The Ethical Dimensions of

The Dynamics of the Right to Development

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The Dynamics of the Right to Development

The North South Divide

During the Cold War45 the western democracies and the socialist countries were not willing to treat civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights at par or on equal terms, nor were they willing to regard them as components of an integrated whole of an international bill of rights.

On a formal plane, the controversy was to have been resolved with the adoption of the Right to Development. But the reasons for taking these contrary positions kept lingering and were further complicated when the Third World countries put forward the case of the Right to Development in the name of the collective rights of a group of countries to bring about a new international economic order.46

If some of the industrialized countries of the North would not support economic and social rights, they would find it even more difficult to support the Right to Development.47

The Declaration on the Right to Development is without question founded on the notion that the Right to Development implies a claim for a social order based on equity.

The tenor of the debates at the UN and in the international arena on the negotiations of the text left no one in doubt that what the proponents of the Right to Development were asking for was an economic and social order based on equity and justice.

The have-nots of the international economy would have a right to share equally in the decision making privileges as well in the distribution of the benefits just as the rich did in developed countries.48


Neo-liberalism is defined as political philosophy or the political view, arising in the 1960s that emphasizes the importance of economic growth and asserts that social justice is best maintained by minimal government interference and free market forces.49 It is argued that these neo-liberal ideals concretized in the Washington Consensus.50 These were a set of policies adopted by the International Monetary Fund on trade and capital liberalization, privatization, and lowering of inflation.

Though the aim of liberalizing markets in agriculture is to generate global welfare gains, however the distribution of gains is likely to be skewed. For developing countries the opening of markets, reduction in tariffs and domestic support measures meant that developed countries with large supplies of food-grains could undercut domestic prices and sell to these countries where they now had access. This resulted in a loss of food self sufficiency and food security on the supply side – countries were importing and consuming the cheaper agricultural product affecting the income of the small farmer in loss of earnings.

Although neo-liberalism espoused minimal government interference, the over supply of food was usually a result of a well subsidized domestic market in developed countries, enabling the exporting farmer to produce large surpluses and to profit hugely at the expense of the unsubsidized importing farmer. This begs the question as to why is it that subsidies are good for the developed countries and not for the developing countries.

It can be argued that neo-liberalism did not preserve the Right to Development by letting market forces dictate the development and growth of a country. Market forces or systems require competition and perfect information.51 In developing countries, the competition is limited and information is far from perfect; thus resulting in skewed development and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. According to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB),52 income inequality has increased over the past decade or so in 15 of the 21 Asian countries it has studied. The three main exceptions are Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, the countries worst hit by the 1997 financial crisis. The biggest increases in inequality were in China, Nepal and Cambodia. Income inequality is usually measured by a country’s Gini Coefficient, in which 0 is perfect equality (everyone has the same income) and 1 is perfect inequality (i.e., one household takes everything). China’s Gini Coefficient rose from 0.41 in 1993 to 0.47 in 2004, the highest in Asia after Nepal.

Declining agricultural production

This trend of pushing out the small farmer from his niche of producing local foods for the local markets was a product of comparative advantage – where countries were encouraged to produce and export goods where they had a comparative advantage, and to buy and import from other countries. In Vietnam, farmers were encouraged to give up farming and to specialize in high value cash crops for export such as coffee, cassava, cashew nuts and cotton. But combined with plummeting world prices and expensive farm inputs this resulted in loss of income for purchase of foods that they had previously grown.53 In Rwanda, because of over-cropping of coffee trees, there was increasingly less land available to produce food, and the peasantry was not able to switch back to food crops.54

Small island countries were encouraged to open markets in investment and allow for the tourism industry to flourish – lands were cleared and hotels were built – and the resulting money was used to buy imported food. Tourism was to pay for the food. This increase in import succeeded in reorienting the tastes of populations in developing countries including in rural areas, from domestically produced foods to imported foods.

The diminishing support for the agricultural sector in the form of subsidies, infrastructure, research and development and extension services, has thus contributed to the shift away from agricultural production.

