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Survival International accuses UNESCO of encouraging local community evictions from World Heritage Sites

Added 2024-04-19


In a new report Survival International provides evidence from a number of world heritage sites including Tanzania's Ngorongoro and DRC's Kahuzi-Biega, where, it alleges, UNESCO representatives have implicitly or explicitly asked for evictions of indigenous peoples from protected areas. One of the allegations is that Odzala-Kokoua NP in the Republic of Congo was given World Heritage Status in 2023 "despite well-documented abuses taking place there including rape and torture". Paris-based UNESCO has denied the allegations claiming it has always replied to Survival International requests for information. 

To put this into context one has to remember that there is a new (imperialist) scramble for Africa with the conservation industry playing a key role.  UNESCO has been famously defunded by the US since 2011 for accepting Palestine as a Member, while Israel quit UNESCO in 2019. Although it is unlikely that UNESCO central would ever officially back or tolerate violent evictions and abuse, inaction/indifference from national UNESCO Commissions possibly under the influence of governments and powerful private interests is not that unlikely. Whatever the case, the 21st century militarized conservation model cannot be attributed to UNESCO, it is probably the invention of specific INGOs serving western geopolitical and financial interests.

Survival International's three calls for action to UNESCO are:

- "Stop backing the abuse of Indigenous peoples’ rights in the name of conservation"
- "Remove World Heritage status from any site where human rights atrocities are occuring, and"
- "Promote a model of conservation based on full recognition of Indigenous land rights."

Although the calls make sense, two relevant, possibly rhetorical, questions are - do (1) multilateral organizations have such powers, and (2) are superpowers ok with multilateral organizations using such powers.