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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X

Afr. hum. rights law j. vol.11 n.2 Pretoria  2011

 

Indigenous peoples and the right to culture: The potential significance for African indigenous communities of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights' General Comment 21

 

 

Amanda BarrattI; Ashimizo Afadameh-AdeyemiII

ILecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town, South Africa
IIPhD candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town, South Africa

 

 


SUMMARY

Indigenous peoples in Africa currently experience a range of human rights abuses. Recently, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights released General Comment 21 on the right to take part in cultural life (ICESCR article 15(1)(a)). This contribution examines the relevance of General Comment 21 and its interpretation of article 15(1)(a) for African indigenous groups.


 

 

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* BA(Hons) (Cape Town), LLB (South Africa), PhD (Cape Town); Amanda. Barratt@uct. ac.za
** LLB (Lagos State), BL (Nigerian Law School), LLM (Cape Town); Ashimizo.Afadameh-adeyemi@uct.ac.za
1 E/C 12/GC21 (21 December 2009); ICESCR UN Doc A/6316 (1966); 993 UNTS 3; 6 ILM 368 (1967).
2 See discussion below. Problems faced by indigenous peoples are not unique to Africa. Indigenous cultures are also seriously threatened in the Americas, in Asia and the Middle East, in Australasia and in parts of Europe. See United Nations report The state of the world's indigenous peoples (2009).
3 See discussion below.
4 See discussion below.
5 Forty-eight of 53 African Union member states have signed ICESCR and 44 of these have ratified it; http://treaties.un.org/ (accessed 31 March 2011).         [ Links ] (Morocco is a state party to ICESCR but not a member of the AU.)
6 See A Chapman 'A "violations approach" for monitoring the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights' (1996) 18 Human Rights Quarterly 23;         [ Links ] and Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1998) 20 Human Rights Quarterly 691.         [ Links ]
7 A/61/L.67/Annex.
8 One hundred and forty-three states voted in favour of the Declaration, including 34 African states. Burundi, Kenya and Nigeria abstained from voting. Several African states were absent from the Assembly on the day of adoption. These included Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and Uganda; http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2007/ga10612.doc.htm (accessed 20 February 2011).         [ Links ]
9 African Commissions's Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities Report of the African Commissions's Working Croup of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities (2005).         [ Links ]
10 OAU Doc CAB/LEG/67/3 rev 5; 1520 UNTS 217; 21 ILM 58 (1982).
11 Art 60.
12 The African Commission referred to the Declaration on Indigenous Rights when interpreting the African Charter and concluding that Kenya has violated its Charter obligations. See Centre for Minority Rights Development & Others v Kenya (2009) AHRLR 75 (ACHPR 2009) (Endorois case). See also African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) where the African Commission compares the rights set out in the Declaration to those in the African Charter. For commentary on these processes, see KN Bojosi & GM Wachira 'Protecting indigenous peoples in Africa: An analysis of the approach of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights' (2006) 6 African Human Rights Law Journal 382;         [ Links ] and AK Sing'Oei & J Shepherd '"In land we trust": The Endorois' communication and the quest for indigenous peoples' rights in Africa' (2010) 16 Buffalo Human Rights Law Review 57.         [ Links ]
13 See eg comments made by Rwanda during debates on the Draft Declaration on 26 November 2006 (United Nations. 61st General Assembly. Third Committee. 53rd Meeting UN Doc GA/SCH/3878) http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/gashc3878.doc.htm (accessed 20 February 2011).
14 See Advisory Opinion of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) http://www.achpr.org/english/Special%20Mechanisms/Indegenous/Advisory%20opin-ion_eng.pdf (accessed 20 February 2011) para 16,         [ Links ] reporting such fears on behalf of the African group of states.
15 For a discussion on these controversies, see W van Genugten 'Protection of indigenous peoples on the African continent: Position seeking, and the interaction of legal systems' (2010) 104 American Journal of International Law 29;         [ Links ] Bojosi & Wachira (n 12 above) and Sing'Oei & Shepherd (n 12 above).
16 See comments in African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 88.
