General Assembly backs indigenous peoples' rights
September 13, 2007
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN General Assembly on Thursday
adopted a non-binding declaration upholding the human, land and
resources rights of the world's 370 million indigenous people,
brushing off opposition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the
The vote in the assembly was 143 in favor and four against. Eleven
countries, including Russia and Colombia, abstained.
The declaration, capping more than 20 years of debate at the United
Nations, also recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to
self-determination and sets global human rights standards for them.
It states that native peoples have the right "to the recognition,
observance and enforcement of treaties" concluded with states or
Indigenous peoples say their lands and territories are endangered by
such threats as mineral extraction, logging, environmental
contamination, privatization and development projects, classification
of lands as protected areas or game reserves amd use of genetically
modified seeds and technology.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Philippine chair of the UN Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues, joined UN chief Ban Ki-moon in hailing the vote.
"It marks a major victory for Indigenous peoples," said
Tauli-Corpuz, adding that the document "sets the minimum
international standards for the protection and promotion of the rights"
of native peoples.
But Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, countries
with sizable indigenous populations, expressed disappointment with the
Australia on Friday defended its decision to oppose the declaration,
saying the document was "outside what we as Australians believe
to be fair."
"We haven't wiped our hands of it, but as it currently stands at
the moment, it would provide rights to a group of people which would
be to the exclusion of others," Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal
But Australia's top rights group, which welcomed the declaration, said
it was "a matter of great regret" that it was opposed by
The declaration, which recognises the right to self-determination, was
"a milestone for the world's indigenous peoples," Tom Calma,
of Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, said.
"It also acknowledges that without recognising the collective
rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring protection of our cultures,
indigenous people can never truly be free and equal," he said.
The New Zealand government said Friday it voted against the UN
declaration on indigenous rights because it disadvantaged
non-indigenous people and conflicts with the country's laws.
Parekura Horomia, the New Zealand minister responsible for policy on
the native Maori people, said his government was committed to
protecting the rights of indigenous people.
But Horomia, himself a Maori, said the UN declaration on the human,
land and resource rights of indigenous people was incompatible with
New Zealand law.
"These articles imply different classes of citizenship where
indigenous people have a right of veto that other groups or
individuals do not have," Horomia told Radio New Zealand.
New Zealand was far ahead of other countries in promoting the rights
of indigenous people, he said.
"Unfortunately, the provisions in the Declaration on lands,
territories and resources are 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," Canada's UN Ambassador John
McNee told the assembly.
Among contentious issues was one article saying "states shall
give legal recognition and protection" to lands, territories and
resources traditionally "owned, occupied or otherwise used or
acquired" by indigenous peoples.
Another bone of contention was an article upholding native peoples'
right to "redress by means that can include restitution or when
not possible just, fair and equitable compensation, for their lands
and resources "which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used
or damaged without their free, prior ad informed consent".
Opponents also objected to one provision requiring states "to
consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples ...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."
Indigenous advocates note that most of the world's remaining natural
resources -- minerals, freshwater, potential energy sources -- are
found within indigenous peoples' territories.
A leader of Canada's native community, Phil Fontaine, slammed his
"We're very disappointed with Canada's opposition to the
declaration on indigenous peoples," said Fontaine, leader of
Assembly of First Nations, who came to New York to lobby for adoption
of the text.
Canada's indigenous population is about 1.3 million people, out of a
total population of 32.7 million.
Adoption of the declaration by the assembly had been deferred late
last year at the behest of African countries led by Namibia, which
raised objections about language on self-determination and the
definition of "indigenous" people.
The Africans were won over after co-sponsors amended an article to
read that "nothing in the declaration may be ...construed as
authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair,
totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of
sovereign and independent states."
The declaration was endorsed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights
Council last year.
UN adopts declaration
on rights for indigenous peoples worldwide
September 13, 2007
UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. General Assembly adopted a declaration
Thursday that provides for rights of native peoples worldwide despite
objections from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand,
who argued that it was incompatible with existing laws.
The declaration affirms the equality of the more than 370 million
indigenous peoples and their right to maintain their own institutions,
cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to
combat discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights
violations against them.
The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved
by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2006 and sent to the
192-member General Assembly for adoption. The assembly put off final
approval in December but pledged to vote before the end of its current
session next week.
The declaration, which is not legally binding, was approved by a vote
of 143-4, with 11 abstentions.
"This marks a historic moment when U.N. member states and
indigenous peoples have reconciled with their painful histories and
are resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights,
justice and development for all," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's
spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said.
