Dr Dario Novellino is an environmental human rights defender (EHRD) with an academic background in social anthropology. Over the last thirty years, Dr Novellino’s effort to protect the traditional resource rights of indigenous peoples of South-east Asia (especially in Palawan, Philippines) has been relentless, resulting in new and stronger forms of empowerment for the local communities, in the mapping of their ancestral domains and various actions to counter the encroachment of mining companies and agri-business firms on their ancestral domains. A revealing moment in the life of Dario happened in 1987, when he single-handedly managed to protect a Batak community of swidden cultivators and hunter-gatherers against a logging company that was about to exploit timber in their territory.
In 1989, Dr Novellino assisted the Penan of Sarawak in bringing their complaints to the international level, which led to an international campaign by Friends of the Earth to save the Sarawak forest, and a call to ban the importation of tropical logs from eastern Malaysia to Europe. A few years later, in the Indonesian province of Riau (Sumatra), Dario supported the Orang Batang Sikkai (also known as Sakai) to prepare a formal complaint about the entrance of petrol companies, palm oil plantations and logging concessions in their territory.
But Dr Novellino was convinced that he could do much more if he were equipped with a better understanding of the people and cultures he cared so much about. He thus studied social anthropology (Master at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1995) and environmental anthropology (PhD, University of Kent, 2003). Since then, Dario has supported and works hand-in-hand with indigenous people’s movements and organisations.
In 2013, as an honorary member of the ICCA Consortium, Dr Novellino initially conceptualised and proposed the idea of establishing a dedicated fund for land-rights defenders which is now coming into being under the name ‘SAFE’(Solidarity Action and Fund for the Defenders of the Commons and ICCAs).
In recognition of his personal and long-term commitment for indigenous peoples, Dr Novellino has received prestigious awards: the Royal Anthropology Institute’s Urgent Anthropology Fellowship (2007-2009), the Paul K. Feyerabend Award (2013) and the Darrell Posey Fellowship (2014)
Through his affiliation with the School of Anthropology and Conservation and the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) housed there, Dario hopes to facilitate the establishment of meaningful linkages and a better dialogue between ‘practitioners’ (advocates, activists, human rights' defenders, etc) and scholars/researchers working on issues dealing with environmental protection, indigenous people’s rights, international laws and standards, etc.
Dr Novellino has carried out extensive research work and published in the fields of ethnobotany, local perceptions of the environment, rock art and technology, natural resources management, dynamics of change, conservation and indigenous rights. His dissertation research, ‘Shamanism and everyday life. An account of personhood, identity and bodily knowledge’, explores the perceived relationship between self and world and the dialectic of knowledge and bodily praxis amongst the Batak of Palawan.
In addition to his ongoing interest in Palawan and South-east Asia, Dr Novellino continues to investigate the living traditions of the pastoralists of the Aurunci Mountains of Central Italy, and has assisted them to constitute their own legally registered organisation and to assert their claims to grazing land.
As part of his direct engagement in advocacy, Dario continues to study and monitor the impact of oil palm development on the indigenous people of South-east Asia, particularly in Palawan.