“Make human rights the priority in all conservation efforts”

"Effective and sustainable conservation requires respect for human rights, today said two United Nations experts on environment and indigenous peoples rights, ahead of the largest global forum for the adoption of conservation policies on protected areas: the World Conservation Congress (WCC), which will take place from 1 to 10 September in Honolulu, USA.

“The escalating incidence of killings of environmentalists, among them many indigenous leaders, underlines the urgency that conservationists and indigenous peoples join forces to protect land and biodiversity from external threats, notably lucrative resource exploitation,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox, and on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

The WCC, organised every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), brings together heads of States, high-level government officials, CEOs and business leaders, representatives from indigenous groups and leading civil society organisations along with scientists and academics.

“Protection of biodiversity is a human rights issue as a healthy ecosystem is important for the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights,” Mr. Knox emphasised. The expert, who will be attending the World Congress, has recently launched a project on biodiversity and human rights, which will culminate in a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.

“‘The loss of biological diversity has negative impacts on a wide range of human rights including the rights to life, food, housing, health, water and sanitation and culture,” he said. “At the same time, the exercise of human rights, including rights to information, participation, and remedy, can provide useful tools for the effective protection of biodiversity.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that “for conservation measures to be effective, it is critical that those who are most directly affected are involved in their development and implementation.”

At the WCC, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz will present her just released 2016 report to the UN General Assembly, in which she explores how conservation affects indigenous people and recommends measures to increase respect for indigenous peoples’ rights.

“The conservation community, through IUCN resolutions, has taken important steps by recognising the rights of indigenous peoples, however practical implementation and advancement of these rights remains sorely lacking,” the expert stated.

“I urge conservation organisations and government agencies to move beyond commitments on paper and ensure that indigenous peoples are actively involved in the management of protected areas and that all conservation measures include continuous monitoring of compliance with indigenous peoples’ rights,” she said.

Ms. Tauli-Copuz highlighted that there is increasing recognition that indigenous peoples’ traditional lands contain the most intact ecosystems and thus provide the most sustainable form of conservation. “However,” she cautioned, “deficient national legal recognition of indigenous peoples’ land rights remains a main obstacle to enhancing their participation in conservation efforts.”

Both experts will speak at an event entitled ‘Leave No One Behind: Conservation, Rights and Sustainable Development’, to take place at 14:30 on 4 September in the Hawai’i Convention Center, and participate in a number of different sessions during the IUCN WCC with an aim to advocate for a human rights-based approach to conservation and biodiversity.

“The WCC provides a key moment for the global conservation community to critically review its compliance with the 2003 Durban commitments to implement a rights-based approach to conservation,” the UN Special Rapporteurs added.