Food Insecurity

Today it is estimated that 862 million55 people lack access to food and are food insecure. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.56 Food insecurity can be understood as the reverse – lack at certain times or all times to access to food and thus inability to enjoy an active and healthy life. The goal of food security set over ten years ago at the World Food Summit in 1996 is not being met; poverty is still a strong factor in the world economy today. Should the problem of world hunger and food insecurity not be addressed immediately, the vicious cycle of poverty will prevail and the population without food will only increase.

Increase in “real” poverty

The food slice of household budgets of developing countries is comparatively larger than that of developed countries. The rise in food prices the opportunity cost of food has serious consequences. The impact is severely felt by the mothers who would sacrifice food for children and other vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Impact on the Nutrition Basket

A longer term consequence is the impact on the nutrition basket of these food insecure consumers. Micro-nutrient deficiency statistics are such that iron deficiency affects an estimated 1.7 billion people worldwide, half of whom suffer from iron deficiency anemia. Vitamin A deficiency affects 254 million preschool children in 118 countries and still is a leading cause of child blindness across developing countries. Zinc deficiency contributes to growth failure and weakened immunity in young children. According to some estimates each year 5.6 million children of 5 years or less die as a direct or indirect result of malnutrition.57

If all remains the same, it can be guaranteed that the soaring prices of food will result in increased mal-nutrition as food insecure consumers now purchase cheaper less nutritious foods, or less or no food at all. The danger lies in the deficiency of micronutrients, this deficiency will limit the development of more than 10 %58 of world population today and that of future generations.

Political Instability and Civil Strife

What is clearly visible is that the rising food prices have influenced the link today between food and politics. Food riots have occurred in Senegal, Bangladesh and Egypt59 and in the case of Haiti60 resulting political instability led to twenty wounded and four killed in the two day food riots in early April 2008 and resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Alexis.


This is an opportunity for the international community to engage in “real” coordination and lift the world out of poverty. In this day of ease of access to information, communication and transportation a paradox still remains. We have come this far and yet the basic need for food has not been met. Mankind has not been able to feed itself.

Short-term Solutions

The World Food Programme (WFP) has asked for $755 million to fund the current budget and feed peoples at today’s food and fuel prices. Saudi Arabia’s contribution of $ 500 million has resulted in the fund being met.61

It is necessary to engage in food aid at this point to meet the urgent and immediate needs of the vulnerable groups. Caution dictates that we understand that this is still no more than a temporary “band-aid”, and that it will not stem the flow of continued future hunger. Food aid should not become a disincentive for local production. Furthermore laws permitting that food for food aid only be bought in the country donating aid, and not in the recipient country itself should be re-visited.62

Should there be no domestic market, “food aid should be provided with a clear exit strategy and avoid the creation of dependency”.63 This clear exit strategy should include increased and sustained support for access to seed, credit and land to rural farmers.

With regard to the ongoing debate over bio-fuels and the use of agricultural commodities such as sugar, maize, cassava, oilseeds and palm oil64 for fuel ( an “abnormal” break from the food chain) it is suggested that a moratorium is imposed on bio-fuel production until its true impact is calculated. It cannot be denied that the increase in demand for these agricultural products has contributed to the increase in food prices. At the High Level Conference on World Food Security or the Rome Summit 3-5 June, 2008 where 181 countries were represented serious debate ensued on bio-fuels and countries were “irreparably split and paralyzed over this issue”65. The US Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer claimed that ethanol accounted for only 2-3 % of the increase in world food prices, others had put forward a percentage as high as 30 %. The Final Declaration of the Rome Summit called on in-depth studies to ensure sustainable bio-fuel production and maintenance of food security.

Medium and Long-term Solutions

Economic and political strengthening of a country is necessary to provide an environment conducive for the Right to Development to occur and for world hunger to abate. “Development as Freedom” written by Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Amartya Sen, reminds us that “focus should be on the economic power and substantive freedoms of individuals and families to buy enough food, and not just on the quantum of food in the country in question”.66 The top priority in this crisis is to feed the vulnerable, thus existing food safety nets and social protection programs, including school feeding, and other nutrition programs need to be scaled up. Productive safety nets on seeds fertilizers and agricultural tools need to be expanded.

Employment programs, food or cash for work, and employment generation policies are required to recreate the loss of income of potential workers. Amartya Sen67 captures the benefits in that “the employment route also happens to encourage the processes of trade and commerce and does not disrupt economic, social and family lives. The people helped can mostly stay on in their own homes close to their economic activities (like farming), so that these economic operations are not disrupted”.

