This Human Rights Day, Stand With the Maasai to End Fortress Conservation
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 74 years ago, enshrines a host of fundamental rights for all people. Today, human rights remain under attack from the usual suspects—authoritarian governments and greedy corporations—as well as from the Western conservation industry that garners much international respect.
Using euphemism of "conservation," this industry is advancing plans that threaten to eliminate the basic rights of millions of Indigenous peoples around the world. Under the proposed "30x30 initiative," member states to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) would declare at least 30% of the world's land and sea masses as protected areas by 2030. The proposal, set to be adopted at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) of the CBD in Montreal, which began on December 7, 2022, sets the stage for massive land grabs and human rights violations. Human rights advocates warn that protected areas, the bedrock of a neocolonial, Western conservation model, have led to "widespread evictions, hunger, ill health, and human rights violations, including killings, rapes, and torture across Africa and Asia." This is backed by studies showing that meeting the 30% target could directly displace and dispossess 300 million people.
While the devastating impact of fortress conservation has been felt around the globe, the Maasai in Tanzania have been subject to some of the worst brutality and cruelty. Pastoralist communities' rights to life, security, food, housing, and freedom from arbitrary arrest are under siege from a government using the guise of conservation to justify its actions. In Loliondo, violence erupted on June 8, 2022 after the Tanzanian government initiated the demarcation of 1,500 square kilometers of land it intends to turn into a game reserve for trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Otterlo Business Company (OBC). When communities gathered to protest the demarcation, they were met with a barrage of open fire from security forces, wounding dozens and displacing thousands. As a result of the illegal demarcation exercise, 70,000 people have lost access to dry-season grazing land critical to the health of their livestock and their livelihoods. Nearby in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), the government continues with harsh cuts in vital services to force Maasai to "volunteer" for resettlement away from the lands they have stewarded for generations. The only hospital for 60,000 pastoralists has had services drastically slashed by the government. Grazing areas remain constrained and home gardens are banned, resulting in an ongoing hunger crisis. The Maasai are struggling to survive.