Towards a Jurisprudential Articulation of Indigenous Land Rights

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Abstract

As expert analysis concentrates on indigenous rights instruments, particularly the long fought for 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a body of jurisprudence over indigenous land and resources parallels specialized standard-setting under general human rights treaties. The aim of the present article is to provide a practical and comparative perspective on indigenous land rights based on the process of jurisprudential articulation under such treaties, principally in the Inter-American and African contexts. While specialized standards inevitably generate a view of such rights (and, indeed, indigenous rights more generally) as a set of entitlements separate from general human rights, judicial and quasi-judicial practice as it exists or is being developed within regional and global human rights systems is effectively shaping up their content and meaning. I argue that indigenous land rights jurisprudence reflects a distinctive type of human rights discourse, which is an indispensable point of reference to vest indigenous land issues with greater legal significance. From a practical standpoint, focussing on human rights judicial and quasi-judicial action to expand existing treaty-based regimes and promote constructive partnerships with national courts, though not a panacea to all the intricacies of indigenous rights, does appear to offer a more realistic alternative to advocacy strategies primarily based on universally binding principles (at least at this stage) or the disengagement of domestic systems from international (human rights) law.

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