Thursday, September 29, 2016

Internships with Natural Justice: A personal reflection by Julia Roettinger

Julia & Gerren - Planning the Climate Justice Workshop
(Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
Julia Roettinger reflects on her two months as an intern with Natural Justice's Cape Town Hub and the Climate Change Program

Natural Justice certainly does not make you feel like a typical intern. Instead you gain valuable hands-on experience as well as an insight in the office work of a small NGO, led by a dedicated team, in the centre of Cape Town.

My two-month internship was everything I was hoping for and more. As an international Master’s student at UCT I was assisting Dr Cath Traynor with the fairly new Climate Change Program at Natural Justice, which aims to empower indigenous peoples through rights-based adaptation approaches together with communities. My tasks included contributing to a policy/academic paper on climate change impacts and the right to food in Southern Africa with a particular focus on indigenous peoples which will probably be published soon. In addition to that I was given the opportunity to drive up to Kuboes, a small place close to the Namibian border inhabited by the Nama people, where we facilitated a work shop on climate change for the Kuboes youth group. This turned out to be an amazing and also eye-opening experience. We heard about climate change impacts from first hand and I realized how urgent the problem actually is for those vulnerable groups. No matter how much the “international community” and the national government tries to mitigate we, and especially remote and rural communities, have to find ways to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. So what can be done? And how can Natural Justice assist? I realized how important Natural Justice’s work is.

Julia fitting in some studying after the Peer-to-Peer Activities
(Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
Just when I thought my internship could not get more interesting Cath asked me to come along with her to Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape to be part of a peer-to-peer learning exchange with the local community and “our” Kuboes youth group. We stayed at a fully self-sustainable ecolodge where we were guests of the NGOs Indigo Development & Change and Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) who made it an inspiring and very informative trip. I could literally see the excitement in the young adults’ eyes. They could not wait to get home and engage with their elders’ knowledge in order to find adaptation solutions. I believe that it is about those kind of experiences that passionate people like Cath work and live for.

They say timing is everything and perhaps my timing for this internship was just right but I truly believe that Natural Justice has so much to offer for interns throughout the year. I have had an incredible time learning about South Africa, its indigenous peoples and climate change and I can now say that it was one of the most exciting and interesting internships I have done so far.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

CAPE TOWN HUB: SKILL SHARE SESSION: ‘Conservation Standards’: From rights to responsibilities

Skill Share Presenter: Harry Jonas

With the recognition of the scope for human rights violations in the name of conservation, Harry Jonas and Jael Makagon, set out to produce a set of ‘Conservation Standards’. Harry Jonas, our Program Director, shared the work they produced at the monthly Skill and Information Sharing Session.  

He set out the purpose of these ‘Conservation Standards’  to serve as guidance to right-bearers and stakeholder groups involved in conservation interventions. It aims to be as clear as possible on what precisely are the standards to be complied with when undertaking conservation initiatives. These standards are specifically based on the rights of indigenous peoples, with a focus on the law as it is stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration is an articulation of already established customary international norms and standards as found in international law.

He also discussed the importance of the Whakatane Mechanism in relation to the Conservation Standards. The Whakatane Mechanism serves as a redress mechanism in assessing disputes arising in different protected areas around the world.

Natural Justice presented these ‘Conservation Standards’ at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii early September 2016. It is also currently being discussed at a meeting in Geneva hosted by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and will be further discussed at a meeting focusing on the Whakatane Mechanism in October.

Whakatane Mechanism

Thursday, September 22, 2016

CAPE TOWN HUB: SKILL SHARE SESSION: The Making and Unmaking of Patent Ownership: Technicalities, Materialities, and Subjectivities

Hoodia (Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
 Guest Blog by Dr. Laura A. Foster

Dr. Laura Foster recently led a seminar with Natural Justice regarding her newly published article titled “The Making and Unmaking of Patent Ownership: Technicalities, Materialities, and Subjectivities” regarding issues of indigenous peoples’ knowledge, patent ownership and benefit sharing. The seminar sparked an informative discussion on how the assumptions and rules of patent ownership are designed to value certain forms of knowledge production over others, namely that of knowledge produced in a lab over that of indigenous peoples knowledge. Foster stressed the importance of also examining how knowledge produced by scientists in the lab and indigenous peoples in the Kalahari are in fact similar rather than different. An abstract and excerpt from her new article is featured here.


