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On Protected Areas and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: A submission to the UN Special Rapporteur

21 April 2022

In a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ upcoming report on the impacts of protected areas to the UN General Assembly at its 77th session, RFUK has warned that despite much lip service to the contrary, conventional conservation and climate change programmes continue to wreak havoc on indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities.   

Drawing on three decades of experience working closely with indigenous and forest-dependent communities in the Congo Basin - who suffer the consequences of conservation programmes that largely alienate them, criminalise their traditional way of life and glorify military-style enforcement - the submission makes a case for obligating conservation NGOs to prevent, mitigate and remedy human rights abuses they have caused or contributed to.   

“It is deeply disturbing that up until now, big conservation NGOs have been allowed to operate with far less scrutiny or accountability than we expect from businesses, despite conservation programmes carrying huge and inherent human rights risks which are just as great, if not greater, than those posed by private-sector projects. The need to spell out NGOs’ obligations is all the more pressing in contexts like the Congo Basin, where aid-funded conservation effectively means supporting heavily-armed and poorly-trained paramilitary forces, with virtually no safeguards nor access to justice for vulnerable forest dwellers who are being unfairly targeted.” – Maud Salber, Senior Project Coordinator on Conservation and Human Rights at RFUK 

This upcoming report is a salient opportunity to build on the growing consensus that conservation NGOs, much like businesses, are in fact subject to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. RFUK’s briefing draws on several in-depth field investigations in and around protected areas, including the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as REDD+ programmes, to inform questions around indigenous access to land management and benefits, and barriers to FPIC and other rights within such programmes. The submission also shared our first-hand experiences supporting rights-based community resource management in the region, and the best practices we have encountered.   

The report comes at a pivotal phase in global efforts to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss with a controversial plan to double the globally protected area to 30 percent by 2030, ongoing negotiations on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and a new drive to promote REDD+ and other so-called nature-based solutions in tropical forests. It is essential that we interrogate these extractive approaches to conservation, to avoid creating misguided international policies with even more devastating impacts on indigenous peoples’ and other forest communities.   

Read the submission here 

 

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