For safe custody

For safe custody indigenous communities across the world must be given exclusive rights over the land they inhabit if they are expected to protect the genetic resources therein and use them sustainably. And governments have to frame laws and policies which ensure that they are not deprived of this right. This was the resolution adopted by the third Conference of Parties (cop) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd) at Buenos Aires, Argentina, from November 4-15, 1996.

The mood at the third cop was overwhelmingly pro-people. The tone was set by a detailed note prepared by the cbd secretariat on Article 8 (j) of the convention. The note clearly stated that "if the countries truly wished to 'fulfil' the basic objectives of the convention, they must first focus their attention on the provisions laid out in Article 8 (j)." This Article stipulates that the parties (160 nations which are signatories to the cbd) must frame national laws which protect and preserve traditional "knowledge, innovations and practices" (of local communities) that are relevant for conservation of the world's biological resources. These laws should also ensure that the people are given a slice of profits that come out of the commercialisation of these resources and knowledge systems.
National responsibilities There were two ideas that emerged very clearly out of the deliberations. One was the need to evolve national legislation to implement Article 8(j) immediately. The cop ruled that it was time for every member nation to evolve a legal framework and take necessary administrative measures to ensure that the rights of communities are safeguarded.

The second was to launch a major information hunting campaign to help the countries identify issues required to frame national laws. It was decided that the countries should examine various options - mechanisms, constitutional provisions, laws and administrative arrangements - that already exist within their national boundaries or outside. Also, they should share information with each other frequently and widely.

Addressing the ministerial segment of the cop, Carlos Menem, the Argentinian President, declared, "Respect for traditional communities has been deferred for too long within the cbd." This view was reiterated by, among others, the Indian minister of state for environment and forests, Jai Narain Prasad Nishad, who emphasised the need to create "systems and mechanisms

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