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Launch of the “Global Indigenous Agenda” for land rights and conservation at the IUCN Congress

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  • In 2016, members of IUCN, the world conservation authority, voted to change its membership structure to include indigenous peoples’ organizations as a new constituency.
  • The agenda was released following a summit for indigenous participants at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, and calls for greater recognition of the link between nature conservation and indigenous land rights .
  • Other key issues addressed in the agenda include respect for human rights in protected areas, guidelines on access to indigenous lands for bioprospecting and support to land defenders.
  • The IUCN Director General welcomed the agenda, but indigenous representatives say policymakers must now take action to support it.

MARSEILLE, France – Indigenous delegates to this year’s World Conservation Congress launched a “Global Indigenous Agenda”For conservation, calling for approaches to the biodiversity crisis that center the tenure rights of their communities and provide funding for self-determined ecosystem management.

The agenda, released over the weekend, follows a 2016 decision by members of IUCN, the world conservation authority, to create a new category for indigenous peoples’ organizations. It is also the first time that these organizations have officially participated as members in the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which is held once every four years.

“[We] propose what should be the instrument for recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, ”said Ramiro Batzin, IUCN board member and director of Sotz’il, an indigenous organization based in Guatemala.

The agenda presents an ambitious vision for indigenous-led conservation, with a call for “laws and policies that recognize, respect and guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources”. Solutions to biodiversity and climate crises, he said, should include traditional indigenous knowledge and practices, and any attempt to expand protected areas must “not undermine, diminish or violate the human rights of peoples. indigenous”.

“Indigenous territories, without funding, government protection or support, are among the best conserved on the planet, with 80% of the world’s biodiversity,” said José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon Basin (COICA) and a conference delegate, in an interview with Mongabay.

In a press release, the agenda was greeted by Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General, who said: “Our global goals of protecting the earth and conserving biodiversity cannot succeed without leadership. , support and partnership of indigenous peoples ”.

The agenda comes amid calls for respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in any global response to the planet’s growing environmental crisis, and as their advocates on the ground continue to face violent retaliation for defending their rights. lands and their traditional resources. In 2019, which was the deadliest year on record for environmental activists, indigenous peoples accounted for 40% of the death toll while they made up just 5% of the world’s population.

To protect the environment, delegates said, the world must do a better job of empowering indigenous leaders in conservation and protecting them from violence and abuse.

“The contributions made by the systems of use, management and conservation of indigenous peoples must be recognized,” said Batzin.

A group of women in Uganda replanting degraded land near Bugoma Forest in 2019. Thomas Lewton for Mongabay.

If implemented, the program would represent a departure from more traditional forms of modern conservation, which have prioritized state-led approaches, often in the form of protected areas like national parks. In a press conference summarizing the results of an indigenous peoples summit held this weekend at the IUCN congress, Noelani Yamashita of Hawai’i-based Ka Honu Momona referred to the role of “lips and hips ”that indigenous representatives have performed at international events in previous years, where they have been invited to perform traditional dances and then sidelined from substantive policy discussions.

“We live, breathe biocultural indicators of how the world is doing, and if you look at our populations, you don’t see a lot of us here, and that’s because we don’t have the resources in terms capital for our people to be present in forums like this, ”Yamashita said.

The new inclusion of indigenous groups as full members of IUCN is a change from years past, but some advocates say there is still a long way to go before the cultural change is reflected on the agenda. world of conservation. Down the street from the IUCN Congress, an independent event took place under the slogan of “decolonize conservation, With speakers criticizing militarized approaches to biodiversity management and a controversial plan to protect 30% of the planet’s land and seas.

“You cannot include [Indigenous people] in projects if you don’t first recognize that it’s their land and we’re just here to support them if they want to do conservation, ”said Fiore Longo, Research and Advocacy Manager at Survival International , who co-hosted the event.

Melinda Janki, former member of the Steering Committee of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, told Mongabay that promoting legal frameworks that grant indigenous people full control over their lands in accordance with their culture should be a priority for the global conservation movement.

“Land is the basis of the survival, way of life and culture of indigenous peoples, and in the world we live in, land titles are a piece of paper that protects you,” she said. .

In March, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a study showing that deforestation rates were “”significantly lower”In areas where indigenous communities had obtained formal recognition of collective land rights.

For governments seeking to maintain control over resources on or near indigenous lands, ceding control of potentially lucrative territories to indigenous groups is often politically unattractive. In a recent analysis of 31 countries carried out by the Rights and Resources Initiative, only half the field occupied by indigenous and other local communities had been officially recognized.

Indigenous delegates to the IUCN conference say the agenda they developed and released over the weekend is a benchmark for the direction international conservation efforts should take, but for it to be directed. be successful, it will need to be supported by funding and commitment from powerful states and organizations.

“Our proposal is a platform for the full and effective participation of our people and our rights, which must be built in the IUCN space, and then converted into actions, activities and plans with all the dignity our people deserve. territory, ”said Mirabal. .

Banner image: An indigenous protester at a land rights protest in Brazil’s capital, Brasília, August 2021. Image courtesy of Jacy Santos for Luta Pela Vida.


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