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Invoking International Human Rights Law in a "Rights-Free Zone": Indigenous Justice Campaigns in Australia

From: Human Rights Quarterly
Volume 33, Number 3, August 2011
pp. 733-766 | 10.1353/hrq.2011.0036



Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, organizations, and communities in Australia have embraced international human rights norms in their efforts to obtain redress for historical grievances and influence government policy and legal reform on contemporary social justice issues. This is unsurprising given the absence of formal national infrastructure for human rights recognition in Australia. While the use of international law and frameworks has brought notable gains, there have also been significant limitations on the relevance of international human rights law to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. These limitations are both a result of the local legal conditions in Australia as well as the form and nature of international law generally. A case study of the attempts during the 1990s and 2000s to apply the label of genocide to past government policies of removing and separating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities illustrates that there are considerable challenges and risks associated with campaign strategies based on the local mobilization of international human rights law.

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