Sacred natural sites are where we come from, the heart of life…We cannot live without our sacred natural sites and we are responsible for protecting them.”

Statement by African Custodian Communities, Ethiopia, 2015

Deep in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, the cradle of life, a group of African custodians met in 2015 to discuss how to protect the continent’s sacred natural sites and territories. These special places are havens for biodiversity, protected since time immemorial by indigenous and traditional peoples whose lifeways and cosmologies have emerged in relationship with these places.

A victory to celebrate…

At their 2015 meeting, custodians decided to take their voices to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), seeking greater recognition and protection from Africa’s most respected human rights institution.

Two years on, we are delighted to share a huge victory on this journey!

Women in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, photograph by Damien Prestidge for The Gaia Foundation


After much lobbying and advocacy by Gaia, the African Biodiversity Network, African partner organisations and other allies, The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights has just passed a new resolution that will start a new chapter in the protection of sacred natural sites and territories in Africa.

Read our Q&A to find out what this precedent really means… 

Stopping the bleeding…

In a nutshell, this new resolution strengthens the call for these critical places to be protected from unwanted industrial projects, like mining, and builds the power of indigenous custodians of sacred lands. It follows a similar victory last year at the world’s largest conservation gathering- the World Conservation Congress.

The new resolution:
  • Increases the pressure on African States to recognise and protect sacred natural sites, territories and governance systems following the example of Benin, where Gaia’s partners GRABE helped secure Africa’s first legislation on sacred natural sites.
  • Opens the door to legal proceedings against violators of sacred natural sites and territories who would otherwise act with impunity.
  • Begins to decolonise African conservation, strengthening the work and resolve of custodian communities Gaia and our partners are accompanying to revive and protect their sacred natural sites and territories on their own terms.

Find out more here. 

Right now this is vital. In their relentless search for profit, the extractive industries are infringing on more than 30% of Africa’s protected areas. In Uganda alone, mining licenses have been granted in 25 of the country’s 28 protected areas.

Helping the healing…

In Ethiopia alone, the efforts of custodian communities have secured the community-led demarcation of 22 sacred natural sites. Across Africa, similar processes are under way that allow life to flourish as communities revive and stand strong within their eco-literate cultures despite centuries of colonial domination.

The new resolution is a major step forward for these custodian communities, says Gaia’s Director, Liz Hosken:

“Indigenous peoples are facing increasing violation of their ancestral lands in the scramble for Africas rich natural heritage. The current dominant legal system legitimises the plundering of the planet. In this landmark resolution, the African Commission opens a space for decolonising law and affirming plurilegal systems which recognise the Earth as the primary source of law, Earth Jurisprudence, the underpinning of customary governance systems.”

We would like to acknowledge the African Biodiversity Network, our partners and the African Earth Jurisprudence network, and other allies such as Roger Chennells, Nigel Crawhall, Dr Rachel Murray, Minority Rights Group and various African Commissioners and advisers for their hard work and sage advice in helping achieve this precedent.


Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, the journey continues!