Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Publisher: IWGIA, International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on World Heritage (IIPFWH) Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC)
Number of pages: 24
Publication language: English
Region publication is about: Global
Release year: 2022
Release month / day: March

Tags: Land rights, Global governance

As an instrument for the conservation and protection of natural and cultural heritage sites, which affords sites recognized as “World Heritage sites” an additional level of protection beyond domestic laws and regulations, the World Heritage Convention (“the Convention”) can play, and in some cases undoubtedly has played, a positive role for Indigenous Peoples by helping to protect their lands and territories, as well as their cultural heritage and traditional ways of life, from development pressures such as extractive industry activities or threats posed by major infrastructure projects.

World Heritage sites can also create business and employment opportunities for Indigenous Peoples, for instance in the tourism sector or directly in the management of sites and related conservation activities. In some cases, World Heritage sites have been nominated at the initiative of Indigenous Peoples themselves, with a view to protecting ancestral lands or creating new livelihood opportunities. If designed and managed with the inclusion and full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples, and with respect for their collective rights, World Heritage sites can thus serve to support Indigenous Peoples’ livelihoods and self-determined development.

However, the establishment and management of protected areas worldwide has often resulted in Indigenous Peoples’ dispossession and alienation from their traditional lands and resources, forced evictions, restrictions on the traditional use of resources, loss of livelihoods and access to sacred sites, and other injustices and human rights violations committed against Indigenous Peoples. This legacy, from which many Indigenous Peoples continue to suffer, is also shared by many of the protected areas inscribed on the World Heritage List. Violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the management of World Heritage sites are therefore often a continued legacy of the protected areas in question, many of which were declared as national parks or nature reserves a long time before they were listed as World Heritage sites. The designation as World Heritage sites has in many cases aggravated or consolidated Indigenous Peoples’ loss of control over their lands and resources, led to additional restrictions on traditional land-use practices, and further undermined their livelihoods. Many human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples have occurred as a direct result of the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and in the context of World Heritage processes.

This report seeks to address these issues and offers recommendations to improve the process.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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