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University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series

Faculty of Law, UNSW
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Cunneen, Chris --- "Criminology, Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples" [2008] UNSWLRS 32

Last Updated: 12 November 2008

Criminology, Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples
Chris Cunneen

This paper will shortly be available for download.


This paper appeared in S. Parmentier, and E.G.M. Weitekamp, (eds) ‘Crime and Human Rights’, Elsevier, Oxford. ISBN 9780762313068. pp239-263.


Criminology, human rights and Indigenous peoples: how do we understand the connections between these three terms? For too long the voices arguing to connect criminology with human rights were isolated and marginalized. At best, the possible links were seen as peripheral to the main concerns of criminology. At worst, bringing a human rights understanding to definitions of crime and criminal justice was seen as undermining criminology’s search for scientific status. And as for Indigenous people? They were seen as part of the ‘‘crime problem’’, a segment of the problem population whose criminality needed explanation. Human rights apparently had nothing to do with their offending behaviour.

However, over the last decade or so the intellectual terrain has shifted significantly. As a result of these developments we can see at least three strands to how we might bring criminology to a more intellectually robust understanding of Indigenous people and human rights. The first point is that Indigenous people have been victims of profound historical injustices and abuses of human rights which can be at least partially understood as state crime. The second point is that contemporary justice systems are often seen in the context of the abuse of Indigenous people’s human rights. The third strand is an analysis of how claims to specific Indigenous rights impact on current criminal justice processes, and how those claims might broaden our understanding of reform and change.

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