Conservation and Human Rights

Welcome to TGER’s site on conservation and human rights! Here you can access and share activity reports, event announcements, working papers, reflection pieces, and other material and related links on conservation and human rights. We hope you find the information useful, whether you are a conservation practitioner, community representative, human rights activist, someone interested but new to these issues, or anyone else.

We encourage you to check back with us as we will be adding new items frequently. Please also note that this site is a work in progress. If you have material to share, comments, or suggestions, please contact us at

  1. Introduction
  2. Policy Matters (15) – Conservation and Human Rights
  3. TGER co-organizes a symposium and workshop on conservation and human rights
  4. TGER & TILCEPA member responses to questions on RBA to Conservation
  5. Links to other organizations
  6. References for further reading



Conservation and human rights links are multi-dimensional and exist across civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and ‘solidarity’ rights. Conservation organizations are being challenged to take responsibility for their human rights impacts, but also have new opportunities to demonstrate their positive contribution to many human rights, including life, health, food, water, housing, culture, and development. Despite much momentum in this arena, however, there is insufficient information, and certainly no consensus on how conservation practice and human rights can be reconciled, or better yet integrated to leverage the positive synergies between them. Experience tells us that, as we seek to addresses conservation – human rights linkages, we should consider, among other things:(1)

  1. Conservation can impact a broad range of procedural and substantive human rights; conservation actors should respect rights in all cases, and support their further realization wherever possible;
  2. Human rights realization can also support conservation objectives; synergies between the two are possible and should be pursued;
  3. Local history and the broader natural, cultural, political, and socio-economic systems frame the relationship between conservation – rights in any given context, and must therefore be understood and addressed;
  4. A rights-based approach to conservation, including community conservation, can link the global and the local in part by bringing universal standards to bear on localized circumstances;
  5. Part of a rights-based approach to conservation should involve the empowered participation of rights-holders, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, and capacity building for both right-holders and duty-bearers;
  6. Scale and timing of conservation initiatives and their outcomes are important for understanding their relationship with human rights;
  7. Potential for conservation to help address inter and intra-generational rights demands further exploration;
  8. Procedural rights, while important in themselves, may also be entry points to realizing substantive rights;
  9. Approaches to reconciling conservation and human rights should be flexible and practical while reflecting sufficient complexity;
  10. We need to seek synergies, but also appreciate the role of equitable and rights-consistent compensation, compromise, and trade-offs in reconciling conservation and rights where ‘win-win’ is not possible;
  11. We should seek effective entry points in the landscape to allow a planning process in which rights and responsibilities can be met sustainably (in line with local system capacities) and resources shared/ redistributed in ways that are consistent with people’s minimum entitlements.


We hope that the materials gathered here, and perhaps more importantly the discussion and collaboration these materials help generate, will contribute to our collective understanding of how to address these complex issues, and move forward with efforts to integrate conservation and human rights in positive and sustainable ways.


We are happy to announce that Policy Matters No.15: Conservation and Human Rights is now available. This issue shows, among other things: that certain approaches to conservation can have negative human rights impacts, most often through protected areas related displacement and oppressive enforcement measures; at the same time, that conservation helps ensure sustainable availability of resources and ecosystem services that are critical to fulfilling human rights; and that complicating these dynamics is the fact that the links between conservation and human rights are shaped by their history and larger (cultural, economic, social, and political) contexts.  This issue, while leaving open many questions, furthers substantive debate on an issue whose time has surely come…

TGER co-organizes a symposium and workshop on conservation and human rights at the Society for Conservation Biology Annual Meeting (July 2007)

TGER and TILCEPA organized a symposium entitled Conservation and Human Rights: Exploring Key Promises, Challenges, and Questions at the Society for Conservation Biology Annual Meeting (1-5 July 2007, Port Elizabeth, South Africa). The symposium explored several dimensions of the relationship between conservation and human rights. Most of the seven speakers were presenting papers published in the recent Policy Matters issue on Conservation and Human Rights (see above).

Because the symposium did not allow sufficient time to explore the issues, symposium speakers, and participants of a related symposium on PA governance, gathered for a two-day workshop on conservation, human rights, and protected area (PA) governance in the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve (South Africa) on 6-7 July, 2007.