Trade strategies for developing countries require an increase in investment in ‘soft” infrastructure (knowledge and market information) and the “hard” infrastructure (warehousing roads and ports) as vital to turning the potential to trade into the ability to trade.

The partnership with the private sector in engaging in the integration and coordination of food policies will ensure support to government in the initiation of employment or trade.

The re-invigoration of the national economy is necessary, and it is even more important to launch media and marketing strategies promoting pride in the usage of domestic products. The increased level of demand for domestic production will result in increased jobs and ensure incomes for the purchase of food and its security.

It is important that domestic agriculture polices are reconsidered and that levels of investment in agriculture – research, seeds, credit, irrigation and land - particularly to the small farmer are increased. This renewed look at agriculture should include government strategy that promotes food self sufficiency in food staples of that particular country whether it be rice and wheat or yams and manioc. Because the political strengthening lies in the choice to import or export often involves a resolve of the political leadership to resist outside influence in matters of trade.

International Solutions

Individual countries cannot combat the food crisis alone.68 The United Nations architecture to abate world hunger consists of three different food institutions.

First, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations69 founded in 1945 leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information. It helps developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and practices that ensure good nutrition for all.

Second, the World Food Programme (WFP) which resulted from a proposal in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower to the UN General Assembly that "a workable scheme should be devised for providing food aid through the UN system”.70 WFP was established in 1962 and is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger.

Third, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)71, a specialized agency of the United Nations, established as an international financial institution in 1977 as one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference. One of the most important insights emerging from the conference was that the causes of food insecurity and famine were not so much failures in food production, but structural problems relating to poverty and to the fact that the majority of the developing world’s poor populations were concentrated in rural areas.

The current international structure of food institutions should work to detect early warning signs that would then trigger early responses to soaring prices of food, related prices such as oil, or related food cycle initiatives such as bio-fuel, so that timely management of the problem occurs before it heightens to the level of the food crisis of today.

It is important to note that there are current realities of international inequality that may impede coherent efforts in the coordination of the food crisis. Mohan Rao states that international inequality is a powerful force in the world order and he continues to define that “first, even when global action is coordinated (or orchestrated), vastly unequal national, military, economic and organizational capacities continue to be a powerful influence. Second, inherited inequalities of wealth and asymmetries in the division of labor continue to structure the world’s markets, and hence market outcomes”.72 The delay in the response to the food crisis can perhaps be attributed to the international inequality force that affects the progress of development.

The Doha Round

The Doha Development Agenda73 (Doha Round) includes negotiations in 21 subjects of trade including agriculture and services. The Doha Round negotiations have been suspended since July 2006. Given the current unequal agricultural trading system it is necessary for the international community to call for the lowering of barriers to trade in agricultural products and diminish levels of trade distorting subsidies. Over the period 1995-2006 the US paid $ 177.6 billion in direct payment crop subsidies to 3.3 million farmers.74

Legislation that continues this level of subsidies in developed countries impedes development of trade in agriculture of developing countries. Of particular concern is the 2007 Farm Bill of the US Congress which delivered subsidies worth “$ 305 billion bill payouts to farmers through a complicated overlapping system of government sponsored insurance, counter cyclical assistance, disaster aid and legacy payments tied to nothing. Shockingly the bills authors tied some future subsidies to today’s record commodity prices, therefore guaranteeing already well off farmers high income and should the prices dip leaving the government owing billions in subsidy payments”. 75

The international playing field is uneven once more and developing countries are unable to compete in the subsidized markets of agricultural products or develop trade necessary for development.

International Financial Institutions

The international financial architecture consists of the Bretton Woods Institutions, namely, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. A reform of this architecture is essential so that the disbursement of funds is not subjected to accompanying “conditionalities” which call for trade liberalization, for trimming subsidies to local producers, and for limiting bailouts to national sectors.76 This should be applied to the World Bank also.77 The question is whether this new pool of funds might not divert from other important sectors relating to the development of education and health.

