Sunday, September 13, 2009

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Time for Implementation


Andrea Carmen, Executive Director
International Indian Treaty Council
Telephone: (907) 745-4482


September 13, 2009 -- Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly. On that historical day, 144 countries voted in favor and 11 abstained. Of the four countries voting against its adoption, Australia has since changed its position. This leaves the US, Canada and New Zealand increasingly isolated in their refusal to endorse the “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world”.

The Obama Administration has indicated that the US is also considering a change of position. This cannot come too soon. The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) joins with the National Congress of American Indians, a number of US Tribes and Indigenous organizations, Indigenous Peoples around the world and a number of UN bodies in urging the US to announce its support without delay. The critical situations facing Indigenous Peoples in and outside the US, which include human rights violations, abrogation of treaties, destruction of sacred sites, and contamination of land and waters, require no less.

We recognize there is a long way to go to ensure that the rights affirmed in the Declaration are a reality “on the ground.” Many countries which voted in favor and even some which were in the forefront of work for the Declaration’s adoption, lag far behind their stated commitment when it comes to implementation. The recent events in Peru, including the massacre of Indigenous Peoples opposing development imposed without their Free Prior Informed Consent, demonstrate how much work remains to close the “implementation gap.”

There have are also been positive signs and important steps forward. Indigenous Nations, Peoples, Tribes, national and grass roots organizations are increasingly adopting, using and citing it in their tribal ordinances, positions statements, court decisions and legal cases. Indigenous Peoples around the world have begun to assert that it’s principles are the minimum standard for any negotiations involving Treaty Rights, Land Claims and Rights to Territories and Resources. Bodies such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature have followed suit by endorsing the Declaration as a basis for their work.

IITC congratulates the city of Berkeley California which in May 2009 adopted the Declaration by unanimous resolution. Berkeley joins Phoenix and others which have taken this important step in solidarity with the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, despite the fact their own national government continues to lag behind.

The key to making the Declaration real, to creating a groundswell of public opinion and putting political and moral pressure on the countries which continue to be out of step with the world community on this issue, is implementation. Indigenous Peoples and our allies can keep the pressure building by using the Declaration as a tool to defend our rights, lands, treaties, cultures and ways of life at every opportunity. The more we do this, the more powerful a political, legal and spiritual force it will become. The tide of history and a vision of life for our future generations will be with us as we go forward.

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