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Marseille manifesto commits to strengthening governance of indigenous lands, natural resources


This fundamental principle outlined in the UNDRIP is far removed in places like Manipur where the State overlooks the concerns of the local populace to pursue its objectives, with or without the consent of the people.

By Salam Rajesh

In a significant move by the world community at Marseille in France September last, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) committed to support and prioritise the implementation of the first IUCN Global Indigenous Agenda for the Governance of Indigenous Lands, Territories, Waters, Coastal Seas and Natural Resources, a self-determined strategy developed and owned by Indigenous Peoples, as a contribution to the work of the Union and global conservation.

On September 10 (2021) the Marseille Manifesto was adopted at the conclusion of the nine-day global event IUCN World Conservation Congress, delayed one year from June 2020 due to the current pandemic. Recognizing that the world has “one nature, one future” the Congress unanimously opined that ‘Economic “success” can no longer come at nature’s expense’, and that ‘Fundamental change is needed if the world is to build societies that value, protect, and invest in nature’.

The implementation of this significant commitment by the world body is to be guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – an international covenant that protects the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. The decision taken at Marseille as proceeding of the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2021 spells out a huge break for indigenous peoples fighting for their rights all across the globe.

Outlining one of the priorities enshrined in the manifesto, the world body while recognizing that “The rights of indigenous peoples and local communities underpin their central role in conservation, as leaders and custodians of biodiversity”, it commits that “The agency of those who are marginalized, whether economically, socially or politically, including women must be enhanced”.

Further, the IUCN “recognizes that it is these groups who are most affected by the climate and nature emergencies and that they also offer innovative solutions to them. IUCN, its members and partners commit to supporting and strengthening their agency, promoting diversity and inclusivity in leadership and throughout our work”.

The recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and their contributing role in nature conservation by the world community comes at a crucial time when much of the indigenous population across the globe are facing tremendous pressures from external factors, both state and non-state actors.

Across the world, indigenous peoples’ territories of life are being invaded, torn asunder and plundered by big-time companies, industries and governments with one sole motive – to exploit and extract. Indigenous peoples are mostly minorities in their own lands and are threatened with large-scale displacement owing to external pressures.

Indigenous peoples in Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa live in pockets that are highly biodiversity sensitive, such as the tropical and subtropical rainforests, temperate forests, and mangroves. These pockets, ironically, contain some of the richest resources of minerals and oil, and, therefore, are at the eye of the storm with the powerful perpetually seeking to make inroads into these pristine natural landscapes.

The UNDRIP has provisions for the safeguard of indigenous peoples and their lands and resources, whereas, governments ignore these guidelines to venture into indigenous peoples’ lands and resources for commercial exploitation of the minerals and oil in the name of ‘development’ or for the ‘need for development purposes’. In the process, extensive human rights violations are unleashed upon indigenous peoples who are powerless to fight against the more powerful external forces – sometimes armed to the teeth and shielded by the State.

Back home, too, there are conflicts low in scale but nonetheless inflicting years of unresolved tension between State and the local communities. In the uplands of Manipur, there are issues of the State intervening in tribal pockets but facing stiff opposition from the local populace for one primary reason – their consent was not taken as a priority at the time of project conceptualization and implementation.

One of the long-standing conflicts of interest between State and indigenous people in the uplands was the stand-off on the issue of construction of the Tipaimukh High Dam which sought to displace people and wildlife, and submerge huge tract of forest and agricultural lands along the Barak River basin.

In the plains, a classic example of long standing stand-off between State and indigenous people has been the decades-long conflict of interest over the rights and resource use of local population thriving off the freshwater Loktak Lake – a Ramsar site of international importance, and upon which the State had continuously come up with several major projects in the name of ‘development’ without prioritization on getting the expressed consent of the local people likely to be affected by the projects.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is very clear on this subject, whence it ‘recognizes the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peo­ples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories, and resources.

This fundamental principle outlined in the UNDRIP is far removed in places like Manipur where the State overlooks the concerns of the local populace to pursue its objectives, with or without the consent of the people. It fundamentally has been a significant reason why local people, in specific the fishers community thriving off Loktak, has been in loggerheads with the Government for decades.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress has suggested a means to resolve issues at the ground, wherein it says, “The Congress commits to fostering a new approach with a meaningful role for all, from grassroots organizations to governments and communities to corporations. Our new approach must recognize everyone’s responsibility, and guide them to act for nature and our future”.

This again fundamentally talks of the need to find solutions to end conflicts of interest between States and indigenous peoples, and work together towards meaningful conservation of nature, each benefitting the other in consolidated activities.

The arrogant and arbitrary approach of the States has to be done away with in order to bring about progress in meeting the Paris Climate Agreement targets set for 2030. The top-down model of project designing and the non-inclusive approach of States have to be redrawn to incorporate indigenous people’s participation to achieve the one singular goal for everyone – save the blue planet from catastrophe.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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