The critical question in these past years has been on the issue of whether dislocating forest (and wetland) dwelling tribes and indigenous people from their territories of life yielded the expected results or not.
By Salam Rajesh
The context setting of different discussions on the protection and conservation of biodiversity rich areas and species encompasses various aspects of human and natural environment aspects that are integral to the set objectives.
The discussions at the global forums while urging the world community to come up with suggestions for biodiversity loss recovery, also urges upon governments to respect fundamental human rights when negotiating on extending the protected area coverage.
This forms the basis for integrating human rights aspects in the ongoing negotiations of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Civil society groups are urging world bodies to integrate human rights-based approach to achieve the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
A recent international level thematic workshop on ‘Human Rights in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’ stressed that “all commitments to address the biodiversity crisis must include discussions on halting industrial drivers of biodiversity loss, including by eliminating perverse investments and incentives that are harmful for biodiversity and that negatively impact human rights”.
A collective of the Forest Peoples Programme, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, CBD Alliance, Global Youth Biodiversity Network, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), ICCA Consortium, Natural Justice, SwedBio, Tebtebba Foundation, WWF Indonesia, the CBD Women’s Caucus and the Women4Biodiversity set the ball rolling in this context.
The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 46/7 on human rights and the environment (adopted in March 2021) took note of the link between human rights and environmental concerns by stating that “degradation and loss of biodiversity often result from and reinforce existing patterns of discrimination, and that environmental harm can have disastrous and at times geographically dispersed consequences for the quality of life of indigenous peoples, local communities, peasants and others who rely directly on the products of forests, rivers, lakes, wetlands and oceans for their food, fuel and medicine, resulting in further inequality and marginalization”.
The statement emphatically reinforces the argument that in many cases the push for extending the protected area network more often than not results in conflicts of interest between the State and the forest (and wetland) dwellers and those directly dependent on forest (and wetland) resources for their livelihood and sustenance.
The critical question in these past years has been on the issue of whether dislocating forest (and wetland) dwelling tribes and indigenous people from their territories of life yielded the expected results or not. In some cases, it was seen that dislocating indigenous people from within the forest resulted in steady decline of the forest in the absence of regulating activities that these forest dwellers traditionally performed, such as bush clearing and maintaining equilibrium in the food chain.
Reflecting on Target 20 of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the collective reaffirms the objective to “Promote the equitable governance, conservation, sustainable use, and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems, including through full and effective public participation in decision-making at all levels particularly of indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth, and secure rights over their lands and resources by 2030”.
This objective fundamentally reinforces Target 2 of the Framework which states that by the year 2030, “Protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the planet with a focus on areas particularly important for biodiversity through appropriate recognition and support for the collective lands, waters and territories of Indigenous peoples and local communities, well connected, effective, and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures”.
The core focus and thrust is on the proactive participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in the overall task of biodiversity loss recovery through intensive programs of forest rejuvenation and natural landscape restoration. The call is addressed to policy framers and decision makers on involving IPLCs in every step of policy planning and implementation to avoid conflicts of interest.
The call to reconsider the significant role of IPLCs in conserving forest ecosystems and seascapes come close on the heels of the United Nations’ thrust on ecosystem restoration as part of its agenda on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration between the years 2021 up to 2030. Ecosystem restoration is projected as game changer in the larger effort in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing carbon sinks in tune with efforts at halting the process of global temperature rise.
In calling upon world leaders to respect fundamental human rights of IPLCs, the collective lays emphasis on convening international organizations to “Ensure a safe and enabling environment and access to justice for environmental human rights defenders with particular attention to indigenous peoples, local communities and women”.
The call comes in the wake of several instances of human rights violation committed upon marginalized communities both by State and corporate in pushing through with their various developmental agendas. One of the glaring examples is the reported cases of torture, intimidation, rape and murder of indigenous peoples by companies engaged in the destructive oil palm plantations in Peru, Indonesia and Colombia.
In line with this assertion, the collective calls upon the world community to ensure that by the year 2030, ‘legal and policy frameworks are developed and implemented to guarantee the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and the safety of human rights defenders in environmental matters’.
The issue is not unknown in Manipur where human right defenders in environmental matters have been subjected to both direct and indirect threats from the State for raising objections to mega ‘developmental’ projects that are likely to have tremendous impact on both the human and natural environment.
There are a few issues in the State that have not been settled to this day, regardless of the hardship faced by people displaced by ‘developmental’ projects. The Loktak Project issue is the classic example and so is the Mapithel Dam project, where in both cases issues on rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced people have not been fully settled despite repeated petitions to the Government.
Conservation has its own bright and dark sides, where on the one hand ecosystems and species are saved from extinction while on the other hand marginalized communities, particularly forest and wetland dwelling minorities, are uprooted from their territories of life as a consequence of the conservation effort. It, therefore, is seen that there has to be a balanced system that can incorporate both aspects without the one over-riding the other.
(The writer associates with IUCN CEESP – Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected])post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework