Every year, the Indigenous Peoples in Development Branch within the Division of Inclusive Social Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs organizes an international expert group meeting (EGM) on a theme recommended by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and endorsed by the Economic and Social Council. In 2019, the expert group meeting will be held on the theme “Conservation and the rights of indigenous peoples” as recommended by the Permanent Forum at its 2018 annual session. Indigenous peoples have consistently expressed their concern with mainstream conservation efforts that frequently fail to consider the rights and knowledge of indigenous peoples in the designation of conservation areas leading to displacement and loss of livelihoods for a significant number of people. This issue was raised by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in her 2016 Report and was also taken up in a special half-day discussion at the 2018 session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Indigenous peoples play a crucial role for conservation of the environment. They make up around 5 per cent of the global population and occupy, own or manage an estimated 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the Earth’s land surface. This land area holds most of the earth’s remaining biodiversity and intersects with about 40 per cent of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes. While the expanse of protected areas nearly doubled from 8.7 million sq. km to 16.1 million sq km between 1980 and 2000, some estimates suggest that 50 per cent of protected areas worldwide has been established on the traditional territories (lands and waters) of indigenous peoples. This proportion is even higher in the Americas, where it may exceed 90 per cent in Central America. The lands of indigenous peoples are very valuable for conservation as about 65 per cent of them have not been intensively developed, compared with 44 per cent of other lands.
However, indigenous peoples’ custodianship of the environment and ecosystems, and their rights to land and natural resources are unrecognized. They often face the negative impacts of conservation programmes, which have often been based on the concept of protecting biological resources and land and seascapes, while excluding human beings from these areas. Since the creation of the first State-designated protected area, Yellowstone Park, in the United States of America in 1872 and the subsequent Yosemite National Park in 1890 whereby the US government violently expelled Native Americans living in or dependent on the resources in the areas, conservation interventions around the world have far too often resulted in gross violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, in particular to their rights to land and resources. This includes forced displacement and evictions from their territories; criminalization and destruction of livelihoods; loss of rights to lands, waters and resources and sacred sites; violence and extrajudicial killings of environmental defenders. Many of indigenous persons have been dispossessed and displaced due to the exclusionary approach of protected-area management built on the premise that human activities are incompatible with conservation. This approach is often referred to as ”fortress” conservation.
Papers submitted by experts: