A new Report, “Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya”, published in November 2012 by the Institute for Culture and Ecology, African Biodiversity Network and the Gaia Foundation calls for greater recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories and their Community Governance Systems.
For millennia, indigenous and local communities around the world have upheld their responsibilities, passed down by their grandparents and ancestors, as the Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories. Sacred Natural Sites are critical places within ecosystems, such as forests, mountains and rivers, which exist as a network embedded within a territory. It is because of the communities’ traditional ecological knowledge and customs that biodiversity as well as cultural identity, spiritual practices and customary governance systems have been protected.
The Report reveals, however, that many Sacred Natural Sites and communities in Kenya, such as the Kaya forests, and across the planet are under threat from mining, tourism and other development. There is inadequate recognition of communities’ customary governance systems of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories – a view shared by Natural Justice’s Kenya Legal Review 2012 in the context of ICCAs. Further the Report explains how legal and policy frameworks in Kenya are complex, contradictory and human-centred – supporting short-term human interests at the expense of the larger community of life on Earth and future generations. There are however significant opportunities for change.
The Report examines in detail how the Kenyan Constitution 2010 and national and international laws can support the recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and their community governance systems. It makes a number of recommendations for communities, civil society and Government to strengthen the recognition of, and support for, community Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and their customary governance systems, based on ‘Earth Law’ principles. It also explores some of the issues which need to be addressed in the pending Community Land Act in Kenya.
Gathuru Mburu, Coordinator of the African Biodiversity Network based in Kenya, comments, ”This report shows the progressive development and potential of Kenya’s legal system towards recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories. The community protection of these sacred places, in accordance with customary governance systems which respect the larger Earth Community of life, is non-negotiable if we are to ensure the health and wellbeing of present and future generations.”
Community initiatives in Kenya and other countries, which are establishing precedents to protect and secure legal recognition of sacred lands, are also explored. For example, the Statement of Common African Customary Laws for the Protection of Sacred Natural Sites and film Sacred Voices; the registration of a network of Sacred Natural Sites in Venda, South Africa including as an ICCA; the recognition of UNESCO Intangible Heritage in Pira Paraná, Colombia; and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Sheka forest, Ethiopia.
Liz Hosken, Director of the Gaia Foundation in the UK, comments, ‘‘This Report urges us all to recognise and support the calls of communities to respect their Sacred Natural Sites and Territories as No-Go areas for “development’’, and to recognise indigenous and local communities as the Custodians who protect these sacred places, through their ecological governance systems.’’
The Report serves as a timely training and advocacy tool for all those seeking to defend these sanctuaries of bio-cultural diversity from growing threats, and to secure recognition of communities’ rights and responsibilities to govern and protect Sacred Natural Sites and Territories on their own terms.