Parties to the Biodiversity Convention not ready to accept ‘indigenous peoples’

FPP partners Louis Biswane (Suriname) and Messe Venant (Cameroon) in the ILC section of the COP11 Working Group
Caroline de Jong

Parties to the Biodiversity Convention not ready to accept ‘indigenous peoples’

A disappointing outcome for indigenous peoples at the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India, 8-19 October 2012:  Parties failed to adopt a decision to update the CBD’s terminology ‘indigenous and local communities’ to ‘indigenous peoples and local communities’, due to the resistance of a few Parties.

The term ‘indigenous peoples’ is significant because it recognises the collective nature of rights, for example to resources and to self-determination, in a way that ‘indigenous’ alone does not. Affirmation of the status of indigenous peoples as peoples, not just communities, is important in order to fully respect their identities and protect their human rights. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, recognises this and thus uses the term ‘indigenous peoples’. In fact, the COP of the CBD is the only decision-making body of an international convention to still use the term ‘indigenous and local communities’. All other relevant and peer processes, including the Conferences to the Parties to the other Rio Conventions, have adopted the correct terminology of ‘indigenous peoples and local communities’ in their relevant decisions. For instance, Parties to the Ramsar Convention updated its terminology last summer, and ‘indigenous peoples and local communities’ was also used in the Rio+20 outcome document.

The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) at COP11 urged the CBD to update its terminology as recommended by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)[1]. Initially, support was spearheaded by Norway and Guatemala and followed by Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and the Philippines.

Only Canada and, interestingly, host country India opposed the move, and proposed to postpone further discussions and decisions until COP12 in 2014. This compromise was supported by the EU, and was adopted as follows:

Noting the recommendations contained in paragraph 26 and 27 of the report on the tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (E/2011/43-E/C.19/2011/14), requests the ad-hoc open-ended inter-sessional WG8j and Related Provisions, taking into account submissions from Parties, other governments, relevant stakeholders, and Indigenous and Local Communities, to consider this matter and all its implications for the Convention and its parties at its next meeting, for further consideration by the Conference of Parties at its 12th meeting.[2]

Indian NGOs at the COP expressed disappointment and pointed out that India’s position was in violation of the Supreme Court's assertion that the Adivasis are the original inhabitants of India[3] and that India voted in favour of the UNDRIP in September 2007 accepting the term ‘indigenous peoples’.

While it is a shame that this issue was not resolved at COP11, the IIFB and supportive NGOs in the CBD Alliance said that at least it will be dealt with in the next two years, and indigenous peoples’ organisations and other organisations will be working together in the coming period to convince Canada, India and the EU to finally adopt the term ‘indigenous peoples and local communities’.

[1] See UNEP/CBD/WG8J/7/7/Rev.1: Recommendations Arising from 9th and 10th Sessions of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

[2] See the Advance unedited copy of COP11 Decisions, Decision XI/14, Recommendations to the Convention on Biological Diversity arising from the ninth and tenth sessions of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, page 84:

[3] Criminal Appeal No. 11 of 2011,  Special Leave Petition No. 10367 of 2010 in Kailas & Others versus State of Maharashtra TR. Taluka P.S. dated January 5, 2011