Document Type



Presented at the 5th Inter-University Graduate Student Conference at Cornell Law School, March 2009.


Governments in many countries of the world struggle with how to accommodate properly the needs and claims [rights] of native/indigenous peoples within their jurisdictions whose presence long predates European conquest and occupation. In this paper, a comparison and contrast of the approaches of the African and other jurisdictions whose jurisprudence is informative to the protection of the rights of African indigenous peoples, like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights compared with the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia ‘the big four’ who voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous on September 13, 2007 at the UN General Assembly is critically analyzed. The four states that voted against the Declaration ‘vowed’ to protect the rights of indigenous peoples within their jurisdiction using their different domestic human rights mechanisms which they argued were adequate to protect such rights of indigenous peoples. The analysis in this paper resolves around the practical implications of implementing the Declaration and why the four states voted against it with the other 11 states abstaining from the vote. The paper questions the extent to which the Declaration can be held to be ‘binding’ on those states which voted against it, in light of the fact that the Declaration can be said to contain elements of customary international law which is binding to all civilized nations irrespective of whether they voted for the Declaration or not.

Date of Authorship for this Version

April 2009


Indigenous peoples, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples