Exploitation of Natural Resources and Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Communal Property over Traditional Lands and Territories : A summary of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ safeguards

This summary critically analyses the legal regime that protects the ancestral lands and natural resources traditionally used, the so-called traditional communal property, of indigenous and tribal peoples in the Americas. It also analyses the legal regime’s connection with indigenous and tribal people’s right to cultural identity and the right to a dignified life.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I-ACtHR, or the Court) has developed safeguards to establish a fair balance between potentially conflicting interests over these lands.

Three specific safeguards are highlighted in this summary:
• the effective participation and consultation of the affected communities
• the obligation to share reasonable benefits with them
• the elaboration of a prior environmental and social impact assessment of any development investment, exploration or extraction plans that could directly affect their lands

The author goes beyond this innovative jurisprudence on indigenous peoples’ lands and argues that what is really at stake in these cases is the protection and preservation of cultural diversity as an essential value in pluralistic societies.

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