UN General Assembly backs indigenous peoples' rights

September 13, 2007

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a non-binding declaration upholding the human, land and resources rights of the world's 370 million indigenous people, brushing off opposition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

The vote in the assembly was 143 in favor and four against. Eleven countries, including Russia and Colombia, abstained.

The declaration, capping more than 20 years of debate at the United Nations, also recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and sets global human rights standards for them.

It states that native peoples have the right "to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties" concluded with states or their successors.

Indigenous peoples say their lands and territories are endangered by such threats as mineral extraction, logging, environmental contamination, privatization and development projects, classification of lands as protected areas or game reserves amd use of genetically modified seeds and technology.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Philippine chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, joined UN chief Ban Ki-moon in hailing the vote.

"It marks a major victory for Indigenous peoples," said Tauli-Corpuz, adding that the document "sets the minimum international standards for the protection and promotion of the rights" of native peoples.

But Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, countries with sizable indigenous populations, expressed disappointment with the text. 

Australia on Friday defended its decision to oppose the declaration, saying the document was "outside what we as Australians believe to be fair."

"We haven't wiped our hands of it, but as it currently stands at the moment, it would provide rights to a group of people which would be to the exclusion of others," Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said.

But Australia's top rights group, which welcomed the declaration, said it was "a matter of great regret" that it was opposed by Canberra.

The declaration, which recognises the right to self-determination, was "a milestone for the world's indigenous peoples," Tom Calma, of Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, said.

"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," he said.

The New Zealand government said Friday it voted against the UN declaration on indigenous rights because it disadvantaged non-indigenous people and conflicts with the country's laws.

Parekura Horomia, the New Zealand minister responsible for policy on the native Maori people, said his government was committed to protecting the rights of indigenous people.

But Horomia, himself a Maori, said the UN declaration on the human, land and resource rights of indigenous people was incompatible with New Zealand law.

"These articles imply different classes of citizenship where indigenous people have a right of veto that other groups or individuals do not have," Horomia told Radio New Zealand.

New Zealand was far ahead of other countries in promoting the rights of indigenous people, he said.

"Unfortunately, the provisions in the Declaration on lands, territories and resources are overly broad, unclear, and capable of a wide variety of interpretations, discounting the need to recognize a range of rights over land and possibly putting into question matters that have been settled by treaty," Canada's UN Ambassador John McNee told the assembly.

Among contentious issues was one article saying "states shall give legal recognition and protection" to lands, territories and resources traditionally "owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired" by indigenous peoples.

Another bone of contention was an article upholding native peoples' right to "redress by means that can include restitution or when not possible just, fair and equitable compensation, for their lands and resources "which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior ad informed consent".

Opponents also objected to one provision requiring states "to consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources."

Indigenous advocates note that most of the world's remaining natural resources -- minerals, freshwater, potential energy sources -- are found within indigenous peoples' territories.

A leader of Canada's native community, Phil Fontaine, slammed his government's stance.

"We're very disappointed with Canada's opposition to the declaration on indigenous peoples," said Fontaine, leader of Assembly of First Nations, who came to New York to lobby for adoption of the text.

Canada's indigenous population is about 1.3 million people, out of a total population of 32.7 million.

Adoption of the declaration by the assembly had been deferred late last year at the behest of African countries led by Namibia, which raised objections about language on self-determination and the definition of "indigenous" people.

The Africans were won over after co-sponsors amended an article to read that "nothing in the declaration may be ...construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states."

The declaration was endorsed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council last year.


UN adopts declaration on rights for indigenous peoples worldwide

September 13, 2007

UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. General Assembly adopted a declaration Thursday that provides for rights of native peoples worldwide despite objections from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who argued that it was incompatible with existing laws.

The declaration affirms the equality of the more than 370 million indigenous peoples and their right to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to combat discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights violations against them.

The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2006 and sent to the 192-member General Assembly for adoption. The assembly put off final approval in December but pledged to vote before the end of its current session next week.

The declaration, which is not legally binding, was approved by a vote of 143-4, with 11 abstentions.

"This marks a historic moment when U.N. 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," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said.

