International Rights

Sustainable Livelihoods Approach and Farmers’ Rights 

“International agencies, governmental departments and NGOs have used SLA variously to deal with access to resources but have generally not been able to cope with issues of resource control and conflict… Sustainable development requires changes in socio-political attitudes and structures, and in the specific instruments of development, which at present are not taking place. So both nationally and internationally, behind all the … rhetoric of equity, it seems to be business as usual. Indeed sustainable development itself has become big business”. ~ Krishna, 1996a, p. 224, 252-253

The concept sustainable development was explained in the World Commission on Environment and Development commonly called the Brundtland Commission as that which ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

Instead of using the compromised term ‘sustainable development’ many NGOs alternatively apply the concept of sustainable livelihoods as a perception from ‘below’. The view from below means that the concept conveys the perceptions, experiences and needs of the people.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) adopted a ‘Sustainable Livelihoods Approach’ (SLA) as a central platform (Krishna, 2009). UNDP defines the term as,

‘the capability of people to make a living and improve their quality of life without jeopardizing the livelihood options of others, either now or in the future.’

The approach links poverty alleviation with social sustainability.

Farmers’ Rights are significant in the SLA.

Farmers Rights seek to specifically recognize farmers for having adapted genetic resources over generations to meet the requirements of specific ecosystems, thus creating biodiversity through the work produced through sustainable livelihoods.

Saving and exchange of seeds and seedlings ensure that many different climate adapted crop varieties are available to deal with increasingly unpredictable weather conditions. Without selective breeding, seed saving and exchange the quality of urgently needed yields will decrease and deteriorate. Farmers’ Rights initiatives such as the ITPGRFA seek to defend these traditional agricultural practices vital to the survival of the rural poor.

Indigenous Rights 

 “the extent to which indigenous peoples are incorporated into decision-making processes on IK will be indicative of commitments to realization of rights to self-determination, and to respect and recognition for customary law and governance structures.” ~  Tobin, 2009, p. 110

Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination are legally recognized in the binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

Rights to indigenous self-determination are contingent upon rights to participation.

UNDRIP ensures indigenous rights to participation in the decision-making process, representation selection and requires states to consult with indigenous peoples to obtain PIC before enacting legislation or administrative measures that impact them. If indigenous resources have been taken, used or damaged without PIC then states must provide fair and equitable compensation.

The CBD and WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) have adopted measures to guarantee more participation of indigenous peoples in their IK discussions.

However, indigenous peoples are still marginalized in international forums. To counteract structural violence in the International negotiation on ABS (as a remedy to TRIPS) the full participation of indigenous peoples in all levels of decision-making, implementation and enforcement of relevant law and policy is necessary.

The customs associated with farming and seed saving should be considered institutions just as much as formal state laws according to Eyzaguirre and Dennis (2007).

Local institutions governing rights to natural resources are often more effective from the perspective of local peoples than formal laws and regulations. The inclusion of customary law into the ABS mechanism is essential to protecting indigenous rights.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of customary law is necessary to lay the foundations of indigenous rights to participation.

Tobin (2009) argues that if the ABS mechanism is to protect IK it must be codified in customary law and evolved in the context of self-determination. The WHO agrees that various traditional customary laws that apply to knowledge access should be respected so as to preserve and sustain such knowledge.

Cultural Rights 

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to maintain, protect, and develop their cultures including IK and any intellectual property over it (Tobin, 2009).

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has noted that the right to “participation in cultural life” also includes

“the right to benefit from cultural values created by the individual or the community… The right to culture incorporates protection for knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs, and habits as well ‘ideological systems.”

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity recognize the significance of cultural pluralism and affirms that respect for the diversity of cultures is vital for international peace and human rights. The Declaration states that the diversity of cultures is as important “as biodiversity is for nature” and that defense of cultural diversity is “an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity.”

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