Feminist sociolegal studies have recently taken up the technicalities of doctrines, documents, and regulations to better understand the law. In an affiliated move, feminist science studies turned to the materialities of theories, practices, and nonhuman organisms to make critical sense of science. These methodological turns focus not on gender, per se, but on precise mechanisms of law and science that structure, reinforce, and reconfigure power and inequality. Drawing on these methodological approaches, this article attends to the technicalities and materialities of patent ownership and benefit sharing in South Africa in regards to San peoples’ struggles over the patenting of the Hoodia gordonii plant. An examination of patent documents, benefit-sharing agreements, legislative appendixes, and the biology of plants generates an understanding of how patent ownership, rather than being natural or value-neutral, is a historical and sociocultural process shaping, refashioning, and being inscribed across multiple scales of nation-state jurisdictions, divergent ways of knowing, and biochemical orderings of plants

Hoodia seedlings (Photo credit: Cath Traynor)

Scientists with the South African Center for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) obtained a provisional patent in 1997 related to the Hoodia gordonii  plant, which they found to be responsible for suppressing appetite.  The patenting of Hoodia properties, officially granted in 1999, incited a network of actors as the plant was poised to become the next blockbuster weight-loss drug. CSIR scientists collaborated with the UK biotechnology firm Phytopharm and the global pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and eventually with Unilever, to develop Hoodia- based products for the growing “obesity epidemic” in the United States. Angered over the patenting of Hoodia , indigenous San peoples mobilized against CSIR and its commercial partners, accusing them of stealing their knowledge without prior informed consent (Barnett 2001; Wynberg 2004). San claimed historical discovery of the plant they referred to as !Khoba  as a source of water and energy when food supplies were low. Their knowledge of the plant’s properties and uses in conditions of scarcity was now being appropriated to treat obesity. San’s collective organizing led to the signing of a benefit sharing agreement in 2003, whereby CSIR agreed to give San peoples 6 percent of their royalty income from future Hoodia  sales and 8 percent of milestone payments.

My own ethnographic research into Hoodia  arose when San–CSIR benefit sharing seemingly faltered. Unilever dropped the project in late 2008, casting doubt over the promise of Hoodia -based products and monies to San. Legal uncertainty also ensued with the adoption of the Bio-Prospecting, Access and Benefit-Sharing Regulations4  in 2008 (hereafter, BABS Regulations). Despite this uncertainty, Khomani San I spoke with considered benefit sharing to be a success because it brought recognition to San peoples. Benefit sharing simultaneously recognized two divergent ways of understanding Hoodia —one emanating from San and the other from CSIR researchers. The mechanisms underlying this recognition, however, remain unexamined. Several accounts have produced valuable histories of San struggles over the patenting of Hoodia  and subsequent benefit-sharing negotiations (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009; Vermeylen 2008; Wynberg, Schroeder, and Chennells 2009). Delving into the technicalities and materialities relevant to these struggles, however, provides additional insights into how patent ownership and benefit sharing become sites for the fashioning (and unfashioning) of human and nonhuman subjects, albeit in limited and unequal ways.

In particular, I examine the technicalities of two Hoodia patent documents, the San–CSIR benefit-sharing agreement, and a South African legislative appendix governing benefit sharing to understand how patent ownership is constituted. To guide my analysis, I draw upon a recent turn in feminist sociolegal studies toward the technical and everyday details of law to understand how hierarchies of power and knowledge are produced and contested (Riles 2005; Valverde 2009). For instance, I find that the Hoodia invention and its scope of patent ownership differ in South Africa versus the United States. Through this analysis, patent ownership emerges not as a Lockean natural property right, but as a contingent and historical process.

Furthermore, I analyze how patents involve the making of both human and nonhuman subjects. While feminist sociolegal studies turn to technicalities, feminist science studies takes up the materialities of human and nonhuman matter. Attention is placed not only on the discursive representations of humans and nonhumans, but also on how the unpredictability of their biologies and materialities provoke their discursive constraints (Alaimo 2011; Barad 2007; Bennett 2010; Coole and Frost 2010). Considering the biochemistry of the plant, I show how Hoodia patent ownership and benefit sharing become sites for the interrelated engendering of both San and Hoodia . The liveliness of the plant inscribes San agency and conditions of law, and vice versa. In the end, I argue that patent ownership and benefit sharing are contingent scalar processes; as such, they are best understood through attention to scale, specificity, and the making of human and nonhuman subjects that are co-constituted by and against the law.


This excerpt can be cited as follows: PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Vol. 39, Number 1, pps. 127–143. 

