Indigenous peoples… or lack thereof

After more than twenty years of debate, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a declaration upholding the rights of indigenous people, including their right to restitution or compensation for land that is taken away from them.

The UK welcomed the declaration, saying: “We recognise that indigenous peoples have suffered many historic injustices and continue to be amongst the poorest and most marginalised peoples of the world…”

…But the statement went on to say that the UK and its territories do not have any indigenous people.

Of course, it’s easy to “recognise” an injustice if you don’t recognise the victims…

One Comment

  1. Vincent Böhre says:

    “On at least some of the islands there lived in the 1960s a people called the Ilois. They were an indigenous people: they were born there, as were one or both of their parents, in many cases one or more of their grandparents, in some cases (it is said) one or more of their great-grandparents. Some may perhaps have traced an earlier indigenous ancestry.” (2000 High Court judgment (“Bancoult I”), para. 1)

    Furthermore, regarding the absence of a definition of “indigenous peoples” in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration), it should be emphasized here that any such definition was deliberately left out, leaving it to reasonable (and regionally specific) evolution in practice and preferring indigenous self-identification instead, this being in accordance with modern international legal practice (including UN practice). See also Article 33(1) of the Declaration, codifying that “indigenous peoples have the [collective] right to determine their own identity”. No reservation by the UK has been made to this Article.

    In light of this and from an international legal point of view, the Declaration should be seen as fully applying to the Chagossians.

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