DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Source - GA/SHC/3855 - News and Media Division, Department of Public Information

United Nations begins discussion on Indigenous Peoples

Sixty-first General Assembly, Third Committee - Informal Report on Plenary Discussion
16 October 2006

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people

Mexico
Norway
Columbia
New Zealand, Australia and United States
Estonia
Ecuador
Fiji
Peru
Panama
Russian Federation
Greece
Spain

The Third Committee of the General Assembly began its general discussion of issues concerning indigenous people. The Committee had before it the Secretary-Generals note on the status of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations (document A/61/376), and the Secretary-Generals note transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people (document A/61/490).

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs
Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Under Secretary-General noted that the United Nations agenda on indigenous issues had been revitalized by recent developments, including the 2005 World Summit. The Organizations comprehensive understanding of development as progress of all societies encompassing economic, social, environmental and human rights dimensions echoed many of the calls from indigenous peoples. In working towards the Millennium Development Goals and the broader United Nations Development Agenda, there must be greater cooperation with indigenous peoples, he said.

At the end of the First International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous People, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had found that indigenous people in many countries remained among the poorest and most marginalized. The second Decade had been launched on 1 January 2005 with the goal to further strengthen international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.

Mr. Ocampo, as coordinator of the Second Decade, was most pleased to welcome the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the first-ever session of the Human Rights Council in June 2006 and looked forward to its final endorsement by the General Assembly during the current session. The Declaration provided the international community with a comprehensive international standard towards which all should strive together, he said.

In response to a question from the representative of Cuba, Mr. OCAMPO said it was hoped that the Declaration would be adopted by all Member States as a fundamental framework for guiding national policies on indigenous peoples, with their active participation. Within the Development Group at the United Nations, it had been felt that the Declaration had to be disseminated throughout the system so that everyone knew about it and that it could be promoted. Work had also been under way for several months on how it could be incorporated into the efforts of working groups of the United Nations at the national level. Funds had been very limited, however, and it was hoped that funding facilities would be generously replenished by many Member States. It was also expected that with more activity by working groups at the national level, resources could be made available to different countries to support programmes for indigenous peoples.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people
Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur provided a general overview of his activities over the past year. He noted that while there had been some progress in the legal situation, notably in Latin America, there remained an implementation gap between the legal standards and the substantive change in the lives of indigenous people. That gap was a serious problem that deserved the careful attention of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. He noted that in many countries, international norms and principles were not always applied in domestic legislation. Public officials often were ignorant of international norms and the jurisprudence of courts often did not reflect international standards. The divide between formal and real protections represented a violation of the human rights of indigenous people, he said. Closing the gap represented a challenge and must be addressed by a programme of action for the human rights of indigenous people.

Generally speaking, there were no adequate mechanisms in place to monitor the effectiveness of indigenous legislation and to evaluate its impact, he said. The bodies responsible for protecting indigenous rights were often weak and vulnerable and did not have the necessary political and financial support. Organizations defending indigenous people generally were pressured and sometimes even threatened and harassed. One of the clear manifestations of the implementation gap could be seen in institutional structures of public administration where bureaucratic inertia, vertical authoritarianism in decision-making and a lack of popular participation in decision-making were common problems. The judicial sector was increasingly engaged in those issues and more training of judges and others involved in judicial processes was needed.

He noted that indigenous people were increasingly using international mechanisms to secure their human rights. The inter-American human rights system was playing an increasingly important role as was the African system. United Nations treaty bodies also were being increasingly used to defend the rights of indigenous people. All of that activity helped create a new pattern of good practices. He reviewed the principle findings from recent missions to New Zealand and Ecuador, and from a follow-up visit to Guatemala. He also noted that his office continued to receive a growing number of communications from indigenous and civil society representatives containing complaints of violations of indigenous peoples rights. Very few States had followed up systematically on communications regarding those violations, prompting him to recommend to the Human Rights Council that special attention should be given during the universal periodic review of special procedures to the lack of adequate procedures for protecting the rights of indigenous people.

In conclusion, he noted the importance of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the Human Rights Council at its first session. That had taken place after almost 20 years of negotiation in Geneva, he noted, and had been long-awaited by indigenous peoples and the human rights community. The Declaration represented a new path for the protection of the human rights of indigenous people and reflected the emerging international consensus on the content of their rights. He appealed to Member States not to disappoint the hopes of indigenous people of the world and to adopt without change or delay the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In response to the representative of Ecuador, Mr. STAVENHAGEN said that many countries faced the problem of making regular law and indigenous law compatible. No satisfactory solutions had been found, but the problem had to be confronted in those places where it existed in cooperation with international organizations and with indigenous organizations as well.