The reform of the International Financial Institutions is at the crux of the issue decided by member states who are the critical mass deciding the direction of the banks. There is rising ground-swell in this direction. The Commonwealth78 called a mini-summit of leaders in June 200879, aimed at reform of the international institutions including the Bretton Woods Institutions and called for a new generation of international institutions. The Concluding Statement of the Heads of Government80 called for “polices and instruments to be redefined to serve the needs of members” and for the Commonwealth Secretary General to develop an Action Plan on the Reform of International Institutions. The Commonwealth consisting of countries that span all the regions of the world – Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe and Pacific, is better placed for advocacy and achieving consensus on the necessary reform.

Global or Regional Food Banks

The creation of food banks is not a new idea, the Bible records that Joseph of the tribe of Israel interpreted a dream of the Pharaoh of Egypt to create food banks during the seven “fat” years of large harvests to take care of the seven “lean” years of famine. In the case of national storage facilities it is important that it is kept dry to accommodate and properly store foods ensuring spoilage is minimized. Of importance also is the transportation – in its movement and its speed to avoid spoilage of harvests between farm gate and storage facilities. The rising prices of oil will affect costs of transportation in movement of food for storage and affect the prices of food.


The Right to Development is an integral part of fundamental human rights as it brings together and influences all rights whether they are civil and political or economic, social or cultural. The central role the human person plays in development reflects its importance in ensuring that the actions taken will result in benefits of long lasting effect. It is only through the lens of the Right to Development that one can re-evaluate the underlying causes to the food crisis and provide solutions that are to benefit people in the long term.

The Rome Summit of June 2008 brought about large pledges from the international community. That these funds should be used for the lasting policies of agriculture and not all for food aid is necessary. Food aid is a temporary remedy and is of course necessary to meet the hunger of vulnerable groups but it does not ameliorate the root causes of the food crisis. The root causes require an in-depth analysis into the role of agricultural policies and the international agriculture trading regime as well as the international financial institutions.

The role of bio-fuel in the food crisis has raised a controversial debate around the issue, even if it cannot be denied that it affects the food cycle as food is used for fuel. Thus a moratorium should be imposed until a proper analysis on its impact on the food cycle is studied.

International inequalities influence the way governments can effectively implement the Right to Development. This, in turn, impinges on strategies, such as trade, that could alleviate the food crisis in developing countries. To empower the Right to Development, these inequalities need to be addressed in ways such as reform of the international standards governing trade and finance, beginning with the agricultural sector key to economic and social development ultimately enabling employment and alleviating hunger.

Countries should revisit their commitments to the Right to Development by re-invigorating the economy, especially agriculture, and engaging in political debate on the present and future challenges of development. This renewed commitment will help alleviate the international inequality that permeates our world, thus lifting and restoring each country’s wealth such that all freedoms, especially that of development, are enjoyed by all.


People are naturally attached to their lands, and to their social, cultural and political systems. This also occurs with indigenous peoples. Yet the circumstances of indigenous peoples are improving in some places of the world, while their human rights continue to be abused in others. The arc of globalization should be dynamic and wide enough to recognize their rights as human beings, which consist of their rights to cultural conservation, land rights, the ownership of their own natural resources, self determination and sovereignty, environmental and medical knowledge, health and education. This can be done if genuine priority and neutral understanding is given to the rights of the indigenous people.

Indigenous people are increasingly faced with threats to their sovereignty, environment, and access to natural resources. An example of this is the deforestation of tropical rainforests in Africa where many of their rights are not respected and their native tribal subsistence lifestyles are threatened.

Indigenous societies possess a unique body of cultural and environmental knowledge. The preservation and investigation of specialized indigenous knowledge, particularly in relation to the resources of the natural environment with which the society is associated, is important in order to identify new resources and benefits. That is why scientists are combing rain forests around the world for potential cures for cancer and other ailments.

A range of differing viewpoints and attitudes have arisen from the experience and history of contact between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. The cultural, regional and historical contexts in which these viewpoints have developed are complex, and many competing viewpoints exist simultaneously in any given society.

Across the globe, indigenous peoples are voiceless, oppressed and forgotten, and still struggling for full participation within their societies. Their supporters are promoting capacity building to strengthen the indigenous peoples and other ethnic and racial minorities, with a special emphasis on human rights, land reform and livelihood development. The United Nations and various accredited organizations act as intermediaries or representatives on behalf of indigenous groups in negotiations on issues of concern to them, while others are dedicated to the preservation or study of their very existence.

