Indigenous leaders urge UN Member States to back declaration on rights

Indigenous leaders urge UN Member States to back declaration on rights

Indigenous leaders participating in the annual session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today urged Member States to end any attempts to stall and to adopt a declaration that would outline their rights and outlaw discrimination against them.

The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which has been drafted and debated for more than two decades – in June last year, but the General Assembly later deferred action after some Member States raised concerns.

Wilton Littlechild, a member of the Permanent Forum, told reporters that he was disappointed by the lack of apparent progress on adopting the Declaration during the forum’s two-week session, which ends tomorrow in New York.

“The United Nations Declaration is about the survival and dignity of indigenous peoples,” he said, calling for it to be adopted in its entirety and without any amendments during the current session of the General Assembly.

“Simply calling for more time or for more changes – I think it’s beyond that point,” he said, referring to the objections of some countries to certain articles in the Declaration. “I think we should be focusing on implementation.”

Mr. Littlechild said indigenous representatives have received reports that some African States have been “heavily lobbied” by the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to vote against the Declaration.

“I know there’s some public denial about this, but there is also information that we’re told that this is actually going on, by States themselves. So I don’t think it ought to be continued to be denied.”

The Permanent Forum’s Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said there was a widespread misunderstanding that the Declaration places indigenous peoples in a special category.

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – it’s really an instrument that interprets international human rights law in so far as it applies to indigenous peoples,” she said. “So it’s not a document, it’s not a declaration that creates new rights.”

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.

Essentially, the text outlaws 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.

More than 1,100 indigenous representatives from around the world have attended this year’s session of the UN Permanent Forum, which was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July 2000. It is composed of 16 independent experts, functioning in their personal capacity. ECOSOC appoints the members – half of whom are nominated by governments and half by indigenous organizations.