In response to the representative of New Zealand, he said he hoped that suggestions in his report referring to her country would contribute to the open democratic debate that had been under way concerning the Maori people.

In response to the representative of Finland, he said he was very happy that the Declaration had been endorsed by the European Union, Finland and Norway. If the Declaration was adopted, there would begin a search for ways to implement it. Here the Special Representative would have a role to play, as too would others such as the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

Mexico
Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz, Director General of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, said that one of the main purposes of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had been to provide a basis for an improved relationship between States and indigenous peoples based on the spirit of harmonic coexistence, full respect and consultation. As a multicultural country with 62 groups of indigenous peoples, Mexico was fully convinced of the need to reach that objective. Too many years had gone by in the negotiation of the Declaration; the results represented a maximum consensus. It was now up to Member States to seize a historic opportunity to turn words into action.

It had been clear that the concerns of States regarding such issues as self-determination, lands, territories and resources had been well-covered by the safeguards included by the President-Rapporteur, he said. All necessary provisions to preserve the integrity of States and to protect the human rights of all had been included. The Declaration should be seen in the context of the existing international framework; as well, it included safeguards which explicitly subjected it to obligations set out in the United Nations Charter and to international human rights obligations.

Norway
Mr. Heines (Norway), speaking also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, noted that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was the result of more than 10 years of hard work by indigenous people and Member States. While it was an imperfect document, the Declaration was the best solution that could be reached and would help strengthen protection of the rights of indigenous people worldwide. It was first and foremost a political document, which meant that it was of utmost importance that the draft Declaration be adopted by the General Assembly. It was important that the process be brought to an honourable and meaningful end.

On progress achieved during the Second Decade of the Worlds Indigenous People, he noted the significant role played by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Forum had made Member States more aware of issues regarding indigenous people and played an important interactive role, acting as catalyst and adviser for the United Nations system as a whole. The Forums fifth session in May had drawn a high degree of interest from United Nations agencies and the World Bank, evidence that the Forum had established itself as a key focal point on those issues.

Indigenous people were among most marginalized groups in their countries and dispossession of land remained a major source of impoverishment, he said. As one of the Millennium Development Goals was the eradication of poverty, there was a need to ensure that indigenous people had a real say in the way their traditional lands were administered. The Nordic countries had lent their full support of the goals of the Second Decade and appreciated the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. Noting the Special Rapporteurs findings on the gap between written laws and their implementation, he said there was still a long way to go before indigenous people enjoyed the same rights that others could take for granted.

Columbia
Claudia Blum (Colombia) said that, according to a census done last year,
3.4 per cent of the Colombian population self-identified as members of indigenous communities. A wide majority of them lived in legally protected traditional territories known as resguardos, where they had their own social organization and collective property titles that were not subject to seizure and non-transferable. Resguardos, which occupied nearly 30 per cent of the countrys territory, participated in the budgetary transfers of the central Government and administered local justice.

There were indigenous representation quotas in both chambers of congress. Since nearly 90 per cent of indigenous communities lived in the countryside, they underwent problems similar to those of the rural population. They had been affected by violence from terrorist groups financed by drug trafficking, the lack of credits and, in some zones, the difficult conditions of road communication and services. For that reason, the national Government had undertaken actions to reduce their vulnerability, including universal access to State-subsidized health care and the establishment of a Commission of Human Rights for the Indigenous Communities.

She said that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must bring together the consensus of United Nations Member States and regretted that the Human Rights Council had adopted the draft through a vote. More work was needed on its content to obtain the appropriate language that could be adopted without reservations. Several items within it required adjustments for them to have a realistic and adequate scope. Many concepts and definitions required broader analysis. The importance of carrying out the necessary efforts to reach consensus were even more clear, when keeping in mind that the Declaration was meant to become a new framework for international jurisprudence and for other organisms that followed international agreements.

New Zealand, Australia and United States
Rosemary Banks (New Zealand), on behalf of Australia and the United States, said the Working Group charged with drafting the Declaration had been unable to reach a consensus and that there had been no opportunity for States to discuss the current text collectively. The Human Rights Council and its President had also rejected calls for more time to improve the text, setting a poor precedent for the work and role of the Council. The text was not clear, transparent and capable of implementation. In its application, it would risk endless and conflicting interpretations and debate.

