UN report highlights impact of conservation efforts on world’s indigenous peoples

October 10, 2016

Photo | UN / Jean-Marc Ferré
Photo | UN / Jean-Marc Ferré

“Protected areas have the potential of safeguarding the biodiversity for the benefit of all humanity; however, these have also been associated with human rights violations against indigenous peoples in many parts of the world.” So begins the July 29th report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

The report cites a wealth of research on conservation and indigenous rights, including the Rainforest Foundation UK’s (RFUK) recent and comprehensive study, Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing Both People and Biodiversity?

The UN report describes the “forced displacement” of indigenous peoples resulting from top-down conservation efforts. The report also points out that “50 per cent of protected areas worldwide have been established on lands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous peoples.”

RFUK’s Research and Policy Coordinator, Joe Eisen, recently sat down with the UN Special Rapporteur at the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i to discuss the UN report. Below is an excerpt of that interview.

Joe Eisen (RFUK): So what have you found, what's been the kind of worst case scenario you've seen for indigenous peoples affected by this top down conservation approach?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (UN): Well basically what I found is that there's really not enough effort still being done to respect the rights of indigenous peoples when conservation areas are created and when they are being in operation…  So, in the end, they end up in really very dire situations where they are living in the fringes of the protected areas, they are not even compensated. Because of the displacement, there is no promise that they will ever go back to those territories where they were evicted from.

Joe Eisen: So who's to blame?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: I think of course the ones that are really mainly responsible for implementing and delineating protected areas are states, because that is that is what they do. But the ones that are also facilitating the establishment of this kind of protected areas are conservation organisations. And donors.

Joe Eisen: What is your message to those who fund such initiatives, seemingly at the moment with no reason to feel accountable for any wrong-doing at the ground level?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: In my report, I asked the donors to really ensure that whenever they are giving money that these rights are also being taken care of. They cannot just give money away and then when something goes wrong, or happens, they will disown [it], or they will say they have no responsibility… Of course they will say that these are things that happened in the past, not really much now. I don't think so.

Joe Eisen: What’s your message to the general public?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: Well I think that the general public has to be made aware about the reality… The world should see all the maps where protected areas being managed by government are destroyed, while protected areas [in] management by indigenous peoples are better – the forest is more, the forests are kept in better shape. Even the flora and the fauna in those forests are still there.

Joe Eisen: What role do you see things like participatory approaches like community mapping playing?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: I think that those activities have really helped a lot, in terms of making visible the contribution of indigenous peoples in ecosystem management. But more importantly, the participatory mapping processes, the participatory resource inventories, the monitoring systems, the community-based monitoring systems, these are the kinds of approaches that should be provided to indigenous peoples.

Joe Eisen: What is the role of RFUK and partners and similar kind of solidarity organisations in your view?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: I think that your role is really to help document these kinds of realities that are happening on the ground, bringing it widely for the public to know more about. And helping in the advocacy work to both international organisations, to the UN, or to the governments so that they will change the ways that they are doing in relation to parks and conservation initiatives…

The other role is… to jointly work with indigenous peoples in their bid to strengthen their campaigns to get their rights protected and fulfilled, in their bid to be really protected from being killed. You know, a lot of indigenous activists protecting their lands have been killed in the process.

Joe Eisen: What is your vision for indigenous peoples currently negatively affected by conservation? What does sustainable conservation mean to you?

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz: My vision is that one day they will be able to be brought back to their own traditional territories that their rights to these lands will finally be recognised, that their identities as indigenous peoples will also be recognised. And then they will be working in equal partnerships with states and conservation organisations, in securing those lands as well as protecting them. That's my dream, for those that have [been] displaced.

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