Leo van der Vlist is a lawyer by training and has over 25 years of working experience with indigenous peoples worldwide. The focus of his work has been on promoting the rights of indigenous peoples both in the international human rights framework as well as at the local and national levels. The Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples (NCIV), the organization he has been working for since 1990 and leading for over 10 years, has been instrumental in the building of the global indigenous peoples movement and the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007).
In recent years Leo’s focus has been on the functioning of timber and biomass certification schemes in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples. Currently, Leo is also working on resolution of conflicts between palm oil companies and indigenous communities on Borneo (Indonesia and Malaysia) and field-testing Forest Stewardship Council’s Guidelines on free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of which he is a co-author.
In 2004, Leo invited Alifuru elders to The Netherlands for the commemoration of the closing of the First UN Decade for Indigenous Peoples in the Peace Palace in The Hague, where they held a sacred adat ceremony, for the first time ever outside of their own territories. In 2006, Leo invited Jake Swamp, a Mohawk elder, for a ceremony to plant a Tree of Peace in The Hague, The Netherlands. It was at this Tree of Peace where in 2007 a ceremony was held in The Netherlands for the adoption of UNDRIP. Since 2010 Leo works with the Dutch Coalition for Indigenous Peoples on organizing yearly drum ceremonies with indigenous peoples for the implementation of UNDRIP.