Indigenous leaders voice hope that UN assembly will soon adopt rights declaration

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz briefs correspondents

6 September 2007 – Indigenous leaders today expressed hope that the United Nations General Assembly next week will adopt a declaration outlining their rights and outlawing discrimination against them.

Although the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which has been drafted and debated for more than two decades – last June, the Assembly deferred action after some Member States raised concerns.

A majority of the 16 members of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, an advisory body, have agreed to endorse a recently amended draft declaration for adoption by the General Assembly, Victoria Tauli-Corpus, who serves as Chair of the Forum and as the Co-coordinator of the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus on the declaration, told reporters in New York.

“We think that this is a historical milestone if it is going to be adopted, and hopefully we would like it to be adopted by consensus. It is a historical milestone, too, for the indigenous peoples who have been doing this work for more than 22 years,” said Ms. Tauli-Corpus, who belongs to the Kankanaey-Igorot people of the Cordillera region in the Phillippines.

She noted that States have a “historical obligation and a moral obligation” to adopt the declaration, which she characterized as a “key instrument and tool for raising awareness on indigenous peoples’ situations and indigenous peoples’ rights.”

The General Assembly is expected to consider the adoption of the Declaration on 13 September before the conclusion of its current session the following day.

This May at the Forum’s annual session, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that there was a widespread misunderstanding that the declaration places indigenous peoples in a special category.

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – it’s really an instrument that interprets international human rights law in so far as it applies to indigenous peoples,” she said. “So it’s not a document, it’s not a declaration that creates new rights.”

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.

The text prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and 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.

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