Rights not ‘fortress conservation’ key, says UN expert

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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has released a report highly critical of the global conservation movement and calling for indigenous peoples and other local communities to have a greater say in protecting the world’s forests. Titled Cornered by Protected Areas and co-authored with the US-based NGO Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the report is an explicit condemnation of “fortress conservation.”

What exactly is meant by that? It is “the idea that to protect forests and biodiversity, ecosystems need to function in isolation, devoid of people,” the Rapporteur told the Guardian. “This model – favoured by governments for over a century – ignores the growing body of evidence that forests thrive when Indigenous Peoples remain on their customary lands and have legally recognised rights to manage and protect them.”

The report effectively consists of an open letter by the Rapporteur, a brief by her and two former RRI employees, and five case-studies on India, Indonesia, Panama, Peru and the Republic of the Congo written by other researchers. It was made public during the recent Oslo Tropical Forest Forum. Here are some of the most fascinating take-aways:

Vast areas

The global network of “protected areas” such as national parks expanded by 80% between 1970 and 1985 – the majority in so-called “developing” countries – and today they cover 15% of global land surface excluding Antarctica. Expanding the network is integral to meeting the aims of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Such areas are seen as a fundamental way of combatting anthropomorphic climate change and protecting the world’s forests, biodiversity and ecosystems.

Devastating impacts

Huge areas of indigenous peoples’ and other local communities’ land have been overlapped by “protected areas”, according to the Rapporteur, and the impacts are alleged to have been devastating. They include an estimated 250,000 people forcibly evicted from their homes and land between 1990 and 2014 according to one study, houses burnt down, access to land and important sites denied, extrajudicial killings, social conflict, access to justice obstructed, and food sovereignty eroded by bans on subsistence hunting and the “vilification” and “criminalisation” of “slash-and-burn” agriculture. “Protected areas” have caused – and continue to cause – “chronic patterns of abuse” and “large-scale human rights violations.”

Lots of words, little action

Despite commitments by “the world’s most influential conservation organisations” to respect indigenous peoples and other local communities’ rights, it is argued that “little has changed” in practice over the last 14 years. Which conservation organisations exactly? The Rapporteur doesn’t say, but she footnotes a 2014 report summarising commitments made by Birdlife, Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Local peoples’ contributions

Indigenous peoples and other local communities are described as “effective biodiversity and conservation managers”, and the “primary custodians of most of the world’s remaining tropical forests and biodiversity hotspots.” Tree cover loss is reported to be less than half on land that is indigenous- and/or community-run when compared to elsewhere, and when rights to own their land are legally recognised “the difference is even greater.”

What to do – now and urgently

All the case-studies make country-specific recommendations, but the Rapporteur’s brief issues a rallying-cry to “take down the wall of fortress conservation” and calls for a “new approach” to conservation in general. It lists four things that urgently need doing now: 1) create a global “monitoring and grievance mechanism; 2) establish national “accountability and reparation mechanisms”; 3) ensure the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is fully integrated into all future conservation and climate change mitigation measures; and 4) spend more conservation finance on “community-run conservation initiatives” based around an “emerging suite of approaches such as co-management, indigenous-managed protected areas, and indigenous territorial governance.”

Read the full article Rights not ‘fortress conservation’ key to save planet, says UN expert at The Guardian.

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