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A 2 Pages Term Paper on Are we Ethically Obligated to Recognize Land Rights?


     Land is central to cultural identity as much as it is to economic subsistence. Together we share similar aspirations and they are joined in a struggle for recognition of our customary rights. Land is the symbol of self-determination, and the call for land rights is their most clearly articulated demand.          

     Land is our life our physical life-food and sustenance. It is also our social life, marriage, status, security, politics; in fact, it is our only world. When you take our land, you cut away the very heart of our existence.

     People sometimes imagine you have to own a plot of land, like a field, to have an interest in land rights. In fact, anyone who needs a shelter, a home - and that's everyone - has an interest in land rights, even if that home takes the form of a third-story apartment. The right to shelter needs to be recognized and guarded by the society you live in as a basic human right. Otherwise, people become homeless.

    “If the government is telling you what you can do on your land or how you can use it - start learning about "Your Rights." (www.oxfam.org.uk/landrights)

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     The problem isn't a shortage of land but a shortage of rights. Big developers, who naturally concentrate on producing the kinds of buildings that make them the most profits, have been given the right to determine what happens to land, unlike the people who actually need the housing. If you have a country where poor people have reasonably decent housing, then you can guess that that country has got at least some commitment to democracy because that situation will only prevail if the poor have a voice: if the poor can be heard. People also need other forms of social provision: schools, surgeries, libraries. But if developers make more money from shiny office blocks, this is what will be built.

    “It's very hard for people to maintain a sense of belonging to themselves if they do not have a sense of belonging to a place. Almost the greatest disease around the world in the late 20th century is the disease of anomie: of not having a place, of not feeling that we belong.” (www.atsic.gov.au/issues/land_rights/Default.asp)

     The occasion of the new millennium also offers an opportunity for all indigenous peoples to reflect on their circumstance. For us to enjoy their lands and little intrusion, but as security is dramatically eroded, now is the time for them to shed the shackles of past injustices and unity in efforts to ensure that the beginning of the next millennium will differ form the end of the last. United they can work together and better influence what happens in the millennium celebrations, and ensure that a ruling elite don not dominate the event such that the interest and needs of the dispossessed are forgotten. Cultures have complex communal land tenure systems that facilitate movement and control over resource use. 'Ownership' is vested in people who are joined by kinship links, religious and cultural affiliation.

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     In both cases protection of land is as important as its use. Rights of access are measured against obligations to care for and protect land from abuse particularly features with spiritual significance. This becomes crucial when land is occupied by others and used in a way different to indigenous peoples and without knowledge or respect for its cultural or spiritual attributes.

     The arrival of a colonial power resulted in land being occupied by force. Legislative provision for respect of customary rights to land, although in reality these rights have been regarded as inferior by the courts and easily ignored by administrators to provide land to settlers, for use in government schemes and for conservation.

     People not only want respect for their rights, they also want freedom to enjoy those rights to sustain their cultures and participate on equal terms with others in national life.

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    “Trusteeship has all too often been interpreted to mean that it is to serve the interests of trustees.” (www.whoseland.com)

    “In recent times in both cases, however, diversified economic activities had taken up new opportunities. There is not freehold tenure and land can only be occupied by way of customary title or through leasehold tenure. Customary tenure is theoretically secure and heritable, but experience for many Pastoralists is otherwise.” (www.landrights.org)


     It is an ethical contradiction that landowners who are denied permission to develop their property are rarely compensated, while those who do obtain permission are allowed to receive all the economic value of their development rights. Thus, in effect, the British nationalized land development rights and allowed planning authorities to re-privatize those rights on a partial and discretionary basis.

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