17 The definitional problems have been discussed by numerous scholarly commentators and experts working within international and regional organisations. See discussion below, and SJ Anaya Indigenous peoples in international law (2002) 3;         [ Links ] B Kingsbury 'Indigenous peoples in international law: A constructivist approach to the Asian controversy' (1998) 92 American journal of International Law 414 419.         [ Links ]
18 The UN began its first study on discrimination against indigenous peoples in 1971. R Barsh 'Indigenous peoples in the 1990s: From object to subject of international law?' (1994) 7 Harvard Human Rights Law journal 33.         [ Links ]
19 E Daes Working Paper on the Concepts of Indigenous People UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/ AC.4/1996/2 para 9 http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/2b6e0fb1e9d7db0fc1256b3a003eb999/$FILE/G9612980.pdf (accessed 31 March 2011).         [ Links ]
20 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 87.
21 Report of the Open-Ended Inter-Sessional Ad Hoc Working Croup on a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples in the United Nations System (Commission on Human Rights, 55th session 25 March 1999, E/CN.4/1999/83 http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.1999.83.En?Opendocument (accessed 20 February 2011) para 56.
22 See African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 86.
23 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 87.
24 As quoted in African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 93.
25 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 89.
26 R Williams Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society (1983) 90.         [ Links ]
27 R Murphy Culture and social anthropology: An overture (1986) 14.         [ Links ]
28 Art 2(a) (definitions).
29 M Hadjionnou 'The international human right to culture: Reclamation of the cultural identities of indigenous peoples under international law' (2001) 8 Chapman Law Review 201 204.         [ Links ]
30 Hadjionnou (n 29 above) 204.
31 A Xanthaki Indigenous rights and the United Nations standards: Self-determination, culture and land (2007) 204.         [ Links ]
32 See Daes (n 19 above) para 69.
33 See generally Daes (n 19 above).
34 Daes (n 19 above ) para 43.
35 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above).
36 This group is known by different names in different parts of Africa. See African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 16.
37 African Commission Working Group Report 22-23.
38 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 27.
39 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 23.
40 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 24.
41 As above.
42 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 25.
43 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 33.
44 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 28.
45 See footnotes to previous paragraph.
46 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 41. The Report does not discuss problems experienced by the pastoralist Endorois community in Kenya. However, in its complaint to the African Commission, the group complained of loss of grazing land and other resources as well as loss of key ceremonial and religious sites when their lands were proclaimed conservation areas. Endorois case (n 12 above).
47 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 42-44. See also comments by Rwanda during debates on the Draft Declaration 26 November 2006 (n 9 above) declaring that the state favoured 'integrating indigenous peoples' into mainstream society.
48 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 37. For a discussion of Botswana's view of the San's hunter-gatherer lifestyle as 'backward', see K Lehmann 'Aboriginal title, indigenous rights and the right to culture' (2004) 20 South African Journal on Human Rights 86 94.         [ Links ]
49 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 33, discussing Ethiopian development policies. See also 36 discussing attitudes to hunter gatherers in the CAR.
50 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 34.
51 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 35, referring specifically to Rwanda and Burundi.
52 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 53. In the Congo, the Batwa are known as the Babendjelle.
53 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 37, referring specifically to the Congo.
54 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 52-54.
55 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 56.
56 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 38-39, referring specifically to Uganda.
57 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 35, referring specifically to Rwanda and Burundi. See also 38 for examples from Uganda and 39 for examples from the DRC.
58 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 55.
59 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 30.
60 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 33.
61 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 50-51.
