Advocacy tools for Indigenous rights in protected areas

A suite of IUCN principles, guidelines and tools has fostered national-level recognition of Indigenous and Traditional peoples’ rights concerning protected areas.

A woman in Himba county, Liberia Photo: Shutterstock / Mitrofanov Alexander

Indigenous and Traditional Peoples have often been unfairly affected by conservation policies and practices which have failed to fully understand their rights and roles in the management, use and conservation of biodiversity.

In line with numerous international instruments, including Agenda 21; International Labour Organization Convention 169; Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity; and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), several IUCN World Conservation Congress resolutions emphasise Indigenous Peoples' rights to lands, territories, and natural resources on which they depend. These resolutions stress the need to increase Indigenous Peoples’ participation in all conservation initiatives and policy developments that affect them. Furthermore, they recognise that Indigenous Peoples possess a unique body of knowledge on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

At the 1996 IUCN Congress, a resolution was adopted that established key principles on the recognition of Indigenous Rights in relation to protected areas. Following this, IUCN and WWF developed a set of principles, guidelines, and case studies on Indigenous and traditional peoples and protected areas that were endorsed by IUCN's Council in 1999 at the request of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

These principles and guidelines have had a substantial impact on national-level recognition of indigenous rights in relation to protected areas. Several intergovernmental bodies and international agreements, as well as international conservation organisations, have adopted and promoted policies that support the recognition of the rights and interests of Indigenous Peoples in nature conservation and environmental protection. Other IUCN policies and tools produced since the late 1990s further promote the recognition and respect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in conservation.

In many countries, the process of establishing protected areas on or around Indigenous Peoples’ lands, territories and resources has changed significantly over the last 20 years. For example, in Australia, as of January 2016, there were 72 dedicated Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), covering 65,045,341 hectares, representing 44.4% of the National Reserve System. IPAs are areas of Indigenous-owned land or sea where traditional owners have entered into an agreement with the Australian Government to promote biodiversity and cultural resource conservation. This model works on the basis of recognising Aboriginal rights to their lands and resources.

Ramiro Batzin, a Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala, heads the Centre for Maya Research and Development (SOTZ’IL), an IUCN Member. In Guatemala, the establishment of protected areas, particularly in the north of the country, has affected indigenous lands and deprived many communities of their traditional livelihood sources. For several years Batzin has been leading a process towards recognition of indigenous land and resource rights affected by protected areas, while promoting conservation from an indigenous perspective. IUCN resolutions have been important for Batzin’s advocacy work which has created new opportunities for constructive alliances between Indigenous Peoples and conservation interests in Guatemala.

At the 2008 IUCN Congress there were a significant number of resolutions and recommendations relevant to Indigenous Peoples. One in particular endorsed the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and committed to implementing the declaration in conservation work.

IUCN plays an active role in helping a growing number of initiatives to meet the UNDRIP principles. For example, it has released a new version of its global standard for the Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas that is being implemented in more than 20 countries and which contains UNDRIP-compliant principles and criteria.

The rights of Indigenous Peoples have been recognised in the World Heritage Convention through changes to its operational guidelines and policies approved by the Convention’s governing bodies. These changes conform to UNDRIP provisions and the outcome documents of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

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