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In the past two decades, indigenous peoples have become increasingly prominent players in international law. Indigenous rights are now part of the mainstream body of international human rights law – comprehensively articulated in the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007. They also form part of the mandate of a number of UN agencies, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Bank and the UN human rights bodies, and are directly supervised by indigenous experts within the UN system via the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Human Rights Council’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These mechanisms increasingly provide leverage for indigenous claims in domestic law, and require governments to have regard to indigenous rights when making decisions affecting their interests. This subject explores the practice and theory of indigenous rights in international law and considers their influence on the domestic law and policy of Australia and other settler states. It addresses the distinctive qualities of indigenous rights and focuses especially on the central importance of collective indigenous rights to self-determination, culture and territory. This subject is co-taught by indigenous law experts Dr McMillan (Wiradjuri nation) and Associate Professor Gover.
Principal topics include:
- The history and current status of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007
- The role and work of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
- The work and impact of UN Special Rapporteurs
- The development of general human rights norms in their application to indigenous peoples by the human rights treaty bodies, particularly the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- The development of ILO standards and the impact of its work domestically
- The extent to which Australian governments have incorporated international human rights into policy approaches in relation to Indigenous affairs
- The work of the Social Justice Commissioner in utilising human rights law and values in the Australian context
- Examination of comparative developments using examples such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a sound understanding of the international importance of the human rights of indigenous peoples and the reasons for their contested scope
- Have detailed knowledge of the potential and limits of the existing UN human rights mechanisms in protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples, individually and as a group
- Have detailed knowledge of the potential and limits of the ILO’s role in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, individually and as a group
- Understand the importance of international instruments and institutions that are specifically devoted to developing and realising the rights of indigenous peoples
- Understand the central role played by indigenous organisations in the international system
- Be able to assess the effectiveness of Australia’s implementation of its international human rights obligations with respect to indigenous peoples
- Be able to compare the Australian approach with other examples of domestic recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, and assess the effectiveness of different approaches
- Have the capacity to examine current issues facing indigenous peoples with reference to international human rights and labour standards
- Have developed skills of critical thinking, legal research and academic writing to understand and assess the significance and limitations of the international human rights system for indigenous peoples.
Last updated: 10 December 2021