With 18 percent of the world’s land formally designated for indigenous and local communities, and with their lands containing 20 percent of global forest carbon, and much of the world’s biodiversity, indigenous peoples are important partners. The Nature Conservancy has two primary documents guiding our work with indigenous peoples. First is the Conservancy’s guidance, that is currently in development, for working with indigenous peoples. Second is the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights (CIHR) framework. The Nature Conservancy is a founding member and signatory of CIHR, committing to support and promote the protection and realization of human rights within the scope of our conservation programs throughout all stages, including the design, implementation and monitoring. The CIHR outlines the following guidelines:
- Respect human rights. Respect internationally proclaimed human rights, and make sure that we do not contribute to infringements of human rights while pursuing our mission.
- Promote human rights within conservation programmes. Support and promote the protection and realization of human rights within the scope of our conservation programmes.
- Protect the vulnerable. Make special efforts to avoid harm to those who are vulnerable to infringements of their rights and to support the protection and fulfillment of their rights within the scope of our conservation programmes.
- Encourage good governance. Support the improvement of governance systems that can secure the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the context of our work on conservation and sustainable natural resource use, including elements such as legal, policy and institutional frameworks, and procedures for equitable participation and accountability.
- Address conservation-human rights links in the design, implementation and monitoring of our programmes. This can be done by:
- Undertaking impact assessment and consultation in advance of conservation interventions.
- Conducting prior evaluation of the scope of proposed conservation policies, programmes, projects and activities, so that the links between human rights and conservation are identified. Further, it is important to ensure potentially affected persons are informed, properly consulted, and able to participate in decision making about relevant interventions. This includes respect for the right of Indigenous Peoples and local communities with customary rights to lands and resources to free, prior, informed consent to interventions directly affecting their lands, territories or resources. One resource for identifying lands with legal or customary rights and uses can be found here.
- Reflecting local concerns in design and implementation. Ensure that the design and implementation of conservation interventions reflect prior evaluation and participatory decisions.
- Monitoring and adapting. Monitor and evaluate interventions and their implications for human rights, as a basis for ongoing improvement.
- Establish accountability measures. Establish processes to monitor and evaluate compliance with our policies and principles on a regular basis. Include effective, accessible, and transparent procedures to receive and resolve complaints.
- Apply the policies and principles in agreements with subcontracting organizations and implementing partners. Include appropriate provisions on compliance with these policies and principles in subcontracts, partnership agreements and capacity-building activities with other implementing organizations.
In addition, the Conservancy recommends the following guidance on social safeguards for when teams are working with indigenous peoples.
- Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) is a specific right for indigenous peoples as recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). When working on projects with indigenous peoples, FPIC should be sought at the earliest stage possible (and throughout the lifecycle of the project or program, if it proceeds), to understand the indigenous peoples’ priorities, concerns and perspectives, and to share information about all aspects of the project. Remember that consent is not an “end point,” but an on-going process rooted in relationship management, accountability, and transparency. As it arises from a human rights framework, the principle of FPIC does not define consent as a simple “yes” to a predetermined decision, or as a means to validate a program or activity that may disadvantage affected indigenous peoples. Consent must be given freely, justly, and on an informed basis that protects indigenous peoples’ rights. Ensure the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples, and do not carry out a project or activity where they have refused to engage or give their consent.
- Indigenous communities should define for themselves their own intellectual and cultural property, and requirements for its protection.
- The conservation project should respect the rights of indigenous peoples to pursue their own development priorities for their lands and territories.
- Address and work to avoid any imbalances of power that may arise between the Conservancy and indigenous peoples, as well as potentially marginalized subgroups, in the case where the parties’ interests are not shared. Has engagement with indigenous peoples been carried out via their own representative institutions and in adherence with their culture and traditions?
- Indigenous women often face double discrimination as indigenous persons and as women. It is important to pay particular attention to the potential impacts of conservation projects on indigenous women during each stage of the project, while respecting indigenous peoples’ own laws and institutions.
- Provide access to redress through grievance mechanisms that are: accessible, predictable, transparent, effective, rights-based, respectful, appropriate, and responsive.
- Is a formal agreement in place with the impacted communities? This may be a helpful tool for clarifying roles, responsibilities, and expectations; ensuring transparency and accountability; and protecting the community’s rights. In any agreement with indigenous peoples, include, as appropriate, specific terms to safeguard and promote indigenous peoples’ exercise of their rights, mitigate any adverse impacts, ensure fair compensation and benefit-sharing, and provide for meaningful indigenous participation in managing the project.