Legal analysis finds tribal peoples persecuted for ‘wildlife crime’

By agency reporter
February 28, 2015

British human rights lawyer Gordon Bennett yesterday (28 February) issued a damning legal analysis of the negative impacts of wildlife law enforcement on tribal peoples in Botswana, Cameroon and India during a symposium organised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and others on 'wildlife crime'.

Mr Bennett presented a paper which argues that wildlife law enforcement almost always harms tribal communities because the wrong laws are being enforced by the wrong people against the wrong people – with examples from Botswana, Cameroon and India.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, points out that the Kalahari Bushmen’s right to hunt for food is a fundamental human right confirmed by Botswana’s High Court. President Khama has illegally banned all hunting in the country – except for wealthy trophy hunters. Bushmen caught hunting are arrested, beaten and tortured.

Bushman spokesperson Jumanda Gakelebone said, “We are still hunter-gatherers. We want to be recognised as hunter-gatherers. If you say don’t hunt, it means don’t eat. If you are going to ban hunting, you have to consult us. You’re going to turn us into poachers. But hunting for us has never been about poaching. We hunt for food.”

In India, efforts to save the tiger have led to the illegal eviction of countless communities. In Cameroon, Baka 'Pygmies' have been beaten or tortured by anti-poaching squads and now fear going into their forest, with devastating consequences for their health, livelihoods and indigenous knowledge.

Mr Bennett called on conservationists to implement a radically different approach which listens to tribal peoples’ voices as the “eyes and ears of the land,” and to respects their rights.

The symposium in South Africa precedes a major intergovernmental conference on the illegal wildlife trade in Kasane, Botswana, in March 2015. Governments, as well as the consortium of conservation organisations United for Wildlife have been criticised for failing to publicly acknowledge that tribal hunters are not poachers .

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, said: “Tribal people and Survival International are calling on the conference in Botswana and United For Wildlife organisations to issue a statement on tribal subsistence hunting: 'Tribal peoples shouldn’t be criminalised for hunting to feed their families.'”

* Survival International


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