In some countries, the situation for indigenous peoples had been very worrying indeed, she said. The world needed a declaration that could make a practical and positive difference in their lives; instead, the text was confusing, unworkable, contradictory and deeply flawed. Australia, New Zealand and the United States could not support its adoption. For example, its reference to self-determination could be misrepresented as conferring a unilateral right of self-determination and possible secession upon a specific subset of a nations populace, thus threatening the political unity, territorial integrity and stability of existing Member States.

In addition it appeared to purport to confer a power of veto upon a sub-national group over the laws of a democratic legislature, he said. Its provisions on lands and resources would be unworkable and unacceptable. The text also lacked a definition of indigenous peoples. It might be true that the Declaration was an aspirational document, not legally binding in any way, but indigenous peoples deserved and needed a declaration that was clear, transparent and capable of implementation, and which represented a standard of achievement against which all States could be measured. The current text failed all those tests; it could lead to disputes, bitterness and unfulfilled expectations on all sides.

Estonia
Tiina Intelmann (Estonia), quoting an Estonian semiotician, noted that there were no small languages or small cultures in the world. When a culture perished, when a language was no longer spoken, it was not merely a local tragedy of a single people, but a disaster of global proportions. In that context, she noted that the adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was of crucial importance. It would be unfortunate if the United Nations moved back from its own positive decision at the Human Rights Council.

Estonia considered the issue of indigenous peoples to be among its own priorities, she said. The Estonian language belonged to the Finno-Ugric language group. Over the last decade, the number of Finno-Ugric indigenous populations had declined substantially, and the situation concerning the use of native languages was most alarming. Estonia supported the Finno-Ugric indigenous peoples, especially in the field of education, science and culture. The European Union membership of three Finno-Ugric States -- Finland, Hungary and Estonia -- had opened up a new dimension for aid schemes directed primarily at the Finno-Ugric peoples living on the territory of the Russian Federation, she noted. Estonia also continued to support indigenous populations through the United Nations voluntary funds.

Ecuador
Ms. Moreira (Ecuador) supported the work of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in promoting integration and coordination of all of the Organizations efforts concerning the rights of indigenous peoples. The 2005-2014 Programme of Action for the Second International Decade for Indigenous People took into account that most indigenous people in developing countries grappled with inequality, economic and social exclusion, as well as hunger, malnutrition, unemployment and little or no access to healthcare, education and housing. Last months High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development revealed that indigenous people were among the groups most vulnerable to labour exploitation, trafficking of migrants and violence against women and children. Governments needed to show greater political will and concerted action to end such abuses.

Ecuadors National Council on Indigenous Issues with civil societys support was doing its part to implement the Plan of Action, she said. Complex adverse factors thwarted the efforts of indigenous communities to enjoy their human rights. Ecuadors Constitution recognized the collective rights of indigenous people in accordance with Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization. Ecuadors guidelines incorporated the mandates of the 1993 Vienna Plan of Action and the 2001 Durban Plan of Action. The Special Rapporteur had conducted a field visit to Ecuador in April and early May to evaluate Ecuadors compliance with international human rights instruments. The Rapporteurs report and recommendations would be submitted to the Human Rights Council during its upcoming periodic session.

Fiji
Sainivalati Navoti (Fiji) said indigenous peoples obstacles were symptoms of complex social problems due to marginalization, social exclusion and discrimination. Land played a crucial role in the search for justice. A bill titled Indigenous Claim Tribunal Act was under consideration in Fijis Parliament to set up and set jurisdiction, powers and functions of a Tribunal to consider and recommend courses of action over historical indigenous land claims. The Tribunal would have the power to recommend that the Government take remedial actions including compensation for loss of right to or occupation, use or enjoyment of ancestral lands or, if the land was under State control, the reversion of such land to indigenous lands.

Fiji officials were also consulting with citizens over the Qoliqoli Bill, which would provide for transferring ownership from the State to indigenous people any area of seabed or soil under the waters, sand, reefs, mangrove swamps, rivers, streams or wetland of any other area, recognized and determined to be within customary fishing grounds, he continued. The Special Rapporteur had indicated that a gap between international standards and principles governing the human rights of indigenous people and domestic laws existed in many countries. Further, laws concerning natural resources management were inconsistent with indigenous and human rights laws. The Qoliqoli Bill aimed at closing the implementation gap between existing human rights legislation and administrative, legal and political practice.

Peru
Luis Enrique Chavez (Peru) said that despite advances in indigenous peoples rights over the past 12 years, much more remained to be done. The rich cultures of indigenous people were disproportionate to their resources. Poverty and inequality in developing countries, including in Peru, was a major concern for indigenous peoples. He supported creation of the Human Rights Council. The Outcome document of the 2005 World Summit had established a new type of relationship between States and indigenous groups, aimed at balancing development with the human rights of indigenous people and recognizing them as a vulnerable group with specific rights.