Indigenous peoples have been identified as primitives, savages, or uncivilized, and these terms were commonly used during the height of European colonial expansion, but still continue to be used in modern times. The Enlightenment philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, considered them as “noble savages”, and others who were close to the Hobbesian view tended to believe themselves to have a duty to civilize and modernize them.

Three terms are used for the meaning of indigenous peoples:

  • The term indigenous peoples can be used to describe “any ethnic group who inhabit the geographic region with which they have the earliest historical connection”.

  • The common meaning of indigenous peoples is “having originated in and being produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment”.

  • The contemporary understanding of indigenousness is the political role an ethnic group plays that is “a politically under-privileged group, which shares a similar ethnic identity different from the nation in power, and which has been an ethnic entity in the locality before the present ruling nation took over power”.

Indigenous Legends

Many indigenous populations around the world have undergone a remarkable regression and even extermination, and are still threatened in many parts of the world. Some have also been assimilated by other populations or have undergone various other changes.

Recent sources estimate the indigenous population to be from 300 million to 350 million as of the start of the 21st Century. This would equate to just fewer than 6 % of the total world population. This includes at least 5000 distinct peoples in over 72 countries.

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the indigenous people were self-governing sovereign political communities, like all sovereign bodies, they then had the inherent power to prescribe laws for their members and to punish violations of those laws.

As an initial guide to behavior, their lives were based upon communal values or collectivism rather than individualism. The rapid and extensive spread of the various European powers from the early 18th Century onwards had a profound impact upon many of the indigenous cultures with whom they came into contact.

Some indigenous societies carry on even though they may no longer occupy their traditional lands due to migration, re-location, forced re-settlement, or having been displaced by other cultural groups.

Indigenous societies vary from those who have been significantly exposed to colonization or the expansion of other societies, such as the Maya peoples of Mexico and Central America, to those who continue to be in isolation from any external influence, such as the Sentinelese and Jarawa of the Andaman Islands

The interaction between indigenous and non-indigenous societies has been complicated throughout history, ranging from conflict and suppression to some degree of mutual benefit and cultural transfer.

In many other respects, the transformation of the culture of indigenous peoples is ongoing, and involves a permanent loss of language, loss of lands, intrusion on traditional territories, and disruption of traditional life.

Certain issues are associated with the status of indigenous peoples in relation with other cultural groups, as well as changes in their inhabited environment. Some challenges are specific to particular groups, while others are regularly encountered.


Since most of the European continent was never colonized by non-European powers, present day recognized indigenous populations are quite few, and are mainly limited to the northern and far-eastern reaches of the Eurasian peninsula.

Even though there are various ethnic minorities distributed within European countries, few of these still maintain traditional cultures and are recognized as indigenous peoples. Examples of the latter include the Sami people of Scandinavia, the Nenets and other Samoyedic peoples of northern Russian Federation, and the Komi peoples of the western Urals.

The Basque people, who inhabit northern Spain and south-western France, are the oldest indigenous ethnic group in Europe. The main theory about their origin suggests that they are a remnant of the Paleolithic peoples inhabiting the region since Magdalenian times.

The Caucasus is unique in its ethnic diversity, with a great variety of languages spoken there than in any region of similar size in the world. The Caucasus is the home of more than 50 indigenous ethnic groups.

The exploratory and colonial ventures of the Europeans in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific, often resulted in territorial and cultural conflict, and the intentional or unintentional displacement, migration, relocation, and devastation of the indigenous populations.

The Maya in America, the Sentinelese from Asia, the Bushmen and Tuareg from Africa, the Aborigines from Australia, all suffered at the hands of the colonialists in this fashion.

After World War I, many Europeans came to doubt the value of their own “civilization”. At the same time, the anti-colonial movement, and advocates of indigenous peoples argued that words such as “civilized” and “savage” were products and tools of colonialism, and that colonialism itself was savagely destructive.


The vast majority of African peoples can be considered to be indigenous in the sense that they have all originated from within that continent itself.

Some independent African states nevertheless hold within them various peoples whose situation – cultures, pastoral, or hunter-gatherer lifestyles – are generally marginalized and set apart from the main political and economic structures of the nation.

