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.
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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:
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is mandated to advise other UN agencies on indigenous issues. It is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.
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.
Banishing the Biopirates: A new approach to protecting traditional knowledge. K. Swiderska. 2006. IIED Gatekeepers 129.
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.
Asociacion ANDES (Peru)