The rights of indigenous peoples under international law

International law provides rules and arenas to further the interests of indigenous peoples. There are declarations passed by the United Nations, which, while not binding on states, often receive such widespread support that their principles are deemed part of customary international law and/or of the 'general principles of law recognized by civilized nations'. Two declarations, arguably a part of customary international law or 'general principles' by reason of their recognition by international and state tribunals, are the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.


These declarations, as well as a variety of international treaties and conventions, provide support for indigenous peoples in their struggle to preserve physical and cultural survival in the face of economic development projects imposed upon them and which threaten environmental sustainability. International treaties and conventions are binding on signatories and also arguably are deemed part of customary international law or 'general principles'.


International law cases have not as yet been decided on the basis of what groups are properly classified as 'indigenous'. Article 33 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that such peoples have the right to 'determine their own identity'.


Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territory. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people, and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.


Indigenous peoples can prevail under international law if the State and its developer allies threaten the physical and cultural survival of the peoples concerned, unless they can show that they have obtained legally recognized consent.


Article 27 of the United Nations Convenant on Civil and Political Rights supports the rights of indigenous peoples to preserve and enjoy their culture. Article 27 is designed to protect the people from activities harmful to their way of life. There is case law which supports the notion that indigenous peoples' property, culture, and right to make a living cannot be taken away.




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