A Dawn for Recovering Customary Environmental Law


The World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has been instrumental in attaining IUCN’s mission, of a just international order that value and conserves nature. A delegation from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University will be actively participating in the Congress, and recall our respect for the wisdom of the Hausendaunee, who have kept our environment in New York for generations (http://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/).

The Indigenous Peoples of Earth have intergenerational traditions of customary law and principles that can guide all societies in this quest. IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law emphasized this at its 1st World Congress on Environmental law in Rio de Janeiro last April (http://welcongress.org/program/ ).  Customary law is essential.

So, it is especially important that the World Conservation Congress opens as the sun rises on Hawai’ian islands on September 1, 2016, with a singular ceremony: The Vaka arrival for the Moana Pasifika Voyage.

Vaka are traditional double-hulled canoes. Hawai`i loa, Hikianalia, and Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani, and a flotilla of youth canoes and outrigger canoes from across the Pacific Ocean will sail into Kahanamoku Beach in Honolulu, where the Wa’a family, Pacific Island Leaders, and dignitaries will call for action on Climate Change and a Sustainable Pacific Ocean. The vaka will be greeted by a traditional Hawai’ian welcome, to be followed by speeches from the following; Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, Governor David Ige, His Excellency President Peter Christen of Micronesia, His Excellency President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, and IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

During this era of acute environmental transformation of the Earth, it is essential that we humans find our way to sustainable practices that serve the next generations better than we have done in the recent past. The Anthropocene is a time for society to remember that all law is not written in statute books. The customary law of indigenous peoples is just as valid as codes and constitutions. There is a pathway to discovering these customary norms: It is time for all States, and social gatherings, to fulfill the solemn pledge to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf).

The arrival of the vaka will be a stunning reminder of how we can live amidst nature as friends and stewards. The World Conservation Congress will hear the Peoples’ call for action.


Nicholas A. Robinson
University Professor for the Environment
Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University
Honorary Member of IUCN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *