Update: The US has announced that they will be reviewing their stance on the UN Drip, this news comes a day after New Zealand’s decision to sign the Declaration. This would suggest that there is now growing momentum which will see all those States which voted against the Declaration reviewing and possibly changing positions.. Ka rawe!
On September 13, 2007 the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This followed more than twenty years of discussion within the UN system. Importantly, Indigenous representatives played a key role in the development of this Declaration.
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 “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 It “prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples”, and it “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”.
While as a General Assembly Declaration it is not a legally binding instrument under international law, according to a UN press release, it does
represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN’s member states to move in certain directions”; the UN describes it as setting “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisation.”
The colonisation of Aotearoa and the theft of indigenous land and institutional devolution (deconstruction?) of indigenous culture, language and society is not new, there are over 370 million indigenous people in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and here in the Pacific. They are among the most impoverished, marginalised and frequently victimised people in the world.
Under the Labour Government, New Zealand voting in favour of the Declaration was negated, their arguement being that it set a precedent that they were unable to affirm (i.e. land rights, owership of resources, etc.)
With an overwhelming majority of 143 votes in favour, only 4 negative votes cast (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States) and 11 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007. Of the four countries that have cast negative votes, Australia and New Zealand have changed their stance, with Canada stating that it will sign albeit with caveats and now the US has signalled that it too will now review it’s position.
The Declaration has been negotiated through more than 20 years between nation-states and Indigenous Peoples.
Les Malezer, Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, welcomed the adoption of the Declaration in a statement to the General Assembly:
The Declaration does not represent solely the viewpoint of the United Nations, nor does it represent solely the viewpoint of the Indigenous Peoples. It is a Declaration which combines our views and interests and which sets the framework for the future. It is a tool for peace and justice, based upon mutual recognition and mutual respect.”
So what are the issues?
There are several contentious articles which initially stalled acceptence by the US, Australia, NZ and Canada, they are:
Self government and taxation:
Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
Veto over the State
Article 19: States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to 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.
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.
The No Right Turn blog (self proclaimed ”Irredeemably Liberal”) argues that these concerns are unfounded and highlights the fact that although some think the Declaration is a racist document which grants special rights to people on the basis of their ethnicity. This is completely untrue.
The rights affirmed in the Declaration – rights to life, non-discrimination, self-determination, language, culture etc – are primarily reaffirmations of rights already affirmed in other international legal instruments such as the UDHR, ICCPR and ICESCR. In most cases, these rights are clarified to give guidance on their implementation in the specific context of indigenous peoples, particularly in light of their past treatment. Even the “new” collective rights against genocide, dispossession, assimilation, forced integration and relocation fall into this category – they already exist in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
In other words, what the Declaration affirms is the same rights everyone else has. And like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, its necessary precisely because those rights have been ignored and violated so often in the past.
No Right Turn also reminds us that even the “controversial” Article 26, which affirms the right of indigenous peoples to retain their land, falls into this category, in that Article 17 of the UDHR affirms a right to own property and not to be arbitrarily deprived of it. But beyond that, this article is what the entire Treaty process has been about: coming to terms with the fact that we stole this country from its rightful owners, and doing what we can to make recompense for it. That has been a core principle of Treaty policy for 30 years now, and we should be upholding and promoting it on the international stage – not denying it.
Below is a interview with Tere Harrison on the UN Drip, check it out.