Since the late 20th Century these peoples have gradually wanted more recognition of their rights as distinct entities in both the national and international contexts.

The Bushmen

The Bushmen, San, Basarwa, Kung or Khwe are indigenous people of southern Africa which spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. They were traditionally hunter-gatherers, part of the Khoisan group, and are related to the traditionally pastoral Khoikhoi.

Genetic evidence suggests that they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world, a "genetic Adam"81, from which all humans came. In Lesotho they are referred to as Baroa, or the people of the south.

Traditional nomadic gear is simple and effective: a hide sling, blanket, and cloak called a Kaross to carry foodstuffs, firewood, smaller bags, a digging stick, and perhaps a smaller version of the Kaross to carry a baby. Women would gather, and men hunted using poison arrows and spears in laborious days-long excursions. Children had no duties besides play, and leisure was very important. They spent large amounts of time with conversation, joking around, music, and sacred dances.

Bushmen had hereditary chiefs, but the chief’s authority was limited and the Bushmen instead made decisions among themselves, on a consensus basis.

Women’s status was relatively equal. Women did not begin bearing children until about 18 or 19 years of age due to late first menstruation because of the low calorie and low fat diet and had them spaced four years apart, due to lack of enough breast milk to feed more than one child at a time, and the requirements of mobility leading to the difficulty of carrying more than one child at a time.82

The central government of Botswana, since the mid-1990s, has implemented a relocation policy, aiming to move the Bushmen out of their ancestral land on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve into newly created settlements.

Even though the government categorically denied that relocation has been forced,83 a recent court ruling confirmed that the removal was unconstitutional and residents were forcibly removed.

The Tuareg

The Tuareg are known as Twareg or Touareg are a nomadic pastoralist people, and are the main inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. They call themselves variously Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq (“speakers of Tamasheq"), Imuhagh, Imazaghan or Imashaghen ("the free people"), or Kel Tagelmust, i.e., "people of the veil"84.

Tuareg are descended from Berbers in the region that is now Libya, they are descendants of ancient Saharan peoples described as Garamantes85. Lately they have expanded into the Sahel and then operated the trans-Saharan caravan trade connecting the great cities in the south of the Sahara via five desert trade routes to the northern (Mediterranean) coast of Africa.

The Tuareg adopted camels about two thousand years ago, when the camel was introduced to the Sahara from Saudi Arabia. Like numerous African pre-modern times, the Tuareg were taken captives, either for trade or for domestic purposes. Those who were captive became servants and herdsmen and those who were not sold became assimilated into the Tuareg community.

Traditionally, Tuareg society is strictly hierarchal, with nobility and vassals. Each Tuareg clan (tawshet) is made up of several family groups, led by their collective chiefs, the amghar. A series of tribes may bond together under an Amenokal, forming a Kel clan confederation, for example, Kel Dinnig (those of the east) or Kel Ataram (those of the west).

The Tuareg resisted the French invasion in the late nineteenth Century of their Central Saharan homelands. Their broadswords were no match for the more advanced weapons of French squadrons, and after numerous massacres on both sides, the Tuareg were subdued and signed treaties in Mali, Niger, and Algeria.

Before French colonization, the Tuareg were organized into loose confederations, each consisting of a dozen or so tribes. Major fighting between the Tuareg resistance and government security forces ended after the 1995 and 1996 agreements, but in 2004, sporadic fighting continued in Niger between government forces and groups struggling to obtain Tuareg independence.


Indigenous peoples of the American continents are broadly recognized as being those groups and their descendants who inhabited the region before the arrival of European colonizers and settlers. Such peoples, who maintain, or seek to maintain, traditional ways of life are found from the high Arctic in the north to the southern extremities of Tierra del Fuego.

The impact of the European colonization of the Americas on the indigenous communities was quite severe in general, with many significant population declines due to the ravages of various epidemic diseases, like smallpox and measles, as well as outright displacement, conflict, and exploitation.

