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Institutionalizing Indigenous Peoples Rights in China: From a Paternalistic Evolutionist Paradigm to Self-determined Development

Alternative title: Institutionalisering av urfolks rettigheter i Kina: Fra et paternalistisk evolusjonistisk paradigme til selvbestemt utvikling

Awarded: NOK 3.3 mill.

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2019 - 2022


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New legal reforms have been taking place with the increasing global awareness on recognizing and protecting indigenous peoples? rights in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was a milestone achievement of global human rights protection in 2007, but challenges remain to make these widely acknowledged norms a reality in China because of the politics of recognition on indigenous peoples' rights there. Is the Chinese situation a real exception of indigenous peoples existence while other Asian states and neighbouring countries recognized indigenous peoples and/or ratified international conventions? Who can define or identify indigenous peoples in the given territory? How can the group will or interests be legitimately formed or represented? What would be the legal result when about 100 million peripheral peoples in China claim their status as ?indigenous peoples?? Given that approximately 64% of the whole China territory demarcated as the homelands of peripheral peoples, what would be the institutional significance on operating development projects in the vast indigenous territory with rich natural resources according to the UNDRIP? This project assumes that the institutionalizing UNDRIP in China is a competing or complimentary process of interactions among the regimes of the Party-state, the UN human rights and the peripheral peoples. This requires a substantial governance change from a State paternalistic paradigm to an indigenous peoples? self-determined development in China. This project observes this process by empirical study on developing hydropower in the indigenous peoples' homelands for exploring the constraints as well as possibilities of institutional transition towards an accountable and inclusive governance of sustainable development.


The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was a milestone achievement of global human rights protection, but challenges remain to make these widely acknowledged norms a reality in the dual Party-state structure of China. China denies the existence of indigenous peoples as well as the relevance of UNDRIP within its jurisdiction. The lack of implementation of these rights domestically result in the failure of achieving the interlinked global agendas on human rights, sustainable development and climate change. This project shall study the process of institutionalizing indigenous peoples' rights of UNDRIP in the Party-state China. It attempts to answer these questions: What are the constraints of institutional change from a paternalistic evolutionist governance paradigm to one of self-determined development? Which are there possibilities of institutional change, and how to make such a change? This research establishes a descriptive-analytical framework for observing the complexity of implementing law in the Chinese Party-state context. This framework identifies five essentials for institutional change: institutionalized knowledge or beliefs; normative frameworks; organizational structure; actors and techniques of institutionality. They are key variable elements for observing the dynamic interactions in the process of institutionalizing UNDRIP within the Party-state, and externally between it and the UN human rights and peripheral peoples' regimes. Through the empirical study of development of hydropower on indigenous peoples' homelands, this research inquiries into these tensions: "State recognition vs self-identification", "paternalistic governance vs self-determined development" and "application of free, prior, informed consent vs involuntary resettlement". It reveals possibilities as well as explains the uncertainties of such an institutional change in China. It provides knowledge for policy/law recommendations.

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