UN Special Rapporteur: Conservation policies must fully respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights

By | 16 February, 2015

vtccorteidhVictoria Tauli-Corpuz testifies before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

States must fully recognize and respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights when implementing conservation and biodiversity initiatives, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said in testimony before the Inter-American Court. Addressing the court in Costa Rica in early February, she said that conservation projects have too often involved governments seizing and nationalizing indigenous territories and subjecting the people who managed them to impoverishment, cultural deterioration, and other severe human rights violations.

The court is considering a case brought by the Kaliña and Lokono Peoples against the government of Suriname, which created three nature reserves in their territory without their consent. Despite being party to international treaties requiring respect for indigenous rights, Suriname still does not legally recognize the Kaliña and Lokono’s land rights and has not consulted them about the nature reserves.

The Special Rapporteur determined that the reserves were “non-consensual and fail to recognize and respect indigenous peoples’ rights.” She added that “because they are by law owned by the State, I would classify these reserves as an ongoing and outwardly illegitimate dispossession of indigenous lands that requires redress, not just in relation to property rights but also with regard to the full spectrum of rights.”

Tauli-Corpuz noted that the Convention on Biological Diversity, which Suriname is party to, mandates that state nature reserves meet the same Indigenous Peoples’ rights standards as all other government activities. A decision adopted by the Conference of Parties to the Convention in 2004 states that “the establishment, management and monitoring of protected areas should take place with the full and effective participation of, and full respect for the rights of, indigenous [peoples].” States are also required to provide restitution to Indigenous Peoples whose land has been incorporated into protected areas.

“The UN Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has received many complaints about human rights violations in connection with protected areas, as have the treaty bodies. In many cases, allegations of grave harm have been substantiated,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

She stressed that recognizing protected areas that are owned and managed by Indigenous Peoples is an alternative and highly effective way of protecting biodiversity. According to a 2008 World Bank Study, “traditional indigenous territories encompass up to 22 percent of the world’s land surface and they coincide with areas that hold 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity.” Many Indigenous Peoples have successfully and sustainably managed their forests for generations, the study concluded.

The World Park Congress adopted a new paradigm in 2003 that recognized the connection between Indigenous Peoples’ rights and conservation. Tauli-Corpuz emphasized that international environmental and human rights law are thus interrelated and complementary. Both put the onus firmly on states to justify non-consensual protected areas in indigenous territories. The burden is also on states to show that they have rigorously applied the criteria that would allow them to intervene, as so often such interventions harm both human rights and the environment.

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See video and full expert testimony here


The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in June 2014, tasked with monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights worldwide. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.

Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She played a key role in drafting and negotiating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and pushing for its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007. She was the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2009. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is an indigenous activist and leader who has an expertise on human rights (particularly on indigenous peoples’ rights and women’s rights), development and environment issues, institution building, community organizing and leadership development.

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