Monday, April 26, 2010

Permanent Issues with ABS?

The ninth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) in New York has issued a joint statement about the Convention on Biological Diversity's draft Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) that arose from recent negotiations in Cali, Colombia. The 18-page statement, written by 27 indigenous nations and organizations, calls for environmental agreements such as the CBD and draft ABS protocol to be interpreted within the context of international human rights instruments, particularly the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It asserts that there are significant substantive and procedural problems with the CBD process that threaten to undermine the right to self-determination and the entire international human rights system. It also argues that the draft ABS protocol does not maintain the standard of free, prior and informed consent and does not provide assurance of fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of traditional knowledge of genetic resources. Among other things, it calls for respect for customary laws, institutions, and community procedures, and for recognition of the integral interlinkages between biological and cultural diversity.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

REDD Alert

Coinciding with Earth Day (April 22), Bolivian President Evo Morales closed the historic First Peoples' World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth's Rights in Cochabamba. Attended by indigenous peoples from the Americas, the conference was called in the wake of the UNFCCC COP in Copenhagen, which has been largely panned as a global failure. In Cochabamba, indigenous delegates notably rejected "predatory" policies like the UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). Based on the draft Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, the conference's final declaration on forests states, "We condemn the mechanisms of the neoliberal market, such as the REDD mechanism and its versions REDD+ and REDD++, which are violating the sovereignty of our Peoples and their rights to free, prior and informed consent and self-determination." The full article can be found here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Leveling the Playing Field

On April 19, Kabir Bavikatte (Natural Justice) facilitated a workshop organized by the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO) in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. Participants included representatives of the Nkandla, Mkhwanazi, and Mhalabuyilingana communities and the University of Zululand. The workshop was designed to discuss a potential agreement for the documentation of indigenous knowledge of the communities by the University as a part of its Department of Science and Technology (DST)-supported Knowledge Management program. The main component of the workshop was a role-play scenario about a university seeking to document two communities' shared indigenous knowledge. The role-play enabled participants to discuss key issues and to provide the DST with clear terms and conditions for the documentation of their indigenous knowledge. DST is now interested in developing bio-cultural community protocols with the three communities to inform a potential memorandum of understanding with the University of Zululand. The NIKSO is also considering a longer-term collaboration with Natural Justice to support the development of these community protocols.

The Ban (Ki-moon) on Indigenous Peoples

The annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opened on Monday, April 19, with a call from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Member States to promote development while respecting the values and traditions of indigenous peoples. "The loss of irreplaceable cultural practices and means of artistic expression makes us all poorer, wherever our roots may lie," the Secretary-General highlighted. "Indigenous cultures, languages and ways of life are under constant threat from climate change, armed conflict, lack of educational opportunities, and discrimination... Elsewhere, your cultures are being distorted, commodified and used to generate profits which do not benefit indigenous people, and can even lead to harm." During the first day of the meeting, New Zealand announced that it will reverse its decision and support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). According to an article by IPS, indigenous leaders attending the forum described the shift in New Zealand's policy, together with the recent endorsement of UNDRIP by Australia, as a positive sign for the struggle of indigenous peoples to protect their lands, resources, cultures, and languages. Read the UN news release here.

Sharing the benefits of facilitation

Johanna von Braun and Gino Cocchiaro (Natural Justice) attended a workshop for access and benefit sharing (ABS) facilitators in Bonn, Germany, this week. The weeklong workshop was organized by the ABS Capacity Development Initiative for Africa and led by experienced facilitators working in ABS. It helped participants gain knowledge and practical experience with large groups and multi-stakeholder methods for facilitating ABS-related workshops at the national and regional levels. Other participants attending the workshop were from a range of African countires, including Mozambique, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria. In addition to gaining valuable experience from the in-depth training, Johanna and Gino have also been invited to be part of a network of facilitators working on ABS in Africa.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

PoWPA to the people

The recent in-depth review of the Convention on Biological Diversity's Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA) found that Parties were far behind in targets, particularly in Element 2 on governance, participation, equity, and benefit-sharing. A workshop on "Improved Protected Areas Governance for Livelihood Security and Rights in Southern Africa", hosted by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), aimed to begin to address these gaps. From April 12-16, Holly Shrumm (Natural Justice) attended the workshop in the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area along with representatives of governments, NGOs and communities from South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Mozambique. They discussed not only challenges such as the lack of enabling legal and policy frameworks, but also opportunities for enhancing protected area governance through rights-based approaches. They also provided recommendations on the PoWPA to southern African delegates with specific reference to Element 2. Delegates attending the upcoming Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) in Nairobi will be tasked with incorporating state and regional recommendations into a revised PoWPA to be adopted at the Conference of Parties in October.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

(Un)Common Knowledge

Natural Justice has been invited to facilitate a one-day workshop with three communities in KwaZulu-Natal on April 19th. The workshop will be hosted by the Knowledge Management Program of the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO) under the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST). The Knowledge Management Program established an Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Center at the University of Zululand to ensure the protection, preservation and dissemination of indigenous knowledge and to facilitate its use for socio-economic development processes within communities. The IKS Center is the first project of its kind in South Africa that will facilitate community-led documentation of indigenous knowledge through audio and visual media. The knowledge will continue to be owned by the communities, but will be held at the IKS, which reports to a steering committee comprised partly of community representatives. An MoU is currently being developed between the University and the communities that will highlight the communities' rights to ownership over and access to the knowledge. The workshop that Natural Justice will facilitate will include discussions of how bio-cultural community protocols can be developed to support the communities' control over their knowledge and customary ways of life, of representative decision-making institutions, and of the challenges and opportunities of rights related to documentation of indigenous knowledge. Natural Justice will also give technical input on the draft MoU between the communities and the University to ensure that it adequately represents the rights and interests of the communities.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Making the Right(s) Links to IUCN

Natural Justice compiled two case studies for the IUCN Rights-based Approach to Conservation Portal based on our work with communities. One study focuses on the Raika pastoralists in Rajasthan, who are custodians of unique breeds of sheep and camels but face exclusion from their customary grazing lands. The Raika and their supporting NGO, Lakhu Pashu-Palak Sansthan, worked with Natural Justice to develop a bio-cultural community protocol to call on the National Biodiversity Authority to recognize and respect their rights under Indian and international law. The second study focuses on the Bushbuckridge traditional healers in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region. The traditional healers care for their communities' physical, cultural and spiritual wellbeing, but their livelihoods are threatened by lack of access to traditional harvesting areas and over-use of medicinal plants by outsiders. The traditional healers have grouped together to develop a bio-cultural community protocol to call on South African government agencies for recognition of their traditional knowledge and rights under domestic and international law. These two case studies contribute to a growing body of literature on rights-based approaches, largely driven by two key publications: "Rights-based approaches: Exploring issues and opportunities for conservation" (IUCN and CIFOR, 2009) and "Conservation with Justice: A Rights-based Approach" (IUCN, 2009).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Community Protocols in the Draft ABS Protocol

The 9th meeting of the Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) ended with a decision to hold a further meeting before the 10th Conference of the Parties to try to finalize its work of "elaborating and negotiating" an international regime on ABS. The parties agreed to negotiate on the basis of what is now being referred to as "the draft protocol on ABS" (UNEP/CBD/WG-ABS/9/L2). That document contains reference to community protocols in a number of instances, including in the (draft) preamble: "Mindful that when traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources is being accessed, it is the right of indigenous and local communities, consistent with their laws, customary laws, community protocols and procedures, as applicable, to identify the rightful holders of the knowledge within their indigenous and local communities." It also states in the operative provision under "Traditional Knowledge Associated with Genetic Resources" that "Parties shall support, as appropriate, the development by indigenous and local communities of community protocols in relation to access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of its utilization." For a full report of the meeting, see: