UN expert calls on Assembly to adopt declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples

17 October 2006 –

Member States should follow the lead of the United Nations Human Rights Council and quickly adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without change, an independent UN expert has told the General Assembly.

Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people also warned the Assembly’s Third Committee yesterday of the “implementation gap” between legal standards and substantive change in the lives of indigenous people.

He said that in many countries, international norms and principles were not always applied in domestic legislation, adding that public officials were often ignorant of international norms and the jurisprudence of courts did not reflect international standards.

Currently, the UN estimates that there are some 370 million indigenous peoples living in different parts of the world.

José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, backed the call for adoption of the Declaration, saying that it provided the international community with a comprehensive international standard towards which all should strive together.

Mr. Ocampo noted that too often indigenous people experienced violations of their basic human rights and were excluded from national development processes, pointing out that the UN had an obligation to continue to promote respect for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in development processes at all levels.

While many delegations expressed support for the Declaration some expressed strong reservations, although almost all the 15 representatives from countries and regional groups that took part in the debate expressed concern over the problems facing indigenous people and urged greater international cooperation to address these issues.

In her response, the representative of New Zealand, Rosemary Banks –– speaking also on behalf of Australia and the United States –– said those countries could not accept the adoption of a text that was confusing, unworkable, contradictory and deeply flawed.

For example, she said that the Declaration’s reference to self-determination could be misrepresented as conferring a unilateral right of self-determination and possible secession, thus threatening the political unity, territorial integrity and stability of existing Member States.

The representative of Colombia, Claudia Blum, also expressed concerns over the manner in which the Human Rights Council had adopted the Declaration, noting that more work was needed to achieve a text that could be adopted without reservations. The Council adopted the draft Declaration in June at its first session after the legislation had been debated for years.

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