At IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September 2016 key motions were approved calling for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities where protected areas have been created on their territories and lands.
This included Motion 80 seeking a strengthening of the Whakatane Mechanism, one of the few ways through which indigenous peoples can seek to secure rights that have been overridden when protected areas were created on their land; and Motion 29 affirming that the Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (ICCAs) such as collectively managed commons, sacred sites, and indigenous and community declared protected areas should be appropriately recognised and respected when overlapped by state-declared protected areas.
Motion 26, declaring that all protected areas and the sacred natural sites of indigenous peoples should be 'No-Go Areas' for destructive industrial activities like mining, dam-building and logging was also passed, as was Motion 66 which addresses the drastic impact of palm oil on both the biodiversity of ecosystems and the human rights of communities.
Motions express intentions, but unless ways to implement such intentions are developed and implemented then such motions remain words concealing inaction rather than a spur to action. In this vein, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, presented her report on the severe impact conservation can have on the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, and recommended clear follow-up action for states, conservation NGOs, donors and UNESCO. She recommended reform to the operational guidelines through which the World Heritage Convention (WHC) is implemented to align them with UNDRIP and ensure FPIC, something that was explored in a crucial workshop on the WHC.
The UN SR pointed out that 50% of protected areas have been established on lands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous peoples, and that IUCN’s Whakatane Mechanism (a mechanism to address and resolve situations where indigenous peoples have been negatively impacted by conservation) has been piloted very effectively since 2011, but its implementation has stalled and requires additional resources and support from IUCN members to be scaled up and rolled out across the range of global contexts where indigenous peoples’ rights and their ways of conserving their lands need to be recognised, and where protected areas, to succeed, need to secure the strong support of communities.
The Whakatane Mechanism does this through intense preparatory work with communities, and with government and park authorities, to identify commonalties without seeking to hide differences, followed by a joint visit of both parties and crucial external parties to the ground to ascertain the reality of the situation, followed by a roundtable dialogue to identify the deeper commonalities underlying the apparent differences and thereby develop a roadmap that can secure community rights and conservation outcomes.
As protected areas remain a main tool through which states implement key objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, events related to the convention were also held at the WCC, including one addressing equity in protected areas (in relation to Aichi Biodiversity Target 11) and one organised by FPP on the implementation of the CBD Plan of Action on Customary Sustainable Use, which calls, inter-alia, for the identification and operationalisation of best practices to promote full and effective participation, prior informed consent, traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use, and the use of community protocols in protected areas establishment, expansion, governance and management. The WCC outcomes, including several of the motions adopted, are expected to be taken into account at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Conference of the Parties, from December 4-17 in Mexico.
Another major outcome of the WCC was that the IUCN Members’ Assembly voted to create a new category of membership for indigenous peoples’ organisations. This will open up opportunities to strengthen the presence and role of indigenous organisations in IUCN.