Indigenous Peoples call for better integration of human rights into natural World Heritage conservation

Members of Indigenous communities living in or close to African World Heritage sites have highlighted how site conservation can be more effective when it considers human rights, last week at UNESCO’s 41st session of the World Heritage Committee, taking place in Kraków, Poland. The interventions were part of a side event organised by the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), an IUCN Member, showcasing Indigenous Peoples’ efforts to promote human and cultural rights in the context of World Heritage.

Photo: Nigel Crawhall

Indigenous delegate at the 41st World Heritage Committee meeting, in Kraków

Anita Lekgowa is a Bugakhwe San woman from the village of Khwai on the eastern end of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Inscribed in 2013, Okavango is a magnificent inland water way and home to some of Africa’s most iconic species, such as the cheetah, rhinoceros and lion. It is also  the territory of San hunter-gatherers and fishing peoples.

Anita says: “We have met with women and community members in the village: they were not sure what World Heritage inscription would mean for them, they were afraid of being removed from our ancestral territory. We ran a workshop to show them that their rights are taken into account in the inscription.

“What we are saying is that a World Heritage inscription should help with skills training and economic opportunities for indigenous women and girls. We do not just want to weave baskets and clean lodges, we want to manage safari camps and work in marketing and management.”

Mohamed Ewangaye is Tuareg from the Sahara desert. He grew up in what is now the Aïr and Ténéré Reserve World Heritage site in the north-east of Niger. Mohamed explains: “We have had 20 years of civil conflict. Now we have peace but our site is still on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

“Tuareg people have managed the Sahara’s sensitive biodiversity and oases for thousands of years. The solution for regaining the integrity of Aïr and Ténéré requires bringing together indigenous land management with the formal management of the site. Nomads and oasis-dwellers are passionate about conservation. Our culture and future rely on this Reserve’s recovery. Our traditional knowledge of the desert, wildlife and conservation are a great benefit to World Heritage. We are part of this landscape.”

Joseph Itongwa is an Mbuti ‘Pygmy’ man from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has been promoting human rights training, monitoring and promotion for years in his homeland. In cooperation with WWF, OrigiNation and IPACC, he has been working with Bayaka indigenous people in the massive Sangha Trinational, a World Heritage site in the Congo Basin shared by Cameroon, Central African Republic and Congo.

For the Bayaka people and for Joseph, culture is intimately tied to the forest. Conserving biodiversity for future generations is also crucial to pass on their cultural heritage. For this reason, they have been resisting pressures from international logging affecting Sangha Trinational. Villagers, administrators and parks staff, who have received Joseph’s training on basic human rights principles, have now set up their own community-run human rights centre in Bayanga village in the Central African Republic.

The side event also announced the election of Mr Leburu Andrias, a ||Anikhwe San man from Botswana, as a Chair for the newly formed International Indigenous Peoples Forum on World Heritage, established by indigenous delegates at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee  meeting in Kraków.

IPACC is a member of the International Union for the Conservation on Nature and contributes to IUCN and ICOMOS’ efforts to promote human rights standards in World Heritage.

UNESCO's 41st World Heritage Committee meeting takes place in Kraków, Poland from 2 to 12 July

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