UN Human Rights Council adopts documents on disappearances and indigenous peoples

29 June 2006 – The newly established United Nations Human Rights Council today adopted a landmark treaty to prevent and punish the crime of enforced disappearances, estimated to amount to 40,000 cases from 60 countries, and also the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, legislation that had been debated for 11 years.

“I wanted to express how happy we are because we were able to have the first important, very substantive decisions of the new Council,” Ambassador of Mexico, Luis Alfonso de Alba, the newly elected President of the Council, told reporters in Geneva. The Council, which replaced the much-criticized Human Rights Commission, opened its first session on 19 June and this runs until tomorrow.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances defines such actions as crimes and as crimes against humanity when they are widespread or systematic. The Convention, which focuses on preventive measures as well as the rights of victims, is now being forwarded to the General Assembly for final adoption.

“In the case of the Convention on Disappearances, it's an effort that very much touches the lives of many people, not only in Latin America, but also around the world…I think it is a very well deserved homage to the victims that the new Council's first decision was to adopt the Convention, and without a vote,” said Mr. de Alba.

Turning to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which had been debated for 11 years, the 47-member Council adopted this by a vote of 30 in favour, 12 abstentions and 2 against (3 absent).

“In the case of the Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples], I am also very happy, because it was a very long process of negotiations that have finally come to an end. It had been a very difficult process because we were forced to strike a balance between the interests of very different points of views from Governments and indigenous peoples.”

“But finally we came to a compromise. This has shown how the majority of the Member States, as well as the very wide majority of indigenous populations, have come together for the benefit of the indigenous peoples around the world,” Mr. de Alba concluded.

The Declaration will now be forwarded to the General Assembly’s September session.

Some experts have said that the creation of legal standards and rules through the adoption of an international declaration would ensure respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples. However some States have disagreed with the view that indigenous peoples should have the right to “self determination” and also other issues that have been proposed. Currently, the UN estimates that there are some 370 million indigenous peoples living in different parts of the world.

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