62 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 44-47.
63 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 25 (Tanzania) 23 (DRC); 28 (Cameroon).
64 P Hunt Reclaiming social rights: International and comparative perspectives (1996) 19.         [ Links ]
65 M Sepúlveda The nature of the obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2003) 29 32 89-90;         [ Links ] P Alston 'Out of the abyss: The challenges confronting the new UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights' (1987) 9 Human Rights Quarterly 332.         [ Links ]
66 Hunt (n 64 above) 13-14.
67 Comment made by the Committee in Summary Record of the 28th meeting, 15 November 1999 (UN Doc E/C.12/1999/SR.28) para 41, as quoted by Sepúlveda (n 65 above) 41. Authority to issue General Comments was given by ECOSOC in Resolution E/RES/1987/5.
68 M Craven The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A perspective on its development (1995) 104;         [ Links ] J Harrison The human rights impact of the World Trade Organisation (2007) 133;         [ Links ] H Haugen 'General Comment No 17 on "authors' rights"' (2007) 10 Journal of World Intellectual Property 53 55.         [ Links ]
69 See E/C.12/1999/11 para 441 and E/C.12/1999/11 para 52.
70 Sepúlveda (n 65 above) 88. See also Haugen (n 68 above) 55, describing General Comments as the 'most authoritative clarification' of ICESCR.
71 Sepúlveda (n 65 above) 88.
72 As above; UN Fact Sheet 16 para 6. This would contravene art 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Sepúlveda's argument is that states have binding obligations to meet their ICESCR commitments. The ESCR Committee's General Comments clarify more precisely what the ICESCR commitments entail. The General Comments provide states with lists of specific steps which should be implemented. States that fail to implement the steps identified by the ESCR Committee thus fail to abide by their treaty commitments.
73 Craven (n 68 above) 104.
74 Hunt (n 64 above) 20.
75 Harrison (n 68 above) 133.
76 D Chirwa 'The right to health in international law: Its implications for the obligations of state and non-state actors in ensuring access to medicine' (2003) 19 South African journal on Human Rights 541 546;         [ Links ] D Cassel 'The globalisation of human rights: Consciousness, law and reality' (2004) 2 North Western University journal of International Human Rights 6 77.         [ Links ]
77 T Buergenthal 'The Human Rights Committee' as quoted by Sepúlveda (n 65 above) 41.
78 General Comments on specific ICESCR rights include General Comments on the Right of Everyone to Take Part in Cultural Life (General Comment 21); Right to Work (General Comment 6); Right to Food (General Comment 12); Right to Education (General Comment 13); Right to Water (General Comment 15); and Right to Housing (General Comments 4 and 7). It has also issued comments on more general obligations such as General Comment 3 on the nature of states' obligations, General Comment 8 on economic sanctions and General Comment 9 on the domestic application of the Covenant. All ESCR Committee General Comments are available from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/comments.htm.
79 H Steiner & P Alston International human rights in context: Law, politics, morals (2000) 182.         [ Links ]
80 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 6.
81 As above.
82 ESCR Committee General Comment 3: The nature of states parties' obligations (UN Doc E/1991/23) para 10.
83 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 9. A Chapman 'Core obligations related to the right to health and their relevance for South Africa' in D Brand & S Russell (eds) Exploring the core content of socio-economic rights: South African and international perspectives (2002) 35 37;         [ Links ] S Russell 'Minimum state obligations: international dimensions' in Brand and Russell (above) 11 16; S Leckie 'Another step toward indivisibility: Identifying the key features of violations of economic, social and cultural rights' (1998) 20 Human Rights Quarterly 81 98.         [ Links ]
84 ESCR Committee General Comment 3 para 10.
85 Leckie (n 83 above) 98.
86 ESCR Committee General Comment 3 para 10.
87 Russell (n 83 above) 16; W Felice 'The viability of the United Nations approach to economic and social human rights in a globalised economy' (199 9) 75 International Affairs 563 573.         [ Links ]
88 ESCR Committee General Comment 3 para 11.
89 ESCR Committee General Comment 14 para 47.
90 ESCR Committee General Comment 3: The nature of states parties' obligations (UN Doc E/1991/23) para 1; Leckie (n 83 above) 81 93.
91 For criticism of the use of the minimum core in other ways, see K Lehmann 'In defence of the Constitutional Court: Litigating socio-economic rights and the myth of the minimum core' (2006) 22 American University International Law Review 163;         [ Links ] Russell (n 82 above) 16.
