A group of Sengwer women inaugurated the Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation in Eldoret, Kenya, expressing their culture and history through dancing. The Sengwer community has experienced repeated forced evictions from the land they live in, which has been converted into a game reserve
Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation – a space to meet and find common ground
A global gathering in Kenya discussed how to align the conservation of biodiversity with the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities in order to halt the destruction of biological and cultural diversity
- Co-manangement of areas rich in biodiversity can result in enhanced conservation as well as recognition of the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples and local communities
- Violation of international human rights law including violently evicting indigenous peoples, burning down their houses and murdering them in the name of conservation, is still common in many countries
- An important but often difficult first step to initiate conflict transformation is to get stakeholders to sit down together and engage in dialogue
About 50 representatives of Indigenous peoples, local communities, African regional experts, international governmental and non-governmental organisations, including experts in human rights, conservation and biological diversity, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (by video link), met in Eldoret, Kenya 20 – 23 November 2017, to discuss issues emerging from the nexus of human rights and biodiversity conservation. The gathering was organised by SwedBio, Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples Development Project, Forest Peoples Programme and Natural Justice.
Deliberations focused on three key questions: Why do human rights-related conflicts arise in the context of conservation initiatives? How can they be avoided? When they do arise, how can they be effectively and equitably resolved?
The objective of the Dialogue was to identify and suggest improvements to existing approaches, tools, and practices to ensure that respect for human rights strengthens the ability to achieve conservation targets, and that securing conservation targets improves communities’ ability to secure their human rights.
Four engaging days
On the first day, after hearing opening speeches, the participants shared their aspirations for the meeting, and began to reflect on the initial question: ‘Why do human rights-related conflicts arise in the context of conservation initiatives?’ On the second day, indigenous peoples’ representatives and local organisations presented their experiences with conservation-related conflicts. A rich discussion on similarities and differences emerged from the different cases, coming from the Ogiek and the Sengwer peoples (Kenya), the Karen people (Thailand), the Batwa people (Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda), and the Aboriginal peoples (Australia).
The third day focused on revisiting the initial considerations on root causes of conservation-related conflicts, after which participants considered two related questions, namely: ‘What can be done to avoid conflicts occurring?’ and ‘How can active conflicts be resolved?’. On the fourth and final day, participants further explored insights that the dialogue brought to light and proposed ways ahead.
Searching empathy, respect and common ground
Meaningful participation and dialogue were highlighted as the foundation for any action to solve ongoing conflicts and avoid new ones. Complementing this approach, Accountability and Grievance Mechanisms are important and necessary.
The duty of care and due diligence of international conservation funders were reported as having critical importance to ensure that contributions are not supporting, by action or omission, violations to human rights.
Other small, basic steps presented included ensuring participation of all relevant parties at first hand, sitting around the same discussion table but also visiting the community and its territories to understand the local reality. Participants also emphasised the need to support and create enabling conditions for communities to negotiate and defend their rights and interests. Complementing this, visualisation and communication of win-win examples between human rights and biodiversity conservation is needed.
Awareness raising, including listening, learning and teaching each other about the role of ecosystems and biodiversity as base for human well-being was highlighted, in parallel with the need to develop models showing indigenous peoples’ practices and contributions to maintaining healthy ecosystems.
The way forward
Human rights and biodiversity conservation mutually strengthen one another, and the dialogue process will continue by feeding in ideas and suggestions to ensure this link is clearly visualised. Outcomes of the dialogue will contribute to the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its post-2020 targets, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the SDGs.
A report of the Dialogue’s deliberations and suggested next steps is currently being prepared.
Further news from the Sengwer
The Sengwer community participated in the dialogue and presented the challenges they face in exercising their rights in Kenya. From the 24th December 2017 onwards, the Sengwer have been subjected to forced evictions from their homes and traditional lands in Ebobut forest. This forest is part of a conservation project supported by European Union funding of 31 million Euros. The EU has currently suspended its funding, following UN special rapporteurs’ calls to the Kenyan authorities to urgently halt the evictions of the Sengwer. The decision was also influenced by international organisations reporting on the human rights violations happening in the Ebobut forest, which escalated severely and tragically involved the murder of a Sengwer community member.