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The Cultural and Intellectual Property Interests of the Indigenous Peoples of Turkey and Iraq

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The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires states to provide an effective remedy to indigenous peoples deprived of their cultural, religious, or intellectual property (IP) without their free, prior and informed consent. The Declaration could prove to be important safeguard for the indigenous peoples of Iraq and Turkey, the victims for centuries of massacres, assaults on their religious and cultural sites, theft and deterioration of their lands and cultural objects, and forced assimilation. These peoples, among them the Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Yezidis of Turkey and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, and the Armenians, Assyrians, Yezidis, and Mandaeans of Iraq, have lost more than two-thirds of their peak populations, most of their cultural and religious sites, and thousands of priceless artifacts and specimens of visual art.

The European Union has probed these violations of indigenous people's rights as part of the process of bringing Turkish laws and policies into compliance with European human rights standards. The United States has investigated violations of the rights of Iraq’s indigenous peoples in reports issued by the various executive agencies and legislative committees.

My paper will summarize the results of these inquiries, and propose four reforms. First, restitution or compensation should be implemented for the widespread destruction of indigenous peoples’ cultural and intellectual properties by previous Turkish and Iraqi regimes. Second, efforts to promote the security of indigenous peoples’ surviving intellectual and cultural patrimony must be adopted. Third, transnational corporations and other large enterprises such as museums and publishers should respect the rights of indigenous people to protect, access, and use their cultural and intellectual property held outside of Turkey and Iraq. Fourth, policies within Turkey and Iraq that restrict the preservation and transmission of indigenous cultural and intellectual manifestations must be reformed or abolished.

This article also describes the growing body of law governing indigenous peoples' rights, particularly in Europe. Applicable general international law standards are set forth in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Hague Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land, the Hague Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the Convention on Biodiversity, the ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

European standards are embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Copenhagen principles on human rights in the EU, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the OSCE Oslo Recommendations Regarding the Linguistic Rights of National Minorities, and the Council of the European Union's Framework decision on Racism and Xenophobia. In the United States, additional standards are set forth in the Foreign Relations Act of 1961, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Alien Tort Claims Act, and the Torture Victims Protection Act.