The EU requires VPA negotiations to involve all affected stakeholders. This is tricky anywhere, but even more so in Honduras, where the political crisis of 2009 left the country with antagonised groups, and where violence against human rights and environmental activists is common.
Yet Honduras has taken participation to heart, building trust among groups that had long been separated by deep ideological divides. It is the only one of 15 VPA countries that has granted indigenous peoples a permanent seat at the negotiating table. As a result, all stakeholders agree that the VPA has been critical in opening a space for dialogue, thereby setting a key precedent for other processes to embrace participation.
‘The best example is that of indigenous peoples,’ says José Filadelfo Martínez of the civil society organisation Democracy without Borders Foundation (Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras, FDsF). “They were all in a very poor organisational state, dispersed, with no dialogue with the government or even with their own bases.”
“We had to sit down and talk,” says Edgardo Benítez of CONPAH, one of the main indigenous peoples’ groups involved in the VPA process. “We had to tell each other what we felt, and listen to what others had to say… what we agreed on, what we disagreed on. The VPA process created an important space, because the coup d’état had left us looking at each other with suspicion. Dialogue with other stakeholder groups has also been important.”
Indigenous peoples in Honduras made a conscious choice to engage in the VPA process and use it to put issues that are key to them on the agenda. Benítez points, for example, to problems that arose when the national forest authority, the Forest Conservation Institute (Instituto de Conservación Forestal, ICF), decided to issue timber harvesting rights to indigenous communities.
“The ICF granted harvesting rights to some individuals, but not the whole community,” he says. “We, as the Tawahka people, are opposed to this. We want to use the VPA to overcome this challenge and assess how to make forests a common resource and not one that only belongs to a handful of individuals.”
Ongoing discussions around a law on free, prior and informed consent precede the VPA yet illustrate how historical demands of the Tawahka and other indigenous groups in Honduras are finally resonating in Honduras.