November 21, 2022No Comments

Artificial Intelligence in the World of Art: A Human Rights Dilemma

Author: Maria Makurat.

Artificial Intelligence or “AI” is already being widely used for various purposes whether it be in analysing marketing trends, modern warfare or as of recently: reproducing artwork. Around 2021 and up till now, various articles have been released discussing the issue of AI being developed to reproduce an artist’s style and even recreate new artwork and therefore bringing up ethical issue of whether artists are in danger of losing their copyright claim on their own work. Whilst this issue is very new and one cannot say for sure where this development is going and whether one should be concerned in the first place. This article explains the recent debate and issues that are being addressed while drawing upon classical AI theory from warfare and highlighting possible suggestions.

Artificial intelligence not only in the military realm

“In April this year, the company announced DALL-E 2, which can generate photos, illustrations, and paintings that look like they were produced by human artists. This July OpenAI announced that DALL-E would be made available to anyone to use and said that images could be used for commercial purposes.”

An article by Wired “Algorithms Can Now Mimic Any Artist. Some Artists Hate It,” discusses how an AI called “DALL- E 2” can reproduce an artist’s style and make new photos, digital art and paintings. In theory anyone can use the programme to mimic another artist, or artists can sue it to make new art based on their old work. This of course brings many issues to light such as whether one can put a copyright on an art style (as is also discussed in the article), what exactly one wants to achieve with using AI to recreate more art and how this will be discussed in the future if indeed art work will be stolen. An earlier article by the Los Angeles Times from 2020 “Edison, Morse ... Watson? Artificial intelligence poses test of who’s an inventor,” already addressed this issue by discussing who is exactly the “inventor” when AI can develop for instance computer games and other inventions. It is true that a human being must develop the AI programme however, can that person also then be called the inventor if that said programme develops own ideas and perhaps own artwork? In relation to the general debate, one should consider “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Article 27: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”

Some recent debate centres not only around whether it is a question of the “ethics” in artificial intelligence but going one step back to understand the term “intelligence”. Joanna J Bryson writes: “Intelligence is the capacity to do the right thing at the right time. It is the ability to respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by context.”[i] Whilst the authors consider AI in relation to law, they do point out that: “Artificial intelligence only occurs by and with design. Thus, AI is only produced intentionally, for a purpose, by one or more member of the human society.”[ii]  Joanna further discusses that the word artificial means that something has been made by humans and therefore again brings up a key concept in AI of whether the human or the programme is responsible.[iii] When we consider this in relation to human rights issues and ethics, it may be true that AI in the world of art can be produced with a purpose by humans, but it remains the problematic issue of what the purpose is. We need the clear outline of why this AI programme has been made in the art world and for what purpose in order to then be able to answer further questions.

It has been pointed out that one should consider this development as nothing new since AI has been already used in the 1950s and 1960s to generate certain patterns and shapes. It is seen by many as a tool that helps the artists in these areas to work faster and be more precise however, it’s been debated that one should not be worried at all that the AI can replace humans since it lacks the human touch in the first place. This remains to be seen how far the AI can learn and adapt since it is programmed that way. If one should not be concerned by AI replacing human artists, then why is the debate happening in the first place? 

Credits: unsplash.com

The continues need for clearer definitions

It is not only a matter of the AI replicating art, but how we can define whether the system has crossed the line of copyright infringement: “(…) lawsuits claiming infringement are unlikely to succeed, because while a piece of art may be protected by copyright, an artistic style cannot.” This only shows again that one needs to quickly define more clearly what is an “artistic style”, “artwork” in relation to how AI would be even allowed to replicate the style.