Peru would continue to advocate adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said, calling on all delegates to also support the initiative. The Special Rapporteurs report on the human rights situation and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people revealed the suffering that indigenous communities had endured in various parts of the world and the need for Governments and the international community to find concrete solutions. He supported the Special Rapporteurs work and took note of his report on implementation of norms and jurisprudence concerning indigenous peoples rights.

Panama
Mary Morgan-Moss (Panama ) said the situation for indigenous people in her country - where they represented 10 per cent of the population - had been alarming, with 98.5 per cent living in poverty demonstrating their exclusion from benefits enjoyed by the rest of the country. The Government had been aiming to reduce poverty and improve the distribution of earnings by creating new jobs and cleaning up public financing. A network of social protection existed that included human resources training and providing information on generating family income.

Steps now being undertaken for indigenous peoples in Panama included strengthening the national council for indigenous development, facilitating social policy design and human development for indigenous people, and developing a participatory methodology for policies affecting indigenous peoples, she said. However, States alone could not solve the problems of indigenous peoples, who had to be prepared to work with Governments, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations system in order to attain their goals and make the content of the Declaration a reality.

Russian Federation
Andrey A. Nikiforov (Russian Federation) noted that protection of the rights of indigenous people was a priority for the United Nations and for his delegation. The Russian Federation welcomed the launch of the Second International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous People and the adoption of a Programme of Action. Adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People would be a significant action, he said. His delegation noted that the draft as it stood was incomplete and included many controversial provisions, especially for States where many indigenous people lived. There had been complaints about provisions within the Declaration on the rights to land, mineral wealth and natural resources.

The starting point for addressing issues of indigenous people should be the actions of States themselves, he said. The Russian Federation had a large number of indigenous people living on its territory and strove to strengthen international cooperation to protect their rights and interests. The Government had devoted significant attention to strengthening the legal framework safeguarding the rights of minorities, protecting native homelands and regulating the use of the natural environment. The Government also worked to improve the social and economic development of indigenous people, including through education programmes. The Russian Federation was one of first countries to undertake a national launch of the Second Decade and had set up a national organizing committee to prepare plans to achieve its goals. Unfortunately, the problems faced by indigenous peoples were far from being resolved and continuing efforts were needed at the national and international levels, he said.

Greece
Erica-Irene Daes (Greece) appealed to all Member States to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the Human Rights Council. Having herself started the elaboration of its principles and provisions in 1984, she said that no other United Nations document had ever been developed with such full and free participation of all parties.

Despite the lack of consensus on all its articles, the Declaration, she said, constituted an important and effective mechanism for the protection and promotion of human rights of the worlds indigenous peoples and a historic step towards the elimination of more than five centuries of racism and discrimination. In addition, it was important because it promoted the appreciation for diverse cultures and their valuable contribution to States.

Spain
Mr. De Aristegui (Spain) said his country believed the adoption of the Declaration would be a historic milestone for the United Nations vis-à-vis human rights. More than two decades of long and difficult negotiations had resulted in the highest possible level of consensus. It had to be remembered that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the resolution that led to setting up the Human Rights Council had also lacked full consensus. Having participated in the negotiations, Spain was fully aware of what the Declaration dealt with, and that the representatives of indigenous peoples had given almost unanimous support to it.

It now was up to States to complete the process of declaring the rights of indigenous peoples, he said. Spain, an old country, had no indigenous peoples of its own, but it was constantly being revitalized by way of contact with indigenous peoples elsewhere, particularly those in Latin America. It believed that the Declaration was a landmark that would bring continued progress to indigenous peoples. It was up to States to embark on the last phase by showing political commitment to indigenous peoples. It was Spains hope that the General Assembly would adopt the Declaration during the current session.

General Assembly President, HE Madame Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, receives gifts in greetings from Indigenous delegate, Jose Carlos Morales. The President heard the request that Indigenous Peoples delegates be in attendance when the General Assembly adopts the Declaration

links to more information on the Declaration

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Documentation Centre for Indigenous Peoples

Tebtebba Foundation

International Indian Treaty Council

American Indian Law Alliance

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs

Rights and Democracy

Amnesty International - Canada

University of Minnesota
Human Rights Library


media kit

Letter to States by Special Rapporteur & Chair of PFII

Letter to States by Indigenous Peoples Caucus

Ten Key Points

Declaration

How States voted in the Human Rights Council