Legal and Policy Issues
Edited by Christoph Beat Graber, Karolina Kuprecht and Jessica Christine Lai
Chapter 3: International indigenous and human rights law in the context of trade in indigenous cultural heritage
In recent decades, the matter of indigenous peoples’ rights has emerged as a priority in the context of the development of international law. The growing attention for the rights and dignity of indigenous peoples has eventually translated into a number of legal instruments, which take into account the cosmologies (visions of life) of the peoples concerned, as well as the specificity of their legal structures and customary laws. This has led to the need to reconsider certain legal concepts, which were traditionally structured on the sole basis of the western point of view and firmly focused on individual rights. Among these concepts, the legal understanding of cultural heritage is included. In fact, in the context of indigenous peoples’ cosmologies, cultural heritage is the bedrock of the identity of the peoples concerned, attaining spiritual and cultural values and going much beyond its usual western-based connotation as a tradeable commodity. This reality translates into a situation where traditional legal parameters, to a large extent, are not able to grasp or take into account the significance and peculiarities of indigenous cultural heritage, especially when it comes to international trade in such heritage.
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