One can draw a comparison to AI in warfare with debates concerning following themes: responsibility gap, moral offloading and taking humans out of the loop (discussed by scholars such as Horowitz, Asaro, Krischnan and Schwarz). Keith argues for example that psychological analyses show that we suffer from cognitive bias and that AI (in terms of military defence) will change our decision-making process.[iv]  If we use the example of drone warfare and the campaign “Stop Autonomous Weapons”, it depicts how drones can be used without directly sending humans into battle and shows the system getting out of hand and people distancing themselves from responsibility. Such type of warfare has an impact on the decision-making process, distancing the soldiers and strategists from the battle field. With of course taking into mind that using an AI in the art world does not involve possible casualties, one still can consider how we have a similar distancing from responsibility and moral offloading. It comes back to the recurring issues of who is responsible if an AI system decides by itself which choices to make, how to make them and determine the output. There are no humans involved during the process of making or “replicating” the art pieces however, there was an individual present during the development of the AI – I would like to call it a problematic ethical circle of debate in the art world.

Even though the idea of using AI to copy an art style or artworks altogether is quite new and perhaps even undeveloped, one should consider more strongly certain methods in order to bring a certain control and a managing system into the game. Nick Bostrom for instance discusses what a superintelligence in relation to AI would entail saying that one would need certain incentive methods in order for the AI to learn and adapt to the human society: “Capability control through social integration and balance of power relies upon diffuse social forces rewarding and penalizing the AI. (…) A better alternative might be to combine the incentive method with the use of motivation selection to give the AI a final goal that makes it easier to control.”[v]

Conclusion

It is not only problematic for the art world that an AI is able to copy any artist’s style -it is concerning how much further this development could go in terms of taking an artist’s style and creating an entire new series and diluting therefore the line between where the old and fictional artist lies. As has also already pointed out by others then need for better definitions however it needs to be stressed more strongly: one needs clearer definitions of who is an “artist”, “inventor”, “digital artist” when AI enters the discussion and is apparently here to stay. One needs to make a clear distinction between a human artist and a ‘programme artist (AI)’. Can an artist call himself artist when he or she uses AI to produce art?  All these questions should be discussed further in the near future since it seems to be the case that AI has entered the art realm and will continue to stay playing maybe a larger role in the future perhaps even with the development of the Meta verse.


[i] Markus Dirk Dubber, Frank Pasquale, Sunit Das, (2020) The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI Oxford handbooks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 4

[ii] Ibid, pp. 6.

[iii] Ibid, pp. 5

[iv] Keith, Dear, “Artificial intelligence and decision making,” pp. 18.

[v] Bostrom, Nick, “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies,” pp. 132.

October 31, 2022No Comments

The Right to Clean Water: Thoughts in sight of the Environmental Crisis

Analysis on the right to clean water and how climate change could be dangerous in securing enough resources.

Read more

July 8, 2022No Comments

Marco Bocchese on International Law in terms of Russia-Ukraine War

Marco Bocchese is a Professor of international law and international relations at the Webster University in Vienna. He talks about international justice that might be applicable in the Russian-Ukrainian War and the consequences for human rights violations human trafficking and Russian criminal actions towards Ukraine.

Interviewing Team: Igor Shchebetun and Greta Bordin.

June 8, 2022No Comments

Analysis of the nexus between Human Trafficking and Terrorism.

Author: Arianna Caggiano.

This is a critical commentary of the research paper launched by the OSCE Organization: Trafficking in Human Beings and Terrorism. Where and How They Intersect: Analysis and Recommendations for More Effective Policy Response.

Human Trafficking as a tactic of terrorist groups

Over the years, human trafficking has increasingly become a modus operandi used by terrorist groups to finance and carry out their activities. To this extent, as human trafficking constitutes a crime that is usually perpetrated by organized criminal groups, some scholars have stressed that the “crime-terror nexus” implies that both criminal and terrorist organizations might cooperate with each other in the furtherance of their respective goals. Despite the increasing use of organised crime-related tactics deployed by terrorists, in analysing the current legal framework in international law when it comes to trafficking in human beings and terrorism there is still no existing treaty or convention dealing with the nexus between the two phenomena. On the basis of the OSCE paper launched in 2021 on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism, this article will try to critically evaluate from a juridical and legal point of view the analysis and findings developed by the OSCE on this matter.