Our workshop report – which stresses, among other things, the need to find space for positive synergies between conservation and human rights, and the need for simple, practical, and adaptable rights-based tools for conservation actors – is now available.

TGER & TILCEPA members responses to questions on Rights Based Approaches to conservation

Common themes in TGER and TILCEPA member responses to questions on human rights approaches to conservation included:

Key features of a rights-based approach to conservation:

  1. A balanced and systematic consideration of / negation over natural resources and human populations, in which human rights – including indigenous peoples’ and communities’ rights to lands and natural resources – are recognized as a guiding minimum standard
  2. Frequent communication with and substantive, empowered, and informed participation of local people(s). This must be carried out through transparent processes and institutions in which rights-holders can identify and understand potential impacts, and demand that these issues be addressed by accountable responsible parties
  3. Engaging with local people, including the most vulnerable, as rights-holders (i.e., recognizing and addressing rights as obligations)
  4. An approach that is practical and clear enough to, in fact, inform action by conservation organizations and others…

Tools and mechanisms to operationalize a rights approach:

  1. Procedural rights (participation, communication, information) as an end to other rights;
  2. Respecting the role of traditional and customary institutions in resource management, including through Community Conserved Areas
  3. National, regional, and international legal systems and human rights instruments
  4. Socially oriented audits (e.g., Human Rights Impact Assessments)
  5. Monitoring and evaluation measures
  6. Case studies demonstrating rights approaches (whether explicitly or implicitly) including challenges to their implementation…

Challenges to an effective RBA to conservation:

  1. Reluctance of states (or other powerful actors) to devolve genuine power and authority, or to recognize their human rights obligations and hold third parties accountable
  2. Romanticization of actual capacities of rural and indigenous communities (and resulting lack of attention to capacity building and empowering support)
  3. Lack of attention to the role of over-consumption and resource pressure from ‘outsiders’ (i.e., too much focus on the poor and most marginalized in relationship to conservation impacts and responsibilities)
  4. Local people(s)’ fear and distrust of conservation initiatives, based on past experience
  5. Lack of understanding of human rights within the conservation community…

You can also download the full text of member responses.

Links to other organizations

Organizations working at the intersection of environment and human rights

* This list is a work in progress. Please contact us with suggestions for other organizations to add.

Linking rights, conservation, and natural resource management…

Forest Peoples Programme ( “FPP supports forest peoples to secure and sustainably manage their forests, lands and livelihoods. Our strategies to achieve this include: promoting the rights and interests of forest peoples at local, national and international levels, creating space for forest peoples to have an effective voice in decision-making processes, challenging top-down policies and projects that deprive local peoples of resources, coordinating support among environmental organisations for forest peoples' visions, supporting community-led sustainable forest management, publicising forest peoples' plight through research, analysis and documentation.”

Survival International ( “works for tribal peoples' rights in three complementary ways: education, advocacy and campaigns. [They] also offer tribal people themselves a platform to address the world. [Survival] works closely with local indigenous organisations, and focus on tribal peoples who have the most to lose, usually those most recently in contact with the outside world.”

Rights and Resources initiative ( “is a global coalition to advance forest tenure, policy and market reforms. Formed by a group of international institutions and community organizations, the activities of the RRI aim to reduce rural poverty, strengthen forest governance, conserve and restore forest ecosystems, and achieve sustainable, forest-based economic growth.”

World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples

( “is a global alliance of nomadic peoples and communities practicing various forms of mobility as a livelihood strategy while conserving biological diversity and using natural resources in a sustainable way…WAMIP sees an ideal future in which: Mobility is recognised and appreciated as a strategy for both sustainable livelihoods and conservation of biological diversity; Mobile indigenous peoples (MIPs) are in full solidarity among themselves and with other indigenous peoples; The rights of mobile indigenous peoples to natural resources (as per the relevant United Nations Draft Declaration) are fully respected”

Addressing human rights violations arising from environmental destruction

The Basel Action Network ( focuses on “confronting the global environmental injustice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade (toxic wastes, products and technologies) and its devastating impacts. Working at the nexus of human rights and environment, we confront the issues of environmental justice at a macro level, preventing disproportionate and unsustainable dumping of the world's toxic waste and pollution on our global village's poorest residents. At the same time we actively promote the sustainable and just solutions to our consumption and waste crises -- banning waste trade, while promoting green, toxic free and democratic design of consumer products.”

