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UN adopts declaration on Indigenous peoples’ rights

On September 13, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a landmark declaration outlining the rights of the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous people and outlawing discrimination against them – a move that followed more than two decades of debate. However, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voted against the text. Read the UN statement and a response from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.

 

September 13, 2007 – The General Assembly today adopted a landmark declaration outlining the rights of the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous people and outlawing discrimination against them – a move that followed more than two decades of debate.

 

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been approved after 143 Member States voted in favour, 11 abstained and four – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – voted against the text.

 

A non-binding text, the Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

 

It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

 

Sheikha Haya said “the importance of this document for indigenous peoples and, more broadly, for the human rights agenda, cannot be underestimated. By adopting the Declaration, we are also taking another major step forward towards the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

 

But she warned that “even with this progress, indigenous peoples still face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations. They are often dragged into conflicts and land disputes that threaten their way of life and very survival; and, suffer from a lack of access to health care and education.”

 

In a statement released by his spokesperson, Mr Ban described the Declaration’s adoption as “a historic moment when UN Member States and indigenous peoples have reconciled with their painful histories and are resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all.”

 

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said earlier this year that the Declaration creates no new rights and does not place indigenous peoples in a special category.

 

Source: UN News Centre.

 

UN Declaration a milestone for Indigenous Peoples

September 14, 2007 – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma today welcomed the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 

“It is the culmination of over two decades of negotiations at the United Nations and fierce advocacy by Indigenous peoples from all over the world since the 1970s.

 

“The Declaration reaffirms that indigenous individuals are entitled to all human rights recognised in international law without discrimination. But it also acknowledges that without recognising the collective rights of Indigenous peoples and ensuring protection of our cultures, indigenous people can never truly be free and equal.”

 

“That a Declaration of such controversy has achieved near universal support at the General Assembly is testament to its importance and appropriateness. We should remember that such enduring human rights documents as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights did not receive this level of support at the time that they were adopted by the General Assembly.

 

"However, it is a matter of great regret that Australia and three other nations have opposed the Declaration, particularly given that Australia had indicated its support for the vast majority of the Declaration’s provisions during the negotiations of the text.

 

“As I detail in my Social Justice Report 2006, the Australian Government’s reasoning for opposing the Declaration has no sound base and does not interpret the Declaration consistently with international law. In fact, their arguments had been roundly condemned by both Indigenous peoples and other governments in the negotiations of the Declaration in recent years,” he said.

 

“I am confident, that as the Declaration is implemented, these concerns will prove to have been unfounded.”

 

Mr Calma said the Declaration was among the first international human rights instruments to explicitly provide for the adoption of measures to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoyed protection and guarantees against all forms of violence.

 

“The Declaration also sets a benchmark for the participation of Indigenous peoples in decision making that relates to indigenous peoples’ needs and interests, including through policy development and service delivery,” Mr Calma said.

 

The Declaration has been adopted during the second International Decade for the World’s Indigenous People which is based on the theme of partnership with Indigenous peoples.

 

For further information on the Declaration, including fact sheets, see www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/declaration/

 

Source: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) 

 

Additional Information:

Mercy Global Concern, Report: Historic Milestone for Indigenous Peoples Worldwide as UN Adopts Rights Declaration

 

From: Specific Issues Committee, Indigenous Concerns (Sisters Liz Rothe, Rose Glennen). The Committee warmly invites your response to the article or the issue.

Email: indigenous.concerns@mercy.org.au

 

Contact: Carmel Heagerty rsm, Institute Justice Co-ordinator 

Email: Institute.Justice@mercy.org.au