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UN Indigenous Peoples Declaration VotePostponed

Vote On UN Declaration On Indigenous Peoples Postponed

By Andreas von Warburg

UNITED NATIONS - It’s a sad day for indigenous peoples of all corners of the world. The Third Committee of the General Assembly has delayed a vote on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, a landmark text passed by the newly created UN Human Rights Council last June and openly opposed by CANZUS – namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

The vote was postponed after the Committee, responsible for social, humanitarian, and cultural issues, approved a proposal by a group of African countries for additional negotiations, allowing more time to discuss new amendments.

“We are […] concerned that the Human Rights Council and its President rejected calls that we and others, such as Canada, made urging for more time to improve the text so that it could enjoy universal support,” said Ambassador Rosemary Banks, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, in a statement on behalf of CANZUS last October, during the debate in the Third Committee. “This process is extraordinary in any multilateral negotiation and sets a poor precedent with respect to the work and role of the Human Rights Council.”

CANZUS is opposing the draft text of the Declaration not on principle. “What the world needs is a declaration that can make a practical and positive difference in the lives of indigenous peoples in every region,” Ambassador Banks said in her statement. “Instead, the text before us is confusing, unworkable, contradictory and deeply flawed.”

CANZUS believes that flaws in this text run through all of its most significant provisions, including those on self-determination, veto power, and lands and resources. The text also lacks a definition of “indigenous peoples” and a scope of application, which could potentially mean that separatist or minority groups may be given a legal basis to claim the right of self-determination.

“The current text of the declaration does not meet these objectives. The wording leaves too much open to interpretation and does not provide effective guidance regarding how indigenous governments might work with other levels of government,” Jim Prentice, Canadian Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, wrote in an open letter published by the Toronto Star this week. “As is evident, we are not the only ones with concerns. A number of countries have made statements in relation to the draft declaration – even those voting for adoption.”

A few weeks ago, a group of 11 Ambassadors to the United Nations – Andorra, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway, Panama, Peru, and Switzerland – called upon all UN Member States to support the adoption of the Declaration by the General Assembly as an historic step towards building better societies. “This landmark Declaration constitutes a legitimate and longstanding demand of indigenous peoples thorough the world,” a joint letter reads. “There is an urgent need for our Governments and our societies to recognize the unique heritage and contributions of indigenous peoples and to protect and promote their human rights.”

The faith of the Declaration is still uncertain. “I understand why governments may have concerns. This is not just a statement of indigenous hopes,” said Robert Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center and one of the original authors of the declaration, to the American Indian news service. “It is reasonable, fair, and enormously important to indigenous peoples. The declaration must be adopted immediately; we have worked for nearly 30 years and we are prepared to continue fighting for adoption of the declaration for as long as it takes.”


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