Comparing Legal and Policy Frameworks of Anti-Trafficking and anti-terrorism Mechanisms

When it comes to the definition of the human trafficking’s legal framework, it is worth emphasizing that it was not until 2000 that a first definition of trafficking in human beings was given in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, better known as the Palermo Protocol. The adoption of the Protocol can be considered as a watershed moment for the legal framework of human trafficking: as of today, it counts 173 signatory States and it can be defined, thus, as almost a universal ratification. A further key role in combating human trafficking is played by regional trafficking treaties, which complement the obligations upon signatory States, especially with reference to victims’ protection. Indeed, as stressed by the OSCE research, a major principle guiding anti-trafficking legislations and policies is the principle of non-punishment of victims of trafficking, according to which Member States are obliged to «assess the individual situation of persons released from the captivity of armed and terrorist groups so as to enable prompt identification of victims of trafficking».

On the other hand, the international legal framework related to terrorism and counterterrorism is considerably more challenging and complex in comparison to the anti-trafficking international legal system. Indeed, despite the existence of a set of treaties, protocols, conventions, Security Council Resolutions, as well as “soft law” and non-binding mechanisms, there is no comprehensive instrument providing a universal and accepted definition of terrorism, as it is the case for human trafficking with the Palermo Protocol

In analysing the nexus between these two phenomena, it is of utmost importance to emphasize the constituent elements of trafficking used as a tactic by terrorist groups. Pursuant art. 3 of the Palermo Protocol, «Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force […] to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. […]». This very intense definition provided by the Protocol, shows three main constituent elements of human trafficking: action, means and purpose.

Therefore, as the OSCE outlines, in evaluating the link between trafficking in human beings and terrorism from a legal perspective, a useful approach would be one that analyses these three constituent elements when exploited by terrorist groups as a tactic to recruit individuals. In this regard, the analysis of the current legal framework on the nexus between the two crimes shows that a harmonisation in the criminalization of terrorism and human trafficking as two offences connected has not been reached yet. Indeed, despite the existence of several instruments that recognize the growing links between terrorism and transnational organized crime, the lack of a definition of terrorism still hinders the internationally community to adopt an internationally agreed-upon approach to terrorism matters, while it is not the case for human trafficking. 

The legal response that has been adopted so far to address cases where the two phenomena intersects has largely focused on criminalizing all individuals related to terrorist activities and groups. The lack of a definition of terrorism has led States to adopt different measures aimed at only criminalizing terrorists and not identifying and protecting victims. Therefore, as highlighted in the research, this approach has showed to have significant consequences for victims, who have risked being held fully accountable for all the crimes they have committed, even though they are victims of human traffickers. Based on these findings, the OSCE research concludes that a human trafficking lens when dealing with terrorist criminal offences should be applied to contribute to victim identification, assistance, rehabilitation and reintegration, and prevention of re-victimization. Therefore, it would be of utmost importance to apply the principle of non-punishment - that already exists in the human trafficking framework – in the anti-terrorism existing legal and policy mechanism. 

Conclusion

This critical commentary has analysed from a legal perspective the comprehensive research carried out by the OSCE organization on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism. It has highlighted how the application of anti-trafficking mechanisms, including the principle of non-punishment, in the context of terrorism could help leading in a better way prosecution of criminal offences related to terrorism. The OSCE research might constitute the basis for an international and agreed-upon definition that considers both a security-oriented approach to prevent and prosecute terrorist offences and a human rights-based one, ensuring that victims of terrorism – and trafficked persons exploited by terrorists – are not held accountable and can access to their rights. 

All in all, the OSCE research offers significant food for thought and, using concrete cases, helps filling the knowledge gap of policy makers, academics, practitioners, and legislators on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism. 

March 13, 2022No Comments

The Right to Adequate Food

By: Diletta Cosco.

The right to adequate food was firstly recognized in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of human rights in 1948, as well in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man the same year; It then became a “legal entitlement”, “codified in article 11” of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Currently, 163 countries have ratified this convention, yet the right to food needs further practice both nationally and internationally. Since the 1948, especially after the recognition of the right to food into the two declarations mentioned above, the importance of this human right has captured further attention and it has been recognized in other several declarations and treaties.

