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Asunto:RV: [BIO-IPR] Appeal to the indigenous peoples representatives at COP5
Fecha:Miercoles, 10 de Mayo, 2000  07:13:52 (-0700)
Autor:Jose Rafael Leal <trastor>

----- Original Message ----- 
From: GRAIN Los Banos <grain@...>
To: <bio-ipr@...>
Sent: Wednesday, May 10, 2000 8:16 AM

Subject: [BIO-IPR] Appeal to the indigenous peoples representatives at COP5


Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado (*)
Indigenous Authorities Movement of Colombia

7 May 2000

I have decided to share these lines with you before the fifth Conference of
the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP5 of the CBD)
because of the worry I have carried home with me from Seville, Spain, where
we attended the first meeting of the Open-Ended Ad Hoc Intersessional
Working Group on Article 8j of the CBD. That Working Group was a space that
we fought so hard for. It was meant to provide an arena through which we
could discuss with world governments and help them understand our vision of
the universe and our thoughts about what they call "biodiversity". But it
seems it will only serve as a negotiating arena, over our wealth and our
knowledge, between some indigenous groups and the governments.

My worry is not new. It has been with me ever since I started attending CBD
meetings at COP3 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The non-indigenous people 
were talking about "traditional knowledge". What they were referring to was
something so intimate to us, something so inseparably tied to our Mother
Earth and to everything that forms part of her. That is why the discussion
touches us in the deepest of our being -- because it's part of our 
world, the world of our gods, touching on the very essence of life. That is
why, as an indigenous person, it affects me very profoundly. And it hurts 
deep down. Because I see that we are on a path that is mortally harming the
future of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.

Already in Buenos Aires, I could sense that there is a real drive to take
something away from us in all the pronouncements coming from the 
that were there. This drive is veiled by all the talk of protecting
biodiversity, of course. But I could also sense a strong tendency among 
indigenous representatives there to want to negotiate. So I expressed this
publicly -- not only at the First International Indigenous Forum on
Biodiversity, but also in my intervention at the closing of COP3. I
continued sharing this worry and fear in the later meetings in Madrid
(Second Indigenous Forum and Workshop on 8j) and in Bratislava (Third
Indigenous Forum and COP4), not only verbally but also through documents
that I prepared and distributed widely among both indigenous and
non-indigenous participants.

Although the years have seen me representing the indigenous peoples of
Colombia in the highest spheres of political life in our country, I am
fundamentally a local leader. I am permanently in touch with our people
because I spend my time in the communities, listening to and learning from
our elders. That is how I know that our people there in their territories,
our traditional authorities, have always defended our basic rights along 
fundamental principles of our Laws of Origin, our Natural Laws and our
Higher Law. These have always been the central axis of all discussions and
positions upheld, be it at the local, regional, national or international

In relation to what the white people call "biodiversity", our laws rest on
two fundamental principles which our peoples, our traditional authorities,
have always put forward and defended in all of our struggles:

1. For us, the world is not something you can divide into little boxes. 
integral and you have to look at it as one whole -- with all of its
components, all that exists in nature, all that nature produces -- 
in its relation to knowledge. Ours is a circular world where our gods 
where our sacred sites, the great rocks, the big rivers and the mountains
are, where the plants and animals live, where the sun rises and its ray
impregnates the earth so that she can give birth. And there, as part of
nature, the indigenous people are as well.

2. Nature belongs to the gods. We are only its caretakers and stewards. The
earth is our mother and for that reason we cannot even think of exploiting
or negotiating with her. On the contrary, we have a great appreciation and
respect for her, and we always take care that our dealings with her never
violate her integrity, that they ensure this delicate balance that has to
exist between all things.

Because of this, there is no distinction for us between "biological
resources" and "traditional knowledge of biodiversity", and no part of it
can be privatised or sold. Life is something that can never be the property
of anyone because only the gods have dominion in the world. Based on these
principles, it is not possible for indigenous peoples to accept or
accommodate any property system over these "resources" or "traditional
knowledge of biodiversity" because they are Mother Earth, they are life.

The traditional authorities of most of our peoples maintain the fundamental
principles of our laws. I recently had the chance to discuss with Kogui,
Arhuaco and Wiwa mamos of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, with U'wa
werjayás, with taitas of my own Guambiano people, with the authorities of
indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon like the Shuares, the Achuares
and many others. And everyone shares these principles. For this reason, 
reject any privatisation and commercialisation of life, a mandate that 
of us who serve as bridges between our peoples and the non-indigenous world
have the sacred duty to RESPECT, defend and push forward.

