Biocultural Rights

Biocultural Rights

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Biocultural rights represent a bold new departure in human rights law that recognizes the importance of a community’s stewardship over lands and waters. Instead of focusing on individual rights and private property, biocultural rights explicitly recognize a community’s identity, culture, governance system, spirituality and way of life as embedded in a specific landscape. In other words, it recognizes the existence of a commons.[1]

The term ‘biocultural rights’ denotes a community’s long established right, in accordance with its customary laws, to steward its lands, waters and resources. Such rights are being increasingly recognized in international environmental law. Biocultural rights are not simply claims to property, in the typical market sense of property being a universally commensurable, commodifiable and alienable resource; rather, as will be apparent from the discussion offered here, biocultural rights are collective rights of communities to carry out traditional stewardship roles vis-à-vis Nature, as conceived of by indigenous ontologies. [2]


[1] David Bollier, The Rise of Biocultural Rights,

[2] Kabir Sanjay Bavkiatte and Thomas Bennett, “Community Stewardship:  The Foundation of Biocultural Rights,”  Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2015, pp. 7-29)