Saturday, September 15, 2007

Indigenous Peoples Declaration

By an overwhelming margin, the U.N. General Assembly's voted to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The 1st article of the Declaration, which was "twenty years in the making," provides:
Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law.
The 45 articles that follow elaborate, setting forth explicit rights to, for example: self-determination, financial and technical assistance, land use, conservation and environmental protection, and enforcement of treaties.
In favor were 143 states, with 4 in opposition and 11 abstaining. Against the nonbinding instrument? Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, each of which has significant indigenous populations. According to a U.N. release, here're their reasons for opposition:
Australia: Asserting that self-determination ought to apply only in narrow, often colonialist situations, it "supported and encouraged the full engagement of indigenous peoples in the democratic decision-making process, but did not support a concept that could be construed as encouraging action that would impair, even in part, the territorial and political integrity of a State with a system of democratic representative Government."
Canada: "[P]rovisions in the Declaration on lands, territories and resources were 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."
United States: Stating that in mid-2006 the Declaration had passed by a "splintered vote" of the Human Rights Council [the vote was 30 votes to 2, with 12 abstentions -- ed.], expressed concern regarding the risk of "'endless conflicting interpretations and debate about its application, as already evidenced by the numerous complex interpretive statements issued by States...'"
A day after the General Assembly vote, New Zealand said it had opposed the Declaration on the ground that it "disadvantages non-indigenous people and conflicts with the country's laws."
In a twist, the Taipei Times, a newspaper in the capital city of non-U.N.-member Taiwan, praised the Declaration as giving to "[l]ocal Aboriginal activists ... new, concrete benchmarks against which they can judge and, as is often necessary, embarrass the government." The paper concluded, "The scene is set, then, for a test of how committed Taiwanese officials, politicians and members of the public really are to a subset of UN principles that are genuinely honorable."
The same might be said for officials elsewhere in the world.

No comments: