The authors of this article are Kabir Bavikatte and Harry Jonas (Natural Justice) and was originally published in Endogenous Development Magazine 6: ”Bio-cultural Community Protocols enforce Biodiversity Benefits”, pg 4-6. It can be found online at www.compasnet.org
Natural Justice (Lawyers for Communities and the Environment) is an NGO working with indigenous peoples and local communities to develop rights-based approaches to securing their continued management of their bio-cultural heritage. Bio-cultural community protocols are a novel type of rights based-approach that can support communities’ rights to self-determination and endogenous development and help communities to constructively engage with other stakeholders in accordance with locally defined priorities and procedures.
The Right to Endogenous Development
Endogenous development describes a community process of defining and working towards future plans according to local values. Endogenous development processes promote the use of existing resources, assets and values within communities to support the collective management of local traditions, cultures, spirituality, and natural resources. Endogenous development also stresses that external interventions and assistance must be undertaken only when the community grants free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Interventions aim to strengthen communities’ capacities for endogenous development by agreeing on a vision of success. The vision of success consists of community-endorsed changes in practices and behaviours that would occur after a certain time span within a locality as a result of strengthened endogenous development. These changes often relate to management of natural resources, diversity of livelihood strategies, local leadership and governance, intra- and inter-community dialogue, dignity, value attached to cultural and spiritual knowledge, and capacities to negotiate access to external knowledge and resources. Endogenous development is founded on the principle of self-determination, which is also reflected in international law. Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that, “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The UNDRIP’s explicit recognition of the centrality of endogenous development to self-determination constitutes a political victory at the international level, but since compliance with UNDRIP is voluntary, its effective implementation often remains elusive at the local level.
Endogenous development is already present and active in all indigenous and local communities and reflected in their capacities for self-determination. However, many communities’ capacities are undermined by the complex series of social, cultural, spiritual, economic, political, and legal relationships in which they exist.
In this context, constructive engagement with other communities, external stakeholders and regulatory frameworks according to communities’ locally defined priorities and values is an integral element of the endogenous development process. For example, the endogenous development of livestock keepers relies on access to migration routes, communal pastures and seasonal grazing areas controlled or owned by other communities, private landowners or government agencies. Their livestock breeds may also be subject to national agricultural policy and the focus of research on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. Livestock keepers’ endogenous development, in this case, is dependent on more than just the community-level decisions about their future. It also depends on the actions and inactions of external stakeholders.
The Law as a Double-edged Sword
The right to endogenous development is embedded in communities’ customary laws and enshrined in international legal instruments. However, communities face many challenges when engaging with national and international laws. Critically, whilst aspects of traditional livelihoods such as natural resource use, culture, spirituality, and traditional knowledge are integrally linked, the law addresses them separately. For example, a community who manages livestock, agricultural lands and non-timber forest products does so within a local landscape and according to customary laws. However, the national or state laws implemented by government agencies address each type of resource separately. This results in the legal fragmentation of an otherwise interconnected body of values, knowledge, practices, and resources. The same is true for laws intended to enact the UNDRIP’s overarching principle of self-determination. Various frameworks, such as those dealing with culturally appropriate education, customary uses of natural resources and the protection of traditional knowledge, are intended to enable communities’ cultural autonomy but are most often implemented in isolation. The fragmentary nature of these laws compartmentalizes and reduces communities’ pursuits of self-determination into issue-specific sites of struggle.
This issue is of direct relevance for endogenous development. Towards the overall aim of self-determination, communities are required to engage with multiple stakeholders within a variety of regulatory frameworks. Communities thus face the choice of either rejecting or engaging with these disparate and inherently limited frameworks. While the former is virtually impossible because of the strength of national legal systems, the latter raises questions in the community about how to manage the interface between their holistic ways of life and the disparate legal frameworks and implementing agencies. In this context, the practical realization of the right to self-determination is contingent on communities’ ability to engage with legal frameworks and external agencies in ways that support, rather than undermine, their endogenous development processes.
Bio-cultural Community Protocols
Rights-based approaches should not be seen as a panacea for endogenous development. However, they can support communities to exercise their rights. In such cases, making use of legally recognised rights and obligations can help facilitate constructive engagement with stakeholders in accordance with communities’ values and endogenous development plans. Through the development of bio-cultural community protocols, Natural Justice is working to bridge the gaps between existing legal rights frameworks and communities’ rights to self-determination and endogenous development.
Bio-cultural community protocols help communities adopt a rights-based approach to their endogenous development. A protocol is a community statement of self-determination which details its existing resources, assets and values and can be used as a tool for safeguarding locally identified priorities. It clarifies local procedures as well as terms and conditions for engaging with other actors such as government or conservation agencies. This way, communities effectively underscore that they are not merely “stakeholders” whose views may or may not be taken into account, but are in fact rights-holders with entitlements under law that others are obliged to respect. A protocol helps the community articulate its norms and values in its own voices while still being understood by non-community actors.
Such a process better enables communities and their stakeholders to work constructively and collaboratively towards the management of their bio-cultural heritage. Protocols also enable communities to assert their procedural and substantive rights within the context of external interventions such as proposed development projects. They can help ensure that communities are fully informed about any proposed interventions according to the principle of FPIC and fully involved in the development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the specific elements of projects that affect their lands and ways of life. Overall, bio-cultural community protocols empower communities within the multiple legal frameworks that affect their lives. In doing so, they help communities minimize the power asymmetries that often characterize government-community relations and promote a more participatory and endogenous approach to the future management of natural resources and bio-cultural heritage.
For more information see: www.naturaljustice.org