Indigenous Peoples of Africa
5 December 2006
IPACC Statement on the UN General Assembly decision to postpone the vote on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
&All peoples shall have right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.
Article 20: African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
The 150 member organisations of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committees (IPACC) express their profound disappointment that African states were unable to support the Declaration on the Rights Indigenous Peoples. The African group has placed the new Human Rights Council at grave risk of politicisation and domination by a few powerful states. The Africa group has not fully considered its own human rights standards, norms and mechanisms. Africa has delayed the recognition of the rights and dignity of the worlds 370 million Indigenous Peoples including Africas most vulnerable communities.
On 29 June 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This marked the culmination of more than 22 years of negotiations and notably included strong support from several African states. No African state voted against the resolution in Geneva. The adopted resolution was passed to the General Assembly for adoption in November 2006.
On 28 November 2006, Namibia proposed to the UN Third Committee of the General Assembly that it should not adopt the Human Rights Councils decision, but rather delay bringing the Declaration to a vote until the end of its sixty-first session (i.e. in 12 months time).
The Namibian representative, speaking on behalf of the African group of states, including those which voted for the adoption of the Declaration at the Human Rights Council in June 2006, claimed that some provisions of the Declaration ran counter to the national constitutions of a number of African countries.
Namibia produced an aide memoire for the Africa group which mirrored the objections of the United States of America and attempted to apply them to an African context. The drafters of the aide memoire did not explain that the principle of self-determination and territorial integrity is already dealt with in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (see above).
Objections by Namibia include the absence of a clear definition of indigenous peoples and cited threats to national territorial integrity. The UN Working Group on the Draft Declaration has debated this for 22 years with little African participation. In 2003, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the treaty body of the African Charter and the African Union adopted a working definition of indigenous peoples and affirmed both their collective rights as peoples and their right to self determination. The African Charter is the only regional multilateral human rights instrument which endorses collective peoples rights and the right to internal self-determination. It was designed specifically to protect Africas borders while acknowledging the multi-ethnic and diverse character of African societies and nations, as clearly underlined by the African Commission jurisprudence.
The African group aide memoire repeatedly refers to the threat of secession. As most indigenous peoples in Africa number only a few thousand and live outside the cash economy, the assertion that so-called Pygmies, Dorobo or San are going to separate from the state is blown out of proportion, fails to comprehend that no single African indigenous community claims statehood and there brings into question the good faith of the objections.
Repeatedly in IPACC statements, African indigenous peoples have asked for greater inclusion in the State system, to have identity documents, citizenship, the right to vote, the right of access to schools and clinics, to be recognised by government and to be part of the nations political economy. These are of course internal aspects of the right to self-determination, which should be differentiated from its external aspects leading to secessionism and statehood. It is therefore unfounded to argue that the claim for self-determination only involves colonised states.
Namibias claim that Article 5 of the Declaration is in contradiction with African constitutions is not supported by evidence. As the authors note, the Declaration is a standard-setting, non-binding international human rights instrument confirming the human rights of 370 million Indigenous Peoples in every region of the world, and as such does not require constitutional compliance. The man in the street may not know the difference between binding and non-binding agreements, hence it is important to communicate with normal Africans that human rights violations and abuse of indigenous peoples is no longer acceptable. There are still African countries where indigenous peoples are forced into slave labour by dominant agricultural neighbours. All African states stand strongly opposed to slavery and yet have threatened the very Declaration which would highlight the vulnerable indigenous peoples.
While IPACC understands the need for Africa to stand united and maintain consensus, this action of the Africa group has aroused resentment within international human rights circles, among millions of Indigenous Peoples and their allies who have worked tirelessly for more than 22 years to craft a Declaration that recognises that Indigenous Peoples have basic human rights in the same way as all other peoples. The failure of African states to participate in those many years of dialogue and negotiation is manifest in the poorly conceived aide memoire which Africa has used to delay the whole process of standards setting.
IPACC calls upon the African region to urgently read the 2003 report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and to use this to assess the Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples. The Declaration as it stands represents an African approach to human rights which made it more disturbing that the Africa group has threatened its adoption.
In 2003, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the juridical arm of the Charter and the African Union affirmed the reality of Indigenous Peoples in Africa requiring the protection of the individual and collectives rights of such peoples. The African Commission determined that the term Indigenous Peoples have a specific meaning in International Human Rights law. Africa is the oldest occupied continent on the planet. We have the greatest genetic, linguistic and cultural diversity of any continent. During the formation of the State under colonialism, hunter-gatherer and nomadic pastoralists were excluded from citizenship or state apparatus. In the post colonial state, this class of people found themselves without full citizenship. Through the efforts of the United Nations and the communities themselves, the African Commission has studied and responded positively to this issue.
African Human Rights Commissioner, Advocate Kamel Rezag Bara reminded the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Namibia of this fact in his recent letter:
We firmly believe that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as adopted by the Human Rights Council is essential for the survival, dignity and well being of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration promotes equality and non-discrimination for all and is based on core international principles and values that embrace tolerance, peace and respect for the dignity of all cultures and peoples. Undoubtedly, this new international instrument will strengthen the international human rights system as a whole and will support the vital work that the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights is undertaking for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples rights.
When the United Nations first declared an International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples (1994 2004), not a single African state legally recognised this category of peoples nor had any measures in place to protect their human rights. In 2006, most African states have recognised the importance of the 2003 ruling by the African Commission. South Africa and Kenya have hosted the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples. Cameroon, Gabon and Congo Republic have all entered into dialogue with the World Bank and indigenous peoples about appropriate protection of rights.
Burundi has changed its constitution to guarantee that Batwa have political representation. South Africa has created an inter-departmental working group to negotiate with Khoe and San communities as well as vocally supported the UN Declaration. Congo Republic is adopting legislation to protect the cultural integrity of indigenous peoples of the rainforest. Morocco unbanned the Amazigh language after 40 years of suppression. Algeria recognises the distinct cultural identity of Amazigh people. Mali and Niger signed peace accords with Tuareg of the Central Sahara without jeopardising their national territorial integrity. Mauritania has expressed concern over the last hunters of the Sahara, the Nemadi peoples. Africa has embraced the UN Decade and is seeking legal mechanisms to comply with international norms and standards.
The aide memoire of the Africa group goes against some fundamental African values of tolerance and respect for diversity. African States are already signatories to all of the major mechanisms which add up to the content of the Declaration. These include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the UN Covenants on Political and Civil, and Economic and Social Rights, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
Now is the time for Africa to reaffirm its identity and its value system. It is a time for reconciliation and for fear to end. Embrace diversity. We respectfully ask all African states to study the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to recognise that this Declaration is part of Africas mission to reform the United Nations system and to promote tolerance of cultural diversity. This non-binding Declaration embraces the same values as the African Charter. In ten months the planet is counting on you to swing a strong majority in favour of the adoption of the Declaration. We trust that you have a plan of action. The adoption of the UN Declaration will be a good day for Africa and a good day for human rights.
A luta continua
Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee
Chairperson: Mary Simat, Maasai, Kenya
Deputy Chair, Vital Bambanze, Batwa, Burundi
Gender Representative, Sada Albachir, Tuareg, Niger
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