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We, 45 representatives of indigenous, peasant, non-governmental, academic and governmental organizations from 19 countries, came together on December 1-6, 1997 at Thammasat campus just outside Bangkok, Thailand, for an international seminar on Sui Generis Rights co-organized by Biothai and GRAIN. We met to study, assess and develop our response to the increasing privatization of biodiversity and local knowledge, especially as driven by the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and resulting legislation at the regional and national levels. We focused in particular on the sui generis rights option for intellectual property over plant varieties as imposed on all WTO member states by the TRIPS Agreement, as well as on other international agreements related to biodiversity such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
In Thai, "Thammasat" means "knowledge of nature." It also means "justice." The name of our venue is central to us. Indigenous peoples, farmers and local communities have, over millennia, nurtured and developed the biodiversity on which humanity now depends. They have been wisely using their knowledge of nature to create sustainable food and health systems based on sharing their knowledge and biodiversity with others. Such community systems are being destroyed by economic development under the guise of free trade, Green Revolution agriculture and the new biotechnologies, and globalization. They are also being destroyed by the rampant pirating and monopolization of biodiversity and related knowledge through the extension of intellectual property rights (IPR) to life forms.
Perhaps no country exemplifies our concerns about WTO-enshrined globalization as our host country. At the time we were meeting, Thailand-and much of the rest of Southeast and East Asia-is going through a profound crisis resulting from years of economic growth founded upon fleeting speculative investment. The currency tailspin which started last July is accompanied by destabilization of markets, loss of employment and cutting of public spending, and results in a clear loss of control over our own economies and livelihoods with the IMF taking the steering wheel.
The WTO TRIPS Agreement obliges developing countries to provide some form of IPR on plant varieties by the year 2000. This may be done by patents or by some "sui generis" rights system-meaning, in Latin, a system "of its own kind." In 1999, one year before implementation in the developing countries, this provision will be reviewed and we are preparing ourselves for this review.
We reaffirm our total and frontal opposition to the extension of intellectual property rights to life forms, be it on humans, animals, plants, microorganisms, or their genes, cells and other parts. We are also adamantly against biopiracy and the monopolization of biodiversity-related knowledge through such IPRs.
Our understanding of sui generis rights in TRIPS
- The overall implication of TRIPS, and for that matter the whole of the WTO, is highly detrimental to peoples' economies, cultures and livelihoods.
- The sui generis provision of TRIPs gives WTO member states room to develop their own kind of IPR protection for plant varieties, and many nations are now changing their national IPR laws.
- While some people look at the sui generis option in TRIPS as a window through which other forms of rights over biodiversity can be articulated in legislation, it is our conviction that such rights will be linked to IPR and will result in new and further monopoly rights over plant varieties.
- The same is true of any sui generis rights option which could be developed and proposed under the TRIPS agreements for local and indigenous knowledge.
The reaffirmation of our sui generis rights
- "Sui generis" perfectly describes the rights and systems we are struggling to defend-our "own kind" of rights and systems. We recognize our sui generis rights to exist independently of the IPR-based sui generis systems promoted by the TRIPS Agreement.
- Our rights are inalienable; they existed long before IPR regimes were established. As legal, political, economic, social and cultural rights, they are part of peoples' sovereignty and therefore part of human rights.
- As community/collective rights, they are indivisible and intergenerational; they include Farmers' Rights and apply to Indigenous Peoples, peasant and family farmers, fisherfolk and other local communities which derive their livelihoods from biodiversity.
- Their place and expression is firstly at the local level, but they must also be recognized and guaranteed at the national and international levels.
- The rights that we are struggling to develop, defend and let flourish should never be misinterpreted as, or denatured into, intellectual property rights.
- Because peoples' rights are under tremendous threat, we see the promotion of such rights also as a tool for resistance against, and the rolling back of, the forces of monopoly.
It is on this basis that we will actively engage our societies from the village level through to our governments in the capitals to take part in the struggle for our sui generis rights, and on to the international level to oppose IPR on all forms of life. This implies a whole range of information, research, campaign and coalition building activities over the long term. Some of the immediate tasks at hand are to:
In the spirit of justice and embracing all knowledge of nature, we commit ourselves to the Thammasat Action Plan and invite other organizations, movements and peoples to join us in the struggle to achieve this vision.
- Demand the revision of TRIPs in order to allow countries to exclude life forms and biodiversity-related knowledge from IPR monopolies under the jurisdiction of WTO.
- Reinforce the defense mechanisms of local communities who are highly vulnerable to unbridled bioprospecting and to the introduction of genetically engineered organisms.
- Support any calls by local communities for a moratorium on bioprospecting, and demand an immediate moratorium on the research, development, release, and transboundary movement of genetically engineered organisms.
- Assert the primacy of international agreements on biodiversity, such as the CBD and FAO instruments, over TRIPs and other trade regimes, for the resolution of these issues.
- Reaffirm the original intent of the CBD for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and prevent the CBD from becoming a mechanism for transnational corporations to trade in biodiversity in the name of "access" and "benefit-sharing."
- Mobilize a strong global movement engaging environmental, trade, agriculture, consumer, labor, health, food security, women's, and human rights and all people's organizations in these campaigns.
Bangkok, December 5, 1997
- Carlos Correa, TRIPS expert and resource person, Buenos Aires
- Advice & Services to Alternative Agriculture Projects (AS-PTA)
- Cabinet of Senator Marina Silva
- Gisela S. de Alencar, Office of Legislative Research, House of Representatives
- Latin American Institute of Alternative Legal Services (ILSA)
- "Semillas" Group
- Senator Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado
- Silvia Rodriguez, National University of Costa Rica
- Friends of the Earth Costa Rica (AECO-FoE)
- Small Farmers Association of Costa Rica (UPANacional)
- Accion Ecologica
- Dr. Regassa Feyissa, Biodiversity Institute
- Mr. Imeru Tamerat, Environmental Protection Authority
- Dan Leskien, TRIPS expert and resource person, Hamburg
- Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
- Indira Jaising, Supreme Court Advocate
- Pesticides Action Network (PAN Indonesia)
- Mr. Stevanus Wangsit, World Food Day Farmers and Fishers Movement of Indonesia (SPTN HPS)
- Manny Yap, PDG
- Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development (MASIPAG)
- Oscar Zamora, University of the Philippines Los Banos
- David Fig, University of the Witwatersrand
- Thai Network on Community Rights and Biodiversity (BIOTHAI)
- Forum of the Poor
- Technology for Rural and Ecological Enrichment (TREE)
- Project for Ecological Recovery (PER)
- Somsak Daranoot, Department of Agriculture
- Jaroen Compeerapap. Chulalongkorn University
- Jakkrit Khuanpot, Sukhothai Thammathirat University
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
- Southern African Traditional Leaders' Council for the Management of Natural Resources
- Rosemary Makano, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
- Mr. Robert Mshana, Organisation of African Unity (OAU)
- Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN)
- Third World Network
- Via Campesina