The full text of the article can be found at

Dr. Laura Foster (@DrLauraAFoster) (fosterl at is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University, where she is also Affiliate Faculty in the IU Maurer School of Law and African Studies Program. She is also a Senior Research Associate in the Intellectual Property Unit at University of Cape Town Faculty of Law. Her current book project examines how contestations over patent ownership rights, Indigenous San knowledge, and Hoodia plants in South Africa present emerging sites of struggle over who does and does not belong. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Looking for part-time or full-time Intern to support NJ in New York City

Who is Natural Justice?
Natural Justice: Lawyers for Communities and the Environment is a young and fast-paced non-profit organisation specialising in human rights and environmental law. We are an African pioneering team of legal practitioners, who conduct comprehensive research on environmental and human rights law, support communities and local organisations, provide technical advice to governments and intergovernmental organisations, and engage in key international processes in pursuit of environmental justice. Natural Justice works in a number of African countries, with its headquarters in Cape Town and teams in Kenya, Benin and USA.
What are we looking for?
Natural Justice is looking for a part time or full time intern who will support the Executive Director, based out of New York City. The intern is expected to support the ED in a number of her responsibilities, in particular relating to communications and fundraising activities.
What’s on offer?
Natural Justice is a close-knit and nurturing collective that places emphasis on facilitating opportunities for the professional and personal growth of its members. Joining Natural Justice will also give the successful candidate a chance to work with a passionate and highly professional team in a fast-paced environment and gain valuable work experience. The successful candidate will get a close look at the day-to-day management challenges of a young international NGO. The length of the internship is open-ended but we expect a minimum stay of 3 months. The internship will be unpaid. The successful candidate can work from home but will be encouraged to work out of Natural Justice’s small office in Brooklyn.
Minimum skills and experience required:
  • Some background in the field of human rights and/or environmental justice.
  • Good writing skills for different platforms and audiences, ranging from social media, fundraising proposals to academic publications;
  • Experience with different social media platforms
  • Ability to work well under pressure with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to multi-task, be flexible and work in varying conditions.
Application process:
Deadline: 30 September 2016 
Email your application to Johanna von Braun (

Include a motivation letter that indicates why you would like to work for Natural Justice and a detailed CV.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

IUCN World Conservation Congress

The 6th IUCN World Conservation Congress was held from 1-10 September in Hawai’i (USA). Harry Jonas launched the first draft of the Conservation Standards at an event co-hosted with Gina Cosentina, which was attended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, among others. As a Co-Chair of the IUCN Task Force on Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), he also presented on early guidance on OECMs at an event hosted at the Protected Planet Pavilion. A number of important resolutions were adopted at the Congress’s Assembly, including on: a) recognition and respect of indigenous peoples’ and community conserved territories and areas (ICCAs) overlapped by protected areas, and b) Enabling the Whakatane Mechanism to contribute to conservation though securing communities’ rights. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Workshop report on “The Future Development Finance and Accountability Landscape” available online

On 21-22 April 2016 a brainstorming workshop on “The Future Development Finance and Accountability Landscape” was organized by Natural Justice, Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Center of Concern, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and Inclusive Development International, with the support of the 11th Hour Project. The aim of the workshop was to bring together experts in finance, development finance, infrastructure development, and human rights to build an understanding of the current and future infrastructure financing system and develop a plan for where to focus efforts in order to ensure that financers of infrastructure are accountable to international human rights standards.

The workshop served as an opportunity for people from many different backgrounds – private finance, pension funds, the UN, civil society, academics, and others – to sit together and share information and experiences on financing infrastructure. One of the key take aways from the workshop was that while so called “downstream” accountability (e.g. remedies after harm has occurred) is critical, building more accountability at the “upstream” (e.g. project design, procurement) level is equally important. Unless human rights impacts are taken into account in project design and financing, communities will always be playing catch up during implementation.

The workshop report can be found here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Peer-to-Peer Learning Exchange between Kuboes youth and the Nieuwoudtville community

Drieka Koopman and Kuboes share knowledge around
livestock keeping at 
Sonderwaterkraal (Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
The peer-to-peer learning exchange between the Kuboes youth group and the Nieuwoudtville community took place between 2-4 September, 2016. Natural Justice had reached out to the local environmental NGOs Indigo Development & Change and the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) who have been supporting the small-scale Rooibos farmers to adapt to climate change through community-based approaches.  Natural Justice’s Dr Cath Traynor and intern Julia Röttinger, joined eight Kuboes youth and Community Co-Researchers Gerren De Wet (Kuboes) and Reino Le Fleur (Vredendal) in Nieuwoudtville, to learn more about their climate change adaptation processes and share perspectives from the Richtersveld.

Rietjiehuis Ecolodge
(Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
After a warm welcome on Friday afternoon and brief introduction to the NGOs’ work Shannon Parring, Albert ‘Berty’ Kooman (Indigo – Development & Change), Siyabonga Myeza (EMG) took everyone to the Rietjiehuis Eco Lodge in Melkkraal where they had a traditional potjekos and spent the next two nights. The Eco Lodge is run by Marie Syster and consists of a few traditional reed huts which are located on a quiet piece of land surrounded by untouched beautiful nature, with goats and chickens freely roaming. The sustainable accommodation offers the full experience including cooking on an open fire and solar powered lamps in the huts.

