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Individual, collective and group rights: History, theory, practice and contemporary evolution

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This paper discusses the contemporary debate about collective and group rights in the light of actual cases, relevant literature, and emerging international norms. It offers the following submissions: 1. Group rights or collective rights are not incompatible with the intellectual history of human rights. 2. States are at liberty to work out arrangements that recognize rights for groups within the State or for members of the group. 3. The list of group or collective rights explicitly recognized by contemporary international law is still a rather short one. It has so far dealt mainly with the right of self-determination, the rights of minorities and of indigenous populations. 4. Recent statements on the rights of minorities contain explicit affirmations of their right to: existence, identity, participation, to establish associations, to establish and maintain contacts, to culture, to profess and practice their religion, to use their language, to establish schools and to protection. 5. Any recognition of group or collective rights should be complementary to, and not restrictive of, the rights contained in the Universal Declaration and the International Covenants. 6. The international community is competent to scrutinize the way in which claims to group or collective rights are dealt with nationally. 7. The international community should provide avenues, recourse procedures and specialized fora for promoting international cooperation on issues of group and collective rights. 8. It would seem a worthwhile policy objective for a global study to be made about claims and needs for the recognition of group rights.

Affiliations: 1: United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland


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