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The term Biocultural Rights gained visibility at the Rio Convention for Sustainable Development where the emphasis was given to ensure the rights of indigenous and local communities for whom conservation of biological diversity was a way of life. Biocultural Rights were at the time defined as collective rights of indigenous and local communities that acknowledge the relationship between communities, bio-resources and culture.
Bio-cultural communities, or Indigenous and Local Communities (ILCs), have been recognized as the ‘guardians of biodiversity’, for their essential contribution to the conservation of wild biodiversity, including flora and fauna, as well as ecosystems and landscapes, through the sophisticated traditional knowledge systems that they have developed over generations, trying to ensure long term sustainability of their production systems and their natural environment.
There has been a concern that the development of international environmental laws and guidelines focus disproportionately on protecting the environment and access to ILCs traditional knowledge without also empowering the ILCs to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of their natural resources and wider use of their traditional knowledge according to their bio-cultural values. The development of Bio-cultural Community Protocols (BCPs) by the ILCs is one way in which communities can increase their capacity to drive the local implementation of international and national environmental laws. A BCP is a protocol that is developed after a community undertakes a consultative process to outline their core ecological, cultural and spiritual values and customary laws relating to their Traditional Knowledge and resources, based on which they provide clear terms and conditions to regulate access to their knowledge and resources.
A BCP can be defined as - A declaration of the community that defines who they are, their values, their cultural relationship with their land and resources and under what principles and power structures they govern themselves.
The process of developing a BCP involves reflection about the interconnectedness of various aspects of ILCs’ ways of life (such as between culture, customary laws, practices relating to natural resources management and Traditional Knowledge) through resource mapping, evaluating governance systems and reviewing community development plans. It also involves legal empowerment so that community members can better understand the international and national legal regimes that regulate the various aspects of their lives.
The general issues that should be included in a Biocultural Community Protocol are:-