The Center for Economic and Social Rights ( “was established in 1993 to promote social justice through human rights. In a world where poverty and inequality deprive entire communities of dignity and even life itself, CESR promotes the universal right of every human being to housing, education, health and a healthy environment, food, work, and an adequate standard of living.”(2) “CESR promotes a rights-based approach to environmental advocacy”. Their “efforts in environmental advocacy have fallen into two main areas: reporting environmental health hazards in Latin America, and promoting the right to water as a fundamental part of the right to a healthy environment.”(3)

The Center for International Environmental Law ( is a “nonprofit organization working to use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. We provide a wide range of services including legal counsel, policy research, analysis, advocacy, education, training, and capacity building”.

Earth Justice International ( works to “[e]stablish a human right to a healthful environment, stop globalization from undermining domestic environmental laws and protections, cooperate with environmental law organizations throughout the Americas, defend indigenous people from the ravages of global climate change.”(4)

EarthRights International ( “combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment.  ERI focus our work at the intersection of human rights and the environment, which we define as earth rights.  [They] specialize in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training for grassroots and community leaders and advocacy campaigns.  Through these strategies, ERI seeks to end earth rights abuses, and to promote and protect earth rights.”

The Environmental Justice Foundation ( “makes a direct link between the need for environmental security and the defence of basic human rights. EJF empowers tshose people who suffer most from environmental abuses to find peaceful ways of preventing them. [EJF] is all about helping people to help themselves. Working with grassroots organizations in some of the world’s poorest countries, EJF cuts through political and commercial agendas to reach those people who so often lack a voice for their concerns. EJF brings answers to questions that are not only about quality of life, but life or death”.

Global Witness ( “exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses”.

ICRA, Commission Internationale pour les droits des peuples autochtones ( a pour vocation de sensibiliser l’opinion publique à la problématique autochtone. ICRA organise des campagnes de pression à l’égard d’entreprises, de multinationales ou de gouvernements ne respectant pas les droits individuels et collectifs
des PA.

International Rivers Network ( “…protects rivers and defends the rights of communities that depend on them. IRN opposes destructive dams and the development model they advance and encourages better ways of meeting people’s needs for water energy and protection from damaging floods”.(5)

Rainforest Action Network ( “protects forests and the rights of their inhabitants by campaigning to break America’s oil addiction, promote sustainable logging, and bring green ethics to Wall Street.”

Sustainable Energy and Economy Network ( “a project of the Institute for Policy Studies (Washington, DC) and the Transnational Institute (Amsterdam) [that] works in partnership with citizens groups nationally and globally on environment, human rights and development issues with a particular focus on energy, climate change, environmental justice, gender equity, and economic issues, particularly as these play out in North/South relations.” (6)

The Working Group on the Social and Environmental Accountability of the Private Sector (SEAPRISE) of CEESP ( ) “[C]ollaborates with the Business and Biodiversity Programme of IUCN on methods and tools to strengthen the capacity of the private sector to become environmentally and socially accountable in its field-based work.”

Human rights assessment and compliance tools

The Humanist Committee on Human Rights - Human Rights Impact Assessments ( provides HRIA instructions and links to case studies and tools for each step, including monitoring and evaluation.

The Human Rights Business Project’s Human Rights Compliance Assessments ( is a widely tested diagnostic tool with over 300 questions and over 1000 guiding indicators, broken down by right and by considerations of workplace practice, community impact, and supply chain management.

Rights & Democracy - Human Rights Impact Assessment ( “The Human Rights Impact Assessment project is a three-year initiative that developed a draft methodology to assess the impact of companies on the human rights of communities.”(7) “Rights & Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development) is a non-partisan organization with an international mandate. It was created by Canada's Parliament in 1988 to encourage and support the universal values of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions and practices around the world.”(8)

General information

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre ( is “an independent non-profit, in a collaborative partnership with Amnesty International sections and leading academic institutions” providing access to updated “news and reports about companies’ human rights impacts worldwide – positive and negative”, including reports on businesses’ impacts linked to environmental and human rights.   