The right to food is a basic human right protected under international human rights and humanitarian law and is recognized directly or indirectly by virtually all countries in the world through article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 


Food is considered as part of the right to health and well-being and an important need for a proper “standard of living, health and well-being of people”. The right to food is interconnected with other human rights as well; in fact, the lack of enjoyment of this right excludes the proper enjoyment of “life, dignity or the enjoyment of other human rights”.

The Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural rights adopted a document which defines the definition of the right to food. According to the meaning given, the right to food involves a quantity and quality that should be good enough to allow an individual to fulfil the necessary dietary needs. The right to food implies also a nutrition that is aligned according the culture of a certain individual. The Committee also established a violation of human rights whether a state does not fulfil the right to food to its citizens. The interest to adopt a human right based approach towards the end of hunger constitutes now a core mission in the United Nations (UN) policies which focus in parallel towards the development and fulfilment of human rights. The UN Millennium Development Goals, precisely in the sustainable Goal number 2, encourage states to commit to the guarantee of food to its citizenships and the end of hunger by 2030. The right to food usually requires government’s accountability mainly, but also other international and national actors such as the inter-governmental organizations are doing their parts towards the fulfilment of right to food; although, states play the most crucial role in the fulfilment of right to food. In fact, “states are duty-bearers, while people are right-holders”.Specifically, states are responsible to ensure this right is fulfilled when an agreement, treaties or declaration is signed; this means that states have signed to take part to the compliment of the right to food and consequently adequate legislations are required as well. In fact, states have the primary role to “respect, protect and fulfil” the right to food; conventions, declarations and treaties are necessary but additional instruments are fundamental to facilitate its implementation. Integrating this right into a country’s constitution is the first and most important step to ensure its fulfilment and it represents the greatest commitment that a country can have. Embedding this right into the Constitution would give long-term protection to the right itself and any law found in contrast with the right to food would be submitted for review, as laws that are in contradiction with the right to food are considered unconstitutional. In the case of South America and the Caribbean region, 15 countries have officially included the right to food into their constitution. Even though, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico are the only countries which recognize the right to food for all people, indistinctively. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbeans are a good example of commitment of ending hunger through the manifestation of various declarations about the right to food. A practical commitment should take place through the implementation of this basic human rights into their legislation as well. However, the recognition in constitutions itself is not enough but can be considered as a fair starting point towards the achievement of this objective; laws and legal framework are likewise necessary, cooperation between several actors at national and international level is fundamental as well. 

February 8, 2022No Comments

Natalie Dobson on the Rise of Climate Litigations

Natalie Dobson, assistant professor at Utrecht University on international law and climate change law, explains the rise of 'climate litigations' and its ties to human rights and constitutional law. The expert discusses the contribution that this kind of litigation can bring to the ongoing debate on climate change.

Interviewer: Luca Mattei.

February 4, 2022No Comments

The Perils of Movement in 2022: Understanding the Factors conditioning the Human Security of Migrants

By: Arslan Sheikh, Esther Brito Ruiz and Reka Szabo.

Image Source: https://www.growthinktank.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Photo-by-Sandor-Csudai-is-licensed-under-licence-CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0.jpeg

Human security is conditioned by a variety of external factors - like war or famine - and personal characteristics - such as gender, ethnic identity, or sexuality. These intersecting realities lead to rapidly evolving patterns of threats to human dignity across the globe. Indeed, humanitarian crises or large scale natural disasters serve to reconfigure the lives of those affected and exacerbate already existing social vulnerabilities. In this line, it becomes important to explore how recent political and social developments have notably worsened the conditions of one particular collective of people: migrants. 