The declaration, which was approved after more than 20 years of
deliberation, calls on states to prevent or redress the forced
migration of indigenous peoples, the seizure of their land or their
forced integration into other cultures. It also grants indigenous
groups control over their religious and cultural sites and the right
to manage their own education systems, including teaching in their own
The opponents and many of the countries that abstained said they
wanted to work toward a solution, but they took exception to several
key parts of the declaration, which they said would give indigenous
peoples too many rights and clash with existing national laws.
Several detractors also warned that the declaration set a poor
precedent, calling the text confusing and unclear.
"We're not standing against the issue," said Benjamin Chang,
a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. "We want one that is
universal in its scope and can be implemented. What was done today is
not clear. The way it stands now is subject to multiple
interpretations and doesn't establish a clear universal principal."
Australia's U.N. Ambassador Robert Hill said the declaration failed to
meet standards "that would be universally accepted, observed and
upheld." He said "Australia continues to have many concerns
with the text."
The U.S. and Australia said sponsors excluded them from negotiations
where agreement was reached on the amended text.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairman of the U.N. Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues, said the declaration "sets the minimum
international standards for the protection and promotion of the rights
of indigenous peoples."
"Therefore, existing and future laws, policies and programs of
indigenous peoples will have to be redesigned and shaped to be
consistent with this standard," she said.
Tauli-Corpuz said the declaration was "a major victory" for
the United Nations in establishing international human rights
standards, but she said the real test will be whether countries
In 1982, the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples was formed, and three
years later they started work on a declaration that was not completed
until 1993. The Commission on Human Rights then set up its own working
group and has been reviewing the agreement annually since.
UN adopts resolution on
indigenous peoples' rights
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) - The UN General Assembly adopted on
Thursday a resolution calling for the protection of the rights of
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 143 in favor, four against and
11 abstentions in the 192-member assembly. Australia, Canada, New
Zealand and the United States cast the negative vote.
In the non-binding resolution, the assembly decided to adopt the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which
was contained as an annex to the document.
The Human Rights Council adopted the declaration on June 29, 2006,
which had been drafted and debated for more than two decades and the
assembly had deferred action after some member states raised concerns.
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.
The text prohibits 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.
General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa,
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights
Louise Arbour have all welcomed the adoption of the declaration.
Sheikha Haya said that "the importance of this document for
indigenous peoples and, more broadly, for the human rights agenda,
cannot be underestimated. By adopting the declaration, we are also
taking another major step forward towards the promotion and protection
of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all."
But she warned that "even with this progress, indigenous peoples
still face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights
"They are often dragged into conflicts and land disputes that
threaten their way of life and very survival; and, suffer from a lack
of access to health care and education," she noted.
In a statement released by his spokesperson, Ban described the
declaration's adoption as "a historic moment when UN member
states and indigenous peoples have reconciled with their painful
histories and are resolved to move forward together on the path of
human rights, justice and development for all."
He called on governments and civil society to ensure that the
declaration's vision becomes a reality by working to integrate
indigenous rights into their policies and programs.
Arbour noted that the declaration has been "a long time coming.
But the hard work and perseverance of indigenous peoples and their
friends and supporters in the international community has finally
borne fruit in the most comprehensive statement to date of indigenous
Canada's UN Ambassador John McNee said that his country was
disappointed to have to vote against the declaration and that it had
"significant concerns" about the language in the document.
The provisions on lands, territories and resources "are overly
broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations"
and could put into question matters that have been settled by treaty,
McNee said the provisions on the need for states to obtain free, prior
and informed consent before it can act on matters affecting indigenous
peoples were unduly restrictive, and he also expressed concern that
the declaration negotiation process over the past year had not been
"open, inclusive or transparent."
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues estimates there are more
than 370 million indigenous people in some 70 countries worldwide.
Editor: Mu Xuequan
Ogiek Response on the UN
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adoption by General
The draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples is self
explanatory. The concept of who are the Indigenous various globally,
for instance in Africa, the States refers indigenous people from their
methods of occupation and use of land such as hunter gatherers and
pastoralist. Some of these communities practicing hunting and
gathering are namely; Ogiek, San, Yaaku, Sengwer, Pygmies, Batwaa,
Gana and the Gwi, Hadzabe and Waata, Akie e.t.c . The pastoralist
includes the Maasai, Mbororo, Tuareg, Turkana, Pokots, Elmolo,
Barabaig, and Toubou.
The vitality of the Declaration are among other things provides self
determination 'not intercede' to the indigenous peoples. The right to
use control and manage natural resources for sustainable development
is guaranteed in the draft.
Draft Declaration is not much different with the Universal
Declarations on Human Rights (UDHR), though it emphasizes its
protection to the vulnerable and marginalized groups who are commonly
living with the rich natural resources like forest, lakes, mountains,
wildlife and minerals. Such communities deserve direct benefits from
these natural resources found within their territories or localities.
