The Dana+20 Manifesto on Mobile Peoples’ Rights

by Ariell Ahearn, Cory Rodgers and Dawn Chatty

Historically our ways of life and our human rights were too often depreciated and denied. Some of us experienced violence, forced displacement and sedentarisation. Laws were framed to deny us the same rights that were accorded to settled farmers. Our rights to our lands, territories, and the natural resources we depend on, to self-governance and to exercise our customary laws were not protected. In many countries today these discriminatory cultural prejudices, laws and policies endure despite our countries’ independence and their ratification of international human rights treaties and conventions.

These words come from the Dana+20 Manifesto, which was drafted at a workshop convened in the Wadi Dana Biosphere Reserve in September 2022. The Manifesto was endorsed by 16 delegates who identify with Mobile Peoples communities, as well as social scientists, ecologists, and practitioners in the fields of conservation, development and law.

The term Mobile Peoples encompasses not only pastoralists, but also other groups who use mobility as a strategy for managing highly variable environments and resources, whose livelihoods depend on extensive common property regimes over an area, and – as specified by the word “Peoples” – who possess a distinctive cultural identity. This term also includes hunter-gatherers, shifting agriculturalists and peripatetic “service-provider” groups.

The Dana+20 workshop marked the 20th anniversary of the Dana Declaration on Mobile Peoples and Conservation, which called attention to concerning trends in the creation of protected natural areas. Conservation parks have often denied local communities access to the ancestral lands upon which they have long relied, and where they have long managed the resources and environment. Because they do not always create permanent dwellings to mark their territory, Mobile Peoples are especially vulnerable to dispossession by such “fortress conservation” approaches, which are often premised on the perception of their lands as empty or uninhabited.

Participants of Dana + 20 workshop

The Wadi Dana Conference in 2002 brought together scholars and conservationists to find a way forward around such exclusionary practices. The resulting declaration called for greater respect for the rights of Mobile Peoples, recognition of the vast knowledge they hold about their environments, and for them to be involved in the collaborative management of protected areas. This was endorsed by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in 2002 and the World Commission on Protected Areas via the Durban Accords at  the World Parks Congress in Durban in 2003.

Much has changed since then. For one, Indigenous Peoples have themselves taken steps to ensure that they have a seat at the table. The Dana+20 Workshop hosted delegates from Mongolia, Malaysia, India, Iran, Jordan, Sweden, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Peru. In attendance were tribal representatives, leaders of local community organisations, and organisers of networks such as CENESTA, the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP) and PastroAmericas.

Conservation, development and dispossession 

Reflecting on the past two decades, delegates highlighted that the problems in the field of conservation that were addressed by the Dana Declaration also pervade other domains of human activity, including the extractives industry, agri-business and infrastructural development. Despite decades of recognition that development can be a driver of displacement and dispossession, Mobile Peoples and other Indigenous groups are still losing access to their lands and resources due to interventions undertaken for private profit, or in the name of national interest and the ‘common good’.

Participants in discussion at the workshop

Many of these processes are aimed at economic growth, and as such are exacerbating destructive trends in climate change that Mobile Peoples are the first to bear. And the irony, as laid out in the Manifesto, is that Mobile Peoples “are too often targeted as emitters just for continuing [their] traditional lifeways, while extractive industries continue unchallenged”.

One striking observation shared by a number of delegates was that even renewable and ‘green’ energy projects have been responsible for dispossessing mobile peoples of their lands and resources. This is especially concerning for those of us who look to the green transition as the sustainable and ‘ethical’ alternative to humanity’s long-standing dependency on fossil fuels. But many of the infrastructures required for this transition – including wind power, solar farms, hydroelectric dams and geothermal plants – are imposed on mobile peoples’ lands without their consent, and often aimed at distant and primarily urban beneficiaries.

Past challenges and way forward

Given that the second biggest group in the room was academics, the delegates also discussed the challenges to effective and ethical collaborations between researchers and communities. They called out the tendency for researchers to arrive with pre-determined priorities and questions, rather than consulting communities about the design of the research.

They also called for funders to ensure that research projects have sufficient longevity for communities to develop a relationship with researchers and to understand and participate in the academic process.

Jaoiji Alhassan, the program manager of the Confederation of Traditional Stockbreeders Organizations (CORET) in West Africa, pointed to the importance of having a strategy for effective dissemination of results to communities, who cannot often be reached simply through online publications of pamphlets. A more diverse array of technologies and dissemination methods should be used, including verbal communication and community fora.

With that in mind, a Plan of Action was agreed in the closing hours of the Dana+20 workshop. This included steps to disseminate the Manifesto at the United Nations Forum for Indigenous Issues in 2024, and to plan an event in 2025 in association with the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists around Mobile Peoples’ contribution to sustainable pasture and rangeland. Looking ahead, the Dana Standing Committee will fundraise to enable ongoing programming and activities.

The Dana+20 workshop was held from 7 – 10 September 2022 at the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan and was made possible in part by financial support from the PASTRES project. A detailed report on the discussions and activities at the workshop is available in the Spring 2023 Issue of the journal Nomadic Peoples.

The main outcome of the workshop – the Dana+20 Manifesto – is available on the Dana Declaration website, and you can get updates on Twitter by following @DanaDeclaration.

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