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Thursday 22nd August 2019

Indigenous groups cut out of talks

31st May 2011

Indigenous people from around the world say they have been shut out of UN-led discussions on intellectual property rights, which would include codes to protect traditional knowledge, including traditional medicines and plants.


The groups said in a joint statement that their proposals were ignored, and their views "dismissed without consideration".

The statement came as officials met in Geneva this month to discuss the regulation of intellectual property and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore.

Delegates were discussing three negotiating texts drawn up by the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

The texts form a step on the way to a legally binding international agreement which is aimed at protecting traditional knowledge and genetic resources from exploitation.

But the groups sought to distance themselves from the proceedings, saying that their presence there could not be taken to mean that they had been consulted at all in the drafting of the documents.

Neither could their presence be interpreted as their having given consent to the process, in which they say they have not been included.

The groups called on WIPO to take steps to rectify the situation, ensuring that indigenous peoples had full, effective and equal participation in the ongoing talks.

They also should be involved in decision-making processes affecting the drafting process, they said.

The conflict arose out of the structure of WIPO, which deals directly only with member states.

None of the groups present, which were supported openly by the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Venezuela, is in itself a member state.

Their proposals must be put forward by a member state of WIPO, but the smaller countries often lacked the personnel to cover simultaneous discussion and editing sessions.

As a result, some of the proposals put forward on behalf of indigenous groups were taken out of the draft text, with no-one present to argue against this.

While the meeting acknowledged their concerns, it proceeded as normal.

The texts will be presented to WIPO's general assembly in July in the form of a draft agreement.

Some say the indigenous groups still have time to push forward their proposals.

Kenyan Philip Owade, who chairs the intergovernmental committee discussing the agreement, said delegates had arrived at a more consensual set of definitions during the meeting.

They worked on eligibility criteria, the definition of traditional knowledge, and on the inclusion of secret and sacred traditional knowledge.

Delegates said the main work of the meeting was that of cleaning and polishing the texts, but that much remained to be done.

The committee may extend its mandate, which expires in September, to achieve this.

Among the thornier topics are the protection of genetic resources, which can include medicinal plants used by traditional healers.

Delegates are wrangling over whether someone applying for a patent based on genetic resources, should have to say in the application where the resources came from.

Developing countries could stand to benefit if this happens, while developed countries have tended to argue that it will slow down the approval process for patents.

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