Act with Others

Exploring joint advocacy for appropriate recognition and support

Lessons Learned in Advocacy

The focus of advocacy will depend on the context, vision, and needs of those involved. See these Resource documents for more information on:

Exploring social recognition in practice

Social recognition can be understood as appropriate public attention, acknowledgement and praise.  It can take the form of official mentions and inscriptions, honours and awards, and media exposure for desired visibility. Such recognition can provide a community with a variety of platforms to make their initiatives for territories of life publicly known, if desired, and better respected.  But social recognition can also be damaging, as when it engenders unwanted exposure or generates or exacerbates tensions; for instance, when some communities, or certain individuals within a particular community, are highlighted over others.[1]

Powerful ways to recognise territories of life in practice[2] include:

  • ensuring that the police and the judicial system back-up and do not contradict the communities in their surveillance and enforcement operations and in providing fair and coherent judgement and sanctions for violators
  • establishing, honouring and diffusing information about local agreements and mechanisms that recognise specific territories of life and their custodian communities, making sure that local land use plans and development plans integrate and foresee territories of life and do not contradict them and their rules.

Exploring recognition and support under international law and policy

The recognition of ICCAs in international biodiversity law and conservation policy, notably by the IUCN and under the CBD, has been steadily growing since the turn of the millennium (see Part I).  While a review of the specific international law and policy elements that sustain ICCAs is beyond the scope of this guidance, it is recommended that any custodian community become aware of the increasingly important role of ICCAs in the international arena, and of the fact that they are recognized as a source of global benefits for, among others, the conservation of bio-cultural diversity, the maintenance of sustainable livelihoods and climate, and the satisfaction of collective human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights. Such awareness and specific knowledge can strengthen custodians’ arguments and advocacy for the forms of recognition and support they desire and deserve.

Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ rights to self-determination, recognized under international law and policy, are a crucial issue in the recognition and support of ICCAs.[3] Advocating for collective territorial rights directly is indeed possible, for instance, by stressing respect for the important connections between human rights and the environment[4] and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.[5] These entry points may become stronger and more reliable in coming years if human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights standards and accountability mechanisms are effectively developed and used.

Strategically, it also appears effective to argue for local collective territorial rights on the basis of the local, national and global conservation benefits they engender. So far, international ICCA recognition has been achieved by taking that route, arguing that greater diversity of conservation governance is beneficial for both people and nature. Advocacy that actually begins with such arguments[6] may have better chances of success in the short term. It may well be the option of choice in situations where there is scarce political traction for human and indigenous peoples’ rights and/or impending threats. It is also true, however, that advocacy based on conservation benefits only puts tenure rights and other rights in a precarious position and may constrain communities to ‘deliver’ conservation performance that is outside of their control or not aligned with their visions.

To find entry points into international fora that can support or advance the appropriate recognition of ICCAs, it may be helpful to reach out to relevant civil society organizations (CSOs) in the country. Are there CSOs that have already been participating in relevant international fora and conventions? Could they provide advice and connection with relevant UN agencies or government officials, such as those designated by the government as Focal Points for international conventions such as CBD or those dealing with human rights and progressive food[7] policies?  The UNDP offices in charge of implementing GEF SGP programs and GSI project support in particular are other excellent examples of agencies and individuals to contact, including for information on forms of social recognition for exemplary community initiatives, such as the Equator Prize. Last but not least, the custodian communities may wish to contact the ICCA Consortium, whose Members, Honorary members and semi-volunteer staff are present today in more than 70 countries. In making such connections, the Local Team may find it useful to have the support of the facilitator, who may be well informed about the country’s situation regarding international policies and opportunities and possess personal contacts with relevant officials.

The goal here is not that every territory of life custodian community becomes active in international conventions. Rather, all interested communities can and should become fully aware that international environmental agreements have highlighted the multiple local and global values of territories of life, and that their formal recognition and support by national governments are in line with due respect for the international law and policies those governments have subscribed to.

Exploring recognition and support under national law and policies

Diverse forms of legal and policy recognition of ICCAs are possible at the national level (see the box on National legal and policy instruments that recognise ICCAs in Part I of this document). Many governments offer legal recognition for community land or territories held under communal title, and some more specifically for ICCAs. For example, countries such as Colombia, The Philippines, India, Ecuador and Brazil legally recognize the collective land rights of their indigenous or tribal peoples and the related use rights over their bio-cultural diversity. Also, countries such as Australia, Mexico, Italy, Fiji and Senegal have specific ways of recognizing communities as governing bodies for areas of conservation value, at times included in their official protected area systems. Related mechanisms and practices are backed by specific legislation and/or policy.[8]

