World Heritage Committee concerned over East Rennell tribal threat

By Mike Puia

THE World Heritage Committee has noted serious concern over a threat issued by one of the landowning tribes in East Rennell, on Rennell Island, Renbel province.

In a letter purported to represent Tuhunui tribe that was send to the World Heritage Council, the tribe threatened to walk out of the East Rennell World Heritage Programme by withdrawing all its lands.

According to a map annexed to the letter, the tribe marked their customary land which comprises a significant percentage of the lands within East Rennell.

The letter claimed the tribe had held a meeting and reached a decision to withdraw all its customary land from the World Heritage Programme in East Rennell.

The letter also stated that all previous negotiations regarding the nomination of East Rennell and subsequently its World Heritage status were made by community elected groups and not tribes who owned the many land areas.

It further noted that it also opposed the proposal by the Solomon Islands government to declare East Rennell as protected area under the Protected Area Act 2010.

Other members of the tribe openly expressed that they were not aware of this letter.

The World Heritage Centre responded by sending a letter to the government for comments. The government has yet to respond.

This is the second time the government has failed to respond.

Earlier, the World Heritage Committee requested the government to submit its report on the state of conservation of East Rennell World Heritage property. The government did not get back with the requested report.

The World Heritage Committee stated that since the government failed to submit a report, it is unable to identify any corrective measure in getting the East Rennell World Heritage property out of the World Heritage Site Danger list.

East Rennell, which hosts the largest inland fresh water lake in the Pacific insular, was scripted on the World Heritage List in 1998. In 2013, the site (which is customary owned) was listed on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Reasons attributed to the site being put under the World Heritage in Danger list are logging, invasive species, over-exploitation of coconut crab and other marine resources, climate change and legislation, management planning and administration of the property.

With a new threat coming from landowners, the Committee appealed to the government to seek technical and financial support to address this issue.

The Committee calls on the international donor community to support the government’s effort in this regard.

The Committee recommended that the government invites a joint World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature reactive monitoring mission to visit the property.

The Committee wanted this mission to visit the site and understand the complex interplay of customary rights within the property, take a facilitating role in dialogue between different stakeholders and communities and evaluate how the concerns expressed by landowners in the area can be addressed, whilst fully respecting their right to self-determination.

The Committee stated the mission should be able to provide timely advice to the government on possible measures regarding the property in that to help the property achieve State of Conservation for Removal.

The Committee stated the mission would also hold consultations with landowners and follow-up with international partners and ministries regarding the development of alternative livelihoods.

The Committee stated it wants this mission to assess the current state of conservation of the property and the progress achieved in addressing threats identified in previous state of conservation reports, including invasive species, bauxite mining and logging.

The Committee confirms there has not been any update on the results of the national Round Table meeting, organized by the government in August 2017. The meeting was to discuss future strategies for the property with customary owners, land users and other stakeholders.

The Committee stated the letter submitted by the Tuhunui tribe is a serious concern on the practical modalities of customary ownership, management and decision-making.

One of the main concerns landowners and land users in East Rennell repeatedly raised was that few tangible socio-economic benefits have emerged from the 20-year World Heritage programme.

The Committee stated that the development of livelihoods for the local communities that derive benefits from the conservation of the property should be a priority.

The government, through the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), did not get back to this paper when contacted for information on this matter.

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