The declaration, which was approved after more than 20 years of deliberation, calls on states to prevent or redress the forced migration of indigenous peoples, the seizure of their land or their forced integration into other cultures. It also grants indigenous groups control over their religious and cultural sites and the right to manage their own education systems, including teaching in their own languages.

The opponents and many of the countries that abstained said they wanted to work toward a solution, but they took exception to several key parts of the declaration, which they said would give indigenous peoples too many rights and clash with existing national laws.

Several detractors also warned that the declaration set a poor precedent, calling the text confusing and unclear.

"We're not standing against the issue," said Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. "We want one that is universal in its scope and can be implemented. What was done today is not clear. The way it stands now is subject to multiple interpretations and doesn't establish a clear universal principal."

Australia's U.N. Ambassador Robert Hill said the declaration failed to meet standards "that would be universally accepted, observed and upheld." He said "Australia continues to have many concerns with the text."

The U.S. and Australia said sponsors excluded them from negotiations where agreement was reached on the amended text.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairman of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said the declaration "sets the minimum international standards for the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples."

"Therefore, existing and future laws, policies and programs of indigenous peoples will have to be redesigned and shaped to be consistent with this standard," she said.

Tauli-Corpuz said the declaration was "a major victory" for the United Nations in establishing international human rights standards, but she said the real test will be whether countries implement it.

In 1982, the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples was formed, and three years later they started work on a declaration that was not completed until 1993. The Commission on Human Rights then set up its own working group and has been reviewing the agreement annually since.




UN adopts resolution on indigenous peoples' rights

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) - The UN General Assembly adopted on Thursday a resolution calling for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. 

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 143 in favor, four against and 11 abstentions in the 192-member assembly. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States cast the negative vote. 

In the non-binding resolution, the assembly decided to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was contained as an annex to the document. 

The Human Rights Council adopted the declaration on June 29, 2006, which had been drafted and debated for more than two decades and the assembly had deferred action after some member states raised concerns. 

The declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. 

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

General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour have all welcomed the adoption of the declaration. 

Sheikha Haya said that "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," she noted. 

In a statement released by his spokesperson, 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." 

He called on governments and civil society to ensure that the declaration's vision becomes a reality by working to integrate indigenous rights into their policies and programs. 

Arbour noted that the declaration has been "a long time coming. But the hard work and perseverance of indigenous peoples and their friends and supporters in the international community has finally borne fruit in the most comprehensive statement to date of indigenous peoples' rights." 

Canada's UN Ambassador John McNee said that his country was disappointed to have to vote against the declaration and that it had "significant concerns" about the language in the document. 

The provisions on lands, territories and resources "are overly broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations" and could put into question matters that have been settled by treaty, he said. 

McNee said the provisions on the need for states to obtain free, prior and informed consent before it can act on matters affecting indigenous peoples were unduly restrictive, and he also expressed concern that the declaration negotiation process over the past year had not been "open, inclusive or transparent." 

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates there are more than 370 million indigenous people in some 70 countries worldwide. 

Editor: Mu Xuequan




Ogiek Response on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adoption by General Assembly

The draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples is self explanatory. The concept of who are the Indigenous various globally, for instance in Africa, the States refers indigenous people from their methods of occupation and use of land such as hunter gatherers and pastoralist. Some of these communities practicing hunting and gathering are namely; Ogiek, San, Yaaku, Sengwer, Pygmies, Batwaa, Gana and the Gwi, Hadzabe and Waata, Akie e.t.c . The pastoralist includes the Maasai, Mbororo, Tuareg, Turkana, Pokots, Elmolo, Barabaig, and Toubou.

The vitality of the Declaration are among other things provides self determination 'not intercede' to the indigenous peoples. The right to use control and manage natural resources for sustainable development is guaranteed in the draft.

Draft Declaration is not much different with the Universal Declarations on Human Rights (UDHR), though it emphasizes its protection to the vulnerable and marginalized groups who are commonly living with the rich natural resources like forest, lakes, mountains, wildlife and minerals. Such communities deserve direct benefits from these natural resources found within their territories or localities.

By States Parties adopting this declaration, the lives of these indigenous peoples will be improved on an equal footing with the rest of the world citizens. It's a clear sign that majority of tag of war and conflicts among the indigenous and the exploiters (multinationals companies, non-indigenous and governments) will be brought to and end. The declaration legitimizes the rights to prior informed consent, consultations and participation which are similar to the ILO Con.169 that provides the right to self identification.