Today, several countries are also discussing ways to recognize community territories more specifically as ICCAs in order to highlight and preserve their conservation value. This is crucially important even where communities possess collective land rights, as ICCA recognition adds to the security of tenure and use rights of the relevant communities. Recognizing ICCAs for their conservation value can strengthen the custodian communities’ demands for FPIC and the eventual opposition to the underground extractive concessions that could be assigned by governments independently of land rights.[9]

A first step in seeking national legal recognition of ICCAs as such is to develop an understanding of the options available under the relevant country’s legislation and policy. This enables communities to assess the pros and cons of various options and their appropriateness in light of their specific context and concerns. For the ICCA Consortium, an important starting point for this research is a national ICCA policy and legal review,[10] which is best carried out at the national level and commissioned by many communities as it would be relevant for them all. Here, again, the collaboration between the Local Team and the facilitator is important, as the latter may access funds to commission such a national review and make sure that its results are communicated to all the concerned communities. 

National legal and policy instruments that recognise territories of life

(adapted from Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2010)

Ideally, territories of life are recognized as coherent land, water and natural resource units governed by self-defined communities under a common title (property or right to govern and use) that is inalienable, indivisible and established in perpetuity. In practice, there are diverse legal instruments and frameworks across different countries that align more and less well with these ideals. Examples include:

Legislation addressing the collective legal and/or customary tenure, governance and rights of indigenous peoples and/or local communities to their territories and ancestral lands, waters and natural resources. This kind of legislation in some cases applies only to specific communities, such as mountain communities, tribal peoples living in forest environments, coastal communities managing customary fishing grounds or slave-descendant communities (Quilombolas, Afro-Colombian communities, etc.).  In other cases, it applies to all “indigenous peoples” in a country that can satisfy certain requirements of ancestral domains. And it may refer to specific collective endeavours (e.g., transhumance). Recognition in legislation may be fully independent from conservation results, although it may be strengthened by being combined with the recognition of the conservation results consequent to the exercise of the customary tenure, governance and rights.

Protected area laws that embrace the full spectrum of protected area governance types, including governance by indigenous peoples and local communities, within and outside a national protected area system.[11] In this sense, communities with a demonstrated capacity to conserve territories and areas of national biodiversity value are provided with an important degree of self-determination as they continue to provide benefits to society at large. Protected area frameworks can provide both legal backing and financial support for communities to govern themselves while fending off threats from concessions for extractive activities and mega infrastructures. Recent CBD decisions have stressed the need to properly recognise ICCAs also when they overlap with official government protected areas through positive collaboration between the relevant protected area authorities and communities.[12]

Sectoral policies in forestry and wildlife, agriculture, tourism, mining, fisheries, finance and economic development that recognise indigenous peoples and local communities as legal subjects with collective rights and responsibilities. These often regulate special types of community concessions and privileges, such as for fishing, hunting, gathering and the sustainable use of forests.

Land tenure and decentralisation policies that recognise indigenous peoples and local communities as legal subjects with collective rights and responsibilities and effective conservation measures for ecologically important or sensitive areas, such as watersheds, rivers, lakes, wetlands and coastal zones. As part of such recognition, decision-making is brought back to the community level through various forms of negotiation and local, sub-national and national governments agree to declare territories of life ‘off-limits’ to destructive activities.  While collective private property (which includes access, use and disposal) offers the most powerful bundle of rights, even secured rights of use of land or water under a variety of ownership regimes (e.g. private, state or municipal) can effectively sustain a territory of life on the basis of local by-laws and municipal ordinances. The important element is that the arrangements succeed in developing a strong, long-term association between the territory of life and its custodian community and that the community is allowed to develop and enforce the relevant rules.

Exploring joint advocacy for appropriate recognition and support

Appropriate recognition and support of their territories of life can help communities to secure and exercise their collective rights and responsibilities. Inappropriate and inadequate recognition and support, however, are usually damaging and bring about undesired influence and impacts on the community and the territory of life.[13] As part of the SSP, the national ICCA network should carefully consider what types of legal, policy and social recognition and support are appropriate in its shared context (see Discussion questions 7.2). It is particularly important that ICCA custodian communities advocate for a specific form of recognition and support only after a well-informed and transparent exploration of the benefits and risks of various possible options, and under the authority and responsibility of their legitimate representatives.

Different custodian communities that agree on what they need may wish to advocate together, as ICCA networks, for passage or implementation of law and policies appropriate for them. They may also need partners. National movements for land rights, peasant rights and indigenous peoples’ rights may be powerful partners of ICCA custodian communities, as well as civil society organizations and movements for conservation of nature, sustainable livelihoods and human rights concerning the environment.  When it comes to whether or not and how to engage with political parties, this is a choice to be taken by each ICCA network, with plenty of savvy. 

