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Day 2  |  8 June

Small-scale Fisheries in Asia: Protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples  

14:00-15:30 ICT


Nearly 2.5 billion people, or 40% of the world's population, live in coastal zones and rely on fisheries as a source of food and income, with around 90% of the people employed along capture fisheries value chains operating in small-scale fisheries. Small-scale fisheries play a crucial role in ensuring economic stability, food security, and poverty reduction, particularly in developing countries, and are closely linked to the cultures, identities, ways of life, and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples who rely on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. Despite their importance, small-scale fisheries often receive inadequate attention and support from governments and other stakeholders, resulting in insufficient protection for the human rights of small-scale fishers.   


Constituting a substantial portion of small-scale fishers in Asia, Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately exposed to human rights challenges from a broad range of business activities, not limited to the fisheries and aquaculture industries. These include coerced labor and human trafficking, insufficient access to marine and inland resources and markets, exclusion from decision-making processes, and a lack of recognition of their human rights, including the right to a healthy environment and customary rights. In addition, pollution and waste from surface vessels and deep-sea mining activities threaten marine species and may adversely impact fishing and seafood harvesting industries, placing the livelihoods and culture of Indigenous Peoples at risk. These challenges are further compounded by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices.  


While Indigenous Peoples are frequently referred to as ‘vulnerable’, they are not vulnerable per se. Rather, they find themselves in situations of vulnerability when their rights are violated. It is therefore imperative to prioritize the promotion of sustainable and equitable small-scale fisheries that effectively safeguard the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, in line with the principles outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as well as relevant human rights and other norms and standards. It is increasingly recognised that Indigenous Peoples have the knowledge and ability to successfully conserve and manage biodiverse ecosystems more effectively than other actors and at a lower cost, especially when their human rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled. Their deep connection to their land, territories and resources has enabled them to build and pass down extremely accurate knowledge of marine and coastal ecosystems as well as develop sustainable resource management practices. It is therefore of paramount importance recognizing and promoting Indigenous Peoples' territorial rights, in which water ecosystems and the right to practice artisanal fisheries are included, and natural resources rights in connection with small-scale fisheries, and promoting decent work opportunities, which is critical for their livelihoods and sustainable socio-economic development.  


As we mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as well as the 10th anniversary of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines), it is an opportune moment to reflect on the state of human rights in the world and transform commitment into action. In this session, particular attention will be afforded to the unique challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples in the context of small-scale fisheries and how their human rights, including tenure rights, can be better protected. The discussion will also look at the challenges and opportunities facing small-scale fisheries in Asia, with a focus on the responsibilities of businesses, States, and other stakeholders to respect human rights and promote sustainable practices, as outlined by the UNGPs on Business and Human Rights as well as relevant human rights and other norms and standards, particularly the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO Convention No. 160 on Indigenous and Tribal People. Amongst other things, the importance of environmental and socio-cultural impact assessments, Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources shall be emphasized.      


The session seeks to:

  • Identify human rights challenges faced by small-scale fishers, particularly Indigenous Peoples, in the context of business activities;  

  • Discuss the challenges faced by governments in respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of small-scale fishers, including in the context of business activities, and potential legislative and policy options to address them;  

  • Examine the opportunities for responsible businesses to contribute to the recognition, protection, and promotion of small-scale fishers' rights – including marine resources, marine and inland territories and coastal lands - while ensuring the sustainability of fisheries and the protection of marine ecosystems;  

  • Share best practices and innovative solutions that businesses and other stakeholders can adopt to respect and promote the human rights of small-scale fishers, particularly Indigenous Peoples, in line with the UNGPs and other international frameworks;  

  • Share recommendations for future action and collaboration among stakeholders to address the human rights challenges faced by small-scale fishers in the context of business activities.



Panelists will reflect on the following questions:

  • How the unique human rights challenges faced by Indigenous small-scale fishers in their lands and territories due to business activities intersect with land rights, cultural preservation, and traditional knowledge. 

  • What are the key elements that should be included in policies or legislation to protect the rights of Indigenous small-scale fishers, and how can these be effectively implemented and enforced.  

  • How can governments collaborate with indigenous communities to ensure that their rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled in the context of fishing-related business activities. 

  • How can responsible businesses effectively engage with indigenous communities to ensure the recognition, protection, and promotion of their rights. 

  • Support or capacity-building measures needed for Indigenous small-scale fishers to enhance their participation in decision-making processes, improve access to resources, and strengthen their ability to negotiate fair agreements with businesses.  



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and One Ocean Hub. 

Image by Fredrik Öhlander
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