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Conservation challenge: human rights

human-rights
Written by: Dr Helen Schneider
Other posts by Dr Helen Schneider

Ecosystem goods and services, sustained by biodiversity, play an important role in supporting a range of economic, social and cultural rights, including rights to food, health, water and an adequate standard of living, as well as freedom to pursue cultural practices.

While there can be positive links between biodiversity and human rights, not all conservation approaches support the fulfilment of basic rights. The so-called ‘fortress’ model of protected area management, for instance, focuses on keeping people out, sometimes employing coercive eviction and repressive law enforcement methods to do so. Such overly protectionist practices can undermine human rights by preventing people gaining access to natural and cultural resources on which they rely.

A rights-based approach can help achieve Fauna & Flora International’s vision of biodiversity being effectively conserved by the people who live closest to it. Many conservation initiatives practised by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and its partners are compatible with such an approach. For example, landscape or ecosystem approaches that place conservation within the wider social, economic, political and cultural context, as well as collaborative and community natural resource management models that support participation and accountability.

Key to the success of such initiatives is to address governance issues – access to information, a say in decision-making and how resources are allocated, and a way to hold people to account for their actions. This requires a clear understanding of the local context. Particularly important is another type of diversity – the diversity of needs, roles, knowledge, aspirations and power of different people within a community, of women and men, of elders and youth, of indigenous peoples and in-migrants.

The benefits of a rights-based approach to biodiversity conservation are many and varied. It provides a strong foundation for addressing people’s well-being by recognising that to do so is a duty enshrined in international law. An awareness of rights can provide clearer criteria for the design, monitoring and evaluation of our conservation programmes. It can help us identify the rights and responsibilities that must be upheld in scenarios where there are trade-offs between livelihoods and conservation objectives. And it can increase the public understanding of the risks to people’s rights and well-being of not conserving natural resources and biodiversity.

But a rights agenda in conservation is not without challenges. FFI is working with other international conservation NGOs to learn together how to address these issues through the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights.

Written by
Dr Helen Schneider

Dr Helen Schneider joined FFI in 2009 from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, where she managed the Livelihoods Connect programme. Helen's PhD is in Tropical Watershed Management and she also has postgraduate qualifications in Web Design & Development and Environmental Technology, following her first degree in Rural Environment Studies from the University of London. Helen is a sustainable livelihoods and natural resource management professional with particular interests in issues of participation and environmental governance, and individual and organisational learning. She has 20 years experience in international development, mostly based in developing countries, working with a range of stakeholders, including government bodies, donor agencies, non-governmental organisations, researchers and local communities. From her time in Indonesia, Helen speaks Bahasa but she also describes Kiswahili, Spanish, French and German as "rusty but revivable".

Other posts by Dr Helen Schneider

Ecosystem goods and services, sustained by biodiversity, play an important role in supporting a range of economic, social and cultural rights, including rights to food, health, water and an adequate standard of living, as well as freedom to pursue cultural practices.

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