Courtesy Amazon Watch/Spectral Q
Hundreds of Indigenous Peoples and their allies used their bodies to create a human banner on Agua Dulce beach in Lima, Peru parallel to the UN COP20 climate summit to demonstrate the importance of guaranteeing territorial rights in addressing climate change.

People + Rights = Living Forests, Indigenous Activists at the Climate Change Summit

Rick Kearns

Indigenous activists and allies sent a message to the world and the participants in the UN COP20 climate change summit in Lima, Peru last week, forming a ‘human banner’ stating (in Spanish)  ‘Peoples + Rights =’ on top of a giant tree and on the bottom the words ‘Living Forests’.

Hundreds of activists from the Shipibo, Asháninka, Achuar, Awajún, Munduruku, Guajajara, Kichwa and Kampupiyawi communities gathered to create a banner on Agua Dulce Beach near the summit to emphasize how territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples must be guaranteed to effectively address the effects of climate change.

"Where the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples are respected, greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation are reduced. We demand territorial recognition of [49,421,076 acres] in the Peruvian Amazon to ensure legal security for our people. This territory should be for the community," said Achuar leader Henderson Rengifo, member of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by it’s Spanish acronym AIDESEP).

According to the advocacy organization Amazon Watch, Rengifo’s comments mirrored recent studies that show lower deforestation rates in rainforest areas under the effective management of indigenous and other local communities.

"If we want to defend our global climate, we must defend the Amazon. If we want to defend the Amazon, we must support indigenous rights and territories," said Leila Salazar-López, Program Director of Amazon Watch.

The human banner event was arranged in connection with the COP20 Indigenous Pavilion, which featured panels and presentations from Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere and throughout the world. Several of the panels addressed indigenous issues in Mesoamerica, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and other parts of Latin America; panel topics included the effects of climate change, mining and extractive industries on indigenous communities.

The human banner was sponsored by AIDESEP and the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (known by it's Spanish acronym COICA) with support from international organizations including Amazon Watch and Greenpeace and from aerial artist John Quigley of Spectral Q.

The banner creators were among the thousands of Indigenous Peoples participating in protests around the summit as well as groups that held gatherings nearby such as the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network.

Indigenous leaders who spoke at the COP20 Summit included President Evo Morales of Bolivia who also emphasized the need to respect the knowledge of indigenous people.

"I want to ask the rulers of the world to listen to indigenous people and follow their wisdom," Morales stated.

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