Recent estimates suggest that over 281 million people are migrants - amounting to about 3.6 % of the global  population. Yet in spite of the significant increases in people flows across national boundaries, migrant groups continue to be politically, socially, and economically targeted and discriminated against. Migrant communities routinely face difficulties in accessing basic services and often see their identities become instrumentalized for political propaganda. As those seeking refuge, fleeing violence, or attempting to find a better future are confronted with rising political polarisation, stricter border control, and worsening social protections. We must reflect on the barriers to movement that affect this collective and the trends that have come to act as drivers of migration flows. Only then can we understand the severity of the conditions migrants face today. 

Trends

Economic trends are significant drivers of migration today. Economic divergence has been growing between countries, highly impacted by the global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Available instruments of developing economies aiming at tackling such challenges are much more limited than the ones of advanced economies, which leads to a bifurcated economic recovery. Another longer lasting global challenge to be faced is climate change. Similarly to the pandemic, it impacts countries unevenly: some are going to be more resilient thanks to their more fortunate economic situation and/or geographical location than others. 

Adaptation to climate-related changes are going to have socio-economic consequences for individuals. Unskilled workers, for instance, are going to be vulnerable to industrial transformations — for instance, in carbon-intensive, heavy industries—, and may decide to migrate to countries in which their skills can still be used, in the hope of opportunities of economic advancement.

Climate change and countries’ various responses to it can cause not solely voluntary economic migration in the future, but also large-scale involuntary migration. This falls into the category of societal global risk, influencing numerous countries and industries negatively. Climate action failure is one of the potentially damaging risks that are going to contribute to involuntary migration on a global scale. Extreme weather, biodiversity loss, livelihood crises, and social cohesion erosion are also listed by the latest Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum. Climate action failure and extreme weather are the most influential factors. 

Climate change contributes to natural disasters, too. Because of such disasters, internal and cross-border displacement is going to occur. Interestingly, it is not necessarily the direct effects of such disasters that are going to affect migration, but the worsening economic conditions they will cause. This means that links between migration and disasters caused by the accelerating climate change are rather indirect, manifesting in migration caused by decreasing incomes, worsening livelihood opportunities, and changes in food security.

Violence, conflict and persecution are still going to play a role in the future when it comes to migration or displacement, however, data on recent trends indicate that disaster related internal displacement is more common, and, at the same time, more volatile than internal displacement related to the previously mentioned factors.

Another factor to take into account when observing voluntary or involuntary migration, is the lack of possibility to migrate, caused by environmental change. People without assets to move can be trapped in certain areas, which can lead to more defenselessness against environmental change. Meanwhile, these trends are further creating many barriers to migration which need to be addressed simultaneously. 

Image Source: https://cdn.britannica.com/80/187480-050-824606F2/refugees-line-officials-Middle-East-Slovenia-Iraq-October-25-2015.jpg

Contemporary barriers to Migration

The barriers to migration are very complex, interlinked, and multifold. The recent Global Risks Report 2022 by World Economic Forum has identified several contemporary barriers to migration which include national level barriers, such as the movement restrictions related to the COVID-19, financial pressures in advanced economies, and greater focus on domestic priorities. The report has also identified three potential barriers to the cross-border migration; which include post-pandemic effects on international mobility, future employment trends, and increased national interest postures of several countries.

Movement restrictions because of the COVID-19 have interrupted several migration flows. These restrictions are temporary, but as the post-pandemic economic rebound demands more labour, creating further opportunities for  migrants, Western policymakers need to be prepared to address a new influx of migrants and be able to explain to their residents why welcoming this labour force would not diminish their employment opportunities, as well as why certain post-pandemic employment opportunities would need a migrant labour force to fulfil them. Failure to do so may cause further rise in anti-immigrant sentiments in resident populations.

National interest postures are increasingly becoming a world-wide phenomena where nations are actively reframing their migration policies to exclude migrants from basic financial and healthcare services, as Chile and Peru have done recently. Another such example are the restrictive policies of the  United Kingdom and USA, which originally were implemented because of  public health concerns, but have sustained and are causing a decline in the issuance of visas to  migrants.  

