Rights-based Approaches

Rights-based Approaches

Rights-based approaches (RBAs) are being promoted as a means to ensure that conservation policy and practice support communities’ rights to self-determination and well-being and promote social, cultural, and environmental justice. RBAs are “integrating rights norms, standards, and principles into policy, planning, implementation, and outcomes assessment to help ensure that conservation practice respects rights in all cases, and supports their further realization where possible.” They are based on the principle that communities are not merely stakeholders whose views governmental and conservation agencies may take into account, but are rights-holders to whom implementing agencies have statutory obligations. In addition, every right is accompanied by responsibilities and duties to the self and to other individuals and collectives. Communities may take this principle even further by acknowledging their duties to specific plants, totemic animals, or all of Mother Earth. Rights-based approaches must thus acknowledge not only the rights of all parties (including communities) under both positive and customary law, but also their duties. Such an understanding of the fundamental nature of rights ensures that rights-based approaches to conservation are not simply defensive demands by marginalized groups, but are commitments to work constructively towards consensus on the basis of mutual recognition of parties’ respective rights and duties.

The integrity of rights-based approaches must be ensured both within institutions and within communities. At the institutional level, implementing agencies must improve their understanding of communities’ rights and duties and instate measures to ensure that their actions accord with the standards and procedures established by customary, national, and international laws. The Conservation Initiative on Human Rights (CIHR) is a good example of the institutional change that is being undertaken by a consortium of international conservation NGOs that seek to improve the practice of conservation through the integration of human rights. The commitment shown by these organizations is commendable and necessary, but constitutes only part of the multifaceted approach that is required to enact institutional change in policy and practice. The ability of communities to engage as equals in the implementation of environmental laws is also critically important, and legal empowerment is one contributing factor to this transformation.



Rights-based Approaches: Exploring Issues and Opportunities for Conservation (Campese et al. (Eds.), 2009)
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Conservation and Human Rights: The Need for International Standards (Roe et al., 2010)
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Protecting Community Rights Over Traditional Knowledge: Implications of Customary Law and Practices (Swiderska et al., 2009)
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Land Conflict Management in South Africa: Lessons Learned from a Land Rights Approach (Bosch, 2003)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating Stewardship, Asserting Rights, Affirming Responsibilities
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Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators (Natural Justice, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating and Asserting Stewardship (Moving Images & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Rooibos Robbery: A Story of Bioprospecting in South Africa (Steps Southern Africa, 2012)
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Maldhari Biocultural Community Protocol Photo Story (Sahjeevan & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators
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