Universiteit Leiden

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International Law and Indigenous Rights in Australia

maandag 15 mei 2023
Leiden University, Faculty of Law, Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden


Indigenous peoples are clearly on the international human rights agenda. International human rights law reflects universal norms and standards of human behaviour that have been adopted in various International Treaties, Conventions and Declarations. Indigenous rights are a subset of human rights that apply to Indigenous peoples. Australia has signed and ratified a number of International Treaties which support the human rights of Indigenous peoples, including the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Additionally, Australia has also endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The focus of this seminar will be on two key principles enunciated in UNDRIP, and other International Conventions, that is, the collective right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination and the requirement of countries to consult with Indigenous Peoples with the goal of obtaining their consent on matters that concern them. UNDRIP treats the principle of free, prior and informed consent as a “critically important human right” which is “inextricably linked to the fundamental right of self-determination”. UNDRIP links self-determination to the right to autonomous decision-making and self-government.

Australia’s Indigenous peoples, known as First Nations, have long aspired to exercise such rights. In 2017, at an Indigenous Constitutional Convention at Uluru, decision making by Indigenous peoples was supported in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement called for ‘Voice, Treaty, Truth’ and requested a constitutionally entrenched First Nations Voice to Parliament. Later this year, a referendum on the proposed Constitutional change to implement the Voice will be conducted in Australia. This seminar discusses the argument that the international law principles, particularly those articulated in UNDRIP, not only support, but mandate, a restructuring of the relationship between First Nations and the State in Australia. A First Nations ‘Voice’ to the Australian Parliament would enable First Nations peoples to exercise their right of self-determination as well as providing First Nations with the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Voice to deliver their input.

Presenter bio

Margaret Stephenson is an Associate Professor at the Curtin University Law School. She is also an Adjunct Academic at the Sustainable Minerals Institute, Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, University of Queensland and is a Director of Queensland South Native Title Services. Her research interests include Property Law, Native Title Law and Comparative Indigenous Rights. Margaret has published extensively and delivered conference papers, nationally and internationally and is the editor of Mabo: A Judicial Revolution and Mabo: The Native Title Legislation and is co-author of Land Law.

About the seminar series

Institutions for Conflict Resolution / Conflictoplossende Instituties (COI) is a research collaboration between Utrecht University, Leiden University, and Radboud University Nijmegen. As part of its activities, the COI research group organises seminars throughout the year for researchers interested in current and innovative topics relating to institutions for conflict resolution. The seminars feature international speakers who present their work, followed by Q&A and discussion. Themes include the evolving role of judges in preventing and resolving conflicts, the role of alternative avenues and non-public actors, and how societal challenges such as climate change or digitalisation affect institutions for conflict resolution. Seminars are hosted on a rotating basis at each of the three universities, and are delivered in a hybrid format: online and in-person, on campus at the host institution.

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