In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples bear a greater burden of disease and have lower life expectancy than their non-Indigenous counterparts. These combined indicators are evidence of an entrenched health crisis in the Indigenous population that is linked to systemic disadvantage over many decades. In an effort to improve life expectancy and lessen the burden of disease, a number of strategies and national frameworks now embed a human rights-based approach to achieving health equality. This paper explores the application of human rights to Indigenous health and examines the inherent tensions that exist in engaging a system of law based on universal assumptions of the Enlightenment to advance Indigenous rights. What becomes apparent through this exploration is that the strategic approach of Indigenous peoples’ use of human rights, despite its genesis in a system of law that justified colonisation, has opened up opportunities to reframe fixed ideas of law and culture.
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