Biocultural Rights

Biocultural Rights

Communities who conserve and sustainably use natural resources are eligible for a particular range of rights. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for example, under Article 8(j) singles out special treatment of “indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity”. Rather than thinking about particular instruments (CBD or UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) or types of laws (“environment” or “human rights”) it is instructive to look at rights that pertain to certain groups. This is the thinking behind the movement for farmers’ rights and livestock keepers’ rights, where activists have focused on the laws and policies required by farmers and livestock keepers to maintain their local plant varieties and indigenous breeds.

Darrell Posey thought in this way about the rights of communities whose ways of life result in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. He called these rights ‘traditional resources rights’ (TRR) and described as them as “…a bundle of basic rights that include human and cultural rights, the right to self-determination, and land and territorial rights …[that] recognize the right of Indigenous peoples and local communities to control the use of plant, animal and other resources, and associated traditional knowledge and technologies”. It is an integrated rights concept that recognizes the stewardship role played by indigenous peoples and local communities of biodiversity, thus underscoring the inextricable link between cultural and biological diversity. Within the context of TRRs, Posey argued against perceived contradictions between the human rights of indigenous and local communities, including the right to development and environmental conservation.

With our partners, Natural Justice is actively developing the concept of biocultural rights and responsibilities (“biocultural rights”), the next generation of traditional resource rights. We’re doing this with recourse to the latest thinking about biocultural diversity, political ecology, research on common property resources, and jurisprudence in the context of the rapid development of new rights frameworks at the international, regional, national and sub-national levels. We are working towards defining two dimensions of biocultural rights. First we are working to map the rights that actually exist in legislation and in judgements at various levels and across jurisdictions. Second, we are working with partners to develop an aspirational (normative) description of biocultural rights, i.e., the full extent of the rights required by indigenous peoples and local communities as stewards of their territories. In this context, the core of our work can be described as a) ensuring that indigenous peoples and local communities benefit from the full extent of the biocultural rights they already have and b) are active participants in extending those rights.

Natural Justice is currently writing two books on biocultural rights, tentatively titled:

  • Stewarding the Earth: Rethinking Property and Biocultural Rights.
  • Exploring Biocultural Rights in Asia: Political Ecology, Jurisprudence, Resistance and Engagement.



Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity (Posey (Ed.), 1999)
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Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Resource Rights: A Basis for Equitable Relationships? (Posey, 1995)
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Towards a People’s History of the Law: Biocultural Jurisprudence and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (Bavikatte and Robinson, 2011)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators (Natural Justice, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating Stewardship, Asserting Rights, Affirming Responsibilities
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Biodiversity and Culture: Exploring community protocols, rights and consent (IIED Participatory Learning and Action 65, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating and Asserting Stewardship (Moving Images & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Recognising Customary Rights (LPP, LPPS and Moving Images, 2009)
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Maldhari Biocultural Community Protocol Photo Story (Sahjeevan & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Latest Publication

Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators
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Images from our work in Africa, Asia, and the Americas
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