Biocultural Heritage

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An evolving concept

Biocultural heritage, as a concept, has evolved in response to traditional knowledge policies that have tended only to protect the intellectual component of knowledge systems, and not the equally crucial biological, cultural and landscape components. It reflects indigenous communities’ holistic worldview, where everything is inter-dependent and inter-connected.

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UNESCO – the United Nations educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO has developed a number of international conventions relating to the protection of cultural and intellectual heritage. The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which came into force in April 2006, aims to safeguard oral traditions and expressions, including language, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, and knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe. However, it focuses only on intangible heritage.

UN Human Rights Agreements

A number of human rights conventions also provide useful instruments for protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, but in many cases they have not been ratified or fully implemented by governments. Furthermore, existing human rights legislation is mainly directed at individual rights. Perhaps the most important are:

Regional laws on traditional knowledge and access to genetic resources

Some regions, such as Africa and the Andean Community, have introduced regional laws to protect traditional knowledge and genetic resources. Where these resources are shared between countries, the laws promote common standards so that those seeking access can’t just go to the country with the lowest requirements. Regional laws also provide model legislation that can guide countries developing national laws, eg. the African Model Law.

Putting the concept into practice

This section highlights key actors and initiatives that put the concept of biocultural heritage into practice—from indigenous organisations and NGOs, to universities, UN organisations and donors.

Indigenous organisations

Asociacion ANDES (Peru)

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