May 13, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

So what is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples anyway?

6 min read

At the moment there is furor over the New Zealand signing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP), we thought we’d give you a bit of a 018 on what it’s all about.

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.”

Pita Sharples (far right) said NZ's signature restored the mana and moral authority of Maori to speak in international forums on justice, rights and peace matters. Photo / Supplied

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 majorityof 143 votes infavour, 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?

Contentious Articles:

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.

Article 32

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.

Land Ownership

Article 26

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 althoughsome 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.

Well articulated!!!

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.

4 thoughts on “So what is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples anyway?

  1. Tyron, your suggestion is simplistic and not relevant in NZ society and really the crux of the probelm within Aotearoa. I am of Pakeha and Maori descent and I am acknowledge this heritage as most people who are of mixed cultures-why would you think we don't. But Maori have been denied rights that has been documented and acknowledge by our own courts and this declaration supports Maori therefore all the people in Aotearoa. In an ideal world, all people in Aotearoa would visit a marae,read the history of Aotearoa and the tragedies that have happened in this country. If people were educated in this matter, we wouldn't have to read your words. Other than our flora and fauna, NZ has only one unique difference – Maori culture. You can find mountain ranges, lakes, volcanoes, snow, forests in other countries but having Maori culture, people, language sets NZ from apart from every other country. Rejoice!!!!

  2. I see this as a document promoting apartheid, why should we have two governments when the point of the treaty was to unite two peoples? And for you that will deny this fact or try to justify this in some way, it is clear from the words of the declaration that this is its purpose, the indigenous people of this country already have a sufficient form of representation in this country just like the rest of us. I don't deny that there have been injustices in the past but ever since I have been wandering this earth (22 yrs) it seems there has been a strong Maori presence about. Also, what I don't understand is as a third generation New Zealander why should I have to pay for the mistakes of my ancestors? New Zealand is my home and I am proud of that fact, but all this talk of division is making me start to take a step back and reassess my position. It now gives me the feeling of being displaced. I believe the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. Is that really what you want? To be a superior minority in a country that prides itself on its unity and egalitarianism?

    And is it not true that most Maori people have a European heritage also, why are you so fast to dismiss this side of your cultural heritage? I am only of European descent and I would love to be able to claim to be of two different cultures. And another point I would like to make is that cultures all over the world have merged and evolved because of conquest. Where my ancestors are from (England) has been riddled with wars and has been invaded by other societies from the Romans to the Danes and Normans. But, without those invasions and the mixtures of cultures it wouldn't be the country it is today. Why can people not see the "invasion" if that is a sufficient description, of New Zealand 200+ years ago, as a similar situation? The next step in the cultural evolution of New Zealand? Because if that hadn't have happened New Zealand would not be the country we are all proud to be a part of today.

    What I propose is that we all get over the squabbling about the past and unite as one people as the republic of New Zealand.

    I suppose this would be a little too idealistic for some of us though? What do you think?

    NB: By writing this comment I don't intend to sound condescending, I am genuinely trying to get across a point, so to anyone that posts a nasty one sided reply, shame on you.

  3. Just noted to myself that rights could be applied at different levels for example 'human' rights being applicable to everyone and 'indigenous peoples' rights such as one adopted by UN and ratified by NZ applying to a specific group of people. The words between the lines suggests competing idealogies and that one ideology has tended to dominate the other hence the need to assert and fight – between the minority verses the majority. This would not be necessary if both were equally represented. If Maori were the 70% of new zealand and pakeha 10% i wonder how Maori would then treat tauiwi or pakeha? Would pakeha necessarily suffer the same way as Maori since colonisation? Would Maori treat pakeha the same way as pakeha treated them? Would human rights become an issue in this country the same way that indigenous rights has become? Id like to suggest that it would never in anyway shape and form. Which makes me wonder why some people do not support what Dr Pita Sharples and National govt decision.

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