World Environment Day – 5 June 2021
Governments in Asia and the Pacific must ensure participation of indigenous peoples and local communities to protect the environment and restore ecosystems, UN Human Rights Offices say
BANGKOK/SUVA (4 June 2021) – Governments across the Asia-Pacific region must support and engage with indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect the environment and restore ecosystems and biodiversity if the human rights of present and future generations are to be protected, the UN Human Rights Offices for the Pacific and South-East Asia said ahead of World Environment Day.
While indigenous peoples are among the most affected by biodiversity loss and other environmental harm, they are often best situated to protect it through traditional knowledge, customary laws, sustainable use of natural resources, and collective land ownership and management practices.
“States must protect the rights of groups and individuals who are most vulnerable to the degradation and loss of biodiversity and, together with businesses, must redouble their efforts to reimagine, recreate and restore natural habitats,” said Cynthia Veliko, South-East Asia Representative for the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok. “Support for indigenous and local efforts to protect biodiversity has to be at the forefront of any policies and Government actions.”
“If States and businesses do not act, then the loss, degradation, and destruction of biodiversity will continue, and will inevitably have grave and far-reaching consequences, not only for the rights of communities who rely on these lands for their survival, but also for all people in all countries,” Veliko said.
The preservation of nature, including ecosystem restoration, is essential to enabling all human beings and communities to live with dignity and human rights. The Asia-Pacific region, comprising over 60 countries, is home to millions of indigenous people who depend directly and indirectly on forests, coastal and riverine ecosystems and natural resources that now face unparalleled pressure from rising sea levels, drought, pollution, increased agricultural and business activity, and extreme weather events fueled by climate change.
Action to protect and restore forests, wetlands, grasslands, deserts, lakes, rivers and other land and seascapes must include the strengthening of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities who have a deep-seated bond to these lands, and upon which their identity, language and culture depends.
“Ecosystem restoration and conservation policies and measures must take into account the perspectives of those most affected so as not to pose a liability to human rights and critical environmental protection efforts,” said Heike Alefsen, the Pacific Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office in Suva, Fiji.
Participation in decision-making by indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders, notably women and girls, must be ensured. The protection of biodiversity is necessary for ecosystems to flourish and to support the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and culture.
To successfully achieve those ends, “Governments and businesses must assess social and environmental impacts, ensure free, prior and informed consent, and reduce threats to indigenous communities whilst advocating for strong climate action,” Alefsen said.
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