This module is a resource for lecturers


International and regional responses that fight wildlife trafficking while supporting IPLCs


This section discusses how the interests of local communities and indigenous peoples have been integrated in existing international instruments and new initiatives to make conservation and counter-wildlife trafficking measures more inclusive and participatory.

An important consideration when adjudicating inclusion and participation is the question of who represents IPLCs in negotiations leading to the signing of such instruments and initiatives and how IPLC interests are presented and included. Responding to unsustainable or illegal use of wildlife products requires regulatory as well as legal and policy frameworks that affect the way people use and interact with wildlife across a wide range of landscapes and seascapes, including those inhabited by endangered species of plants and animals (Cooney et al. 2018b). In the past, efforts to curb wildlife trafficking and unsustainable use of natural resources have seldom included local people nor considered their interests. Over time, human rights, and specifically the rights of indigenous peoples, have become more important in international treaties and regulations.

The approaches to tackle wildlife trafficking can be largely divided into three broad categories; 1) increasing law enforcement 2) reduction of demand and 3) creation of sustainable livelihoods ( The first two approaches have received most of the attention of stakeholders. This imbalance is also evident in international legal and policy instruments, as there is considerable variance within such frameworks in terms of the inclusion of indigenous peoples and local communities. There are noticeable differences between conventions that were signed prior to 1992 (i.e. “pre-Rio” conventions, referring to the 1992 Earth Summit and the ensuing Rio Declaration) and those agreed to in the following years. For example, the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the 1979 Convention on Migratory Species do not include official recognition of indigenous peoples and local communities’ knowledge and have no substantive mechanisms for their inclusion. Meanwhile, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity explicitly recognizes the importance of IPLCs (Cooney et al. 2018: 53). It has been argued that there is a need for ‘clear “entry points” for IPLC input’ at both national and international levels (Cooney et al. 2018: 59). Several key international legal instruments and initiatives that recognize IPLCs are discussed below.

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (Rio Declaration)

The Rio Declaration, adopted at UN Conference on Environment and Declaration at Rio de Janeiro, 3 to 14 June 1992, aims to establish ‘a new and equitable’ partnership that works towards international agreements that respect ‘the interests of all.’ This is expressed through its principles; the most relevant for this module’s purposes include:

  • Principle 10: Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.
  • Principle 20: Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.
  • Principle 22: Indigenous peoples and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establishes a minimum ‘standard of achievement’ for ‘the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world’ (Article 43). Other interesting articles to note:

  • Article 8.

2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for: [...]

(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources

(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights

  • Article 18.

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters affecting their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions

  • Article 19.

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

  • Article 26.

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

Adopted by UN General Assembly on 13 September 2007. Available online.

CITES working group on rural communities

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) is discussed thoroughly in Module 2 on International Frameworks for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. This section sheds light on CITES’ impact on IPLCs.

Although the illegal trade in wildlife might pose a threat to the survival of species, trade regulations are inadequate in dealing with threats such as human encroachment, climate change or organized crime. The CITES species listings not only affect the wild fauna and flora that the Convention seeks to protect, but the listings can also impact the communities that live close to them because rural dwellers often rely on harvesting or trading in wild animals or plants for their livelihoods. As a consequence, there were calls for CITES to consider the plight of rural people when passing measures that affect their livelihoods. In 1992, at its Conference of Parties, CITES took steps to acknowledge the importance of the livelihoods impacts of its decisions.

To this day, the notion of sustainable use is a highly contentious issue at the CITES Conferences of Parties (CoPs). There is a significant lobby within the environmental movement (predominantly from the Global North) that is vehemently opposed to any form of trade in animal species, particularly when it is premised on the killing of these animals (Dickson 2003). Some countries in the Global South object to the strong influence of this animal-rights lobby. Despite this apparent conflict, CITES acknowledged the developmental concerns of the custodians of most of the remaining biodiversity in the Global South in its strategic plan of 2000, which confirmed ‘the recognition by the parties that sustainable trade in wild fauna and flora can make a major contribution to securing the broader and not incompatible objectives of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation’. This endorsement of sustainable development cleared the way for countries of the Global South to insist that developmental concerns should be considered in future formulations of wildlife policies. At CoP 16 in 2013, CITES approved a new framework for future policy development. Most significantly, this framework claims to consider ‘cultural, social and economic factors at play in producer and consumer countries’ (CITES, Resolution 16.3: Cites Strategic Vision 2008–2020).

Convention on Biological Diversity 1992

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an important document on the topic of sustainable development. Its Preamble recognizes that ‘conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is of critical importance’ and that ‘economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries’. There are a number of routes IPLCs can take to provide input into meetings of the CBD such as participating in a working group or participate in regular meetings as observers. The CBD also regularly calls for input from stakeholders and IPLC groups (Cooney et al. 2018). The following sections of the Convention are notable:

  • Preamble:

Recognizing the close and traditional dependence of many indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles on biological resources, and the desirability of sharing equitably benefits arising from the use of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices relevant to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components.

Recognizing also the vital role that women play in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and affirming the need for the full participation of women at all levels of policymaking and implementation for biological diversity conservation.

  • Article 8 – (j) [...] respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities [...] and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices
  • Article 10(c) [...] protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements

Accessible online.

United Nations Environment Assembly

Established in 2012, the United Nations Environment Assembly it is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on issues related to the environment. It has a clear commitment to facilitate engagement of all Major Stakeholder Groups, which also includes IPLCs, and has a number of formal channels enabling inputs from IPLCs (Cooney et al. 2018). Nevertheless, there are only 10-11 Indigenous Peoples’ organizations accredited for UNEA, which can pose challenges as it can be difficult for a small group of people to cover the large volume of complex issues discussed at each UNEA meeting (Cooney et al. 2018: 51).

Accessible online.

Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established at a UNEP plenary meeting in Panama City, Panama held from 16 to 21 April 2012. The commitment to include indigenous and local knowledge has been part of IPBES since its inception. One of its operating principles is ‘(d) Recognize and respect the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems’. The indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) holders and experts can participate in IPBES through the IPBES ILK task force, dialogue workshops, expert groups established by IPBES and accredited IPLC organizations can participate as observers in the plenary meetings (Cooney et al. 2018).

Accessible online.

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Apia Convention, the Convention on Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific

The Convention on Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific is a multilateral environmental agreement signed in Apia on 12 July 1976. The Convention entered into force on 26 June 1990. The main objective of the Apia Convention is to commit the Parties to take action for the conservation, utilisation and development of the natural resources of the South Pacific region through careful planning and management for the benefit of present and future generations. In order to pursue the objective of the Convention the Parties:

  • undertake to create protected areas to safeguard representative samples of natural ecosystems, superlative scenery, striking geological formations and regions and objects of aesthetic, historic, cultural or scientific value (art.2);
  • commit to not alter national parks so as to reduce their area except after the fullest investigation; their resources are not to be subject to commercial exploitation; hunting and collection of species are to be prohibited and provision is to be made for visitors (art. 3);
  • agree to maintain lists of indigenous fauna and flora in danger of extinction and to give such species as complete protection as possible (art. 5); and
  • provision may be made as appropriate for customary use of areas and species in accordance with traditional cultural practices (art. 6).

Many of these commitments have been superseded by Parties' commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity of, 1992. Amendments were proposed in order to keep the Apia Convention operational, however the amendments were not adopted.

(Samoa Government, 2020)
Next: Mechanisms for incentivizing community conservation and reducing wildlife trafficking
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