School of Law Lunchtime Discussion
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Willow 05, Willow Building , Headington Campus, Headington Hill site
Indigenous Communities, Collective Rights, and the Collective Voice with Dr Jen Hendry, Associate Professor in Law & Social Justice
School of Law, University of Leeds
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), formally adopted in September 2007, is often praised for its inclusion of collective rights. As we approach the tenth anniversary of its adoption, however, it becomes salient to question the extent to which UNDRIP has been successful in the promotion and protection of these particular rights, that is to say, rights guaranteed to communities of Indigenous peoples in their status as an Indigenous people, i.e. as a collective entity. This paper uses UNDRIP as a lens through which to scrutinise the concept of collective rights and to consider why those rights are often conflated – both conceptually and procedurally – with individual rights, to the detriment of their unique character and potential. It leads the argument that collective rights are distinctive rights held by specific groups qua the group, that these have both specific meaning and utility for Indigenous and tribal peoples and communities, and that they need dedicated mechanisms for their true implementation and enforcement. This argument is grounded in an analysis of human rights discourse, with the aim of drawing attention not only to the Anglo-American foundations of individual rights but also the influence of this particular legal-theoretical premise in the contemporary construction and mediation of the relationship between individuals and the State. This understanding sits at odds with many Indigenous worldviews, which tend to be more relational in their conceptions of the social, and which, instead of the unit of the individual, take their starting point to be the family and the tribe.
This paper raises two avenues of critique. The first identifies a practical problem with identifying a collective ‘agent’ who is empowered to speak with the voice of the collective on its behalf, while the second is procedural, and focuses on the lack of mechanisms to allow for a collective voice to be spoken and heard as such within national and international arenas.