Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 7 News List

UN adopts native rights declaration


The UN General Assembly adopted a declaration on Thursday that provides for rights of native peoples worldwide despite objections from the US, 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 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June last year and sent to the 192-member UN General Assembly for adoption. The assembly put off final approval last 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 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," said Michele Montas, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman.

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.

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.

"We're not standing against the issue," said Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the US Mission to the UN. "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 UN Ambassador Robert Hill said the declaration failed to meet standards "that would be universally accepted, observed and upheld."

"Australia continues to have many concerns with the text," he said.

The US and Australia said sponsors excluded them from negotiations where agreement was reached on the amended text.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairman of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said the declaration "sets the minimum international standards for the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples."

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