The right to self-determination

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination under international law. The right to self-determination is a fundamental collective human right for all peoples, including indigenous peoples. The right is fundamental to the enjoyment of all other human rights, collective and individual.

The right to self-determination is an integral element of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“It is only through the realization of this very basic right of people to determine, with no compulsion or coercion, their own future, political status and independence that we can begin to address others such as dignity, justice, progress and equity,”[1]

Article 3 of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms that:

«Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.»

Thus, the declaration affirms that the right to self-determination, which is codified in the common article 1 of the two 1966 international human rights covenants, applies to indigenous peoples.[2] Article 1 of the Covenants describe the content of self-determination

“ All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”

 

The right to self-determination does not entail a right to actions that will partly or totally divide or impair the territorial integrity or political status of the state, provided that the states act in accordance with the principle of equal rights of peoples- including the right of self-determination. This is clearly stated  in UN General Assembly Resolution No. 2625:

“ Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be constructed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign states conducting themselves in compliance with the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above.”

Scholars often describe and analyze the content of the right to self-determination by differing between external and internal aspects self-determination.[3]

 

[1] Statement from representantive of Maldives at Sixty-eighth General Assembly, Third Committee, 40th Meeting, November 5, 2013 http://www.un.org/press/en/2013/gashc4085.doc.htm . Downloaded April 15 2015.

[2] See Julian Burger and Paul Hunt, «Towards the International Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights», NQHR 4/ 1994.

[3] John B. Henriksen, «The Material Scope of the Right to Self-determination», Gáldu Čála, Journal on Indigenous Peoples Rights 3/2007, p.83.

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