Home>From Policy to Implementation?> Introduction


Negotiations under international Conventions frequently take place in international conference centres and apparently exotic locations. When confronted by the apparent glamour of these settings, it is perhaps easy to be seduced into believing that this is where the most important contributions to the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities can be made.

However, it rapidly becomes clear that the reality of international negotiations is text . These texts are literally displayed on large screens within conference meeting rooms. The pace of negotiations is marked by the often painfully slow progress of the secretary's computer cursor across the screen as the text is modified. As a result, anyone wishing to influence decisions under the Convention must immediately engage with a large number of complex texts in which phrases such as, "as appropriate" and "subject to national legislation" are frequently in evidence. Parties to the Convention have also insisted on using the phrase "indigenous and local communities" and have invented phrases such as "full and effective involvement" and "prior informed involvement" in an effort to avoid compliance with their existing obligations and commitments under international law recognising indigenous peoples as peoples , their rights to full and effective participation , and to prior informed consent in all areas that concern them . [1]

In fact the key criticism that has been levelled against the Convention on Biological Diversity is that its work has been dominated by a tendency to generate text rather than action . [2] This tendency was recognised at COP5 which was entitled ' From Policy to Implementation '. As such, a full eight years after the Convention was opened for signature, the Parties to the Convention have expressed a desire to shift away from debates on the policy level and towards the practice of implementation.

For indigenous peoples and local communities this shift towards implementation presents both challenges and opportunities. In particular, the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity has consistently and vigorously argued that the fundamental precondition for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in the implementation of the Convention is recognition of the existence and rights of indigenous peoples as set out in existing and emerging international instruments and agreements . [3] This struggle is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

However, existing decisions provide important potential opportunities through which indigenous peoples and local communities may seek to secure respect for their rights and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. In seeking to identify these opportunities it is first necessary to consider two main challenges.

  • The diversity and complexity of the decisions of the Convention which are relevant to indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • The diversity of indigenous peoples, local communities, their environments, the social, political and economic contexts within which they live, and the varying capacities and resources of their institutions and organisations.

We are thus confronted by the fact that opportunities that may appear both realistic, feasible and desirable from the perspective of indigenous peoples and local communities in one context, may appear unrealistic, impractical or undesirable in another. It is also important to emphasise that it is entirely a matter for indigenous peoples and local communities to decide whether, and in what form, they wish to engage with the work of the Convention. As a result, the purpose of this section is not to offer prescriptions but to highlight possible opportunities for engagement with the Convention to stimulate further discussion.

In considering the elements that might make up a strategy of engagement with the Convention on Biodiversity it is important to recall that the Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding instrument and its decisions are also binding. As such, and with due respect for phrases such as 'subject to national legislation' or 'as appropriate', Parties are obliged to comply with decisions under the Convention. Close attention to the decisions taken during COP5 provides important potential opportunities for indigenous peoples and local communities to pursue respect for their rights and secure participation in the conservation of biodiversity from the local to the international level.



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From Policy to Implementation?

| Acknowledgements | About the Authors | Introduction | Dimensions of Diversity | Indigenous Peoples.. |
| From Policy to Implementation? | Executive Summary COP5 | Executive Summary COP6 |References |