The World Heritage Convention and Indigenous Peoples

Victor Amougou presenting the Cameroonian experience about the establishment of the TNS as a World Heritage Site
By
Helen Tugendhat

The World Heritage Convention and Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples’ experiences of the inscription of their lands and resources as World Heritage Sites, under the 1972 World Heritage Convention, have been widely varied. In some cases the Convention has been a tool for indigenous peoples to use in protecting their lands – the case of the Mirarr people in Kakadu, Australia, using the World Heritage Convention to halt Uranium mining in their lands stands out. However, far too often the processes of the World Heritage Convention, and the Committee which oversees its implementation, are far removed from the realities of the indigenous peoples living in the lands concerned. Through the lack of involvement of indigenous peoples, the lack of their effective participation and lack of comprehensive consultation and consent procedures, inscription too often results in violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, as expressed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

In order to examine these experiences more closely and draw out the lessons that need to be learnt by States, the World Heritage Committee and others, Forest Peoples Programme and the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) are drawing together a book detailing indigenous peoples’ experiences with this Convention. This joins other international efforts already undertaken aimed at highlighting the urgent need for reforms in the World Heritage Convention work processes, including the IUCN Motion on the World Heritage Convention and the Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (see Article 6 of this E-Newsletter for more information about this Motion) and previous Joint Statements made to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2011 and 2012.

In September, an International Expert Workshop on the World Heritage Convention and Indigenous Peoples was organised through a collaborative effort by the Danish Agency for Culture, the Greenland Government and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. (IWGIA). The Workshop took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 20-21 September 2012 as part of the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, celebrated by UNESCO under the theme “World Heritage and Sustainable Development: The Role of Local Communities”.

The International Expert Workshop was attended by Indigenous experts and representatives from all continents, human rights experts, representatives of the UN mechanisms on Indigenous Peoples (including the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), representatives of UNESCO, IUCN and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) as well as some government representatives. Indigenous experts and representatives and other human rights experts presented the experiences of indigenous peoples of around twenty different World Heritage Sites, including sites already inscribed, sites in the process of nomination and those on the tentative list. 

The ‘Call for Action’ (forthcoming, here) resulting from this Workshop highlights the need for the Operational Guidelines of the Convention to be reviewed and adapted – with the effective participation of indigenous peoples – to ensure that existing working practices can be changed to ensure violations do not continue. It also highlights the need for human rights considerations to be taken into account, not only by the World Heritage Committee and State Parties to the World Heritage Convention, but also in the work of the main advisory bodies to the Convention, IUCN and ICOMOS. 

Further information:

• IUCN Motion on the World Heritage Convention and the Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: http://tinyurl.com/9dkvox4

• Joint Statements made to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2011 and 2012: http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/world-heritage-convention/publication/2012/joint-statement-iposngos-unpfii-continuous-violati

• Report by CEFAID on the consultations in Cameroon for the World Heritage Site nomination of the Tri-National de la Sangha (TNS) protected area: http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/environmental-governance/news/2012/04/report-cefaid-consultations-cameroon-world-heritage-sit