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Natural Awakenings, Palm Beach County, Florida

The Current Expansion of Indigenous Rights: From the U.N. Declaration to the ILA’s Sofia Resolution

In September of 2007, the United Nations issued a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Professors James Anaya and Siegfried Wiessner commented that the Declaration, although itself not legally binding on states, was reflective of customary international law, as already found by Professor Wiessner in a Harvard Human Rights Journal article from 1999. To prove this contention, the International Law Association created a Committee on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, meeting in Toronto in 2006, and with Professor Anaya as its chair. In 2008, Anaya was appointed U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and Professor Wiessner succeeded Anaya as chair of the ILA Committee. 

The Committee reviewed the law and practice of states regarding indigenous rights on a global scale and confirmed the existence of customary international law rights of indigenous peoples to wide-ranging self-government, cultural heritage, and traditional land and resources. 

The findings were approved by the ILA Plenary Assembly in a conference at Sofia without any opposition, resulting in ILA Resolution 5/2012. The Resolution evidences the state of customary international law on this subject and was a milestone in the collective re-empowerment of indigenous peoples. It recommends, in part, that ”civil society, in all its components, ought to promote a favourable environment for the affirmation of indigenous peoples’ rights, especially by nurturing a positive understanding within society as a whole of the value of indigenous cultures as well as of the positive role which may be played by indigenous peoples to further sustainable life in the world.”