Pastoralists are considered one of the most vulnerable human groups in the world. This situation is due to the difficulties they face for the use of their grazing lands and the nomadic character of their way of life. This has also been recognized by the Human Rights Committee. With various human rights instruments they are engaged in procedures to apply the human rights to the specific case of pastoral people and to protect their right to maintain their own cultures and the right to use their grazing lands.

Protection of pastoralists rights by the international framework for human rights
Pastoralists enjoy certain specific rights and the international framework of human rights sets two different levels of protection: the rights of all minorities and the rights of indigenous peoples. In order to be able to enjoy these rights, pastoralist groups should be culturally different from the rest of the national population, as the Human Rights Committee has stated. Particularly relevant for nomadic peoples are the right to maintain their own cultures and the right to use their grazing lands. They should be added to the provisions recognized to minorities and indigenous peoples.

The international jurisprudence on minorities is based mostly on the right to maintain their own cultures, including their own means of subsistence. This is mainly pursued by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Several nomadic peoples, especially in the African continent, are also considered indigenous peoples. Even though it is not possible to adopt a universal definition of indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples usually share common characteristics. A wide range of rights to indigenous peoples is recognized by the two main international instruments: the ILO C 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mechanisms for the protection of these rights in the universal system of human rights
There are two main kinds of mechanisms: Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies.
The mandate of the Special Procedures, includes visits to countries and presentation of communications to States regarding human rights violations by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental foredooms of indigenous peoples. Special Rapporteur are independent experts that present their views on specific issues.

The Treaty Bodies have the mandate to supervise the fulfillment of the dispositions contained in some international treaties. Some of the treaty bodies (like CERD, CCPR, CAT and CEDAW) may receive individual complaints. However, as a general rule, the national legal and administrative system should have been exhausted prior to the submission of any complaint to the Committees.

*Prepared by WISP with the assistance of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

*This page is based on a more detailed paper prepared by
David Martín Castro
Associate Human Rights Officer
Office of the UNOHCHR

Please download the complete paper here
For further information,
visit the website of the UNOHCHR