Indonesian CSOs slam privatisation of conservation

Down to Earth No 62  August 2004

The following is part of a statement by the Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI), the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) and Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) to the seventh meeting of parties to the Biodiversity Convention (COP 7), Kuala Lumpur, February 2004.

Conservation is an integral part of resource management. In biodiversity, it plays a crucial role, as our life and livelihoods depend on how we conserve nature. As a global common good, the responsibility for biodiversity conservation is a global responsibility. ...[C]ountries and global governance should ensure the best measures to maintain it for the best interest of all peoples. Therefore, any conservation efforts to conserve biodiversity should not be an effort to give benefit to certain outside interest groups, but should benefit all people, in particular indigenous peoples and local people who live within conservation areas and depend on them.

In the past 15 years, the conservation community has made concerted efforts to develop principles and guidelines designed to reconcile indigenous rights with conservation initiatives. The Convention on Biological Diversity imposes obligations on governments to respect, preserve and maintain indigenous peoples' knowledge, innovations and practices, and to protect and encourage their customary use of natural resources. It is now possible to point to international human rights instruments and treaties, and to the jurisprudence of the United Nations human rights committees which interpret them, and state with confidence that international law now recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to: self-determination; freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources; in no case be deprived of their means of subsistence; own, develop, control and use their communal lands, territories and resources, traditionally owned or otherwise occupied by them; the free enjoyment of their own culture and to maintain their traditional way of life; free and informed consent prior to activities on their lands; represent themselves through their own institutions; exercise their customary law and restitution of their lands and compensation for losses endured. However, all these matters only look good on paper.

The great majority of protected areas violate these rights. For example, it is estimated that more than 24 million hectares in Indonesia have been declared as protected areas yet in the great majority of cases the rights of indigenous peoples to own, control and manage these areas have been denied. People still have to fight for their rights on their land and their way of living. No one knows how many people these protected areas have displaced and little has been done to ameliorate the suffering and poverty that has resulted.

Many governments still prefer to do fortress conservation. In many southern countries, governments hand out management and development of conservation areas to third parties, such as business or conservation organisations.

The reason is classic and simple: governments decide that they cannot afford to do conservation. This might be true in some cases, but giving out concessions to the third parties to develop and manage conservation areas won't solve the problem either. Giving out such licenses to third parties without recognizing the rights of people living in the area will ignite conflict among stakeholders. While governments have to bear responsibility for reducing conflicts between local communities and conservation 'concessionaires', the concessionaires make money by selling this "collaborative management with full support from the government" - as an addition to their scientific justification - to their donors.

Biodiversity should not pay for itself, because we cannot afford to lose it. By giving it to the market mechanism and commodifying it, we are selling our future. If we continue to do biodiversity conservation in this way, our life and livelihoods will be under threat. Biodiversity forms a web of life and it is our life that is at stake. Conflict in Conservation, Conservation in Conflict.

The first National Parks in Indonesia were based on a 'colonial' model. Prejudice against 'natives' and the notion that nature had to be conserved as 'wilderness', set aside by the State for recreation purposes, required the removal of inhabitants.

This 'colonial' model of conservation has been used in the rest of the world and for over a century provided the dominant paradigm for establishing protected areas. The impacts on indigenous peoples have been dire. Ironically, as many conservation organisations now agree, the impact on the environment has also been severe. Creating protected areas by expropriating indigenous territories, destroying indigenous cultures and making enemies of the local communities not only creates horrendous management problems, but also often disrupts viable, biodiversity enhancing customary systems of land use. Top-down conservation of this kind also exacts a heavy political cost, weakening customary institutions and reinforcing the power of the State, which may all too often lead to abuse of power and human rights violations.

Since the 1980s, conservationists have made an effort to correct their approach and have sought new means of accommodating indigenous peoples in protected areas, through establishing Biosphere Reserves, promoting Buffer Zones, experimenting with Integrated Conservation and Development Programmes and implementing Co-Management schemes. Too often these initiatives have failed to bring lasting benefits to local communities, largely because they have not built on customary institutions, have failed to recognise indigenous land rights and have not entrusted the indigenous peoples with management authority.In the mid-1990s, a more serious policy shift was promised, which was welcomed by indigenous peoples. In a few areas, rights have been restituted, indigenous authority re-established and new partnerships based on trust between indigenous peoples and conservationists have been forged. In Indonesia, Lore Lindu National Park is often cited as a progressive example in adopting new approach in conservation; the management gave recognition to local people who live within the park, but at the end it failed to address basic community needs. Unfortunately, surveys show that these new policies, which accept indigenous peoples' rights, are being applied in only a few areas*. Most national conservation laws and policies are stuck in the old model of 'Fortress Conservation'.

*See Marcus Colchester, Salvaging Nature, Indigenous Peoples, Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation, WRM/FPP, 2003.