The General Assembly of the UN, meeting in New York, has decided to defer consideration of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for up to a year. After decades of negotiations, the text of the Declaration was approved by the UN Human Rights Council in June. This deferral of the final vote by the GA is a blow to indigenous rights activists.
Says top Australian human rights offical, Tom Calma:
"It is frustrating that countries such as Namibia have raised concerns about the Declaration that have been debated ad nauseum in the working group negotiations over the past decade (Namibia chose not to participate in those negotiations)."
"The Declaration has been stalled on the basis of arguments that have been roundly rejected by Indigenous peoples over 11 years of negotiations. For example, Indigenous delegations have previously stated that any recognition of a right to self-determination in the Declaration should be done in accordance with international law and pose no threat to the territorial integrity of nation states. There is a triple guarantee of this in the Declaration."
The Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus emphasises that the Declaration does not create any new rights, but merely elaborates on how existing universal rights apply to indigenous peoples.
The Caucus, chaired by Australian Les Malezer, is in no doubt as to who is to blame for the 11th-hour setback at the GA. Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the United States and the newly conservative Government of Canada (dubbed the ‘CANZUS’ group of states) have propagated a "highly inaccurate and prejudicial interpretation of the Declaration" — echoed by Botswana and Namibia — with the apparent intent of derailing its adoption. The Caucus describes the action of these countries as "immoral" and "unconscionable", especially given their "appalling human rights records."
"This is not a proud moment for Australia," agree Labor parliamentarians Chris Evans and Peter Garrett, in a joint understatement. They claim the Howard Government has actively campaigned to sink the Declaration. The Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus cites evidence of Australia’s PM lobbying the Canadian Government to that effect.
The Australian Government in fact supports a large part of the Declaration, says Calma, and he challenges the Government to make explicit and public its remaining objections, "article by article — so they can be debated with Indigenous peoples and tested against Australia’s existing international human rights obligations."
The Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus believes that none of the CANZUS states genuinely seeks to ‘improve’ the Declaration.