Six World Heritage Sites that occupy stolen Indigenous land: Report

News Excerpt: 

Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous and/or tribal peoples and uncontacted peoples, accused UNESCO of being complicit in the illegal eviction and abuse of Indigenous people in a new report launched on World Heritage Day 2024.

Key points about the Survival International Report:

  • Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are, in fact, located on what were once indigenous lands.
  • Serious and continuing conservation-related rights abuses, including torture, rape, and killings of Indigenous people, are taking place in and around these World Heritage Sites.
  • The report lists six World Heritage Sites that occupy stolen Indigenous land -
    • Three in Africa (Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, Kahuzi-Biega National Park in DRC, and Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Republic of Congo).
    • Three in Asia (Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex in Thailand, Kaziranga National Park in India, and Chitwan National Park in Nepal).
  • The report highlights specific cases of abuse, such as -
    • The Tanzanian government's plans to evict thousands of Maasai people from Ngorongoro Crater.
    • The ongoing campaign since 2019 to purge the indigenous Batwa people from their ancestral lands in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
  • Survival International also levelled serious charges against UNESCO on Kaziranga in Assam, globally famous for its one-horned rhinos:
    • Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve in Northeast India has been a UNESCO WHS since 1985.
    • Since that time, it has become infamous for brutal extra-judicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, with park guards shooting on sight with impunity.
    • It is home to the Mising and Karbi people, as well as other Indigenous peoples brought to the area to work on the tea estates, collectively known locally as the “tea tribes”.
    • Between 1990 and 2016, park guards killed 144 people in the park, including a severely disabled indigenous man.
  • Far from expressing alarm at the extrajudicial killings in Kaziranga, the UNESCO World Heritage Center, in its 2011 State of Conservation report, praised a government notification that gives forest officers immunity from prosecution if they use firearms in the course of their duty, as a “significant step to prevent poaching and boost staff morale”
    • The report claims that while the number of extrajudicial killings has reduced in Kaziranga after the matter came to light in 2016, the indigenous people living around the park are still harassed and banned from entering their ancestral lands.
  • Survival International calls on UNESCO to remove World Heritage status from any site where human rights atrocities against Indigenous peoples are occurring.
    • UNESCO has played a key role in giving legitimacy to many of the most notorious Protected Areas in Africa and Asia.

UNESCO World Heritage

  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
  • This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
  • At present in India, there are 42 World Heritage sites out of which 34 are cultural sites, seven are natural sites and one is a mixed site.

Natural World Heritage sites 

  • Natural World Heritage sites contain some of the Earth's most valuable natural areas recognized as being of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) to humanity for their global significance to nature conservation. 
  • To date, there are 266 natural sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including 218 sites recognised for their natural value and 39 mixed sites (recognized under both natural and cultural criteria). 

World Heritage Day 2024 

  • World Heritage Day, also known as International Day for Monuments and Sites (IDMS), is celebrated annually on April 18 to honour and preserve our heritage.
  • World Heritage Day brings together individuals, organisations, societies and governments to unite to raise awareness about the importance of historical sites and to promote their protection.

World Heritage Day 2024 Theme

  • The theme for World Heritage Day 2024 is ‘Discover and Experience Diversity.’ This theme highlights the richness of our history. It also reminds us to explore and appreciate the unique heritage of different communities.

Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR):

  • It is located in Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur districts of Assam.
  • It is the oldest park in Assam and covers an area of 430 sq km along the river Brahmaputra in the north and the Karbi Anglong hills in the south.
  • National Highway 37 passes through the park area and tea estates, hemmed by table-top tea bushes.
  • It is inhabited by the world's largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses (2,613 according to 2023 Census).
    • It is also known for the "BIG FIVE" mammals: one-horned rhinos, tigers, elephants, Asiatic wild buffalos, and eastern swamp deer.
  • It was declared a National Park in 1974.
    • In 1985, UNESCO declared Kaziranga National Park a World Heritage Site.
    • Over time, the tiger population also increased in Kaziranga, and that’s the reason Kaziranga was declared a Tiger Reserve in 200

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area:

  • The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (809,440 ha) spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests, from the plains of the Serengeti National Park in the north-west, to the eastern arm of the Great Rift Valley.
  •  The area was established in 1959 as a multiple land use area, with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practising traditional livestock grazing. 
  • It includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest caldera, and Olduvai Gorge, a 14km long deep ravine. 
  • In 1959 it was separately designated the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
  • The property has global importance for biodiversity conservation in view of the presence of globally threatened species such as the black Rhino,
  • Extensive archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years.

 Kahuzi-Biega National Park:

  • A vast area of primary tropical forest dominated by two spectacular extinct volcanoes, Kahuzi and Biega.
  • Kahuzi-Biega National Park is an exceptional habitat for the eastern lowland gorillas (or de Grauer), sub-species endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and listed under the endangered category on the IUCN Red Data Book.
  • The Park contains a flora and fauna of exceptional diversity, making it one of the most important sites in the Rift Albertine Valley.

Odzala-Kokoua National Park:

  • Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s oldest national parks, covers an expansive 13,546 km2 and lies in the heart of the Congo Basin, the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon.
    • The Congo Basin spans more than two million square kilometres across six countries, accounts for 18% of the world's remaining rainforest and is one of the most biologically diverse and species-rich areas on the planet.

Kaeng Krachan National Park (KKNP)

  • Kaeng Krachan National Park (KKNP) has been designated as the largest national park in Thailand, covering 2,915 km2 at the southern end of the Tenasserim Mountain range. 
  • The site is situated in a transition zoogeographical sub-region between Sundaic, Indochinese and Sino-Himalayan and consequently supports a rich and diverse species of wildlife and plants.
  • There are several endangered species such as tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) and Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) within the area. 
  • It is highly important landscape for conservation, concerned as a biodiversity hotspot and listed as ASEAN Heritage site in 2005.

Chitwan National Park:

  • Chitwan National Park (CNP), established in 1973, was Nepal’s first National Park. Located in the Southern Central Terai of Nepal, it formerly extended over the foothills, the property covers an area of 93,200 hectares, extends over four districts: Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Parsa and Makwanpur. 
  • The park is the last surviving example of the natural ecosystems of the ‘Terai’ region and covers subtropical lowland, wedged between two east-west river valleys at the base of the Siwalik range of the outer Himalayas. 
  • The core area lies between the Narayani (Gandak) and Rapti rivers to the north and the Reu River and Nepal-India international border in the south, over the Sumeswar and Churia hills, and from the Dawney hills west of the Narayani, and borders with Parsa Wildlife Reserve to the east.
  • In 2003, Beeshazar and associated lakes within the buffer zone were designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
  • It is home to one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros and is also one of the last refuges of the Bengal Tiger.

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