The Taíno

The Taíno welcomed Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean Sea at the time when he arrived to the New World. Taíno Indians are a subgroup of the Arawakan Indians which is a group of American Indians in northeastern South America, inhabited the Greater Antilles known today as Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. They originated from the Orinoco and Amazon River basins, what is now Venezuela and Guyana. The Taínos began their migration, in waves, through the Caribbean Islands in approximately 900 B.C. They developed a distinct culture that we now call Taíno which is somewhat different from the original Arawak culture and different from that of their brothers, the fierce Caribs of the Lesser Antilles.

Taíno culture was the most highly developed in the Caribbean when Columbus reached Hispaniola in 1492. Islands throughout the Greater Antilles were dotted with Taíno communities nestled in valleys and along the rivers and coastlines, some of which were inhabited by thousands of people. The first New World society that Columbus encountered was one of tremendous creativity and energy. The Taíno had an extraordinary collection of significant forms of sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, weaving, dance, music, and poetry. Their inventiveness and dynamism were also reflected in their social hierarchies and political organization.

DNA survey86 cited the historical descriptions of life in Puerto Rico during the 17th and 18th centuries as an example that proved the influence of Taino’s culture was very strong for about 200 years in the way they fished, in their methods of farming, etc.

Our knowledge of the Taíno comes from several sources. Sixteenth-Century Spanish archives provide incomplete but critical information about Taíno society. Serious archaeological excavation of Taíno sites, which began about 1950, has unearthed many types of pottery and artifacts, confirmed Taíno burial customs, and revealed what their ancient communities looked like. Ethnologists have shed further light on Taíno daily life, myths, and ceremonies by gathering comparative data from contemporary societies with similar cultures in Venezuela and the Guyanas.

The Maya

The Maya originated around 2600 B.C. and rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. This whole area lies south of the tropic of Cancer, and north of the equator, and is about 900 kilometers from north to south and 550 kilometers in the east-west direction.

Inheriting the inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations, the Maya developed astronomy, calendar systems, hieroglyphic writing, ceremonial architecture, and masonry without metal tools.

The Maya were noted as well for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools. They were also skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, building sizeable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater. The Maya were equally skilled as weavers and potters, and cleared routes through jungles and swamps to foster extensive trade networks with distant peoples.

The Maya of the Classic period (250-900 A.D.) developed a sophisticated artistic tradition, producing sculpted stone, painted ceramics, clay figurines, and screen-fold bark books of drawings and hieroglyphic writing. Around 300 B.C., they adopted a hierarchical system of government with rule by nobles and kings. This civilization developed into highly structured kingdoms during the Classic period, 200-900 A.D. Finally, around 900 A.D., Maya civilization started to decline and the northern Maya were integrated into the Toltec society by 1200 A.D. The Mayan dynasty was finally conquered by Spanish in the early 16th Century.


The vast regions of Asia contain the majority of the world’s present day indigenous populations, or about 70 % according to recorded figures.

The Adivasis

The most substantial populations are in India, which constitutionally recognizes a range of “scheduled tribes” within its borders. These various peoples, are collectively referred to as Adivasis or tribals, and collectively number about 68 million, or approximately 8 % of the total national population.

The Sentinelese

The Sentinelese of the North Sentinel Island, are one of the indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal, and claimed by India.

They are among the most isolated and unassimilated peoples on earth, resisting all attempts of contact by outsiders, and noted for vigorously maintaining their independence and sovereignty over the island. By their long-standing separation from any other human society, their social practices are almost entirely free of any recorded external influence. The estimate of their present population is not known with any degree of accuracy, ranging from fewer than 40 to a maximum of 500. In the 2001 Census of India, officials recorded 39 individuals (21 males and 18 females), but this survey was conducted from a distance as most Sentinelese hide out of sight whenever encountering foreigners.

Even the impact of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami remains unknown.


The original inhabitants of the continent of Australia are the Aborigines, who are the best known and perhaps the least understood people in the world. Since the 19th Century they have been singled out as the world’s most primitive culture and the living representatives of the ancestors of mankind.

In reality, aboriginal culture, as anthropological work over the last hundred years has revealed, is a complex, subtle, and rich way of life. To describe and understand Aboriginal traditions, we need to look briefly at their culture, what it was in the past and what it has become today.

The Aborigines

The translation of the word “aborigine” means “the people who were here from the beginning”. There is no written record regarding prehistoric aboriginal Australia. Some knowledge of the past is found in archaeological evidence and Aboriginal oral traditions which have been handed down from generation to generation.

