Indigenous mobilisations for justice

The aim of this axis is to consider how indigenous peoples mobilize to achieve justice and under what conditions. A number of dimensions are of interest here. One is the conditions, constraints and opportunities for indigenous activism in different contexts. What forms does indigenous activism to achieve justice take? Under what circumstances legal or institutional avenues are privileged and, conversely, what explains more direct forms of resistance? We would also like to focus on the “conditions of acceptability” of indigenous activism and on the criminalization of indigenous activists as state strategy to diffuse protests and resistance, which defines questions of justice in a very different perspective. A related problematic is the over-representation of indigenous peoples in the penal population.

The criminalisation of indigenous activism has direct repercussions on the capacity of the latter to achieve justice in the context of land and resources development. What strategies are left under such conditions? Are strategies of collaboration and negotiation achieving some measure of success in redefining relations between indigenous communities, national governments and private interests with respect to, among others, land, resources, food security and education?

Also central to this theme is the growing role of multinational corporations and extractive industries in these processes. What influence do private interests have on states’ policies and legal processes? In what cases does the economic power of corporations allow them to operate outside of national and international law in silencing indigenous protests? What are the possible mechanisms for exerting legal and economic pressure on private actors to encourage and ensure justice for indigenous peoples? What are the potential of new international standards (i.e. Business and Human Rights efforts at the UN level) or mass consumer action (boycotts, etc.) in this respect? To what extent does Corporate Social Responsibility policies and behaviours of the various companies reflect these international norms and guidelines? What influence do Indigenous peoples have on multinational corporations?

Another thematic connected to mobilization for justice is the space granted to indigenous peoples in institutions of representation at the national, regional or local level. Given the marginalized position of Indigenous Peoples within the states (dispersed in territories that are often remote and sometimes inaccessible from the established centres of power, fragmented between the city and the land, with less formal education and in vulnerable economic and political situations), what capacity and resources do they have to express themselves and their interests in formal decision-making processes at local, national and international levels? Are there cases where decision-making processes affecting Indigenous Peoples on the ground have been transformed by the implementation of International human rights principles? In what sense the recourse to Free Prior and Informed Consent opens new paths in this respect? Do these principles represent real advances or “false solutions” that generate an even greater sense of alienation amongst the indigenous people?

The institution of law and the organizations of indigenous peoples

The aim of the research axis is to investigate emerging institutional frameworks for the interaction between dominant Western systems of law and justice and indigenous systems of law and justice, in particular regarding self-government and “law-making” in areas such as the conception of representation, socio-economic and political structures, police, family life, water uses, land issues, participation, etc. The challenge will be to reconsider the historical and ethnographic production of data (regarding particular groups of people, i.e. situated Indigenous Peoples) in light of the current indigenous demand for full recognition based on decolonised legal pluralism, participation in sectorial decision-making and in the greater polity.

New processes of institutionalization have taken or are taking place as a result of State initiatives or in response to indigenous demands on the international or national level. These processes are not well known and there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to characterising the institutions being established or simply resurfacing in novel forms after decades or even centuries of marginalisation. What are the sources and manifestations of such institutions? Are they non-state self-constituted bodies? Are they simply state agencies or some hybridised institutional species? What is the impact of their source and make-up on their claim to internal and external legitimacy? How do they include gender and youth in their functioning? From these different perspectives we will also analyse the mechanisms for the indigenous participation to deliberation and decision-making processes, and the demands for their forms of consultation and decision-making to be respected.

We need a better understanding of current trends in indigenous institutional engineering and of the role of legal pluralism in such trends. As new regimes of indigenous governance are being designed, and are particularly challenging for what regards the management of land (territory and development) issues, their features need to be ascertained and assessed. In particular, we need to grasp the unprecedented challenges of making legal pluralism work within (or with) the state as an effective and legitimate arrangement. The evolutions also involve domains, which do not strictly belong to the institution of justice such as, for instance, the issues of linguistic communication and of writing oral customs that we want to analyse as well.

The RTI ultimately aims to observe when and how change takes place in the political and legal treatment of indigenous peoples and what exactly changes in the way institutions function: to explain for instance, how and why a vulnerable group like the San people in Namibia is “absorbed” by the logics of nature conservancy; why in New Caledonia the Kanak decided to affirm their law in a solemn charter that defines common values; why community justice is a response to neoliberal violence in Mexico or how different Indigenous Peoples in Brazil are dealing with the non-indigenous system of justice and the imprisonment of their members.