The Declaration provides affirmative actions to safeguard the interest, beliefs and values of the indigenous peoples. Indigenous Peoples will be henceforth be involved in decision making processes in political, socio-economic and cultural rights. 

Redressing the historical injustices related to education, traditional knowledge and issues related to culture, the Declaration does recognize the vitality of traditional knowledge applied in the management of the environment by the indigenous peoples.

Concerning the forceful removal of Indigenous people from their ancestral land, the Declarations urge the states to consult the bona fide parties (Indigenous Peoples) before any commencement. This means proper mechanisms must be developed by states parties to act as guidelines before establishing any project that might affects their livelihoods.

In this Declaration, both collectives and individuals rights are guaranteed; hence Indigenous Peoples will have an opportunity to choose between the two on land ownership.

This article is the effort of analysis by Mr. Kiplangat Cheruiyot and Mr. Kiuwape Simion hail from the Ogiek of Mau Forest in Kenya.



13 September 2007


Indigenous peoples around the world are today celebrating the UN General Assembly's approval of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration was approved by an overwhelming majority in an historic vote in New York today.

The vote is the climax of 22 years of intensive debate and negotiation. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States voted against the declaration, whilst 143 nations voted in favour and eleven abstained.

Botswana Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone of First People of the Kalahari said today, 'We would like to say that we are really very happy and thrilled to hear about the adoption of the declaration. It recognises that governments can no longer treat us as second-class citizens, and it gives protection to tribal peoples so that they will not be thrown off their lands like we were.'

Kiplangat Cheruiyot of Kenya's Ogiek tribe said today, 'With the adoption of the declaration, the lives of indigenous peoples will be improved on an equal footing with the rest of world citizens.'

Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, 'The declaration on indigenous peoples, with its recognition of collective rights, will raise international standards in the same way as the universal
declaration on human rights did nearly 60 years ago. It sets a benchmark by which the treatment of tribal and indigenous peoples can be judged, and we hope it will usher in an era in which abuse of their rights is no longer tolerated.'

The declaration recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to ownership of their land and to live as they wish. It also affirms that they should not be moved from their lands without their free and informed consent.


Historic Milestone for Indigenous Peoples Worldwide as UN Adopts Rights Declaration

New York, 13 September – Marking an historic achievement for the morethan 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide, the General Assemblytoday adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the result of more than two decades of consultation and dialogue among governments and indigenous peoples from all regions.

“Today, by adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples we are making further progress to improve the situation of indigenous peoples around the world,” stated General Assembly President Haya Al Khalifa.

“We are also taking another major step forward towards the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warmly welcomed the adoption, calling it “a triumph for indigenous peoples around the world.”

He further noted that “this marks a historic moment when UN MemberStates and indigenous peoples reconciled with their painful histories and resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all.”

Adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, the Declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthent heir own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. Itestablishes an important standard for eliminating human rights violations against indigenous peoples worldwide and for combating discrimination and marginalization.

“The 13th of September 2007 will be remembered as an international humanrights day for the Indigenous Peoples of the world, a day that the United Nations and its Member States, together with Indigenous Peoples, reconciled with past painful histories and decided to march into the future on the path of human rights,” said Ms. Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment, language and others. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmoniousand cooperative relations between States and Indigenous Peoples. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes theirfull and effective participation in all matters that concern them. Calling the Declaration “tangible proof of the increasing cooperation of States, Indigenous Peoples and the international community as a whole for the promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples”, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr.Sha Zukang said that the UN “has fulfilled its role as the world’sparliament and has responded to the trust that Indigenous Peoples around the world placed in it, that it will stand for dignity and justice, development and peace for all, without discrimination.”

The Declaration was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the General Assembly, with 143 countries voting in support, 4 voting against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstaining (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa, Ukraine).


United Nations Human Rights Council establishes new Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

December 13th, 2007
Geneva Switzerland

On December 13th 2007, in the closing hours of its 6th session, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution to establish a new subsidiary body, the "Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples".

The UN Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in March 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. Its mandate is to be "responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all", to "address situations of violations of human rights" and to "promote the effective coordination and mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system".

