Island Biodiversity

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The expansion of “Protected Areas” in islands and increasing risk of violations of Human Rights [#1021]
Respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and our full and effective participation is very important for indigenous peoples and local communities and what we would like to get out of the PoWIB. Working closely with island indigenous and local communities and respecting their traditional knowledge is a pre-requisite for all targets of the Programme.

However, the designation and federalizing/nationalizing of indigenous and traditional territories ostensibly for environmental and conservation purposes is becoming a global problem in many cases. Indigenous and traditional island communities worldwide are critical stewards of critically endangered biodiversity and the traditional knowledge associated with its sustainable use. In the Pacific and the Caribbean, as well as in the Indian Ocean, indigenous islanders face challenges ranging from isolation to lack of recognition of ancestral land rights and human rights issues. This problem was identified as one of the most significant “Emerging Issues” in the recently published UN report on the State of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples. The Report notes: “The expansion of protected areas has grown phenomenally. In 1962 there were 1,000 official protected areas worldwide; in 2003, there were 102,102 protected areas in the world, covering 12 per cent (or 18.8 million square kilometers) of the Earth’s surface, an area larger than the continent of Africa and equal to half of the world’s cultivated land.” (p. 227). Many of those newly protected areas infringe on indigenous land use, without appropriate consultation and involvement. It is also noteworthy that the steepest increase in protected areas proposed by the CBD as an official target is for marine ecosystems (for which the Aichi target is 10% surface cover by 2020, from less that 1% today) – surely indigenous and traditional islanders will have to be a central part of any success in achieving this target.

Numerous authors have documented the negative impact of the establishment of nature protected areas on the human rights of indigenous peoples. Several of the negative examples are protected areas that have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage sites.
What is more in several cases the World Heritage designation itself has facilitated the loss of indigenous peoples’ control over their territories and resources, and consequently over their economic, cultural and social development. Some of the World Heritage sites where indigenous land owners have no role in management or are routinely marginalized in decision-making processes relating to their lands are the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, or the Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries in Thailand – in other cases such as Coron Island Park in Palawan, the Philippines, delays and resistance from government had to be overcome for ancestral land domain to be recognized, and park management is still to be effectively shared with the indigenous Tagbanua ( There are even cases where indigenous peoples have been “physically removed from protected areas as a way of justifying inscription of an area on the World Heritage list as a place of natural importance devoid of what is perceived as the negative impact of local inhabitants,” as Sarah Titchen has observed! An example where indigenous peoples have been removed from their lands to accommodate the World Heritage process is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda (Dowie, 2009, p. 67). In the case of the Thunguyai-Huai Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, the World Heritage nomination document itself announced that the remaining Karen villages inside the sanctuary were “now being moved”!

Protected Areas are not just being established on land, but in the seas and Oceans as well. Our lands and resources have material, cultural and spiritual dimensions for our peoples, that we are inextricably tied to, and our survival and economic sustainability are dependant upon maintaining our rights to use, occupy and develop our land and Ocean based resources.  We claim that these rights are vested in our peoples collectively by reason of our traditional ownership and traditional occupation of these territories as well as through Western trust law. We have a right to strengthen and maintain our distinct spiritual relationship with our lands and resources, including waters and coastal seas, and to uphold our responsibilities to future generations in this regard (Articles 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 UNDRIP).

The United Nations Development Group’s (UNDG) Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues specifically state in this regard: “The spiritual relationship of indigenous peoples to their lands and territories and environmentally sustainable practices have been recognized and conservation efforts on indigenous lands, including the establishment of new and management of existing protected areas, have to take place with the free, prior and informed consent and full participation of the communities concerned”.
(edited on 2012-01-05 18:00 UTC by Mr. Oliver Hillel, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity)
posted on 2011-12-09 08:49 UTC by Malia Nobrega-Olivera, Waikiki Hawaiian Civic Club/ International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity