Karen Peace Park Wins UN’s 2020 Equator Prize

A Karen indigenous environmental conservation initiative in Northern Karen State, Burma has been named as one of this year’s Equator Prize winners.

The United Nations Development Program awarded the prestigious Equator Prize to the Salween Peace Park for their landscape conservation works. The Salween Peace Park is a community-led initiative, empowers local Indigenous communities by revitalizing their traditional practices, asserting their rights, and managing their natural resources. The Equator Prize was established by the United Nations Development Program in 2002 and is awarded biennially for outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through conservation and by sustainable use of biodiversity.

Pual Sein Twa, President of the Salween Peace Park spoke to Karen News about the award.

“This award, is recognition by the international community and the United Nations for the efforts of the Salween Peace Park and Indigenous Karen people.”

The Salween Peace Park focused is on the bio-diverse landscape from Papun (Mutraw) district of Karen State in Eastern Burma. It is sustainably managed by Karen communities through an inclusive democratic governance structure that provides spaces for local people and leaders to ‘talk’ as equals. According to a statement by the Salween Peace Park, wildlife sanctuaries, forest reserves, and community forests have been established under Kaw customary land. The Salween Peace Park explain their work is an alternative to the current top-down, militarized, destructive ‘development’ destroying much of the country.

The Salween Peace Park pointed out this award constitutes direct recognition by the international community of the achievements of Mutraw’s Indigenous Karen communities. The Salween Peace Park was given the award because of their value for their traditional ways of life and for protecting their rights and territories.

The award was announced officially on June 5th, and the presentation ceremony will take place in September during Climate Week. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 concerns the awards ceremony will now be digitally hosted by the UNDP in New York.

Paul Sein Twa told Karen News land laws in Burma do not recognized customary land practices and management and now is the time for the government to change the existing land laws that are discriminatory to Indigenous people. Paul Sein said efforts by ethnic communities should be also recognized at local and national levels.

“Everything we demanded from the past was very important for our Karen people and for nation. Therefore, the Karen National Union should recognize us as should the Burma government. We need to maintain our natural resources, our traditional way of life and nurture our rivers. The government needs to enact laws to protect the rights of indigenous people.”

The Salween Peace Park is located in the Mutraw (Papun) district of Northern Karen State in Eastern Burma.

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