92 ESCR Committee General Comment 14 para 31.
93 ESCR Committee General Comment 3 para 1. Similar language is used in ESCR Committee General Comment 14 para 30.
94 ESCR Committee General comment 3 para 3.
95 Leckie (n 83 above) 93.
96 Chapman (n 6 above) 23.
97 Chapman was the first to set out the approach systematically.
98 Chapman (n 6 above) 24.
99 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above).
100 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 6.
101 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 9.
102 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 14(c).
103 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 15(d).
104 Maastricht Guidelines (n 6 above) para 18.
105 The ESCR Committee examined another part of art 15 (art 15(1)(c)) on authors' rights in its General Comment 17.
106 General Comment 21 para 10.
107 General Comment 21 para 13.
108 As above.
109 See United Nations (n 2 above) 194-195.
110 General Comment 21 paras 36 and 37 are directed specifically to needs of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are also explicitly referred to in other paragraphs (eg paras 49(d) and 50(c)).
111 General Comment 21 para 40.
112 As above.
113 See eg C Taylor Multiculturalism: Examining the politics of recognition (1994).         [ Links ]
114 Taylor (n 113 above) 34 63 68; KA Appiah 'Identity, authenticity, survival: Multicultural societies and social reproduction' in Multiculturalism: examining the politics of recognition (1994) 155.         [ Links ]
115 General Comment 21 para 32 (our emphasis).
116 See Taylor (n 113 above) for a discussion of national identity and multiculturalism.
117 African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 88.
118 Recently, African governments have been more accepting of the concept 'indigenous peoples'. Adoption of the African Commission Working Group Report by the African Commission was an important milestone in this regard. In 2010, Kenya changed its Constitution to recognise the existence of 'indigenous peoples' (Report by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs http://www.iwgia.org/sw42636.asp (accessed 20 February 2011). This was in part a response to the African Commission's findings in the Endorois case (n 12 above).
119 General Comment 21 para 49(d).
120 See Taylor (n 113 above) 32, arguing that we establish our identities, and particularly our social and cultural identities through social interaction; B Kingsbury 'Claims by non-state groups in international law' (1992) 25 Cornell International Law Journal 481 490,         [ Links ] discussing rights of cultural groups to 'cohesiveness'.
121 General Comment 21 para 36.
122 As above.
123 Kingsbury (n 120 above) 490.
124 The collective nature of indigenous peoples' rights as group rights has historically been controversial because of fears that this might lead to demands for secession. See Van Genugten (n 15 above) 44-45.
125 General Comment 21 para 6.
126 General Comment 21 paras 7 & 15(a).
127 General Comment 21 para 6.
128 General Comment 21 para 49(d).
129 General Comment 21 para 49(a).
130 See discussion above.
131 See eg Bernard Ominayak, Chief of the Lubicon Lake Band v Canada Human Rights Committee Communication 167/1984 UN Doc Supp No 40 (A/45/40) 1, where the Human Rights Committee found that Canada had violated art 27 of ICCPR (the right to enjoy minority culture) by subjecting the lake to 'modern usage'. The link between the right to culture and traditional economic activities was also recognised in Communication 197/1985 Kitok v Sweden UNHR Committee 1987/88, where the UN Human Rights Committee held that art 27 of ICCPR was infringed where a Sami man was prohibited from practising reindeer husbandry - part of his traditional culture. See also Kingsbury (n 120 above) 490 and M Scheinin 'The right to enjoy a distinct culture: indigenous groups and competing uses of land' in TS Orlin et al (eds) The jurisprudence of human rights law: A comparative interpretative approach (2000) 165. Indigenous peoples' rights to traditional lands are also recognised in ILO Convention 169, arts 5 and 31 and in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, arts 11-13.
132 General Comment 21 para15(b).
133 General Comment 21 para 36 (our emphasis and citations omitted).
134 General Comment 21 para 49(d).
135 General Comment 21 para 49.
136 This emerges primarily from General Comment 21 para 49.
137 See examples discussed above.
138 General Comment 21 para 50.
139 General Comment 21 para 50(c).
140 General Comment 21 para 50.
141 General Comment 51 para 50(c).
142 For discussions on the possibility of positive duties to provide land and other resources in this context, see Lehmann (n 48 above) 116. See also Cauteng Provincial Legislature: In re Dispute Concerning the Constitutionality of Certain Provisions of the Cauteng School Education Bill of 1995 1996 3 SA 165 (CC), where Sachs J considers the possibility of positive duties where a community's 'survival as a distinct cultural group can be said to be in peril' but declines to reach a definite conclusion (para 69).
