Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 17 Sept 2007
Last week the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples won a victory when the United Nations adopted a Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, which recognizes their rights to land, resources and cultural traditions. Putting this Declaration into effect is the next challenge.
Indigenous peoples worldwide will celebrate 13 September as the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration recognizing their rights to land, other resources and the protection of their cultures.
Last Thursday the Assembly passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, after a long and often emotional series of meetings and negotiations lasting almost 25 years.
was a political victory for the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples.
The Declaration was voted for by 144 countries, including
Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous
peoples, calls for the maintenance and strengthening of their cultural
identities, and emphasizes their right to pursue development in keeping
with their own needs and aspirations.
a triumph for indigenous peoples around the world," said UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon. "This marks a historic moment when member states and
indigenous peoples reconciled with their
“The importance of this document for indigenous peoples and for the human rights agenda, cannot be underestimated,” said General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.
warned that indigenous peoples still faced marginalization, extreme
poverty and other human rights violations. They were often dragged
into conflicts and land disputes that threatened their way of life and
very survival and suffered from a lack of access to health care and
Leaders of indigenous peoples were joyous. Speaking at the General Assembly after the adoption, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said: “This day will forever be etched in our memories as a significant gain in our peoples’ long struggle for our rights.”
She said the Declaration sets the minimum international standards for the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights. “Therefore, existing and future laws, policies, and programs on indigenous peoples will have to be redesigned and shaped to be consistent with this standard.”
She added the challenge had just begun. “We foresee that there will be great difficulties in implementing this Declaration because of lack of political will on the part of the governments, lack of resources and because of the vested interests of rich and powerful.
“Effective implementation of the Declaration will be the test of commitment of States and the whole international community to protect, respect and fulfill indigenous peoples collective and individual human rights.”
She called on governments, the UN, indigenous peoples and civil society to “rise to the historic task before us and make the UN Declaration a living document.”
few countries voting against the Declaration said they could not support
it because of concerns over provisions on self-determination, land and
resources rights and, among others, language giving indigenous peoples
a right of veto over national legislation and State management of resources.
indigenous leaders were disappointed and unhappy with these countries.
Arthur Manuel, a leader of
The Declaration affirmed that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind. It recognized the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources, and called for respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices.
Among the key provisions are that:
-- Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination and the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs.
-- States shall provide effective mechanisms to prevent and redress any action which deprives indigenous peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities; or any action dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources; or any forced population transfer.
-- Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No
relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation.
-- Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would
affect their rights.
-- Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they
have traditionally owned, occupied or used and States shall give legal recognition and protection to these, with due respect to their customs, traditions and land tenure systems.
-- Indigenous peoples have the right to redress for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their consent.
-- Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions and their intellectual property over these and States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights.
-- Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies
for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources. States shall consult with the indigenous peoples to obtain their consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources.
-- States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such
activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.
-- Indigenous peoples have the right to have access to and prompt decision through just and
fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and disputes with States or other parties, as well as to effective remedies for all infringements of their individual and collective rights.