By States Parties adopting this declaration, the lives of these
indigenous peoples will be improved on an equal footing with the rest
of the world citizens. It's a clear sign that majority of tag of war
and conflicts among the indigenous and the exploiters (multinationals
companies, non-indigenous and governments) will be brought to and end.
The declaration legitimizes the rights to prior informed consent,
consultations and participation which are similar to the ILO Con.169
that provides the right to self identification.
The Declaration provides affirmative actions to safeguard the interest,
beliefs and values of the indigenous peoples. Indigenous Peoples will
be henceforth be involved in decision making processes in political,
socio-economic and cultural rights.
Redressing the historical injustices related to education, traditional
knowledge and issues related to culture, the Declaration does
recognize the vitality of traditional knowledge applied in the
management of the environment by the indigenous peoples.
Concerning the forceful removal of Indigenous people from their
ancestral land, the Declarations urge the states to consult the bona
fide parties (Indigenous Peoples) before any commencement. This means
proper mechanisms must be developed by states parties to act as
guidelines before establishing any project that might affects their
In this Declaration, both collectives and individuals rights are
guaranteed; hence Indigenous Peoples will have an opportunity to
choose between the two on land ownership.
This article is the effort of analysis by Mr. Kiplangat
Cheruiyot and Mr. Kiuwape Simion hail from the Ogiek of Mau Forest in
INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE
13 September 2007
JUBILATION AS UN APPROVES
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DECLARATION
Indigenous peoples around the world are today celebrating the UN
General Assembly's approval of the Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples. The declaration was approved by an overwhelming
majority in an historic vote in New York today.
The vote is the climax of 22 years of intensive debate and
negotiation. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States
voted against the declaration, whilst 143 nations voted in favour
and eleven abstained.
Botswana Bushman Jumanda Gakelebone of First People of the
Kalahari said today, 'We would like to say that we are really
very happy and thrilled to hear about the adoption of the
declaration. It recognises that governments can no longer treat us
as second-class citizens, and it gives protection to tribal peoples
so that they will not be thrown off their lands like we were.'
Kiplangat Cheruiyot of Kenya's Ogiek tribe said today, 'With
the adoption of the declaration, the lives of indigenous peoples
will be improved on an equal footing with the rest of world citizens.'
Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, 'The declaration on
indigenous peoples, with its recognition of collective rights, will
raise international standards in the same way as the universal
declaration on human rights did nearly 60 years ago. It sets a
benchmark by which the treatment of tribal and indigenous peoples
can be judged, and we hope it will usher in an era in which abuse of
their rights is no longer tolerated.'
The declaration recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to
ownership of their land and to live as they wish. It also affirms
that they should not be moved from their lands without their free
and informed consent.
for Indigenous Peoples Worldwide as UN Adopts Rights Declaration
New York, 13 September – Marking an historic achievement for the
morethan 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide, the General
Assemblytoday adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, the result of more than two decades of consultation and
dialogue among governments and indigenous peoples from all regions.
“Today, by adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples we are making further progress to improve the situation of
indigenous peoples around the world,” stated General Assembly
President Haya Al Khalifa.
“We are also taking another major step forward towards the promotion
and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warmly welcomed the adoption, calling
it “a triumph for indigenous peoples around the world.”
He further noted that “this marks a historic moment when UN
MemberStates and indigenous peoples reconciled with their painful
histories and resolved to move forward together on the path of human
rights, justice and development for all.”
Adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, the Declaration
emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and
strengthent heir own institutions, cultures and traditions and to
pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and
aspirations. Itestablishes an important standard for eliminating
human rights violations against indigenous peoples worldwide and for
combating discrimination and marginalization.
“The 13th of September 2007 will be remembered as an international
humanrights day for the Indigenous Peoples of the world, a day that
the United Nations and its Member States, together with Indigenous
Peoples, reconciled with past painful histories and decided to march
into the future on the path of human rights,” said Ms. Vicky
Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous
The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights,
cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health,
employment, language and others. The Declaration explicitly
encourages harmoniousand cooperative relations between States and
Indigenous Peoples. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous
peoples and promotes theirfull and effective participation in all
matters that concern them. Calling the Declaration “tangible proof
of the increasing cooperation of States, Indigenous Peoples and the
international community as a whole for the promotion and protection
of the human rights of indigenous peoples”, Under-Secretary-General
for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr.Sha Zukang said that the UN “has
fulfilled its role as the world’sparliament and has responded to the
trust that Indigenous Peoples around the world placed in it, that it
will stand for dignity and justice, development and peace for all,
The Declaration was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the
General Assembly, with 143 countries voting in support, 4 voting
against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and
11 abstaining (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia,
Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa, Ukraine).