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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Indigenous peoples laud new UN declaration

by Maurice Malanes
Inquirer North Luzon
Last updated 08:02pm (Mla time) 09/17/2007

BAGUIO CITY -- Leaders and representatives of indigenous peoples have hailed as a “historic milestone” the adoption on Thursday of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said the declaration would pave the “building of partnerships between states and indigenous peoples for a more just and sustainable world.”

Sept. 13, 2007 will be remembered as ... a day that the United Nations and its member states, together with indigenous peoples, reconciled with painful histories and decided to march into the future on the path of human rights,” Tauli-Corpuz said in a statement from the UN headquarters in New York.

Before the UN concluded its 61st General Assembly, 144 countries, including the Philippines, voted for the declaration, which indigenous representatives have helped draft and have been pushing to be adopted for the past 23 years.

Four countries (United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) voted against and 11 abstained.

“We are definitely happy [over the declaration’s adoption], but it’s a shame that four countries with significant indigenous populations have voted against it,” Joan Carling, Philippine Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Watch coordinator, said.

The declaration, although non-binding, sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

It stresses 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. These were also referred as the right to self-determination.


It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their “full and effective participation” in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

The Human Rights Council adopted the declaration in June 2006, over the objections of some member states with sizeable indigenous populations.

The UN General Assembly deferred consideration of the text late last year at the behest of African countries, which raised objections about language on self-determination and the definition of “indigenous” people.

The new declaration is expected to serve as reference and framework by governments, UN agencies and the private sector in implementing what indigenous leaders call “a human rights-based approach to development” as it applies to indigenous peoples.