IUCN: Steps must be made to address the power imbalance against indigenous peoples

IUCN: Steps must be made to address the power imbalance against indigenous peoples

Steps will be made to grow the Whakatane Mechanism into a device that can help redress power imbalances against indigenous peoples, and become a conflict resolution tool that can be available to all for the long-term.

The decision was made as part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, being held in Hawai’i until September 10. One of the events hosted by Forest Peoples Programme, Can Whakatane Conflict Resolution Processes Snowball to the Global? Resolving community/conservation conflicts brought together some 36 experts in their field to talk about the tension that occurs when indigenous peoples lose their rights to their land because it is designated as a national park or protected area. This frequently occurs despite their having been custodians of the land and the ecosystem for generations, and their presence and care for their lands being the reason why conservationists see value in it.

Introducing the event, UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz said: “People should really realise that these indigenous peoples have been living there for so long and have managed to save the forests, and save the marine life. They should be able to continue living there. What is it that’s making it so difficult?”

Forest Peoples Programme’s Justin Kenrick introduced the Whakatane Mechanism, a tool that has so far been used in response to requests for help from communities; affected parties are brought together into a discussion, and a fact-finding mission to the area is then carried out to delve deeper into the situation, before more assessment meetings are held to try to find a solution.

He pointed out that long-term solutions are ones where both conservation and communities win: “By recognising communities rights to their ancestral lands, conservation can help secure communities' livelihoods, culture and ongoing commitment to the conservation of their lands. For protected areas to be effective, conservationists need to focus on supporting communities to conserve their lands rather than evicting and alienating them, and thereby losing conservation’s strongest allies”.

There were calls from among the speakers for widening the mandate of the mechanism to make it available to all as a tool, to increase funding to it in order to facilitate longer engagement with conflicting parties, and to support it to grow into a more robust and well-used facility.

Speaking from Rainforest Foundation UK, Director Simon Counsell said that from a sample study of 34 protected areas, from five countries in central Africa, 26 of them reported experiencing conflicts or the eviction of the indigenous local community, while the remaining eight did not provide information this. He called for work to redress the power imbalance between the indigenous communities and national, often State-controlled, parks.

Aroha Mead, Chair of the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy at the IUCN, said the steps already made should be acknowledged. She said: “For indigenous peoples to get to the point of having a meeting with people they would not otherwise have access can be an achievement in itself.”

Harry Jonas, co-founder of Natural Justice, quoted the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples’ report on conservation’s observation that 50% of protected areas had been established on indigenous peoples’ lands and territories but that figure spiked to 90% in Central America.

“Access to justice is simply often times severely lacking, so we should welcome the Whakatane Mechanism and celebrate it and support it,” he added.

A decision was made to explore the possibility of using the Whakatane Mechanism in response to a request from the Sengwer community who are being evicted from Embobut forest, in western Kenya, their home for generations.

Speaking through a video message Milka Chepkorir, a Sengwer woman, said: “Since the 1960s, evictions have taken place, but since 2014, they have been so intense.” She added “yet we are the ones who have taken care of the forests forever”.

A decision was made to approach the IUCN Director General Inger Andersen about writing directly to the Kenyan Government, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service to ask them to properly address the situation of the Sengwer.