Monday, October 8, 2007

Indigenous Pacific anomalies - 5-Oct-2007

THERE is much in the Report of the Human Rights Council’s ‘Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ tabled as agenda item 68 during the 61st session of the General Assembly of the UN just last month.

For example, Article 2 notes that ‘Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity’. Lovely.

Articles 3 and 4 express the conviction that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination’ and ‘in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions’. Marvellous.

Article 5 of the declaration states that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State’. Article 6 further reinforces the place of indigenous peoples in the modern state when it declares that ‘Every indigenous individual has the right to a nationality’. Beautiful.

Article 7 (2) protects indigenous peoples by granting them ‘the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group’. Reinforcing the point, Article 8 of the draft notes that ‘Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture’ and that ‘States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities; (b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources; (c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights; (d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration; (e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them’. Powerful.

Article 9 addresses cultural maintenance in that ‘Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned’ and ‘No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right’, while Article 10 affirms spatial integrity in that ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories’ and that ‘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 and, where possible, with the option of return’. Whew.

Article 11 says further that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs’ and Article 12 specifies in this regard that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites’ and ‘the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects’. Magnificent.

And these are just some of the provisions expressed in the declaration aimed at protecting the thousands of tribal peoples who form the world’s least powerful minorities. And given all the advocacy of the welfare of Aboriginal Australians and of Maori New Zealanders and of Inuit Canadians that we have heard respectively from the governments of these great Commonwealth nations, it is curious that none of them voted in support of the declaration. Why not?

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