Community Protocols

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= concept and website


"Generally, communities are developing community protocols to affirm their rights to govern their territories and natural resources according to their customary, national, and international rights and responsibilities. They are effectively setting out that as Indigenous peoples and local communities, they are the beneficiaries of a locally specific set of rights and duties, and that they are claiming those rights and duties towards governing their territories and conserving and sustainably using their natural resources. Indigenous peoples and local communities are also stating that as right-holders and duty-bearers, they should be treated by outsiders with respect and according to prescribed standards and procedures.

This claim entails defensive and proactive elements:

Defensive: To ensure that outsiders (government, non-commercial researchers, private sector, NGOs, etc.) fully recognize and respect communities’ procedural and substantive rights such as self-determination, full and effective participation in decision-making, free, prior and informed consent, access to information, access to justice, etc. These rights and responsibilities must be upheld to ensure that outside actors abide by customary, national, and international laws, procedures, and standards to avoid future harms and redress past injustices.

Proactive: To set out locally determined visions and priorities and, in some cases, detail relevant actions required by other stakeholders towards recognition of and support for customary ways of life, including roles in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity." (


Core Principles:

"In a variety of workshops and community meetings about community protocols, it has been highlighted that community protocols are not a panacea. Other potential weaknesses include:

  • The process of developing a protocol could be abused by certain parties both from outside and from within the community;
  • Such processes may further entrench or perpetuate existing power asymmetries at the local level such as the exclusion of women and youth in decision-making mechanisms;
  • Community protocols may become another top-down imposition by the development industry; and

There is a great need to ensure community-based monitoring and evaluation of the approach. Such issues beg the question about how one can judge the quality of a community protocol – in essence, to differentiate between a bona fide protocol and one that has been developed, for example, under duress. Equally, a community may develop something like a protocol and choose not to call it a “protocol”." (


Community Protocols in Law

"The term “community protocols” is referenced in the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Under Article 12 (Traditional Knowledge Associated with Genetic Resources), the Nagoya Protocol reads:

“1. Parties shall in accordance with domestic law take into consideration indigenous and local communities’ customary laws, community protocols and procedures, as applicable, with respect to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources…

3. Parties shall endeavour to support, as appropriate, the development by indigenous and local communities, including women within these communities, of:

(a) Community protocols in relation to access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of such knowledge […].”

International recognition of the approach provides a unique opportunity for communities to use community protocols to regulate access to their genetic resources and traditional knowledge according to locally determined terms and conditions. At the same time, because a potentially ambiguous term has entered international law, there is a need to ensure that the term is defined in such a way that leads to the highest possible social and environmental safeguards. This website aims to contribute to the development of good practice for community protocols." (

More Information

  • Article: Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent (PLA 65). Guest edited by Krystyna Swiderska with Angela Milligan, et al.


"This special issue of Participatory Learning and Action explores two important participatory tools that indigenous peoples and local communities can use to help defend their customary rights to biocultural heritage: i) Community protocols – or charters of rules and responsibilities – in which communities set out their customary rights to natural resources and land, as recognised in customary, national and international laws; and ii) Free, prior informed consent (FPIC) processes, in which communities decide whether or not to allow projects affecting their land or resources to go ahead, and on what terms." (

  • Video: Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating and Asserting Stewardship


The Website


"Protocols developed by Indigenous peoples or mobile or local communities ("community protocols") are gaining recognition as a useful means by which a range of peoples and communities can engage with others according to their values, and on the basis of customary, national and international rights and responsibilities.

This website is intended for Indigenous peoples, mobile and local communities, their community-based and non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies, and researchers, among others, to:

  1. Provide information about community protocols,
  2. Share good practice about the development and use of community protocols,
  3. Highlight the questions that peoples and communities are raising about community protocols,
  4. Provide a range of resources relevant for the development and use of community protocols, and
  5. Act as a clearing house for protocols developed by Indigenous peoples and local communities."

More Information