By Amy Flick
A student working as a research assistant for a professor came to me looking for help finding information on implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. He had a list of Caribbean and Latin American countries, and he wanted to find legislation and regulations of each country implementing the provisions on digital sequence information on genetic resources from the Nagoya Protocol. He had attended the library’s orientation for summer research assistants, so he had been using resources I mentioned at the orientation (Foreign Law Guide and the Law Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online) to go country by country searching for legislation.
Major multilateral conventions usually have governing or supervisory bodies that track status and implementation of the treaty. The best known treaty bodies are for the core human rights instruments under the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, but other important conventions have them as well. For example, Heidi Frostestad Kuehl and Megan O’Brien’s textbook International Legal Research in a Global Community uses the Kyoto Protocol as an example of treaty research at pages 47-49, recommending the official homepage of the UN Framework Convention as a starting point for research on developments related to the Kyoto Protocol.
Treaty body websites are a great resource pulling together all kinds of information on the treaty, including the text, parties, status, and history. For treaties in force, they may include reports and other information on implementation and progress meeting the treaty’s objectives. They may include publications on the work of the treaty body and on projects related to the convention, and they usually include news and press releases for recent developments. If there is a dispute resolution or complaint procedure in the treaty, those cases or jurisprudence may be on the treaty’s website.
An easy Google search led to the webpage for the Nagoya Protocol on the treaty body website for the Convention on Biological Diversity. We found digital sequence information listed as a key issue on the navigation bar; digital sequence information on genetic resources was not mentioned in the protocol’s text, but was addressed at the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol in December 2016. We also found the list of parties to the protocol, where we found that some of the countries on the student’s list are not yet parties to the Nagoya Protocol. The country profiles on the site were a great resource. For parties to the Protocol, the Access and Benefit-Sharing Clearing-House listed and provided text for legislative, administrative or policy measures on access and benefit-sharing, even providing English translations for some. Reports on implementation of the Nagoya Protocol were available for many of the parties. For non-party signatories and some other non-parties, National Reports and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans on the country profile pages had some information on progress toward ratification of the Nagoya Protocol and towards meeting its targets. And many of the country profiles, including some for the non-parties, included an ABS National Focal Point, contact information for a government environment minister who might respond to questions about the country’s implementation of the Nagoya Protocol.
Although we didn’t find any mention of digital sequence information in the national reports, the CBD website did have pages on Digital Sequence Information on Genetic Resources in the Key Protocol Issues. These included submissions of views and information on Digital Sequence Information, listed by party or organization. And the “relevant decisions and documents” included a Survey on Domestic Measures Addressing Benefit-Sharing from Digital Sequence Information on Genetic Resources, sent out on June 19, 2019 with return requested by July 1, 2019, so the student will be watching for survey results to be reported.
Knowing that the professor the student is working for does a lot of research on issues of intellectual property and genetic resources, I also recommended a few other resources to the student for finding national laws more broadly on genetic resources. WIPO Lex collects national laws and regulations on intellectual property topics, and one of the topics listed is “genetic resources.” ECOLEX has legislation on environmental law, with keyword filters including “genetic resources” and “biodiversity.” And Foreign Law Guide, although not the student’s best source for this treaty question, does have “genetic engineering” as a subheading under the subject Intellectual Property for some countries, with citations to legislation.
Once the student left, I was left still wondering “What is digital sequence information?” The Food and Agriculture Organization has a topic page on digital sequence information. It says that “the term “DSI” currently has no agreed definition.” But the page explains that DSI is a “critical tool in the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture,” and it noted that the implications of DSI are being discussed under instruments including the Convention on Biological Diversity.