United Nations declaration on indigenous peoples


At its plenary meeting of 13 September 2007, the General Assembly of the UN adopted the text of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. The Declaration was not adopted by consensus and the text went to the vote. The result was 143 states in favour, four against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United States), and 11 abstentions. The Declaration can be considered the first comprehensive international instrument adopted in favour of Indigenous peoples, and is the result of 25 years of international action, and of about ten years of diplomatic negotiation. This article provides some background to these negotiations, and outlines the legal issues which were focused on during negotiations. The Declaration addresses several important legal issues including protection of Indigenous peoples against discrimination and genocide. It also reaffirms their right to maintain specific and unique cultural traditions; and recognises their right of self-determination, including adequate access to lands and resources essential for their survival and welfare. These are the three issues that may be considered the most difficult for states to address and these are briefly discussed. The outcome of all this is a text that is grounded in existing rights protections but that also provides states with the necessary guidance on ensuring Indigenous people’s effective means to enjoy their rights, recognising their distinct aspirations and their unique ways of life. It is up to the governments of Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada to establish more advanced protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples in their territories and prove their leadership in this matter with good examples for other states and the international community.