Prior to colonization, which began in January 1788, the Australian Aborigines lived a lifestyle based on their dreamtime beliefs. They had survived as a race for thousands of years and their lifestyle and cultural practices had remained virtually unchanged during that time.

However colonization imposed changes on the Aborigines because they lived in areas that were being settled by the Europeans and were forced off their land as towns and farms were developed. The sort of changes that took place usually commenced with explorers entering the area of a tribe and being challenged by the people for trespassing on their land. The Europeans often responded by shooting at the people and many were killed. When settlers followed the explorers and began felling trees and building farms, they restricted the ability of the Aborigines to move freely around their land. They also destroyed their traditional food sources. These changes took place throughout the continent at different times.

The settlers had arrived in this country to build a new life for themselves and their families. Many were killed by diseases such as influenza. Thousands were massacred to make way for farms and settlements.

On the other hand some aboriginal people adapted to new laws and lifestyles. In doing so, many were reduced to paupers and beggars. Others broke the traditional tribal laws by moving into the traditional lands of other tribes. In many cases they had no choice in doing this as they were facing starvation or the gun.

Overall, the Australian Aborigines went through stages of being conquered through an “invasion” and expropriation of their lands. Many adapted to the new lifestyle when many became reliant on alcohol, tobacco and handouts of food and clothing. However the settlers were often contemptuous of the Aborigines and separated them from their lands. Others were removed from their families and placed in institutions. From the late 1830s the remnants of the tribes in the settled areas were moved onto reserves and missions where they were “managed” by white men and were forbidden from teaching their children their own language and customs.

During the 1900s, “separation” was an official government policy which lasted for many decades. As a result today, many Aboriginal people do not know their own origins. In other words, they do not know which tribe they are descended from or the names of their parents or grandparents. They are a lost generation.

The Māoris

Next door, we have the Māori people, who came to New Zealand from eastern Polynesia, probably in several waves, most likely towards the end of the 13th Century. They spread throughout the country and developed a distinct culture. Europeans came to New Zealand in increasing numbers around the late 18th Century, and the technologies and diseases they brought with them completely destabilized Māori society. After 1840, the Māori lost much of their land and went into a cultural and numerical decline, but their population began to increase again from the late 19th Century, and a cultural revival began in the 1960s.

United Nations

Indigenous peoples and their interests are represented at the United Nations primarily through the mechanisms of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP). In April 2000, the UN Commission Human Rights adopted a resolution to establish the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) as an advisory body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) with a mandate to review indigenous issues.

In December 2004, the General Assembly proclaimed the years 2005-2015 to be the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The main goal of the Decade will be to strengthen international cooperation in resolving the problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas such as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.

In September 2007, after a process of preparations, discussions, and negotiations stretching back to 1982, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the vote on this Declaration, 143 states voted in favor. Four nations with significant indigenous populations voted against, namely, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Eleven nations abstained, namely Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Samoa, and Ukraine.

In 1994, the General Assembly decided that August 9th should be observed every year as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Intellectual Property Rights

Regarding the intellectual property of indigenous peoples, the General Assembly recognized “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic, and social structures, and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies”, and reaffirmed that “indigenous peoples possess collective rights which are indispensable for their existence and integral development as peoples”.

Indigenous peoples may be victims of copyright theft when they are subjected to external patenting of their native biological resources and their traditional knowledge about these biological resources, with a totally unequal share of benefits between them and a patent holder.

To this day, many customs and history were handed down through verbal tradition, and still there are many people who use medicinal plants and farming methods that come directly from the indigenous people.


Despite the diversity of indigenous peoples, it may be noted that they share common problems and issues. The cultures of all indigenous peoples are being lost and they all suffer both discrimination and pressure to assimilate into their surrounding societies. This is borne out by the fact that the lands and cultures of nearly all of the indigenous peoples are under threat.

Far from benefiting from global culture, knowledge, art, style, and productivity, indigenous peoples are experiencing shortages, malnutrition, destitution, isolation, discrimination, famine, and marginalization. In fact, if the developed populations of the world had the courage to dispassionately review the sources of their wealth, they would realize that it has grown largely through out of misery of the indigenous peoples whose resources they have exploited.

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