Human Rights and Governance in Conservation

Human Rights and Environmental Rights

IUCN recognizes that, without a peaceful, safe, and respectful setting where human lives are valued, and without livelihood security - i.e. security of tenure and access to lands, natural resources, and other basic assets, no conservation commitment can be expected from local people. This concept, which calls for full respect for human rights, is connected with the right to a decent quality of life and to other related rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Further, in conditions of political oppression and marginalization, as frequently occurs with indigenous peoples and local communities, their active participation in, and support to, the development and enforcement of environmental laws and policies becomes impossible. The more people live in security and have their rights respected, the more they will be willing to engage in biodiversity conservation and care for their lands and resources.

IUCN, as an organization of member governments who have adhered to the International Bill of Human Rights and other human rights instruments, and of civil society organizations who have championed the cause of human rights worldwide, is fully aware of its commitment to contribute to the full and universal respect of human rights in all their dimensions.

Further, the evolution of the international environmental doctrine in the last decade seems to point to the recognition that environmental issues are founded on, or intimately linked to, the environmental human rights, i.e. the rights of present and future generations to enjoy a healthy life in a healthy environment. Thus, also from this perspective human rights issues are increasingly at the core of the preoccupations of the environmental movement. 

It is interesting to note that not less than sixty national constitutions in the world include concepts related to the protection of the environment articulated as a human right, or as a provision by which the state is required to protect the environment and citizens are entitled to demand compliance with it – therefore with a perspective of environmental justice. Practically every national constitution that has undergone reform since 1970 includes this concept, and it is reasonable to expect this pattern to continue and even to be strengthened. Given recent history, it is difficult to imagine any nation from this point forward reforming its constitution without explicitly recognizing the right of its inhabitants to a healthy environment, in one way or another.

Environmental Justice

With regards to environmental justice, there are three dimensions to be taken into consideration. The first is its connection to the human right to live in a clean and healthy environment, as indicated above; it requires fair and effective enforcement of laws and policies aiming at securing such a right. The second relates more specifically to local communities whose livelihoods depend directly on natural resources and the environment quality of the places where they live; ensuring control by such communities over their natural resources and supporting capacity building to manage these resources in a sustainable way are key components of environmental justice for them. The third dimension second is to ensure that the public at large, and especially disadvantaged communities, fully access relevant information and fully participate in decision-making relevant to the fulfilment of their environmental rights.

Rights-based approaches

Failure to conserve biodiversity can undermine the rights of the individuals and local communities that depend on such resources for their survival. Initiatives for nature conservation can therefore be seen as a way to support the respect for and fulfilment of these rights. Unfortunately, many approaches to conservation have the potential to clash with (human) rights, and at the same time, failure to respect, ensure, and fulfil internationally and domestically guaranteed rights can be a trigger for environmental destruction. Adopting rights-based approaches to conservation serve to ensure that the protection of rights and biodiversity conservation become mutually reinforcing.

The IUCN Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has developed the “Rights-Based Approach to Conservation Portal” ( to promote and encourage the implementation of rights-based approaches to conservation worldwide.

The aim is for this platform to become a central point for collecting and sharing information and experiences about worldwide initiatives which promote the integration of human rights considerations within conservation practices.

The portal offers information and also allows members to post information and write articles on themes related to RBA. Through its interactive structure the portal aims at developing an interactive community of stakeholders that will continue to share RBAs to conservation related information (case studies, publications, project information, events, etc.) and support the further promotion and development of RBAs worldwide.

You can join the portal by signing up at: