Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1995
Instituto de Gestion Ambiental


This profile was prepared when Diana Pombo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Diana Pombo is a lawyer who has worked on environmental protection for many years. During the 1980's the international debate about necessary action shifted from the rainforests and biodiversity to include the human settlements that were part of the environment. When the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development took place in Rio in 1992, the issue of environmental preservation had become politically joined with that of the rights of Third World populations to develop their resources; indigenous peoples became a powerful focus and symbol of this link. Diana understood that unless local communities could themselves benefit from environmental resources there would be no just and practical way to sustain the environment, and that the interrelationship was a fertile new area for the law to move into. She has indeed moved the law in that direction. As a Colombia representative to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which has been succeeded by the World Trade Organization), Diana participated in securing the requirement that there must be a mechanism through which indigenous people could secure title to their lands in order to be able to negotiate with an international corporation that sought, for example, to mine for tin. Further, Diana is defining a new area of collective intellectual property rights that can be used by indigenous and local communities to protect their collective knowledge as well as their physical resources-through contracts, the language of the market economy. Her concepts of collective property rights have already been adopted as law in Colombia, which was one of the first Latin American countries to enact domestic legal reforms geared to the Indians who constitute only about three percent of its population; in contrast, Ecuador's indigenous population is 45 percent of the total, and Bolivia's 70 percent. Diana now encourages other countries in the Andean and Central American Pact to follow suit with laws that protect collective intellectual property rights.
Having helped to put the legal structure in place, Diana is now doing the hard work of building the methods and institutions to realize collective intellectual property rights in Colombia. Her work contributes to the building of civil society in a very basic and necessary way. By bringing the law to the people where they are and showing them how it can work for them, she is developing confidence in the rule of law.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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