Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

Message from WIPO DG Gurry on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

August 9, 2019

It is with deep appreciation and respect that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) joins today in celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Director General Francis Gurry
(photo: WIPO/Berrod).

WIPO’s robust program reaching out to indigenous peoples aims to encourage and empower indigenous peoples to use intellectual property (IP) tools strategically, if they so wish, in order to protect their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions for their own benefit and in line with their specific social, cultural and developmental needs.

WIPO’s activities in this field further Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration) which provides that Indigenous Peoples have the right to “maintain, control, protect and develop their IP over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions”. The activities include practical workshops, distance learning courses and trainings, and the dissemination of briefs and practical guides.

This year’s theme for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – Indigenous Languages – reverberates in the context of the celebration in 2019 of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. WIPO would like to acknowledge the leading role that UNESCO is playing in moving this theme forward.

This theme is also of special relevance to WIPO, particularly in its on-going endeavor to make its resources as accessible as possible, including, wherever possible, in indigenous languages. In line with WIPO’s Open Access Policy, WIPO’s publications can be reproduced, used and translated in any language under Creative Commons licences. WIPO is pleased to report that its animation The Adventures of the Yakuanoi: Navigating Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Property has been translated into several indigenous languages.

WIPO participated at events in 2019 celebrating the International Year of Indigenous Languages in New York, Geneva and Paris. A WIPO multi-stakeholder Practical Workshop involving Indigenous Peoples from the Arctic Region that was co-organized with the Government of Canada in Iqaluit (Canada) in June this year was another opportunity for such celebration, through the launch of the animation in the local indigenous language, Inuktitut. Initiatives to translate WIPO’s materials into indigenous languages will be further encouraged.

In parallel, WIPO facilitates the development of an international IP-related legal instrument or instruments that will ensure the balanced and effective protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions through negotiations taking place within the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (the IGC).

As its 2018-2019 mandate PDF, 2018-2019 mandate is nearing its conclusion, the IGC has developed streamlined negotiating draft texts that reflect the progress made. Together with those drafts, the IGC, at its last session of the biennium in June this year, formulated and agreed to submit a recommendation to the WIPO General Assembly with a view to the renewal of its mandate for the next two years. This is a strong signal of the WIPO IGC’s commitment to move forward.

The participation and expert input of Indigenous Peoples contribute importantly to the credibility and substance of the IGC process. In line with Article 18 of the Declaration, the role and interests of Indigenous Peoples, as key stakeholders in these intergovernmental negotiations, have been reflected both in the options included in the drafts texts that have been developed so far and in the comprehensive modalities that have been established to facilitate their participation in the negotiations as observers. The WIPO Voluntary Fund, which grants support to Indigenous Peoples’ participation, has been recently replenished by Canada. WIPO strongly encourages further donations to be made to the Fund.

With direct reference to the recommendations made by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at its 2019 session, the IGC has requested the WIPO Secretariat to organize a second Indigenous Expert Workshop along the lines of the Indigenous Expert Workshop PDF, Indigenous Expert Workshop along the lines of the Indigenous Expert Workshop that took place in 2013 and to commission the updating by an indigenous expert of the "Technical Review of Key IP-related Issues of the WIPO Draft Instruments on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions" PDF, Technical Review of Key Intellectual Property-related Issues of the WIPO Draft Instruments on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions provided by Professor James Anaya in 2016.

On the road towards the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Permanent Forum made traditional knowledge its special theme at its 2019 session. WIPO welcomed the choice to highlight this important issue, and participated actively in the discussion on this theme at the session.

WIPO looks forward to continue collaborating fruitfully with Indigenous Peoples in support of their specific interests and well-being and to continuing its excellent cooperation with the Permanent Forum and its Secretariat.