chapter  7
20 Pages

Forging indigenous rights at the United Nations: A social constructionist account

ByRHIANNON MOR GAN

In September 2007, following nearly three decades of intensive negotiations between independent human rights experts, Member States of the United Nations (UN), and indigenous peoples’ representatives, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration contains a right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, and substantially reflects the aspirations of indigenous lawyers, leaders, and community representatives participating in its production, who constitute members of a global indigenous movement. Focusing in particular on a strategy of legal or normative mobilisation, this chapter explores the role of the global indigenous movement in shaping the form and content of the declaration, and particularly in persuading a majority of Member States to accept the inclusion in the declaration of Article 3 on the right to self-determination. It therefore contributes to an understanding of the social construction of human rights, by which human rights come into being following negotiations and contest between assorted social and political actors with diverse and conflicting interests and means of asserting power or influence. This case highlights not only the important role of social movements in the contemporary construction of human rights, but also the potential strategic value of already existing institutional logics and norms for social movements seeking to influence the emergence of new specifications of human rights.