UN forum chairperson decries delay in adopting declaration on indigenous rights

12 December 2006 –

The head of the United Nations body dealing with indigenous peoples was today among a chorus of voices decrying a planned delay in the adoption by the General Assembly of a Declaration aimed at securing their rights.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said the recent decision to defer action by the Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee was deeply disappointing, calling it “illustrative of the continuing discrimination against indigenous peoples in many parts of the world.”

She said the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was one of the most extensively discussed and negotiated texts in the history of the UN.

“The non-participation of some governments in more than 20 years of drafting and negotiations on the Declaration does not justify a further delay of its adoption,” she said. “This Declaration represents the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples.”

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz urges all governments “to demonstrate that the UN stands for human rights for all, including indigenous peoples, and to adopt the Declaration without amendments.”

All countries, she added, have a responsibility “to address the past and continuing injustice, racism and discrimination against indigenous peoples,” she said in the statement, which was read out today at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York.

The newly established Human Rights Council adopted the declaration in June at its first session in a move that was widely hailed as a step forward for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Several others at the press conference representing organizations devoted to promoting indigenous rights also deplored the delay, stressing that the Declaration, a non-binding document, was critical to protecting indigenous rights. They faulted African countries, with support from New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States, for the postponement.

Drafted and debated for over two decades, the Declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.

Essentially, the Declaration outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples, promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, as well as their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, is nearing the end of a 10-day official visit to Kenya.

Mr. Stavenhagen issued a statement yesterday saying he has been encouraged so far by the Kenyan Government’s efforts to pay particular attention to land tenure issues, especially in what is known as the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, which constitute more than two-thirds of the African country.

But he added that many indigenous communities, including those in pastoralist areas, face a dearth of basic public services and are among the poorest and most marginalized groups in Kenya.

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