: Indigenous Peoples And Human Rights: International and Regional Jurisprudence

Indigenous Peoples And Human Rights: International and Regional Jurisprudence

Katie O'Bryan

indigenous-peoples-and-human-rights-smBen Saul; Bloomsbury/Hart Publishing, 2016; 248 pp; $74.99 (paperback)

The human rights of Indigenous peoples came into clear focus with the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (‘UNDRIP’) in 2007. But it was not until 2009 that Australia came to the party, despite Indigenous Australians having a significant input into its development. Yet Indigenous peoples around the world had already been using various existing human rights mechanisms to promote and protect their rights, albeit with mixed results. In this book, Ben Saul draws together, in an accessible and readable form, the international and regional jurisprudence on human rights as it relates specifically to Indigenous peoples, and which was influential in the development of the UNDRIP.

The book covers the whole gamut of rights, from civil and political rights and the right to self-determination, to rights relating to culture and language, labour rights, children and family rights, and rights relating to land and natural resource management, to name a few.

Commencing with an outline of the institutions and influences on the development of international and regional human rights law as it applies to Indigenous peoples, the book is then divided into five chapters. Chapter one deals with the task of identifying Indigenous peoples, and discusses the attempts at defining them at the international and regional levels. It also considers the question of who is a minority, and the relationship between Indigenous communities and the individuals within those communities. This chapter was particularly engaging and illuminating, thereby setting the scene for the rest of the book.

The book then moves into an analysis of the jurisprudence, beginning at the international level with a chapter devoted to the UN Human Rights Committee. The next chapter then considers five other UN human rights treaty bodies. It then drills down to the regional level, with chapter four focusing in particular on Indigenous property rights and rights in land and natural resources. The spotlight in this regard is on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Chapter five remains at the regional level, but moves into a consideration of Indigenous cultural, socio-economic and physical integrity rights. This chapter also moves beyond the Americas and Africa, with a section on the European Human Rights System. One might wonder though why there is no discussion of the Asian region, given that approximately two thirds of the world’s Indigenous peoples live in Asia. This, however, is clearly explained in chapter one, so in that respect, the book has it covered.

The four chapters covering the jurisprudence are comprehensive in their coverage, and provide a wealth of information. This is important material, but at times can be quite dense, which may result in information overload if one is reading the book chapter by chapter. However, the book’s clear and logical structure with many subheadings means that the reader can focus on a particular theme, a particular region, a particular human rights institution, or a particular type of right, and will easily be able to locate the relevant material. It is also comprehensively footnoted, so that readers who are interested in delving further into the various issues and cases discussed can find the relevant documents.

The book concludes with a summary of the main conclusions from each of the chapters, and then considers future normative and implementation challenges for Indigenous rights following the adoption of UNDRIP and the political momentum that it, along with other UN human rights mechanisms, has created. This final conclusion is succinctly and intelligibly written, leaving the reader with much upon which to reflect.

Saul’s book provides a valuable insight into the international and regional human rights jurisprudence on Indigenous peoples. It is written in a clear and accessible style and is comprehensive in its coverage. Saul’s international law expertise is evident. This would be an ideal book to prescribe for any law subject that looks at the human rights of Indigenous peoples, and for those interested in how the UN and various regional human rights institutions have operated in practice. It is not the only book around devoted to the topic of Indigenous peoples and human rights, but it is the only one which focuses specifically on the jurisprudence, and in that regard it is a valuable addition to any library, personal or otherwise.

KATIE O’BRYAN teaches law at Monash University.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 218
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