - village communities are recognized as forest owners that were absent before.
    (The workshop overall view)
    Participants suggested clarifying concept of ‘religious forest land’, that is forestland areas for ethnic minority peoples to practice their ritual ceremonies in relation to their cultural practices, livelihood, and protection of forests. This clarification is expected to improve a shortcoming of Article 160 of the Land Law 2013, which limits the concept of religious land according to the perspective of Kinh lowland people. Notable recommendations consist of a supplement of religious forestland of ethnic communities into special-use forests category; and an addendum of community watershed forests into the category of protection forests. For the mentioned additional sub-categories, participants suggested regulating land allocation in combination with forest allocation to village communities.
    Mr. Lù Văn Que, member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front illuminated the concept of “traditional forests” that, “Local people   name in their daily life their village-owned forests. There are three types of forests existing in almost ethnic minority groups from different regions: religious forests, watershed forests, and collective forest (communal use forest) for collecting timber and non-timber products. According to our research and review, village-owned forests are very well functioned and protected”.

    (Mr. Lù Văn Que delivering speeches)
    From reality in Hương Sơn district of Hà Tĩnh province, Mr. Nguyễn Khắc Thứ, a former District People Committee Leader (LandNet) criticized conversion from protection forests into production forests for development investments (hydropower, industrial plantations, mining…) that is causing forest destroyed and forestland is being managed by companies. He contemplated the change of forest functions in border areas: “If forests near the borderline is classified as production forest, power people (individual and companies) can have forests allocated, and they will have right to transfer and rent out. If so, how can you assure national security for those sensitive regions”. Following this discourse, Mr. Thứ and other participants suggested forests near border areas should be classified as a type of protection forest, and priority should be given to adjacent communities to own this type of forests.
    Female participants coming from Lâm Đồng province (representing Mơ Nông ethnic group) and from Quảng Bình province (representing Vân Kiều ethnic group) highlighted rights to ethnic minority people, who live close to forest and have been protecting forests well for generations. Mrs. Hồ Thị Con, a Vân Kiều ethnic woman (LandNet) shared that “If law provisions are implemented accurately in reality, Vân Kiều people will have good opportunities to develop. Suppose a mechanism of ‘the entire people’s ownership of forest land, people should have full rights to get access to and control over their forest land resources”. She added, “Protection forests located near community, religious forests and watershed forests should be allocated to local communities in order to improve forest protection activities for better income”.

    (An ethnic woman giving speeches)

    With open mind and wholehearted response, the organizers encouraged and appreciated the contributions and ideas from different participants, especially voices from community representatives and local experts. The drafting members and policy makers are mainly listeners. 70% of contributions (opinions and recommendations) to the workshop are from community’s representatives at local level. Beside the 20 prepared suggestions from voices of local farmers to the draft, there are three new initiated themes at the workshop, which focused on clarification of the term ‘community forest’, rights and obligations of communities. In evaluation, Mr. Nguyễn Bá Ngãi, Deputy director of Vietnam Administration of Forestry stated, “Participants have helped to deepen and strengthen provisions in the draft law. The draft team and the supervising board have been receiving and will welcome idea contributions, so as to improve the draft before passing it to the discussing process at the National Assembly”. Outputs of the workshop are as a very critical important base and inputs for drafting members and policy makers to improve the law revision.
    After the formal closing remark at noon, representatives of ethnic communities from northern, central regions and central highland engaged in a discussion in the afternoon in order to elucidate and improve their recommendations and initiatives as required by Ethnic Minority People Council of National Assembly Office and Drafting Members. According to the workshop organizers’ suggestion, LISO (CENDI/CODE/CIRUM) will review and consolidate the participants’ contributed ideas and initiatives and send the results to the Ethnic Minority Council of the National Assembly, the draft team and the supervising board of the draft team, to contribute to improve the draft before passing it for a discussion at the third Session of the 14th National Assembly, which will commence in May 2017.

    [1] Traditional forests are sacred forest for belief practice, water source forests and communal use forests