Conservation Refugees

When protecting nature means kicking people out

| November 10, 2005

The biggest threat to the world's indigenous people today isn't logging, mining, or oil drilling. It's conservation. You read that right. From the Maasai nomads of East Africa to the Hmong hill people of Southeast Asia to Mayan villagers in Mexico, indigenous tribes around the globe are increasingly being expelled from lands where they have lived in harmony with nature for centuries or millennia.

Millions of these 'conservation refugees' now live in squalid squatter camps on the edges of national parks, preserves, and other nature sanctuaries, Mark Dowie writes in a shocking investigative piece in Orion. 'The total area of land now under conservation protection worldwide has doubled since 1990. ... with over 12 percent of all land, a total area of 11.75 million square miles, now protected. That's an area greater than the entire land mass of Africa.'

The unintended consequence of the global conservation movement's success has been mass dislocation. Worldwide estimates of the number of people displaced by conservation activities range from 5 million to tens of millions, Dowie reports.

Indigenous leaders are hoping to stem the tide with a United Nations resolution protecting their territorial and human rights. The draft declaration reads: 'Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option to return.'

But according to Dowie, the UN resolution faces a tough uphill battle, with the George W. Bush and Tony Blair governments arguing 'that there is not and should never be such a thing as collective human rights.'
-- Leif Utne

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