Montreal, Dec. 8, 2022 – The following statement was released by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Executive Director for Rights & Communities Sushil Raj from the Convention on Biological Diversity CoP15:

“Dec. 10th is International Human Rights Day with a day of side events focused on Reimagining Conservation and Human Rights at the Convention on Biological Diversity CoP15. It will be imperative that recognition of human rights is not just a day of conversations and sharing of good practices but also creates momentum for Parties to include contributions from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which will guide the world’s efforts to protect and preserve all life on Earth for the next decade and beyond.

“We did not the achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets partly because the role and contributions of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities were rendered invisible. Among various reasons for not reaching the targets, there was also little opportunity for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to report on their initiatives.

“Negotiations on a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework have been underway for four years. This time, the human rights narrative has shifted from the margins to the center of CBD discussions. There is more visibility and space for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to provide strong input to governments, particularly on the targets and overall centering of international human rights law. 

“Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are taking center stage in global discussions to bring attention to what is happening on the ground in their territories, lands, waters, and communities and calling for fundamental change in our relationship with nature, ecosystems, and biodiversity. This call is more important than ever as we continue to witness the 6th mass extinction of species, a burning and flooded planet due to the climate crisis, and as we live through one of the most devastating pandemics that our modern world has known with the potential of future pandemics through pathogen spillover.

“The calls are loud and clear as Lakpa Nuri Sherpa mentioned ‘that the human rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities should be seen as solutions and not barriers.’ Many are struggling to defend their homes and territories often at great personal risk, and some local communities are actively working to conserve degraded systems for inclusion into area-based conservation measures. Some Indigenous communities are seeing their traditional hunting and fishing activities undermined, and their lands encroached upon, thereby affecting their culture and way of life. 

“In current negotiations there is a solid understanding of free, prior, and informed consent in theory but a disconnect or lack of respect for it in practice. Many governments and other stakeholders recognize and reference the importance of grounding the goals and targets of the GBF in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the multitude of international human rights instruments that cover the many people of African descent, traditional forest and coastal communities. such as the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. However, we haven’t seen concrete moves from some governments to address the many concerns raised. One of the tension points are definitions under draft Target 3 on area-based conservation, which includes a commitment to conserve and protect at least 30 percent of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems on a global scale. Notably, draft Target 21 makes reference "to full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making," which is important, and should be seen as reinforcing other targets.

“Although there is general support for this from the majority of Parties, there are serious concerns by some stakeholders that some governments and other entities may use the 30x30 target at the national and subnational levels for economic benefit, potential land grabbing, or unnecessary oversight that moves against the rights enshrined in UNDRIP. For these reasons, a clear and specific focus on free, prior, and informed consent; human rights protections; as well as a very well thought out monitoring and accountability framework for equitable governance is essential. 

“At the national level governments must follow up on the commitments made under the GBF that will be adopted at this meeting. Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities must be involved in the design and implementation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans in a meaningful and effective way that both respects and protects their rights.

“Success includes recognition of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities as many are still struggling for that recognition within their countries. Recognition needs to be accompanied by legal titles and securing tenure of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ lands, territories, waters and resources.  As their territories are recognized through inland, coastal, and marine areas, the focus needs to be on working with their traditional governance institutions; there are many examples of how this can be done to respect the right to self-determination.

“Governments also have to develop a shared vision with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on the ground which means undertaking genuine and deep dialogue, consultation, and involving them in decision making structures of the State at all levels. This is essential to overcoming distrust, past legacies of harm, and ongoing situations where human rights are violated or undermined.

“The success of the Global Biodiversity Framework ultimately lies in the world uniting on robust goals and targets strongly grounded in human rights, with the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities centered in decision making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation at the national and local levels.

“For the Wildlife Conservation Society these calls and human rights inputs and solutions are central to our mission of saving wildlife and wild places for both ethical reasons, as well as for equitable and durable conservation.”