However, throughout the CBD process I have seen -- with real concern -- 
the indigenous representatives, as a whole, are lacking firmness. They act
as if they have been overcome and they seem to deviate very easily from our
principles, getting closer and closer to what seems like a dangerous 
of accommodating what is imposed by the laws of trade and privatisation of
life, both of which demand intellectual property rights and make the 
of economic benefits the prime issue.

It seems that this is happening because people have been heavily pushing --
and we have been accepting, without putting up much resistance -- the 
that everything is lost and that against industrialised countries and
multinational corporations, which want to appropriate everything for
themselves, we cannot fight. Like the hat of a drowned man, we end up
dedicating ourselves to argue over economic crumbs that they're ready to
drop down on us at the negotiating table. This will only lead us to forget
our fundamental principles and use their systems of appropriation -- as we
see among those who conform with intellectual property regimes, whatever 
cost they may pay for it.

I want to be very emphatic in saying that we the representatives of
indigenous peoples in these international fora have an enormous
responsibility to defend the rights of ALL indigenous peoples in the world,
including those of the thousands of peoples whose own wise men, drawing on
their own laws, are saying that they want to live as indigenous peoples and
that there is no place in their world for privatising or doing business 
life, with our mother earth, or with our knowledge.

Indigenous organisations which have been part of the CBD process have
maintained some of these principles in their speeches. But the tendency to
take ambiguous if not openly pro-negotiating positions with people who
consider that everything on this planet must be for sale, if only to 
a few, has been notorious as well.

Recommendation 7 of the document which came out of the Second International
Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, which was annexed to the official report
of the Madrid Workshop on 8j at COP4, says that we should:

"Impose a moratorium on all bioprospecting and/or the collecting of
biological material in the territories of indigenous peoples and protected
areas and on the patenting of these collections...[as well as] on
registration of knowledge...."

In its document presented at this meeting, COICA stated:

"As indigenous peoples, our opposition to any form of patenting life forms
must continue to be firm."

A few months earlier, COICA had sent an official note to the European Union
which reflected Resolution No. 1 adopted at its Fifth Congress which 

"We consider that patenting systems and other intellectual property rights
on life forms are unacceptable for indigenous peoples... The possibility to
get a patent on life forms is immoral and unacceptable. This includes
genetic material of animals and plants and the knowledge associated with

In an uproar of repudiation against the commercialisation of our resources
and knowledge, the International Alliance of Indigenous-Tribal Peoples of
the Tropical Forests said during its intervention at COP4:

"...We see more and more that our rights are being violated in the name of
biodiversity conservation. Each day there are further attempts to
commercially exploit our knowledge....The genetic varieties of 
are being taken away from us and they are patenting them... 'Ecotourism' is
being promoted, transforming our cultures into an economic good..."

Even the intervention of the Fourth Indigenous Forum before the inaugural
plenary session of the Seville working group contained fundamental elements
of our laws:

"In the framework of the CDB and other related instruments, the recognition
of our collective sovereignty over our knowledge, science, technology,
innovations and indigenous practices is important. This implies that the
different indigenous peoples have a legitimate right to participate in
decision-making related to access to our knowledge and resources. We are 
only referring to prior informed consent but to our right to deny access to
our knowledge and to say NO to bioprospecting, exploration, exploitation or
the application of intellectual property rights when these procedures are
contrary to the principles and collective rights of our peoples...

"...we feel it is important to stress here that we do not agree with the
application of intellectual property rights on different forms of life and
on traditional knowledge in any manner whatsoever. In the same fashion, we
do not agree with the artificial division between tangible and intangible
components of genetic resources. Also, it is necessary to discuss...the
fundamental principles of the indigenous peoples before discussing the
equitable distribution of benefits..."

