Indigenous People Call for End to Conservation Policies that Threaten their Culture, Safety, and Future Existence
Sign-On Letter Released on Eve of UN Biodiversity Conference Urges Decision-Makers to Protect Indigenous People, Not Just Their Ancestral Lands
Today, on the eve of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15), a letter was sent by Indigenous People from around the world and allied organizations calling on Convention leaders to end the violence and displacement inflicted on Indigenous People when their ancestral territories are declared “protected areas”.
The letter was prompted by the pending 30 x 30 target, which aims to turn 30% of the world’s surface into protected areas by 2030. While creating protected areas is a popular measure in mitigating climate change, thus far, it has resulted in land dispossession, cultural loss, and egregious human rights violations for Indigenous People.
“While we welcome the pursuit of solutions to mitigate climate change and reduce the loss of wildlife and biodiversity, the 30x30 proposed target as currently drafted will likely lead to permanent displacement and threaten the existence of Indigenous Peoples worldwide,” reads the letter, signed by Indigenous Peoples from the United States, Africa, Latin America, and South East Asia. Please read the full letter and list of signatories here.
“It is undisputed that Indigenous-led conservation solutions have and will continue to deliver better results than approaches that disregard our land and collective rights,” continues the letter. “Rhetoric is not enough. Conservation must center on and include Indigenous Peoples in order to succeed…The 30 x 30 policy threatens our cultural and spiritual traditions as stewards of Earth’s biodiversity since the beginning of time. ”
Specifically, signatories are demanding that if the 30 x 30 target moves forward, Indigenous Peoples must:
Maintain or secure ownership of their land, territory, and natural resources;
Be fully included as rights holders and peer stakeholders with equal decision-making authority; and
Not experience any violence as part of the enforcement of conservation policies.
Today’s letter was coordinated by Project Expedite Justice (PEJ) in collaboration with its Indigenous partners and other allied organizations. It follows a PEJ report released in June documenting systematic human rights abuses against Indigenous Peoples across protected areas worldwide. The nearly-identical trends found across 10 protected areas included: forced displacements, losses of ancestral lands, beatings, sexual violence, looting, extrajudicial killings, and torching of property, often perpetrated by empowered, overzealous, and militarized law enforcement personnel and park rangers. This model of implementing protected areas is known as “fortress conservation.”
The letter specifically addresses Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, whose home county of Tanzania has been the site of controversy around the Maasai people who have been forcefully evicted from their ancestral homes under the guise of conservation. In the Ngorongoro District, an eviction has endangered the lives and livelihoods of 150,000 Maasai, using tear gas and live ammunition as enforcement. This is one of many examples where Indigenous Peoples are excluded from decision-making when creating protected areas.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay, wrote to the UN General Assembly in his latest annual report: “[f]or centuries, Indigenous peoples’ scientific knowledge, land tenure systems and sustainable management of resources have preserved and conserved the planet. Respect for Indigenous peoples’ collective rights is, therefore, a fundamental step towards the sustainable and effective achievement of conservation goals…Simply enlarging the global protected area surface without ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples dependent on those areas is not the solution.”
The letter concludes: “If Indigenous Peoples do not maintain or secure ownership of our land nor have equal authority in the decision-making process, the UN’s 30x30 policy may be the biggest land grab in history and further threaten the physical and cultural survival of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.”