Apart from these issues, the nature of public discourse and disinformation campaigns are making the migration issue worse. Migration has increasingly become a controversial issue in Western countries, generating right-wing and nationalist reactions. The media has played a very important role in this by ‘normalizing discriminatory labels used to describe migrants’, whereas  disinformation campaigns against migrants portray them as a threat to  public health, security, and the economy of host countries are fuelling hate speech and violence against them. These two issues make a crucial impact on the voting behaviours of host countries and the governments they choose to elect, who usually have an anti-migrant stance when framing and implementing the migration policies in their respective countries.

Conclusion

The worsening socio-economic conditions and global trends we have explored have served to notably increase the risks migrants face. Whether it be to emergency displacements, worsening social retribution, or economic push and pull factors, migration is not only becoming a more pronounced phenomenon, but one subject to expanding threats to human dignity. 

As the world reopens its borders and struggles to manage the after-effects of a global pandemic, policy and assistance efforts need to look towards the plight migrants face and provide the resources, social networks, and institutional support necessary to protect the human security of one of the world's most politicised collectives. 

December 23, 2021No Comments

Raziya Masumi on Afghanistan Part II

In this two-part series interview, Raziya Masumi, Lawyer and Women's Right Activist, discusses the current situation in Afghanistan facing women and the country as a whole by providing her own insights. Raziya also accounts her own experiences growing up and working as lawyer in Afghanistan.

Interviewers: Angelo Calianno and John Devine.

December 23, 2021No Comments

Raziya Masumi on Afghanistan Part I

In this two-part series interview, Raziya Masumi, Lawyer and Women's Right Activist, discusses the current situation in Afghanistan facing women and the country as a whole by providing her own insights. Raziya also accounts her own experiences growing up and working as lawyer in Afghanistan.

Interviewers: Angelo Calianno and John Devine.

December 3, 2021No Comments

The legacy of Canadian Residential Schools: the Indigenous Rights Movement and its current Challenges

By: Esther Brito Ruiz, Ludovica Brambilla, Arslan Sheikh and Reka Szabo. 

Image Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/ashamed-my-faith-catholics-battling-religion-discovery-1.6081426

Recently, unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children were discovered in various locations in Western Canada, in the territory of residential schools. These schools operated between the end of the 19th century until 1996,  and were mostly run by the Catholic Church. The official number of Indigenous children who died in these schools because of mistreatment is 4120, but it is claimed that the actual number could be much larger

Evidence from various studies prove that approximately 150,000 indigenous children were subject to forceful assimilation in these institutions, after having been separated from their families. Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse were among the practicesused in these schools. The high death rate of Indigenous students can be connected to the extremely bad conditions of the schools— such as poor nutrition, the lack of nurses or the inadequate construction or use of the buildings — and to the lack of proper medical treatment provided to indigenous children, among other inhuman practices. The leading cause of death was tuberculosis, easily caught by malnourished children.

The practices of the residential schools have been described as a genocide by several scholars. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after having examined testimonies from thousands of survivors, also announced that these acts are to be classified as cultural genocide against Indigenous people. 

After the discovery of the graves, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau guaranteed financial aid and support to the Indigenous communities in Canada. Furthermore, an initiative of the Survivors of the Mohawk Institute at Six Nations of the Grand River — a large reserve in Canada —  aimed at uncovering more details about the dark legacy of the schools’ past with a death and criminal investigation. Questions still remain about the responsibility, the accountability, and the compensation, regarding the Canadian state and the Catholic Church. 

However, the discrimination of indigenous communties in Canadais not solely a past phenomenon  - according to some studies ongendered violence and on the unequal treatment of indigenous people in Canada, Indigenous minorities still face a very different set of circumstances compared to the majority society. We must also consider that the controversy surrounding the Canadian case is not a localized issue, but the latest in a global movement of recognition and redress led by indigenous communities.

