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Jun 15, 2009

Property rights expanded to include culture and tradition

Story PictureIntellectual property rights normally apply to books, CD’s and inventions. But the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has a new spin on what can be a protected asset in Belize. This organ of the United Nations has teamed up with the Institute of Social and Cultural Research to discuss the protection of culture and tradition. Over the next three days, panelists from the Caribbean will be at the House of Culture with representatives from many indigenous and ethnic groups to explain how they can protect their unique identity and practices.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
The World Intellectual Property Organization is a United Nations agency that promotes the protection of intellectual property around the planet. According to Ritamae Hyde, a researcher at the Institute of Social and Cultural Research, WIPO has invaluable knowledge to share.

Ritamae Hyde, Researcher, I.S.C.R.
“It’s the official opening ceremony for the World Intellectual Property Organization. We have experts from all over the Caribbean; Trinidad, Jamaica, Suriname, St. Lucia; experts on traditional knowledge, folklore expressions and genetic resources. They are here in Belize to conduct a three day seminar on the protection of traditional knowledge, folklore expression and genetics resources. It is very important, especially to take into context, new developments in terms of intellectual property now applying to culture and traditional knowledge that has been inherited and passed on from generations to generations. We know that Belize although a very small country, we’re very rich. There is an abundance of natural and genetic resources here.”

One of the experts says that the Caribbean culture, tradition and knowledge have been taken advantage of by outsiders.

Albert Deterviwle, Leader, Indigenous People of St. Lucia
“We have had a lot of misappropriation, as you heard this morning. People would come in within groups in Caribbean, Central America, South America and the Caribbean islands and would actually take with them information and redistribute it and would not give credit to the group. It’s important that you recognize that it belongs to the group; it is the groups work and it’s a system that we go through so it must be recognized.”

Natural and genetic resources have been exploited before. You don’t need to look any further than the case of Don Elijio Panti, the Mayan healer who used plants, massage, acupuncture, herbal baths and prayers to heal the sick. On Amazon.com you can find his cultural and traditional knowledge available for thirty-eight thirty-four US dollars. But these books about remedies are the property of another person, Rosita Arvigo.

Albert Deterviwle
“Traditional medicine; if researchers come in they extract traditional knowledge as it relates to traditional knowledge in the application of the product or the substances or so forth, then it must be recognized. Those persons who have the knowledge, it belongs to them that there should be some mechanism for access; accessing the information, the use of the information or protocol or what have you and what benefits that would be derived from the use of that traditional knowledge. So we’re hoping that with the consultations under the regional frame up for the protection of traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources and the taking of genetic knowledge associated with genetic resources, then the frame work would insist on how, within the region in each country, how an outsider or person can come in and use—document that information to use it or to extract drugs and so forth and what would the community that it belongs to, what would the community receive from it. It could be monetary, it could be non-monetary, it could be other aspects of recognition and so forth.”

Though Don Elijio is gone, one lesson that is clear is the protection of Belizean cultures and traditions. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

Don Elijio Panti’s knowledge was used in the collection of hundred of plants for the U.S. National Cancer Institute. He was awarded with the “Distinguished Contribution to Science Award” by the New York Botanical Garden.

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