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									Conservation, Development, and Customary Uses of Natural Resources in an Era of
Biocultural Rights

The rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, particularly related to their roles in
environmental governance, are increasingly being recognized at the international level. Gaps
remain, however, between international recognition of these rights and their realization at the
national and local levels. One of the main reasons is that natural resources (and related ecosystem
functions) that are critical to local livelihoods are often owned and controlled by governments,
companies, and non-profit organizations in the name of national sovereignty, economic
development, and environmental conservation. This has resulted in widespread environmental and
human rights abuses around the world, with conservation and development policies and
programmes being conceptualized and implemented at the expense and in exclusion of
communities’ rights and livelihoods.

In contrast, the movement for rights-based approaches to conservation and development is
essentially a call for the decentralization of environmental governance to ensure sustainable and
equitable livelihoods. It promotes the full and effective participation of communities in any
activities taking place on their traditionally occupied or used lands, waters, and territories. It also
argues that such activities should only be undertaken if communities provide their free, prior and
informed consent to do so. There are various rights-based approaches and tools to assist in these
processes, including participatory mapping, community protocols, multi-stakeholder dialogue, and
legal empowerment. Yet certain rights-based approaches are also critiqued for being regimented and
procedurally prescriptive, thus running contrary to their intended aim by restricting communities’
ability to make meaningful choices about their own futures (i.e. the right to self-determination).

This session will include a back-to-back panel of presentations and organized session. It will,
among other things, describe and constructively critique: the environmental issues of greatest
contention, including climate change, forests, and biodiversity; the long-held view that
communities’ traditional ways of life and customary uses of natural resources are incompatible with
externally-driven conservation and development policies and programmes; the interplay between
communities’ biocultural rights and other stakeholders’ responsibilities at the international, national,
and local levels; tensions between large-scale conservation organizations and human rights concerns
(including through the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights); the use of various rights-based
approaches in different parts of the world; and community perspectives on legal empowerment. The
discussion session will draw on participants’ experiences and insights to explore practical and
constructive community-based approaches to address the above issues.

It is anticipated that a short publication will be produced based on the presentations and subsequent

If you are interested in presenting at or attending this session, please contact:

Ms. Holly Shrumm (
Mr. Harry Jonas (

Note that there are limited spaces available for presentations.

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