Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Canada: Canada's Endorsement of Indigenous Rights Significant

UNPFII Chair Carlos Mamani | Credit: UN

By J Chandler

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TORONTO (IDN) - Canada's endorsement of the global treaty outlining the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous peoples has been welcomed by the head of a United Nations body dealing with the issue.

Carlos Mamani, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), described it as reaffirmation of the country's commitment to the principles of respect, non-discrimination and good faith enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mamani said the endorsement by Canada of the UN Declaration is an "important step in the right direction towards building and strengthening the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples within Canada and indeed with indigenous peoples throughout the world."

Canada, along with Australia, New Zealand and the United States, originally voted against the Declaration when it was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007 after more than two decades of debate.

Australia and New Zealand later endorsed the treaty -- a non-binding text that sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Mamani said in a statement on November 12 that he looked forward to increased commitment by Canada and the world to working towards the full implementation of the Declaration, and encouraged other States that have not endorsed it to do so.

"I also congratulate the Canadian representatives of Indigenous Peoples who patiently exerted extraordinary efforts for this Declaration, which embodies the most important rights we and our ancestors have long fought for; our right of self-determination, our right to own and control our lands, territories and resources, our right to free, prior and informed consent, among others," UNPFII head said.

Mamani added: "I look forward to seeing increased commitment of Canada as well as the whole international community to work towards the full and effective implementation of the Declaration and to protect, respect and fulfil indigenous peoples collective and individual human rights."

He asked those states that have not yet done so, to endorse the Declaration.


The endorsement by Canada of the UN Declaration followed in the footsteps of a remarkable report by an independent United Nations expert, published on October 18, which revealed that a lot remains to be done to improve the situation of indigenous peoples.

The report says indigenous people are entitled to their own institutions and self-governing structures to enable them to manage their own affairs and ensure that the development process is aligned with their own cultural patterns, values and customs.

"In the light of the extreme disadvantages that indigenous peoples have typically faced across a range of social and economic indicators, there are particular concerns… that must be taken into account with regard to development initiatives that affect them," says James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation on the freedom of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people in a report to the General Assembly.

The report explains that policies and initiatives aimed at the development of the economy or infrastructure, which are apparently purported to benefit citizens on the whole, can have negative effects on indigenous peoples.

"These include, inter alia, development programmes involving the extraction of natural resources and mega-projects such as the construction of dams and transportation facilities on indigenous peoples' territories.

"Such development programmes and projects, despite their specific effects on indigenous peoples and their territories, are often undertaken without adequate consultation with them or without their free, prior and informed consent," Anaya says in his report.

He also notes that development projects targeted specifically at reducing the disadvantages experienced by indigenous people and improving their social and economic well-being often fail to properly incorporate their specific needs to advance their self-determination and their rights to maintain their distinct cultural identities, languages and connections with their traditional lands.

"Within both of these areas of concern, there is a need for governments to decidedly fold into development programmes the goal of increasing indigenous self-determination," Anaya writes in his report.

According to UN News, the report calls for enhancing indigenous peoples' education and skills to empower them to engage and participate in the various elements of development programmes and projects that affect them.

The independent expert says that the participation of indigenous peoples in the broader public life of the State is often inadequate and not proportional to their numbers, recommending special measures to ensure that they participate on equal footing in public and political life.

"It is evident that throughout the world, indigenous peoples are not adequately consulted, nor is their consent obtained, when decisions affecting their rights or interests are made," the UN Special Rapporteur writes.

On indigenous people's participation in decision-making at the international level, Anaya points out that continued efforts need to be made to ensure their active involvement in the development of all international standards and programmes that concern them.

"Potential reforms within international institutions and platforms of decision-making that affect indigenous peoples' lives should be closely examined, and measures should be taken or strengthened to provide financial and other support to enable indigenous peoples to participate effectively at the international level," Anaya writes.

He exhorts indigenous peoples to continue to strengthen their capacities to control and manage their own affairs and to participate effectively in all decisions affecting them, in a spirit of cooperation and partnership with government authorities at all levels.

Anaya welcomes the adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as recent statements of support or movement towards support, by the few States that originally voted against the adoption.

"Today, the Declaration serves more as a reminder of how far there is to go in bringing justice and dignity to the lives of indigenous peoples than a reflection of what has actually been achieved on the ground," he says.

Anaya's was the first of many reports to be presented by independent UN experts to the 192-member Assembly over the following weeks.