The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: What Has This Meant for Africa?

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Marina Gathright


Despite the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, which sets various standards for the recognition and protection of indigenous peoples across the globe, the need for a human rights instrument specifically developed for indigenous peoples remains a central and highly controversial issue at the international level. The central debate on this issues in international discourse is characterized by a division between those who believe it is essential to addresses centuries of discrimination and harm inflicted on indigenous peoples under colonialism, and more recently within economic globalization (Crawhall, 2011, p.11); against those who argue that this specific categorization undermines the universality of human rights (Hays, 2011, p.4). These tensions are especially apparent within the African region, which itself played a central role in the final stages of the UNDRIP negotiations and processes (Barume, n.d, p. 1). While there has been some regional action to protect indigenous rights on the continent, there remains a division between stakeholders within Africa, which has led to inconsistent results in the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. As this paper illustrates, this division rests especially on the lack of recognition of indigenous peoples of Africa as a distinct group. In light of this mis-conception of African indigenous people, there is a clear need for action within the region, and potentially at the global level, to ensure the recognition of indigenous peoples throughout the continent in order for the UNDRIP to make a fundamental and long-lasting impact on policy outcomes.


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