New U.S. legislative bill could pave the way for greater protection of human rights in international biodiversity conservation

March 11, 2022

In a significant development, the chair and ranking minority member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources has introduced a bill that aims to ensure that U.S. international biodiversity funding is not used to contribute to human rights abuses in and around protected areas.

This comes off the back of a U.S. Congressional hearing into allegations that park rangers at multiple WWF-supported parks in Africa and Asia had committed severe human rights abuses - including murder, rape, and torture - against indigenous peoples and local community members. The hearing drew largely on the investigations of RFUK and our local partner APEM around the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo that found widespread abuses have  been committed with impunity for years.

The bipartisan bill, entitled "Advancing Human Rights-Centered International Conservation Act of 2022", seeks to clarify and strengthen standards for U.S. conservation funding through the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in conjunction with its partners at the U.S. State Department, and could serve as a potential model for other governments and international funders.

Among other measures, the legislation aims to enhance vetting of international conservation projects to protect human rights, strengthen standards for the treatment of indigenous people and local communities and improve oversight and transparency of international biodiversity conservation programmes.

Chair of the Natural Resources Committee Raúl M.Grijalva said,

“With this bill, we are sending a signal to the world that the United States demands the highest standards of respect for every human life; we will not tolerate human rights abuses in the name of conservation,” . “Indigenous Peoples have rights to their ancestral homelands that deserve respect and reverence. International conservation efforts should be lifting up their unique connections to and knowledge of these lands, not threatening, silencing, or even killing them.”

Responding to this development, Joe Eisen, RFUK executive director, said 

“While this bill is not perfect, we welcome the efforts of the committee to address the devastating human rights impacts of ‘fortress conservation’. Much more is now needed to support its countless victims, for the U.S. and other governments to adopt, strengthen and enforce such measures and ultimately to establish a conservation model that empowers local communities to secure, manage and protect their lands.”

Here is a link to the full press release and bill that is due to have another hearing later this month.

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