Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples… Who are the indigenous ?


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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session at UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007.

While as a General Assembly Declaration it is not a legally binding instrument under international law,

according to a UN press release, it does “represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN’s member states to move in certain directions”; the UN describes it as setting “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people,  and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisation.

The Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

It also “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”.

It “prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples”, and it “promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development”

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The Declaration was over 22 years in the making. The idea originated in 1982 when the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) set up its Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP), established as a result of a study by Special Rapporteur José R. Martínez Cobo on the problem of discrimination faced by indigenous peoples.

Tasked with developing human rights standards that would protect indigenous peoples, in 1985 the Working Group began working on drafting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The draft was finished in 1993 and was submitted to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which gave its approval the following year.

The Draft Declaration was then referred to the Commission on Human Rights, which established another Working Group to examine its terms. Over the following years this Working Group met on 11 occasions to examine and fine-tune the Draft Declaration and its provisions.

Progress was slow because of certain states’ concerns regarding some key provisions of the Declaration, such as

indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and the control over natural resources existing on indigenous peoples’ traditional lands.

The final version of the Declaration was adopted on 29 June 2006 by the 47-member Human Rights Council (the successor body to the Commission on Human Rights), with 30 member states in favour, two against, 12 abstentions, and three absentees.

The Declaration was then referred to the General Assembly,

which voted on the adoption of the proposal on 13 September 2007 during its 61st regular session.

The vote was 143 countries in favour,  4 against, and 11 abstaining.

The four member states that voted against were:

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the “United States”, each of which have

significant “indigenous populations”.

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The abstaining countries were:

Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine;

another 34 member states were absent from the vote.

The U.S. mission also issued a floor document, “Observations of the United States with respect to

the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, setting out its objections to the Declaration. Most of these are based on the same points as the other three countries’ rejections but, in addition,

the United States drew attention to the Declaration’s failure to provide a clear definition of exactly whom

the term “indigenous peoples” is intended to cover.

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One Response to “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples… Who are the indigenous ?”

  1. Biléh* Gambéla በላይ ። ጋምበላ Says:

    The four member countries that voted against were:

    AUSTRAILIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND and the “AMERICAS”, each of which have significant “indigenous populations”.

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