The facilitator can highlight that successful advocacy usually has a clear and well-argued aim (e.g., a specific policy modification or the funding of a specific scheme) and is backed by concrete, positive examples, a dedicated budget and a constituency that is as united and diverse as possible. Importantly, the facilitator may also provide links with one or a few individuals or organizations with legal skills.  Ideally, any specific advocacy would be supported by at least one civil society organization with legal skills, competent to offer legal strategies and solutions, file petitions, follow up specific cases, assist in land and resource issues and conflicts, back-up the recognition of specific territories of life, offer protection for collective rights whenever challenged, train on paralegal skills, etc.

Exploring registering ICCAs internationally and nationally

Today, custodian communities can ‘register’ their ICCAs if they wish to make their existence visible in the international arena. For the last few years, the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) has provided communities with the option of documenting their territories directly in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), if the territory of life in question fits the protected area definition of the IUCN,[1] and/or in a dedicated international ICCA Registry that they manage.

Note icon
This Module includes only introductory information to the ICCA Registry managed by UNEP-WCMC. Details  and links to the forms to be completed  for registration are online and in a Manual, available in several languages:


The WDPA is a database of all types of protected areas as defined by the IUCN, and includes ICCAs as an example of one of the four main types of governance. The ICCA Registry, on the other hand, is a database of ICCAs only, with several distinctive features: It stores information in a similar format to the WDPA, but can include more details; the custodian community that provides the information has the option of maintaining it in the database but making the information unavailable to the public, if it so decides; finally, the community has the additional option of submitting a case study, or short narrative description, of the territory of life, which can be publicly accessed on the Internet and does not require registration.

To register a territory of life, the community completes a FPIC form and a questionnaire. The FPIC Form is to make sure that the community is fully aware of all implications of the registration.  Among other things, the questionnaire asks about the location and environmental characteristics of the territory of life, how it is used by the community, how it is governed and managed, what kind of rights the community has over the territory of life, the threats it faces, and its history. The Local Team and facilitator can support communities in compiling this documentation.

Before a territory of life can be included in the Registry or WDPA, the ICCA Consortium asks the UNEP WCMC to make sure that it undergoes a process of peer-support and review, to be confident that it is a genuine ICCA, that appropriate procedures for the registration (such as FPIC) have been followed, and that appropriate standards are met.

Peer-support and review processes are to be developed and led in each country by a bona-fide network of ICCA custodian indigenous peoples and local communities. Because the tasks to be performed are sensitive, the network should be recognised as legitimate by the indigenous peoples and/or local communities in the country. The network may also benefit from establishing affiliation with the international ICCA Consortium and some form of partnership with UNDP GEF SGP, if an office exists in the country. The ICCA networks should freely choose a set of values and criteria they will abide by (for instance, fairness and transparency) and agree on an appropriate process for the peer-support and review of ICCAs in their country. So far, only a few national ICCA networks (e.g., in Spain and Iran) have deliberated about such criteria and processes, but more are likely to do so as part of the ICCA Global Support Initiative. 

ICCA Registries also exist at national levels (e.g. in the Philippines and in Iran) but they are less well-known or fully-developed than the international one. As with international recognition and support more generally, the ICCA registering opportunity was made available internationally before many countries even recognized the existence of ICCAs in their territories. 

Should a custodian community register its territories of life at the international level? This decision should be taken on a case-by-case basis; specific, relevant questions can be explored through a dedicated grassroots discussion.

The ICCA network will likely identify various needs for recognition and support for their territories of life, but it should keep in mind that the internal integrity and strength of the custodian communities themselves is the most fundamental condition for the existence and thriving of territories of life and should never be undermined by external support. Particularly dangerous, in this sense, is financial support, which has the potential to become a burden to the community and a source of conflicts and corruption. Various types of recognition and support initiatives, on the other hand, have proven particularly helpful.

Resources and tools for advocating for appropriate recognition and support – national and international

Methods / Approaches:

  • Establishing learning groups – including to share information and seek entry points to shift power structures in natural resource governance. While not specific to territories of life governed by indigenous peoples and local communities, the experience with Forest Governance Learning Networks can provide some ideas and inspiration (see Mayers et al. 2013:57, Mayers et al. 2009).

Websites and Organizations


[1] Dudley, 2008

[1] Kothari et al., 2013

[2] Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2010

[3] See Morel, 2010 and Kashwan, 2013, cited by Jonas, 2016.

[4] Knox, 2017

[5] Tauli-Corpuz, 2016

[6] See the numerous IUCN Resolutions for the proper recognition and support of ICCAs—including within protected areas, and for the recognition of the crucial role of governance in conservation; the numerous CBD Decisions that deal with ICCAs; and available summary publications, such as Kothari and Newmann, 2014 and Jonas, 2016. 

[7] See the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure.

[8] Kothari and Neumann, 2014

[9] Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2010

[10] Examples available here

[11] Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2013

[12] For more information about ICCAs overlapped by state protected areas, see Stevens et al., 2016

[13] Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2010