Rooibos farmers Jan and Drieka explain the "pot experiment"
(Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
Saturday started off with a short hike to local rooibos farmers Jan and Drieka where they explained their “pot experiment”, a study by PhD students who are monitoring the growth of rooibos plants with the help of the local Rooibos farmers. The different pots get separate treatments, such as different types of soil as well as amounts of water or sun, which is hoped will show what might happen to Rooibos in the future due to climate change impacts. The whole area is famous for its organic Rooibos tea, Rooibos plants are endemic to the area, and the tea is in high demand, especially overseas. The community owns the land and also controls the entire Rooibos production process through the Heideveld Co-operative, which is becoming more and more successful. It was interesting to hear how the community have organised themselves for the benefit of all.

Jan's own observations on Rooibos
propagation have resulted in the
high survival rates of his seedlings
(Photo credit: Cath Traynor)
Every three months the community has a “Climate Change Preparedness” workshop with Indigo and EMG where participants exchange their experiences as small scale farmers raising questions such as: When did I plant or harvest? What has changed? And what can I do better? Those workshops are helping the participants to adapt to changing circumstances by learning from each other.

The next stop was Sonderwaterkraal, home to Drieka Koopman, who is a female pastoralist and had started a livestock monitoring project a couple of years ago. The Kuboes youth group used that opportunity to ask Drieka everything about keeping livestock and noticeable changes in the weather patterns over the past few decades. It turned out that here too, just like in the Richtersveld area, the climate has become drier with much less rainfall. It is therefore more difficult now to find good grazing areas for the animals and to maintain the health of the livestock.

Driving back to Melkkraal the participants had some time to reflect on the eventful and interesting day so everyone could share their thoughts in the next session at the Eco Lodge in the early evening. It was exciting to see how the Kuboes youth group was inspired by the Nieuwoudtville community and the young leaders in the NGOs. All participants were very comfortable with one another and happy to share their thoughts, future plans but also fears with regard to brining change and adaption projects to their own community. 

The last reflection session on Sunday morning, led by Siyabonga and Shannon, in their office gave another insight in the young leaders’ minds and showed how the youth can engage with traditional knowledge from the communities’ elders in order to adapt to climate change.  Berty Koopman shared ‘Berty’s Journey’ a touching film of his journey back to his parents farm at Sonderwaterkraal, and discussions with his elders regards their lives and local knowledge.  It was the perfect ending to an inspiring weekend filled with learning, valuable experiences and new friends. It seems like the next “peer-to-peer learning exchange” might take place between the Kuboes youth group and their own community’s elders.

Exchange participants
(Photo credit: Cath Traynor)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Passing of Andries Steenkamp, Kalahari (Northern Cape)

Reflections of Indigenous Fellow, Ivan Vaalbooi

As the sun warmed up in the dusty Kalahari, we prepare to lay to rest one of the most outspoken leaders in the Kalahari, Andries Steenkamp. As the pastor had mentioned the previous night, Andries was a strong person who always said what he wanted and never doubted his stand in a matter.

In the church service it was mentioned once again that a huge tree has fallen. The funeral service for the fallen leader drew leadership figures from the !Xun and Khwe communities and was attended by many family members from throughout the Northern Cape. On behalf of Natural Justice I had the privilege to bid farewell to this remarkable leader. Andries  played a huge role in various Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) cases, including  Hoodia, Scelletium as well as Rooibos. His presence will indeed be missed for his contributions in meetings, conferences and workshops. We all have to agree that Andries made a huge contribution to the Khomani San community in the Kalahari and for many indigenous peoples in South Africa. May his soul rest in peace and his legacy live forever with us.

All Photos credit: Ivan Vaalbooi

Natural Justice Hosted an Access and Benefit-Sharing Preparation Meeting with Khoi and San Communities Concerning Rooibos

Natural Justice’s Cape Town office hosted preparatory meetings with stakeholders to the Rooibos access and benefit-sharing agreement discussions. The stakeholders present included representatives from the Rooibos farming communities of Wupperthal and Niewoudtsville, the National Khoi-San Council and the San Council of South Africa.

The purpose of the meetings was to (i) Conduct Access and Benefit Sharing training, (ii) Engage in legal consultation with the stakeholders respective lawyers on the negotiations and (iii) to prepare the stakeholders for the broader access and benefit-sharing meeting with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Rooibos Industry, scheduled for the afternoon of the 31st of August.  The opportunity was also used to discuss with the communities the development of a Biocultural Community Protocol on Rooibos.

The meetings commenced the morning of the 30th of August and closed the afternoon of the 31st of August. During the final session the stakeholders took the time to reflect and wrap up the discussions from the previous day, and they watched a short video introducing the concept of biocultural community protocols along with WIPO’s (World Intellectual Property Organization) resources around traditional knowledge.

The communities then met with the Rooibos Industry during the afternoon. This meeting was hosted and facilitated by the Department of Environmental Affairs at their Cape Town offices.