NEWS 2004


No United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

December 10, 2004

For twenty years, Indigenous Peoples and their support organisations have been pressuring the United Nations to adopt a declaration for the protection of the rights of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. It is feared that – due to blocking attempts most notably by the UK and the USA - the UN will now stop this process and leave Indigenous Peoples’ rights unrecognized.

The United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is to become an internationally recognized legal instrument setting the minimum standards for the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The existing Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects individual human rights. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is needed to protect the collective human rights of Indigenous Peoples, such as their rights to self-determination, culture, religion, language, lands, territories and natural resources. The protection of these collective human rights is essential for the survival of the more than 5,000 Indigenous Peoples, totalling over 300 million Indigenous persons in the world.

The present draft of this Declaration is a document composed of 45 Articles. Its adoption by the United Nations highest body, the General Assembly, was a primary objective in the present United Nations Decade for the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004). However, as this Decade comes to a close, only a mere two Articles of the Declaration have been provisionally approved. The other 43 Articles, relating to the core issue of the promotion and protection of the collective human rights of Indigenous Peoples, have yet to be adopted.

The failure of the UN system thus far to establish and implement human rights standards for Indigenous Peoples constitutes a significant setback. And time is running out. The mandate of the UN Working Group entrusted with the elaboration of this Declaration has now expired. Indigenous Peoples now fear that this process will come to an end without the desired result - despite the many efforts by both Indigenous Peoples and Governments to work towards concensus on this Declaration. Will the twenty years of hard work on this process be in vain?

Now it will be up to the decision-making body, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, to take on this issue and determine whether this process can continue. The adoption of this Declaration is the most urgent issue facing Indigenous Peoples globally and the key to their very survival. It is important that an urgent message is sent to the United Nations, making it clear that this must continue.