The Tri-National de la Sangha (TNS) is a protected area with a landscape approach spanning three countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR) and the Republic of Congo. In 2010, the three countries jointly nominated the area as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This nomination was considered by the World Heritage Committee in June 2011.
IUCN, as the World Heritage Committee’s Advisory Body responsible for evaluating the proposal, recommended that the nomination of the TNS be deferred - IUCN considered a substantial revision and subsequent full re-evaluation of the proposal necessary. Instead, the Committee’s decision taken in June 2011 was to refer the proposal, meaning that only some additional information (rather than a substantial revision) would be required and that the nomination could be resubmitted in 2012. The reasons that the World Heritage Committee gave for not approving the original nomination included the lack of consultation with the indigenous peoples and local communities affected by the TNS. This had been one of the key sticking points raised in IUCN’s evaluation and one of the objections in a statement made by a large number of indigenous peoples’ organisations and NGOs. Indeed, when FPP visited the Central African Republic part of the TNS in October 2011 it was discovered that indigenous peoples had never heard of the World Heritage Site nomination. The World Heritage Committee also requested the States parties to “Evaluate the potential application of cultural criteria to the nominated property (i.e. nomination as a mixed property), taking into account the rich indigenous cultural heritage of the area”.
Following the Committee decision, the authorities involved in governing the TNS, which include WWF and the governments of the three countries, resubmitted the nomination on 1 February 2012 rather than waiting any longer. Consultations with some indigenous communities in CAR and Cameroon took place during January 2012.
FPP has not yet assessed the quality of the consultation in the TNS but our partner Centre pour l'Education, la Formation et l'Appui aux Initiatives de Développement au Cameroun (CEFAID) was invited to follow the consultations in Cameroon. CEFAID found that the consultations were entirely inadequate and were carried out at the very last minute, just before the nomination document was resubmitted to the World Heritage Committee. It even appears that some of the consultation meetings were held after the submission was handed in. Therefore, it is clear that it would have been very difficult to take into account any comments from the communities in the final submission. Seven meetings were planned each day, which could not allow sufficient time for information and consultation and some of the meetings were very brief (under thirty minutes). Information given during the meetings was insufficient and did not include an explanation of the potential risks of World Heritage Site inscription for indigenous peoples and local communities.
Furthermore, most of the communities living in the TNS were not consulted and large areas were not visited by the consultation team. It seems that before the consultations were carried out, the authorities decided against renominating the property as a mixed site (which would have enabled taking into account the rich indigenous cultural heritage of the area) so that the option for a renomination as a mixed site was not presented as an option during the consultations in Cameroon and CAR.
The CEFAID report raises serious concerns about the validity of the World Heritage Site consultations in Cameroon and raises questions about the effectiveness of the consultations in the two other countries that are part of the TNS. The findings of the report indicate that the involvement and representation of local and indigenous communities in the nomination process and future management, as requested by the World Heritage Committee, has not been satisfactory. FPP and partners will be watching closely to see whether the World Heritage Committee accepts the revised nomination of the TNS and whether the managers of the protected areas increase the involvement of indigenous communities in their management over the next few months.