Support for Indigenous peoples’ rights has received a boost, thanks to key decisions adopted last week by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaiʻi, USA.
In a landmark pronouncement, the IUCN Members’ Assembly voted to create a new category of membership for Indigenous peoples’ organisations. According to the organisation, this will open the opportunity to strengthen the presence and role of Indigenous organisations in IUCN – a unique membership union gathering 217 state and government agencies, 1,066 NGOs, and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide.
“Today’s decision to create a specific place for Indigenous peoples in the decision-making process of IUCN marks a major step towards achieving the equitable and sustainable use of natural resources,” says IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen. “Indigenous peoples are key stewards of the world’s biodiversity. By giving them this crucial opportunity to be heard on the international stage, we have made our Union stronger, more inclusive and more democratic.”
“This decision is historical in that it is the first time in IUCN’s history that a new membership category has been established,” says Aroha Te Pareake Mead, Chair of IUCN’s Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP). “It also marks a turning point for the inclusion and full participation of Indigenous peoples in all aspects of IUCN’s work.
“For Indigenous peoples this provides an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to global policy on biocultural conservation, indigenous issues, traditional knowledge and the future direction of conservation as distinct peoples. I am proud of IUCN and its members for doing the right thing and enabling Indigenous peoples to speak for themselves as full members of the Union.”
IUCN Members also called for all protected areas to be considered as no-go areas for environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure developments. IUCN Members emphasised the need for respect of Indigenous peoples’ rights as a high priority, to ensure their free, prior and informed consent in relation to activities in sacred natural sites and territories conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities. To date, only World Heritage sites have been recognised as off limit.
The need for consideration of the rights of Indigenous peoples has also been emphasised as part of the decision to increase the coverage of marine protected areas in order to achieve effective conservation of the oceans.
IUCN Members voted on a motion related to primary forests, which highlights the role of Indigenous peoples and local communities in conserving intact forest landscapes. Ecosystems such as primary forests are vital for the protection of Indigenous cultures and livelihoods of the poorest and most marginalised communities.
Other motions important for Indigenous peoples have also been adopted on a wide range of topics.
The Members’ Assembly is the highest decision-making body of IUCN. It brings together IUCN Members to debate and establish environmental policy, to approve the IUCN Programme and to elect the IUCN Council and President.
Motions are proposed by IUCN Members every four years to set priorities for the work of IUCN. IUCN’s membership currently stands at over 1,300 and includes some of the most influential government and civil society organisations from more than 160 countries, giving the decisions taken at the IUCN Congress a powerful mandate.
Resolutions and Recommendations on important conservation issues are adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, guiding IUCN’s policy and work programme and as well as influencing many other organisations around the world.