Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Indigenous rights and human rights

from w
The recent declaration is not binding but it's a worthy reminder to respect and uphold the diversity of culture that enriches our world. So often indigenous peoples are pushed aside, treated badly until they almost disappear.For Fiji to be able to maintain so much land for the indigenous Fijians is amazing really when compared with other countries. Some cultures even lose their languages.

I noticed that John Howard is adamant that indigenous rights are subservient to human rights. Okay, he is cautious, but there's a better way of saying it. He's not much of a 21st century thinker. The Fiji Post editorial is full of nice mother statements and jargon but the point is well made to always consider the rights of indigenous peoples, and of course it is relevant to Pacific Islanders.

From Fiji Post
A milestone for indigenous rights

The 61st United Nations General Assembly on September 13, Thursday last week finally, after 23 long hard years of debate, campaigns and protest, adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had reportedly said the declaration would pave the “building of partnerships between states and the indigenous peoples for a more just and sustainable world.”

Indigenous leaders, representatives and rights campaigners around the world have applauded the milestone achievement of something that had been brewing for more than two decades.

The declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

It also declares the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations, also referred to as the right to self-determination.

The declaration prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

It must be noted that the declaration is non-binding on UN member states, however its adopted by the overwhelming majority of 144 members of the world body in itself provides a strong impetus for implementation at the national policy level. The declaration does have clout in terms of strongly stating a recognition and respect for the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.

Interestingly four of the world’s most development countries with significant indigenous populations were the only ones that voted against the declaration.

The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have tarnished histories of exploitative treatment against indigenous peoples.

NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark had defended her country’s ‘no’ vote by saying that her country’s laws already address indigenous rights, a contention that Maori leaders have expressed outrage against.

Australia has consistently maintained that it cannot allow indigenous customary law to be given precedence over national law.

The UN declaration is not an imposition on national law because of its non-binding status.

The reactions of these two countries reflect a much deeper loathing of the concept of ‘indigenous rights’. They ignore the fact that their indigenous peoples continue to occupy the fringes of their national societies and occupy a dubious position in health, crime, economic and other social statistics.

The declaration will undoubtedly give greater weight to calls by our indigenous peoples in Fiji for a fairer share of national development.

It gives precedence to human rights as an important factor in development as it applies to indigenous peoples.

We hope that our government, policymakers, and the private sector will be guided by the principles of the declaration when they cross paths with the indigenous community in their approach to national economic development.
To listen to a discussion on this topic go to Asia Pacific.

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