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The Displacement of Tibetan Nomads, International Law and the Loss of Global Indigenous Culture

Mark Kernan - 6th March 2013
The Displacement of Tibetan Nomads

This paper seeks to highlight the historical and existing problems associated with the protection of indigenous people’s culture within the parameters of international law. Specifically, it concentrates on the resettlement policies of the People’s Republic of China and their impact on the livelihoods and culture of Tibetan nomads. Additionally, it seeks to link this contemporary story of development-based loss within the wider global narrative of cultural and biological loss of all traditional peoples, particularly nomadic peoples. It goes on to emphasize one vital aspect of global Indigenous culture, indigenous Knowledge (IK), and calls for its urgent protection under international law. Finally, the paper calls for global policy makers to strengthen international law relating to indigenous issues, and in the process, compelling China, and all the central global actors, to live up to their pledges and commitments within the international human rights framework.

Policy Implications:

  • National governments and global financial governance institutions, such as the World Bank, WTO, Asian Development Bank, should consider ‘Nomadic and Indigenous rights proofing’ development programs and policies. For example, implementing specifically designed Human Rights Impact Assessments to gauge the effects of development in terms of the indigenous values of collective rights and biodiversity conservation.

  • Bilateral trade and investment liberalisation agreements, involving state and non-state actors, should also be human rights proofed at both the formulation and implementation phases of policy to determine the potential impacts on traditional Peoples’ lands, livelihoods and cultures.

  • The International human rights framework must work towards a specific multilateral instrument protecting the rights of nomads under international law, adding to and augmenting the 2007 declaration on indigenous peoples mentioned within the text. Historically, nomadic peoples have been ruthlessly discriminated against, often with the aid of the law. A convention or treaty enshrining nomadic rights would go some way to offset this historical tendency.

  • Global corporate actors, in particular the extractive sector, must show willingness to collaborate with traditional peoples transparently, within the parameters of national and international law. Consultation and dialogue should be premised on respect for treaties for the rights of indigenous peoples under both domestic and international law.

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