Coming soon. For now, see our descriptions below of the “pillar” issues that Forum Nobis is engaged in.
Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) has emerged as one of the most important human rights and environmental principles of our time. It requires that governments, corporations, and other actors, before beginning or continuing natural resource development projects or other operations, first obtain the FPIC of potentially affected individuals and communities through a robust consultation process that includes use of culturally appropriate means and “representative institutions”, allowance of due process for deliberation and dissent, and many other requirements. In cases where a project potentially threatens the core survival mechanisms of a group, FPIC goes beyond consultation and provides the affected group with an absolute right to withhold consent. FPIC is not an aspirational principle for the future, but is an on-the-ground requirement applicable to any project right now, and is increasingly being enforced in binding terms by international and national courts.
Forum Nobis helps indigenous, tribal, and other potentially affected communities understand and protect their FPIC rights. Through its counsel, consulting, and communications practices, Forum Nobis works with affected individuals and communities on FPIC issues and projects such as:
- demanding and conducting genuinely robust “good faith” FPIC consultation processes;
- assessing and critiquing “consultation” processes that fall short of the appropriate standard;
- holding local votes and other democratic deliberation processes to the highest international standards;
- using FPIC to understand threats to, and avoid losses to, traditional territories and environmental resources;
- using FPIC to understand the scope of potential threats of social disintegration and related human rights abuses;
- using FPIC to make the right choices for their future free from unfair outside pressure or influence.
Socioeconomic rights to water, food, housing, education, health, a healthy environment, and others are enshrined in the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and well-established in international human rights law. Governments (and private organizations providing traditional government services) must avoid discrimination in access to these basic rights, ensure minimum core obligations, and take progressive steps towards the broader full realization of the rights. Importantly, recent national and international legal developments have shattered the long-held presumption that these rights are not “justiciable”—that is, directly protectable by legal mechanisms of remedy. Although the law varies significantly by forum, adjudication of socioeconomic rights is now common in many legal contexts, and additional mechanisms for the protection of these rights are found in a variety of policy and public opinion forums.
Forum Nobis’ close dedication to and experience in this rapidly-changing area of the law allows it to deliver a unique degree of expertise and insight to help individuals and communities understand their rights and develop related litigation strategies, institutional advocacy approaches, research and briefing papers, or other public materials.
A community’s cultural and intellectual assets and resources are inherited, developed, and passed on from generation to generation. They often form a fundamental part of that community’s cultural or spiritual identity. They include plant and human genetic resources; traditional knowledge including specialized agricultural, medicinal, ecological, or other skills, practices, or know-how; traditional cultural expressions and practices, such as art, music, dance, designs, names, signs and symbols, performances, ceremonies, and architectural forms; historical arts and heritage property; and many other domains. International and national laws increasingly recognize the inherent intellectual property rights—in contract, patent, trademark, copyright, origin designation, and newer forms of IP rights—that communities have with respect to all these assets and resources.
Forum Nobis works with indigenous communities—and many other communities—to understand the extent to which this body of law is available to protect their rights and property and to develop strategies and approaches for articulating and advocating for those rights in a variety of forums. Through its counsel, consulting, and communications practices, Forum Nobis works with clients (and/or their existing legal teams, allies, organizers, or representatives) on traditional knowledge and intellectual property issues and projects such as:
- engaging with existing international authorities including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Convention on Biological Diversity, national-level IP authorities such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and existing traditional knowledge databases and documentation processes;
- preparing database submissions, cultural property declarations, and other documents consistent with international standards;
- resisting exploitation and expropriation of traditional knowledge and IP;
- developing and implementing appropriate policy outreach and communications strategies;
- developing licensing and other contract-based strategies to IP protection;
- investigation and advocacy on issues related to geographical designations and origin appellations on products;
- investigation and advocacy on issues related to improperly obtained cultural and heritage property.
Freedom of expression, as articulated and protected by countless international instruments, national constitutions, and customary international law, includes the right to free speech and free thought, the right to publicly assemble and demonstrate, the right to petition government directly or through the courts, the right to participate in public affairs, the right to receive information from free and pluralistic media institutions (including online media), the right to access information held by public bodies, even the right to anonymity or privacy as necessary for the exercise of free speech. These rights are particularly critical as “gateway” rights: essential not only for themselves, but also to ensure the functioning and effective protection of other human rights which are threatened by the secrecy and impunity that prevails absent robust freedom of expression.
- assisting individuals experiencing censorship or threatened by improper prosecution, intimidation, or harassment based on their free expression;
- fighting Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) by corporations and other private parties against human rights and environmental defenders, in particular a new generation of corporate “counter-attacks” by corporations on victims and lawyers in corporate accountability cases;
- advising lawyers and community representatives on how to avoid—and, as necessary, plan for—these types of “counter-attacks”
- working with civil rights organizations to improve and expand existing anti-SLAPP laws;
- defending individuals improperly arrested or detained for participating in protests and demonstrations, and obtaining injunctions and just compensation for such detentions when warranted;
- working with communities and organizations to seek access to information on key environmental and other public policy issues.