Arctic Yearbook 2012
Inuit Political Engagement in the Arctic
is interesting to study how much space peoples (which are not states) have been able to carve out for
themselves in international law” (Koivurova, 2010: 192). Koivurova notes that since WWII
international law has focused increasingly on peoples rather than states and that this may have some
bearing and even legal ramifications for how self-determination is understood. In particular, Part 1,
Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976, states, “all peoples have
the right of self-determination.” Koivurova calls this “pretty explosive stuff” (Koivurova, 2010: 192)
as this implies there is a legally binding obligation to honor the self-determination of peoples.
Griffith (2011) examines how international law could become a more effective tool for the Inuit, in
particular. The challenge, according to Griffith, is that international law was initially used against
indigenous peoples and, that the principal subject of international law has always been the state.
Therefore, only states can bring cases to the International Court of Justice or “benefit from the
prohibition on the use of force and other forms of trans-boundary intervention” (Griffith, 2011:
132). However, using the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR) as an example, Griffith
describes how what was once a set of guiding principles has become customary law. Today, Griffith
explains, the majority of states act in accordance with the UDHR and do so out of a sense of legal
obligation (Griffith, 2011: 139). Increasingly UNDRIP is being referred to in declarations and by
commissions and has every possibility of similarly becoming customary law in the future. Once the
UNDRIP has achieved the status of customary law then the Inuit can argue that “not having a role
in Arctic governance will threaten their internationally recognized rights as a people” (Griffith, 2011:
142). According to Griffith, this would then provide the Inuit with “a solid claim to the rights they
seek” (Griffith, 2011: 142).
Christie (2011) insists that it is only via the UNDRIP that the Inuit will be able to successfully
challenge nation-state dominance in the Arctic. Christie is not convinced that the Arctic Council
equates to the new paradigm in international relations. When the Inuit, or other indigenous groups,
participate in the Arctic Council proceedings, decision-making is still bound by the limitations of
“intergovernmental relations” (Christie 2011, 336). However, if the rights of indigenous peoples are
increasingly recognized in international law, then these dynamics may shift. According to Christie,
indigenous rights as “a people,” affirmed by the UNDRIP, is challenging the “‘absolute’ nature of
territorial sovereignty” and fostering the “growth of international institutions” (Christie, 2011: 336).
The primary issue here is one of territory or the framing of the political map as well as the effective
integration of the UNDRIP in future legal decision making in the Arctic.