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Selective endorsement without intent to implement: indigenous rights and the Anglosphere

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In human rights commitment theory, state commitments to international regimes are generally interrogated as a binary calculation – either a state commits to a rights regime or it does not. This binary remains the dominant standard largely because existing scholarship focuses on state ratification of human rights treaties. However, when the analysis of state commitment is opened up to include human rights instruments other than treaties (e.g. human rights declarations), many more possibilities of nuanced state commitment behaviour can emerge in the grey zone between commitment and non-commitment. For example, if state commitments are defined more broadly to include public endorsements and expressions of support for human rights declarations, states exhibit a wider variety of commitment behaviour beyond the binary of ratification or non-ratification. This article aims to identify and discuss one such nuance of state commitment behaviour: the practice of selective endorsement, a pattern that lies at the intersection of rationalist and constructivist expectations on state commitment behaviour. The pattern of endorsements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by Anglosphere states demonstrates the practice of selective endorsement. By selectively endorsing Indigenous rights, the Anglosphere states: (1) removed concerns over the legitimacy of the process by which such rights norms emerged; (2) underscored the normative importance of this particular cluster of norms while simultaneously qualifying their status; and (3) strategically, collectively and unilaterally wrote down the content of the norms themselves so that they would align with the community's current policies and practices thus assuring compliance without any intent of further implementation. Indigenous rights activists must continue to place substantial political and moral pressure on states, demanding effective domestic implementation of the original Indigenous rights norms, regardless of the Anglosphere's selective endorsement of the Indigenous Rights Declaration.
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Keywords: Indigenous peoples; activism; human rights; international law

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of British Columbia, New York University,

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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