Advocating Forestland Use Rights in Vietnam: Documenting the work of The Forest Peoples Land Rights Network (LandNet)

TitleAdvocating Forestland Use Rights in Vietnam: Documenting the work of The Forest Peoples Land Rights Network (LandNet)
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2014
Key themesCivilSociety-Donors

This paper documents the opportunities and constraints for the Forest Peoples Land Rights Network (LandNet) in advocating forestland rights, in order to discuss the lessons learned over the previous two decades. Working on the sensitive issue of the struggle over forestland use rights LandNet was able to establish a bottom-up network that includes various stakeholders in this struggle. LandNet is based upon an informal network of motivated forest people established during the work of the three local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who together form the Livelihood Sovereignty Alliance (LISO). LandNet works on issues about forestland use rights at the grassroots of Vietnamese society. Based in six provinces, LandNet is focused on the strengthening of the community by organizing capacity-building activities to make forest people aware of their rights and the duties of government. During these activities as workshops, meetings, and exchange visits LandNet helps to make the community aware of their political, legal, and social capabilities. Creating awareness makes the community confident to ask for, and to protect their rights. Also, by including local authorities as members in its network LandNet has the ability to get directly involved in the decision-making process, and is able to influence this process ensuring that the outcomes will benefit the livelihoods of forest people. Furthermore, LandNet can rely on a large external network of friends and advisors that is used to get advice or information. Lastly, LandNet works as an advisory partner for several national government institutions, and maintains good relationships with journalists. This paper shows two examples of sub-LandNets at the grassroots in Son Kim commune and Hanh Dich commune. Looking at the lessons learned these cases show the importance of a strong community that is aware of the problems in their area, and understands their legal rights and the duties of local authorities. Furthermore, the examples show the importance of a confident community that is willing to speak out during open meetings, and support local authorities representing them in closed meetings. The examples also display the need for LandNet to establish good relationships with local authorities to give them an understanding of the importance of their duties and to ask them to base their decisions upon the law. In conclusion, to strengthen the network, investments by LandNet in human resources will be of great importance. Firstly, as the sheer volume of work increases, they need more people. Secondly, in advocating against the money-driven opponents in the struggle for forestland use rights LandNet needs support in investing in the legal capacity of the network.


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Overall relevance: 

This document outlines the approach to advocacy taken by LandNet, or the Forest Peoples Land Rights Network. This network brings together researchers, NGOs, mass organisations and other to advocate with and on behalf of people living near the forest margin whose land rights are being infringed. There is a strong emphasis on seeking compliance with existing law. There is also a push to strengthen authorities' commitment and capacity at the commune level. By using a case study approach, the document gives examples of how such advocacy has been done in a society and political environment that is still hierarchical and has limited political space

Key Themes: 
  • Dispute resolution and access to justice - LandNet uses a rights-based framework to seek justice for forest peoples, as they are termed, whose land and forest access is threatened by illegal actions and abuse of authority. Reference to law is a significant part of LandNet's work, even though most of the legal recourse does not reach the courts. LandNet rather seeks to serve as a bridge between those affected and authorities to be held accountable to the law
  • Civil society and donor engagement in land issues - LandNet works within a civil society framework, making use of openings that are quite recent in Vietnam. It avoids high profile involvement of media in favour of working within the system and within existing legal provisions. The key member organisations of the Livelihood and Sovereignty Alliance (LISO) that facilitate the network have a background in longer standing civil society action, notably the NGO established in the 1990s, Toward Ethnic Women
  • Land policy and land law - While many advocacy initiatives work at the level of legal reform and the (re)writing of legislation, LandNet emphasises the proper enforcement of existing law within a rights framework. Illegal encroachment on village lands, for example by domestic rubber companies, are resisted through recourse to legal arguments
Research basis: 

The article is not a research article per se, as it is a self-account of LandNet to illustrate the potentials of advocating for forestland use rights in Vietnam. However, the article uses an evidence base in two case studies from northern central Vietnam. One of the cases, in Ha Tinh, is a grassroots push to devolve management of forest land from ineffective State Forest Enterprises to local communities. The other, in Nghe An, involves resistance to encroachment by a rubber company