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Indigenous peoples rights

17 August 1999

Kia ora, for those of you interested in the struggle for Indigenous Peoples' Rights, see article below. We also have available three email messages, the reports from the UN Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights discussions on 16 and 17 August - please let us know if you'd like to be sent these.

UN indigenous rights: USA opposes

Campaign for indigenous rights runs into U.S. opposition

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - In 1985, leaders of more than 300 million indigenous peoples in over 70 countries started campaigning for a UN declaration recognizing their right to self determination and land.

But indigenous leaders say their campaign has run into strong opposition on those two key demands from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

As representatives of native peoples from around the globe gathered Monday at the United Nations to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, there was no celebration - just a sobering assessment of the struggles ahead.

"Indigenous people have been basically ignored in many cases, are some of the poorest of the poor, and are also some of the most excluded in the development process," said Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, the World Bank representative at the United Nations.

"They are facing serious discrimination in terms of human rights, property, and also culture and citizenship," he told a news conference.

Indigenous leaders have been campaigning for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to take the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights a step further and affirm that indigenous peoples are equal in dignity and rights to all other peoples - but also have a right to be different.

A draft declaration, adopted in 1994 and currently being considered by a working group of the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights, would protect religious practices and ceremonies of indigenous peoples, their languages and oral traditions.

It would also give indigenous peoples - including native Americans and Canadians, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maoris, and South American Quechua and Mapuche - the right to self-determination and the right to own, develop, control and use their traditional lands, waters and other resources.

"This declaration is making very slow progress," said Bacre Waly Ndiaye, director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"For many governments, it's very important to allow prospecting for gold and for oil anywhere - and they're clashing with people for whom the land where they want to prospect is sacred," he said.

Tonya Gonnella Frichner, president of the American-Indian Law Alliance, said Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand fear that self-determination could lead to secession.

"That certainly is not what indigenous peoples are talking about," she said. "When you secede, you go somewhere, and this is our indigenous territory. Where are we going?"

Frichner, a member of the Onondaga Nation, said she and other Native Americans protested last week when U.S. representatives referred to Native American groups as "domestic dependent nations" at a working group meeting in Geneva on the declaration.

"We were not domestic dependent nations. You don't sign treaties with domestic dependent nations," she said. "You sign treaties with nations."

Despite objections from the four nations, indigenous leaders are hopeful that they will achieve their goal of getting the UN to adopt the declaration by the end of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People in 2004.

While a declaration won't be legally binding, Frichner said, it will be an important guide to nations around the world on the rights of many of their forgotten peoples.

The Canadian Press, 1999

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