Presentation to the ICCA Consortium General Assembly 2017

By | 26 November, 2017


Presentation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the ICCA Consortium General Assembly 2017

Thank you for inviting me to speak in your General Assembly. I have to apologize, however, because I cannot be present with you today because ì am doing my country mission to Mexico.

You asked me to speak about my mandate as the Special Rapporteur. I was appointed to this post by the Human Rights Council in June 2014 and I ended my first term in June 2017. However, my term was extended to another 3 years so this will end in 2020. In terms of the mandate defined by the Human Rights Council these are the following;

• Examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and to identify, exchange and promote best practices
• Reports on the overall human rights situations in selected countries
• Conducts or contributes to thematic studies on topics of special importance
• Provides technical assistance to governments and other actors to promote good practices
• Promote the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal peoples
• Pay special attention to human rights of indigenous women and children
• To develop regular cooperative dialogues with relevant actors including governments, relevant UN Bodies, NHRIs, regional and sub-regional international institutions, IPs

The thematic report which I did in 2016 was on Conservation and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. You can find this in my website, and this is Document A/71/229 dated 29n July 2016.

I would like to highlight some of my main observations, conclusions and recommendations.

Main observations

14. The expanse of protected areas nearly doubled over a period two decades, from 8.7 million square kilometres in 1980 to 16.1 million square kilometres in 2000.2 There is significant spatial overlap between the traditional lands of indigenous peoples and areas which retain the highest levels of high-biodiversity. Traditional indigenous territories encompass around 22 per cent of the world’s land surface and they coincide with areas that hold 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity.3 It has been estimated that 50 per cent of protected areas worldwide has been established on lands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous peoples and that this proportion is highest in the Americas, where it may exceed 90 per cent in Central America. Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, as well as Canada and the United States of America, all have a high percentage of protected areas on indigenous traditional territory. Overlap is also significant in Australia and New Zealand. Most of the protected areas in India, Nepal and the Philippines include the territories of indigenous peoples. Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania are among the African countries in which large parts of the protected areas are located on indigenous peoples ‘ ancestral domains.4
16. Conservation efforts traditionally were state-centric and based on expropriation of lands subsequently placed under government control. Indigenous peoples were displaced, denied self-governance, deprived of access to natural resources for their livelihood and their traditional and spiritual links to ancestral land were disrupted. Marginalized and impoverished indigenous peoples have continued to struggle for access to their territories and tenure rights, resulting in enduring friction and conflict.
17. From the conservation perspective, the loss of the guardianship of indigenous peoples and the placing of their lands under the control of government authorities who have often lacked the capacity and political will to protect the land effectively, has left such areas exposed to destructive settlement, extractive industries, illegal logging, agribusiness expansion and large-scale infrastructure development. Even where national policies and laws require strict protection for protected areas, in many countries State agencies have still authorized mining, oil and gas extraction, logging, dams and reservoirs, highways and other projects in direct conflict with conservation goals.9
18. Mobilization of indigenous peoples’ movements has led to advances in international law recognizing their collective right to their traditional lands and growing awareness among conservationists of the important role indigenous peoples play in conserving biodiversity are factors which have led to relatively recent, yet significant, shifts towards greater recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights in the context of conservation. Leading conservation organizations have adopted commitments and policies seeking to adopt a “new paradigm” of undertaking conservation, while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples. However, significant gaps remain between these policies and their effective implementation on the ground.
19. Furthermore, among the principal challenges that indigenous peoples continue to face globally are difficulties in gaining legal recognition of collective ownership over their ancestral lands, especially when these have already been declared protected territories. National legislation is often contradictory. Laws pertaining to conservation and forestry are commonly not harmonized with subsequent national legislation and international law asserting the rights of indigenous peoples and the authorities responsible for enforcement of the different laws frequently fail to coordinate.

I also mentioned the decisions reached by the IUCN during the Durban Parks Conference in 2003. Some of the points which you agreed upon in this conference are the following;
• All existing and future protected areas shall be managed and established in full compliance with the rights of indigenous peoples, mobile peoples and local communities
• Protected areas shall have representatives chosen by indigenous peoples and local communities in their management proportionate to their rights and interests
• Participatory mechanisms for the restitution of indigenous peoples’ traditional lands and territories that were incorporated in protected areas without their free and informed consent shall be established and implemented by 2010.

These recommendations in terms of how you will shift the paradigm of conservation towards a human rights based approach are commendable. It is my hope that the ICCAs adhere to these and effectively implement these in the work that you do.
Before I move to the next section of my presentation, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a statement in my report which has been misused by the WWF in their defense of the criticisms against them in their work in Cameroon. As you maybe aware there was an effort by Survival International to document the actions done by the WWF in Cameroon which include the fascist treatment of the eco-guards against the Baka people. In their defense they used what ì stated in my report to say they have demonstrated good practice in Cameroon. This is the sentence which they used in my report.

Para. 48. WWF Cameroon is advocating with the Government for formalized national free, prior and informed consent requirements and guidelines.

I think it is not correct for them to use this sentence as an evidence to allegations against them of being complicit in the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights in Cameroon. I only referred to their efforts to advocate for FPIC which I commend. I am not saying that all their work on conservation is exemplary. I am aware of these alleged violations as I also received reports on these. I am mentioning this now, even if it is not directly related to ICCAs because I think it is not acceptable that WWF used my report for such a purpose. I would advise WWF to seriously look into the allegations and act upon them, instead of being defensive.

Some Conclusions

Some of the Conclusions which I highlighted in this report are the following;

68. Insecure collective land tenure continues to undermine the ability of indigenous peoples to effectively protect their traditional lands, territories and natural resources. Conservation organizations should make much more use of their leverage vis-a-vis States to advocate for the legal recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights at the national level.
69. Full recognition of indigenous land rights and participation are key enabling conditions for conservation to be sustained. The Durban Action Plan which states that all existing and future protected areas shall be managed and established in full compliance with the rights of indigenous peoples and the Sydney Vision which promised that there should be redress and remedy for past and continuing injustices in accord with international agreements are powerful commitments of the conservation community. The Special Rapporteur believes that the effective implementation of these commitments can operationalize the human rights-based conservation paradigm.

Recommendations to Conservation Organizations

77. Respect and support the rights of indigenous peoples as recognized in international human rights law and enhance their ability to engage in conservation by advocating for recognition of their collective rights.
78. Shift the new paradigm from paper to practice; adopt human rights-based policies, including on the rights of indigenous peoples, and ensure effective dissemination of these and trainings for conservation staff, especially for those involved in implementation at the national and local level.
79. As part of due diligence, improve monitoring and include compliance with indigenous peoples’ rights in regular project assessments. Ensure that information obtained through monitoring and reporting is transparent and accessible.
80. Develop mechanisms for solid partnerships for regular and continuous engagement with indigenous peoples, including ensuring their full and effective participation in designing, implementing and monitoring conservation initiatives.
81. Support indigenous peoples to develop and sustain their own conservation initiatives and exchange conservation management experiences with them. This will allow learning from indigenous traditional conservation measures and transfer of technical skills to engage indigenous peoples in protected areas management.
82. Ensure that culturally appropriate complaints mechanisms are available for indigenous peoples to voice their concerns over conservation initiatives and support initiatives for indigenous peoples’ right to remedy in cases when conservation activities have negatively impacted their rights.

I congratulate you again for this General Assembly and I look forward to enhancing further my relationship with all of you at the national and global levels.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


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