Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1997
AND-Asociación para la Defensa de los Derechos Naturales
This description of Brendan Tobin's work was prepared when Brendan Tobin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997.
A barrister from Ireland, Brendan Tobin has developed a program that enables indigenous groups and nongovernmental organizations to make their own decisions and to participate in the negotiation of commercial contracts involving natural and genetic resource rights.
The New Idea
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person


Since his election to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997, Brendan Tobin has worked with indigenous peoples to help them understand the value of their legal regimes and their role as lawmakers. Brendan’s main goal is to create universal acceptance of indigenous peoples’ self-determination when it comes to their traditions and culture. and further, to expand that into acceptance of customary law within the international legal framework. Brendan is empowering indigenous peoples to establish biocultural protocols on how outsiders must relate to them and protect their human rights. Brendan founded the Asociacion Para la Defensa de los Derechos Naturales, which provides environmental and human rights advice to indigenous cultures. He works in three main thematic areas: promoting indigenous peoples’ rights to genetic and natural resourses; protection of indigenous knowledge, communities, and peoples; and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ customary law regimes and human rights in the international legal framework. His original project was to promote a change in the system of property rights utilizing Certificates of Origin, or requirements for the disclosure of origin in applications for international property rights. This innovative notion of using a market instrument as a mechanism for the protection of human rights was enacted in Peru in 1996 and is now law in 18 countries. It was also adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 via the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. Brendan works with many international organizations, research groups, NGOs and indigenous groups on issues related to intellectual property, human rights, and natural resource rights. From 2003 to 2006, he coordinated the Biodiplomacy Initiative at the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Study, working on issues of biodiversity, traditional knowledge, bioethics, and intellectual property rights.

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