Over 30 Delegates from Africa, Asia and Europe Converged in Brussels for the Biannual Meeting of the Community Rights Network from 11-15 April 2016

22 April 2016
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The event provided civil society representatives with a platform to share insights on progress and challenges facing forest management and forest peoples’ rights in their country including opportunities and improvements brought by the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA) in a rapidly changing environment. The Community Rights Network (CRN) has been meeting every other year in Brussels to exchange ideas and experiences, and discuss strategies to improve forest governance in countries negotiating or implementing a VPA and beyond, also providing a space for dialogue between Southern civil society organisations and EU institutions.

This year’s edition offered much valued networking moments in addition to plenary and thematic sessions on the future of the FLEGT Action plan, transparency, independent forest monitoring, effective implementation of the VPAs, and collaboration between Southern and Northern NGOs. The event also sparked interest from the local media, with several journalists interviewing CRN delegates during a tour of a timber import company in Antwerp.

On 14 April, the CRN representatives had an opportunity to meet with officials from the European Commission and the European External Action Service to discuss the lessons learnt from their participation in these trade agreements’ negotiations and implementation. CRN delegates reaffirmed that VPAs are unique trade deals as they give civil society organisations a seat at the table to voice their concerns and defend the rights of forest communities and advocate for stronger and fairer forest legislation.

They have called on the European Commission to continue supporting civil society participation in its innovative trade deals with timber-producing countries. Guy N’Dakouzou from Centre pour l’Information Environnementale et le Développement Durable (CIEDD) in CAR stated that ‘VPAs have had an impact far beyond their remit. Because of the space provided by the agreement, civil society was able to organise and influence groundbreaking provisions on indigenous peoples rights and natural resource governance in CAR’s new constitution’. The solid dialogue of the European Commission confirms the CRN belief that local and international actors should learn from the VPA inclusive approach if they indeed want to cross new frontiers for effective governance.

In the coming weeks the independent evaluation of the VPAs which are part of the FLEGT Action Plan will be published. For the CRN, it is crucial to keep pursuing the objectives of this programme while acknowledging and tackling the challenges that have emerged since its inception. CIDT’s capacity Building Expert, Sarah Thomas, said that “we need to continue to strengthen CSOs capacities to monitor forest activities and forest governance in timber producing countries to ensure that local and indigenous peoples’ rights are protected and that livelihoods are improved”.

The CRN meeting was organized by Fern in collaboration with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) under the CIDT led – Congo Basin VPA Implementation Championing Forest Peoples Rights and Participation Project financed by the European Union and DFID.

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Photos by FERN.