Wildlife conference: Tribes demand: 'recognize our right to hunt!'

| 24th March 2015
A San 'Bushman' hunter wıth bow and arrow. Photo: Charles Roffey via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
A San 'Bushman' hunter wıth bow and arrow. Photo: Charles Roffey via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
At the 'United for Wildlife' conference in Botswana, backed by princes Charles and William, Indigenous organizations from around the world are calling on world leaders to recognize tribal peoples' right to hunt for subsistence.
Despite the uninspiring record on combatting wildlife crime exhibited by most countries to date, draconian laws and zealous enforcement are the rule when it comes to indigenous peoples hunting for their own subsistence.

Tomorrow the follow up to last year's London Conference on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife kicks off in Kasane, Botswana.

The original meeting in February 2014 famously featured the British princes Charles and William giving the event international prestige and celebrity pulling power - and drew together heads of government to discuss the rise in the illicit trade in wildlife.

Now the 'United for Wildlife' Kasane meeting will review the status of implementation of the actions agreed as part of the 'London Declaration'.

But according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, "Governments have been talking about adopting more sophisticated enforcement responses for many years but have failed to invest adequately in more proactive measures."

EIA is also calling on governments to improve legislation to ensure illegal wildlife trade is treated as serious crime with meaningful penalties as a deterrent, and to enable the confiscation of proceeds of crime.

And it is seeking firm promises from countries to permanently "end all trade in ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts, including farmed tiger parts." Last month China, the world's main ivory importer - announced a ban on ivory imports, but only for a single year, sending a weak signal to ivory dealers and carvers.

Indigenous peoples treated as criminals

But despite the uninspiring record on combatting wildlife crime to date, draconian laws and zealous enforcement are the rule when it comes to indigenous peoples hunting for their own subsistence - even though this is completely outside the scope of the London Declaration.

Indigenous organizations from Brazil, Cameroon, Kenya and many other countries, over 80 experts on hunter-gatherers, and thousands of people from around the world are now calling on on delegates in Kasane to recognize tribal peoples' right to hunt for their survival.

Thousands of people and organizations are backing a letter to delegates from Survival International, which campaigns for tribal peoples' rights, which states:

"We are asking you to stress to participants that there is a difference between peoples hunting sustainably for subsistence, and illegal poaching which endangers wildlife. Our efforts to press the organizations in United For Wildlife to make public declarations acknowledging this have met with little success."

Despite the uninspiring record on combatting wildlife crime exhibited by most countries to date, draconian laws and zealous enforcement are the rule when it comes to indigenous peoples hunting for their own subsistence.

And the Kisane conference's host country, Botswana, is one of the worst when it comes to indigenous peoples' rights including their right to traditional subsistence on their own lands.

Despite winning a major legal victory which confirmed their right to hunt inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Bushmen in Botswana are routinely arrested and beaten when found hunting.

Trampling indigenous rights underfoot

Botswana is also moving ahead with a massive diamond mine on Bushman land in the Kalahari, and has parcelled out vast tracts of indigenous land into concessions for fracking - giving the lie to President Ian Khama concern for wildlife.

"A ban incorporating subsistence or tribal hunting, such as President Khama has declared in Botswana, is a gross violation of human rights", Survival's letter continues. "It is in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the ILO Convention 169 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"It is also in violation of Botswana’s High Court ruling from 2006, as well as the country’s Constitution. It will destroy the last hunting Bushmen in Africa - as we believe is partly its intention."

And the letter concludes by pointing an accusing finger at both Botwana and other conference participants: "Several conservation organizations in United For Wildlife have played a role in the illegal eviction of tribal peoples from their lands, as has the government of Botswana.

"For the Botswana conference to be calling for 'law enforcement' about poaching while being complicit in gross human rights violations, does no service to conservation."

Khama, who is set to open the Kisane conference, presents himself as a great conservationist, and in 2010 received a personal visit in Botswana from Princes William and Harry in support of the Tusk Trust, which supports a number of African conservation projects. He is also a board member of the huge US-based NGO Conservation International.

True conservationists must stand up for indigenous rights

Things are no better in Cameroon where Baka and Bayaka 'Pygmies' in the Republic of Congo have been beaten and tortured by anti-poaching squads, and fear going into the forest to hunt. 

India has also been illegally evicting tribal peoples from tiger reserves and other forest lands, often leaving them in landless and in poverty at the roadside unable to feed themselves. As many as 200,000 people may have been evicted for 'conservation' in the last few decades.

During a symposium co-organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (a sponsor of the Kisane conference) wildlife crime in February, human rights lawyer Gordon Bennett issued a damning legal analysis of the negative impacts of wildlife law enforcement on tribal peoples.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, "It's utterly irresponsible for conservationists and politicians to call for tougher law enforcement against 'poaching' without clearly acknowledging that tribal subsistence hunters are not, in fact, 'poachers.'

"It's not a matter of semantics - tribal hunters are being systematically arrested, beaten and tortured for 'poaching,' and it is happening because conservationists are not standing up for tribal peoples' rights.

"If delegates at the Kasane conference cared even the slightest about the lives of the indigenous communities their policies affect most, they would acknowledge that tribal people should not be treated as criminals when they hunt to feed their families."



Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.


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