Maivân Clech Lâm
This chapter compares and contrasts the separate UN regimes of rights for minorities and for indigenous peoples: their historical antecedents; the conditions and actors behind the emergence of the present regimes; their foundational texts and enabling mechanisms; their common as well as divergent goals. The chapter highlights minorities’ pursuit of equality and non-discrimination. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, use the normative tool of self-determination, which they hope will help them maintain or regain their traditional lands, territories, and resources that have sustained their physical and cultural survival but are endangered by globalization. The two sets of goals, while appreciably different, are not mutually exclusive; both assert the rights to be equal to and different or separate from dominant populations.
It has often been noted that the political claims of minorities and indigenous peoples are marginalized within traditional state-centric international political theory; but perhaps more surprisingly, they are also marginalized within much contemporary cosmopolitan political theory. In this chapter, I will argue that neither cosmopolitanism nor statism as currently theorized is well equipped to evaluate the normative claims at stake in many minority rights issues. I begin by discussing how the “minority question” arose as an issue within international relations—that is, why minorities have been seen as a problem and a threat to international order—and how international actors have historically attempted to contain the problem, often in ways that were deeply unjust to minorities. I will then consider recent efforts to advance a pro-minority agenda at the international level, and how this agenda helps reveal some of the limits of both cosmopolitan and statist approaches to IPT.