The Global Context for Indigenous Rights

Currently, there are 370 million Indigenous people around the world, spanning over 90 countries, 5,000 communities, and 4,000 languages. As such, the struggle of the indigenous movement is not an ancient issue, but a current and contemporary human security challenge. While there has been progress – most notably marked by the 2007 United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ratified by 143 countries) – indigenous abuses are still erased and forgotten, as we have mentioned in the  case of Canadian residential schools.

The legacy of indigenous communities has been marked by a rich history and vital contributions to our culture and environment (for example, in safeguarding 80% of global biodiversity) – however, it has also been defined by horrific atrocities. Well-known is the case of Native American communities, numbering over 10 million before European colonization, and decimated to under 300.000 by the 1900s. Indigenous peoples continue to face continuous and pervasive human rights abuses – ranging from assimilation policies, to land dispossession, the criminalization of protest, or abuses by armed forces. These abuses extend globally – having worsened in recent years and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – and most severely affect communities defending their rights and lands. This has led to intergenerational trauma in many indigenous communities. Today, the most prominent topic in discussions and advocacy within indigenous communities remains the issue of land rights and the resources they harbor. 

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobili/32358569142

Indigenous Peoples and Natural Resources

Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with natural resources. But from the times of colonisation to the present day, theirrights over these resources have been continuously violated. Even though they make up five-percent of the world’s population, they account for about fifteen-percent of the extreme poor. The major cause of this discrepancy owes to the history of colonisation, subjugation, and oppression. They regularly lack formal recognition over their lands and other natural resources, and are often last to get public investments, access to justice, political participation, and face various obstacles to partake in the formal economy.

Around a quarter of all land outside Antarctica belongs to Indigenous Peoples. But much of this land occupied by them is undercustomary ownership, and most of the governments all over the world acknowledge only a small percentage of this land as lawfully belonging to Indigenous Peoples. The unstable land tenancy is a cause of conflict, environmental degradation, and inadequate economic and social development. This endangers Indigenous Peoples’ culture and knowledge systems both of which have an extremely valuable contribution in maintaining ecological integrity and conserving nature and biodiversity.

As per World Bank, ‘’Improving security of land tenure, strengthening governance, promoting public investments in quality and culturally appropriate service provision, and supporting indigenous systems for resilience livelihoods are critical to reducing the multidimensional aspects of poverty while contributing to the SDGs.’’

The crucial role of social movements

It appears that legal frameworks for the protection of Indigenous People’s rights have been established, but land rights are not yet addressed by state actors and international organizations. Often, aboriginal communities lament a pattern of broken promises and a series of failures within development projects that have been promoted by such actors. This is due in part to the difficulty in questioning the power relations within the structure in which they operate. What is also elided by the mainstream narrative, are the continuities between the colonial past and the present. A postcolonial perspective on the matter has been proposed by many indigenous scholars that investigate colonial legacies to explain the nowadays imbalances between indigenous people and the broader society. Inequities are evident in regard to the land and resources issues but encompass almost every aspect of society, most notably healthcare. A postcolonial approach has been put into practice by many social movements, activists, and advocates for Indigenous People’s rights. Protests and movements, like Idle No More in Canada, emerge from the aboriginal communities and amplify their voices in the many arenas in which decisions are made. They represent the opportunity to contrast the structural violence they face, through ‘grassroots’ discourses around their conditions and demands and cooperations with governments and international actors. In response to the recent discovery of yet another atrocity committed in the residential ‘schools’, Idle No More has asked to cancel Canada Day to ultimately acknowledge the legacy of settler colonialism and violence in Canada’s history; Fifty municipalities have accepted the proposal out of respect and justice.

The Canadian case serves to illustrate what remains an evolving redress and human rights struggle for indigenous communities around the world. Indigenous human security continues to be precarious in most states, and despite the increasing recognition of these transnational advocacy movements, much remains to be done. As states seek to fulfil their obligations to ensure the wellbeing of their communities, a renewed focus must be placed on the recognition of indigenous peoples and their voices as rightful custodians of their land, resources, and culture. If the promises of a post-colonial global order are to be realized, it is indigenous communities that will define and lead the way to achieving it.