143 General Comment 21 para 6.
144 These policy-related steps are discussed below.
145 General Comment 21 para 52(c).
146 General Comment 21 para 54 (our emphasis).
147 General Comment 21 para 54(a).
148 General Comment 21 para 36.
149 Eg General Comment 14: The right to the highest attainable standard of health (art 12) (UN Doc E/C.12/2000/4), where the Committee unambiguously lists actual provision of essential medicines as a 'minimum core' obligation from which no derogation is permitted (para 43(d)).
150 Arts 2(3) & 3 ICESCR. See General Comment 21 para 21.
151 General Comment 21 para 22.
152 General Comment 21 para 22.
153 General Comment 21 para 49(a).
154 General Comment 20: Non-Discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN Doc E/C.12/GC20).
155 General Comment 21 para 55.
156 General Comment 21 para 23.
157 As above (our emphasis).
158 Frequently-cited pioneering works arguing for special and different treatment that accommodates distinct cultures and ways of life include Taylor (n 113 above); and W Kymlicka Multicultural citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights (1995).         [ Links ] For useful recent examinations of substantive versus formal equality, see contributions to (2007) 23 South African journal on Human Rights.
159 General Comment 21 para 16(e).
160 Examples of culturally-inappropriate services are boarding schools provided to San children in Botswana. Parents complained that after attending these schools, children become 'children of the government' (African Commission Working Group Report (n 9 above) 55).
161 General Comment 21 para 54(a).
162 Art 2(1).
163 General Comment 21 para 45.
164 General Comment 21 para 44.
165 As above.
166 General Comment 21 para 46.
167 General Comment 21 para 48.
168 Eg, if current legislation or policy violates the obligation of respect.
169 General Comment 21 para 49.
170 General Comment 21 para 49(a).
171 As above.
172 General Comment 21 para 49(d).
173 General Comment 21 para 50(b).
174 General Comment 21 para 50.
175 General Comment 21 para 50(c).
176 General Comment 21 para 50(d).
177 As above.
178 General Comment 21 para 51.
179 General Comment 21 para 52.
180 General Comment 21 para 52(a).
181 General Comment 21 para 52(b).
182 General Comment 21 para 52(h).
183 General Comment 21 para 52(i).
184 General Comment 21 para 52(c).
185 General Comment 21 para 52(f).
186 General Comment 21 para 54(b).
187 General Comment 21 para 54 (noting that the lack of means must be beyond the control of the community concerned).
188 General Comment 21 para 55.
189 General Comment 21 para 55(a).
190 General Comment 21 para 55(b).
191 General Comment 21 para 55(c).
192 General Comment 21 para 55(e).
193 As above.
194 General Comment 21 para 60.
195 As above.
196 Eg, General Comment 14 on the right to essential medicines, which identifies immediate, non-derogable obligations to provide essential medicines.
197 However, the General Comment stops short of advocating secession or a right to self-determination.
198 Sepúlveda (n 65 above) 88.
199 Goldsmith & Posner, eg, argue that human rights treaties have had virtually no impact on state behaviour. JL Goldsmith & EA Posner The limits of international law (2005) 111-112.         [ Links ]
200 D Cassel 'Does international human rights law make a difference?' (2001) 2 Chicago journal of International Law 121 124;         [ Links ] I Cotler 'Human rights as the modern tool of revolution' in KE Mahoney & P Mahoney (eds) Human rights in the twenty-first century: A global perspective (1993) 15;         [ Links ] Hunt (n 64 above) 146-147; V Gauri 'Social rights and economics: Claims to health care and education in developing countries' in P Alston & M Robinson (eds) Human rights and development: Towards mutual reinforcement (2005) 83.         [ Links ]
201 See H Koh 'Why do nations obey international law?' (1997) 106 Yale Law journal 2599 2655,         [ Links ] discussing how norms acquire their 'stickiness'; and M Finnemore & K Sikkink 'International norm dynamics and political change' (1998) 52 International Organisation 887 917,         [ Links ] discussing norm internalisation.
202 N Stammers 'Social movements and the social construction of human rights' (1999) 21 Human Rights Quarterly 980 986-987;         [ Links ] N Gordon & N Berkovitch 'Human rights discourse in domestic settings: How does it emerge?' (2007) 55 Political Studies 243 244.         [ Links ]
203 M Robinson 'What rights can add to good development practice' in Alston & Robinson (n 200 above) 33.
204 See generally Cassel (n 200 above); Koh (n 201 above); A Chayes & AH Chayes 'On compliance' (1993) 47 International Organisation 175.         [ Links ]
205 Art 60.
206 Endorois case (n 12 above).

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