Customary and traditional legal measures
Long before national governments began to pass legislation and regulations concerning the conservation of biodiversity and the use of biological resources, traditional communities around the world already possessed a varied and complex collection of customary laws dealing with the same issues. The survival of these communities depended upon effective systems of husbanding biological resources.
Customary laws and legal systems vary from culture to culture but have a number of general characteristics that set them apart from modern legal orders that govern, at least in theory, behaviour in national legal and political systems. Some common characteristics of customary laws are:
- Land and water
territories and their biotic resources have socio-religious significance and
are closely connected to the identity of the group and cannot easily be separated
from matters of kinship, authority and leadership and ritual.
- Individual, heritable
rights in land (or water territories) exist, but most individual rights are
either rights of use subsidiary to a superior group's rights, or rights to
particular resources, such as tree or animal species or rights to harvest
a particular cultivated plot.
- Un-worked land
and waters are, for the most part, as encumbered by rights as individual garden
plots. Rarely is any part of the land and seascape in which the community
lives considered 'empty'.
- Rights in land,
waters, and their resources are rarely recorded in maps or written records,
with the exception of ownership, marks placed on trees and other discrete,
individually owned resources. Borders are determined on the basis of natural
features, such as rivers, and by mutual unwritten understandings.
Limits are frequently set based on the exploitation of particular resources
- often regulated on a seasonal basis and some areas and resources are often
put completely off limits.