From Paper to Practice? A Rights-Based Conservation Approach

Authors: Catherine Corson*, Mount Holyoke College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human Rights, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: Human Rights, Biodiversity Conservation, Ethnography, Indigenous Rights
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Drawing on a collaborative ethnographic study of the 2016 International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress (WCC), we analyze how indigenous and local community rights activists have used on a rights-based approach (RBA) to advance long-standing struggles to secure local communities’ land and resource rights, as well as procedural and recognitional rights, in biodiversity conservation. The RBA has enabled activists to leverage the United Nations system—from its declarations to its special rapporteurs—to build transnational strategic alliances. The 2016 conference provided a platform for building and reinforcing these alliances and for defining and redefining the principles and standards for a global human rights-based conservation approach, and as various actors sought to shape these principles and standards at the WCC, they both enabled and limited global coalition-building efforts. Ultimately, we argue that, as activists staked out physical and discursive space at the venue, they secured the authority to shape conservation politics, shifting the terrain of struggle between conservationists and local and indigenous rights activists and creating new conditions of possibility for advancing the human rights agenda in international conservation politics. However, while the RBA has been politically successful at reconfiguring global discourse, numerous obstacles remain in translating that progress to secure human rights to resources “on the ground,” and we offer some observations on ways to further advance enforceable mechanisms for protecting human rights in conservation.

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