The Earth Conservation Toolbox ( is a “multi-organisational initiative building an open-access database of tools and methodologies to help field programmes, governments and others implement the ecosystem approach”

Human Rights Tools ( is an all volunteer non-profit which supports a site “primarily aimed at human rights activists” to share links to and information on a wide range of human rights assessment and monitoring tools. 

References for further reading

* Please note that this is only a partial list – please feel free to send us additional resources! In addition to the resources below, see also our Policy Matters issues.

Amnesty International, Human rights for human dignity: A primer on economic, social and cultural rights, Amnesty International Publications - International Secretariat: London, United Kingdom, 2005. 

Boyle, Alan and Michael Anderson (Eds.), Human Rights Approaches to Environmental Protection, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1996.

Brockington, Dan, Jim Igoe, Kai Schmidt-Soltau (2006), “Conservation, Human Rights, and Poverty Reduction”, Conservation Biology 20 (1), 250–252.  

Brockington, D., Fortress Conservation. The preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania, Oxford: James Currey, 2002.

Brocklesby, Mary Ann Sheena Crawford (2004). Operationalizing the Rights Agenda: DFID’s Participatory Rights Assessments Methodologies (PRAMs) Project. DFID: London.  March

Environmental Justice Foundation, Smash & Grab: Conflict, Corruption and Human Rights Abuses in the Shrimp Farming Industry, Environmental Justice Foundation: London, UK, 2003.

Fabricius, Christo and Eddie Koch (Eds.), Rights, Resources, and Rural Development: Community-based Natural Resource Management in Southern Africa, Earthscan: London and Sterling, Virginia, 2004. 

Ghimire, Krishna B. and Michel P. Pimbert (Eds.), Social Change and Conservation, Earthscan: London, 1997.

Hausermann, Julia, A Human Rights Approach to Development. A Discussion Paper Commission by the Department for International Development of the UK Government. Rights and Humanity: London, England, 1998.

Iorns Magallanes, Catherine J. and Malcolm Hollick, Land conflicts in Southeast Asia : indigenous peoples, environment, and international law, White Lotus Press: Bangkok, 1998.

Jordan, Lisa and Peter van Tuijl (eds), NGO Accountability: Politics, Principles and Innovations, Earthscan: London, 2006.

Louka, Elli, Biodiversity and Human Rights: The International Rules for the Protection of Biodiversity, Transnational Publishers, Inc, 2002.

Harris-Curtis, Emma, Oscar Marleyn and Oliver Bakewell, The Implications for Northern NGOs of Adopting Rights-Based Approaches, International NGO Training and Resource Center Occasional Papers Series No: 41, Nov 2005. Available at

Mchome, SE Eviction and the rights of people in conservation areas in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, Faculty of Law, University of Dar es Salaam, 2002.

Monsalve Suarez, Sofia, “Access to land and productive resources: Towards a systematic interpretation of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food – Summary”, FIAN Report R 1. Heidelberg: FIAN: 2, 2006.

Nyamu-Musembi, Celestine and Andrea Cornwall, What is the “rights-based approach” all about? Perspectives from international development agencies, IDS Working Paper 234. November 2004.

Olagbaju, Folabi K. and Stephen Mills, “Defending Environmental Defenders” Human Rights Dialogue: Environmental Rights, Series 2, No11, Spring 2004. Available at

Oviedo, G. and Van Griethuysen P., (eds.), Poverty, Equity and Rights in Conservation - Technical paper and case studies, IUCN: Gland, Switzerland and IUED: Geneva, Switzerland, 2006. Available at

Picolotti, Romina and Jorge Daniel Taillant (Eds.), Linking Human Rights and the Environment, The University of the Arizona Press: Tucson, Arizona, 2003. 

Rossi, Georges, Ingérence écologique : Environnement et développement rural du Nord au Sud, CNRS-EDITIONS : Paris, 2001.

Shivji, Issa G. and Wilbert B. Kapinga, Maasai rights in Ngorongoro, Tanzania, International Institute for Environment and Development, Hakardhi: London, 1998. Available at

Sierra Club & Amnesty International, Environmentalists Under Fire: 10 Urgent Cases of Human Rights Abuses, Sierra Club and Amnesty International, 2000. Available at

Conservation and Human Rights: Exploring Key Promises, Challenges, and Questions