"The success of efforts to lower carbon emissions from deforestation hinges primarily on whether indigenous peoples will throw their support behind proposed mechanisms," said indigenous leader Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum.
Tauli-Corpuz told the UN Summit on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, this week that indigenous communities are increasingly worried about plans by governments and international financial institutions to control forest degradation.
The indigenous communities, according to her, are particularly concerned about the World Bank's Carbon Partnership Facility, which is likely to provide large-scale incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The tropical and subtropical forest, the subject of the Facility, is home to 160 million indigenous peoples who are seen by many scientists as custodians and managers of forest biodiversity.
"While the Facility can be a good thing, we are very apprehensive on how this will work," Tauli-Corpuz continued, "because of our negative historical and present experiences with similar initiatives."
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes native groups' right to control their lands and resources, including forests, but many governments and corporations continue to abuse the rights of forest communities.
"We remain in a very vulnerable situation," said Tauli Corpuz, "because most states do not recognize our rights to these forests and resources found therein."
Last week, a report released by an international advocacy group raised similar concerns about the role of governments and corporations.
In its report, London-based Survival International named and shamed countries where the violations of tribal peoples' rights are most egregious, including Botswana, Brazil, New Zealand, Malaysia, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States.
The report entitled, "The Terrible Ten: Key Abusers of Tribal Peoples' Rights in 2007" says tribal people in West Papua are facing appalling violence at the hands of Indonesia's army, including killing, torture and rape. The natives' lands are often exploited by the government and foreign companies.
In Botswana, the government continues to prevent Bushmen from returning to their home in the country's diamond-producing area, despite a landmark court ruling that declared their 2002 eviction 'unlawful and unconstitutional.'
According to Survival, cattle ranchers occupying Guarani Indian land in Paraguay are committing armed violence against the natives. This year they killed two Guarani leaders and raped two Guarani women. Fear of rape has led many women to commit suicide.
In Peru, which is home to an estimated 15 of the world's last uncontacted tribes, the government has opened up the indigenous peoples' territories to oil companies and illegal loggers. Paraguay's Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people face a similar situation.
In Malaysia, land has been taken from the Sarawak tribe to make way for logging, dam construction, and oil palm plantations. The government has told the nomadic, hunter-gatherer Penan people that they have no land rights until they 'settle down' and start farming.
Meanwhile at the UN Summit in Bali, many indigenous groups protested against their exclusion from the climate change negotiations. They wore symbolic gags that read UNFCCC, the acronym of the United UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Last week, an indigenous delegation charged that despite having received an invitation, it was forcibly barred from entering the meeting between the UNFCCC executive secretary and civil society representatives.
"There is no seat or name plate for indigenous peoples in the plenary," stated Hubertus Samangun, the representative for English-speaking Indigenous Peoples of the Global Forest Coalition.
"Indigenous peoples are not only marginalized from the discussion, but there is virtually no mention of indigenous peoples in the more that 5 million words of UNFCCC documents," argued Alfred Ilenre of the Edo People of Nigeria.
"This is occurring despite the fact that indigenous peoples are suffering the most from climate change and climate change mitigation projects that directly impact their lands," IIenre added in a statement.
UN Permanent Forum's Tauli-Corpuz demanded the governments and corporations must obtain the "free and prior" consent of indigenous peoples before taking any initiative on forest protections.
"I imagine that donors and the private sector would not like to put their resources in high-risk projects which will not genuinely involve indigenous and other forest-dwellers," she said. "If there is an acceptance of the Facility, indigenous peoples must have a representation in [its] governance."