It's worthy to point out as well how the Mataatua Declaration, the Santa
Cruz Declaration and many others which have also sought to ensure the
respect of these fundamental principles and defend the rights of all
indigenous peoples affirmed that:

"...For Indigenous Peoples, a system of intellectual property rights means
legitimatising the illegal appropriation of the knowledge and resources of
our peoples for commercial purposes... Patents and other intellectual
property rights are unacceptable for Indigenous Peoples... We must avoid
that currently ruling intellectual property regimes, with their 
rights, rob us of our resources and our knowledge in order to generate more
power against us... We must maintain the possibility to deny access to our
indigenous resources..."   Santa Cruz Declaration, 1994

"...we need a moratorium on all future commercialisation of indigenous
medicinal plants and genetic material until the indigenous communities have
developed their appropriate mechanisms of protection..."   Mataatua 

In spite of all these declarations, when it comes to concretising what the
documents say, when it becomes necessary to fight in defense of what was
said, all the ambiguities which can be seen in the documents I've referred
to above start to emerge. That's when we see the negotiating and
conciliatory tendencies budding, bringing the indigenous representatives, 
a group, to project unclear positions. In the end, the inclination of the
Indigenous Peoples to pursue the negotiation of proposals that are each 
more narrow, more threatening and contrary to our vision of the world
manifests itself, as happened in Seville.

In Seville, we were supposed to discuss, for the first time, the issues of
substance -- not issues of form, which had been discussed up to then -- 
have us ensnared in the CBD. Yet the governments did not capture our basic
concerns and interests in their final document, as the Closing Declaration
presented by the indigenous organisations said:

"...the fundamental principles of our peoples are not reflected in the 
documents of this first Working Group..."

Nevertheless, this Declaration failed to make any analysis of the problems
of substance that Indigenous Peoples had with the position of the
governments as laid out in their final document. Nor did the Declaration
state the position of protest against the manipulation that we were
subjected to -- whereby we had to sit and discuss for many long days our
thoughts and proposals, only to find that what is really important for our
people was dismissed at the end. On the contrary, the Declaration thanks 
governments for their "positive and constructive" attitude, even though 
completely ignored our fundamental concerns, and offers to continue
dialoguing within the very narrow framework of their proposal.

I think it's time to clarify that if this "indigenous participation" in
these fora is just a formal affair -- that is to say, it's only to talk and
talk and even participate in the steering groups for the workshop, as
happened in Seville -- with no real possibility for our thoughts and our
rights to be taken into account and included in the decisions that are
adopted by the governments, then the only thing that is clear that we are
doing through our dear participation is to legitimise decisions that go
against our Peoples. As a governor of my Guambiano people used to say, all
of this "I participate, you participate, he participates, we participate...
and they decide" is meaningless to us indigenous people.

So why are the indigenous people going to COP5? Does it make any sense to
discuss a document which does not respect the most basic elements of our
thoughts and does not guarantee even the most basic rights of indigenous

According to the rules of the United Nations, when a document is not 
by consensus, it cannot represent a formal decision. In Seville, due to a
process of conversation with the Colombian delegation, this was the only
government which abstained from adopting the final document. This means 
it cannot be considered an official recommendation of the Working Group to
COP5. This fact is in our favour and it opens the possibility to rediscuss
the issues that were dealt with in Seville.

In any case, the position of the governments is clear and it is reflected 
their document: trade is the driving issue. We should not, therefore,
deceive ourselves trying to eek out bits of opportunity to have any
influence in the further development of the CBD. For my part, I want to
appeal to all of you that we put up a fight to defend what is fundamental
for our Peoples, taking up, in practice, the basic principles that arise
from our laws and from our own natural rights.

If the defense of these rights cannot be assured because circumstances 
permit it, then I think the time has come to ask why we are there at these
meetings. We really have to ask whether it makes sense to participate and
direct our efforts towards a forum where the struggle for our basic
principles is excluded and where they only give us some margin on the edge
of the discussion for the primary purpose of selling off life and knowledge
through the Western intellectual property systems.

And then perhaps we'll arrive at the conclusion that many Peoples have
already reached: that it's much better to dedicate all our efforts to
strengthen our own processes to use, manage and control our resources and
knowledge in our own homes, in our own territories.

The great responsibility and the challenge for those who act as
representatives of the Indigenous Peoples in the meetings of the CBD is to
know how to defend what all our peoples, generation after generation,
through collective processes, have produced for thousands of years. These
resources and this knowledge which have sustained the cultures and lives of
our peoples are the fruits of many generations past and present. They 
be negotiated away by a handful of representatives of today's generations.

(*) Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado is a Guambiano from southwest Colombia. As
representative of the Indigenous Authorities Movement of Colombia, he was a
delegate to the National Constituent Assembly which drafted the 
of Colombia in 1991. He was later a Senator of the Republic.

Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado
Calle 7 #2-20

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