According to the resolution which established it, the new Expert Mechanism will "assist the Human Rights Council in the implementation of its mandate" by providing thematic expertise and making proposals to the Council pertaining to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The new Mechanism will consist of 5 independent experts selected according to the same process established for selection of other UN experts. They will meet once a year and report directly to the
Council. Participation will be open to states (countries), UN experts and agencies, Non-governmental Organizations and Indigenous Peoples' organizations, among others. The resolution "strongly recommends" that Indigenous experts be included among the members. Nominations may be submitted by Indigenous organizations as well as states.

At its first session in June 2006, the Human Rights Council adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was subsequently adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13th, 2007. International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) Executive Director Andrea Carmen, Yaqui Nation, was present for both the adoption of the Declaration and the establishment of the new Expert Mechanism, and sees a direct link between the two. "This new Mechanism will provide us with the opportunity to propose ways for the Council, UN member states and the UN system as whole to implement the Declaration" she said.

Andrea also stated that IITC and other Indigenous organizations are looking forward to working with the new body to review recommendations from key studies carried out by the former Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which has now been replaced by this new mechanism under the restructuring of the UN Human Rights System. These include the UN Study on Treaties, the Study on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources, the Study on Indigenous Peoples' Cultural Heritage and others. "These studies include extensive input by Indigenous Peoples and make very important recommendations which have never been implemented or, in many cases, fully endorsed, by the UN and its member states. The new Mechanism has been given a mandate which clearly includes making proposals for follow-up on the unfinished work of these studies", she said.

IITC Board President Francisco Cali, Mayan Kaqchikel from Guatemala, is a member of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). He agrees that this new body can provide unprecedented opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to work with states, UN agencies and bodies to address human rights violations affecting Indigenous Peoples around the world. "This new mechanism will provide a way to coordinate efforts to defend Indigenous Peoples' rights among various UN Bodies, experts, agencies and Treaty Monitoring Bodies like the CERD. Indigenous Peoples working in the UN System are very appreciative of this historic step taken by the Human Rights Council. We look forward to seeing what it can do", he said.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights organized a Meeting, attended by states and Indigenous Peoples, to discuss proposals for this new mechanism right before the final week of the Council's 6th session. Chief Willie Littlechild, Ermineskin Cree and representative of the International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD) was proposed by the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus to serve as the session's Co-chair, together with the ambassador from Bolivia. This was an historic moment at the UN since both Co-chairs, the Indigenous Caucus representative Chief Littlechild and the Bolivian Ambassador, are Indigenous.

Chief Littlechild noted the unusually fast time frame in which this new body was put in place once Indigenous Peoples began to advocate for it's creation in May 2006 during the 5th session of the UN
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. The Indigenous Caucus proposal for the new Expert Body was submitted by IITC, IOIRD and other organizations at each session of the Human Rights Council, beginning with its first session in June 2006. Willie also noted with appreciation the wide support the final resolution received from the members states, including Canada, and emphasized that "the establishment of the new Expert Mechanism is evidence of the good faith and political will of the Human Rights Council". He added that "it was certainly an honor for me to represent the Maskwac?s Cree in introducing , through a joint statement with IITC and others, the
proposal for the new body after the 5th session of the UN Permanent Forum, and then to Co-chair the very significant UN Meeting that lead to such an important Human Rights Council decision".

Bolivia took the lead to develop and present the first draft of the resolution at this Council session, working closely with the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus. The resolution was streamlined and amended in the final days of the session in negotiations between a number of states including Guatemala, Mexico, Denmark, Greece, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain and others. They worked to ensure that it could be adopted by consensus of the Council's 47 member states, a requirement for the Councils' structural or "institution building" provisions, while at the same time maintaining a broad enough mandate to ensure its effectiveness.

The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the final piece of the Council's Institution-building package to be put in place. Its adoption was delayed until the Council's last meeting of the year, due in part to the previous reluctance expressed by some member states to support the creation of a new body focused on Indigenous Peoples' human rights. Its adoption was seen as a major step forward by many states and Indigenous Peoples, including the IITC and IOIRD, who had worked over the past two years to create this new Mechanism.

For more information, please refer to the website of the UN Human Rights Council, 6th session, or the IITC web site, .