The forests of Southeast Asia are home to many tens of millions of people whose rights to their lands and forests are only weakly secured in national constitutions and laws.
Yet many of them have dwelt in these areas since before the nation states in which they now find themselves were even created. They regulate their daily affairs, and control and manage their lands and forests, in accordance with customary laws which are both ancient in their origins and yet vital and flexible in their present day application.
International human rights treaties now affirm the rights of indigenous peoples and clearly recognise their rights to own and control the lands, territories and natural resources that they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used. These rights derive from their customs and do not depend on any act of the State, which they so often pre-date. Customary law thus has both local and international validity, raising the question of how it is best accommodated by national law.
In fact, as this volume reveals, the majority of South East Asian countries already have plural legal systems and to some extent custom is recognized as a source of rights in the constitutions and laws of a number of them. National and international courts have affirmed indigenous peoples’ customary rights in land. And all these countries have endorsed and ratified key international laws and treaties. Thus the basis for securing indigenous peoples’ rights through a revalidation of customary law exists.
As this book makes plain, ‘legal pluralism’ is not an arcane field of analysis for academics but lies at the heart of indigenous peoples’ struggles for the recognition of their rights.
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