UN Human Rights Commissioner Says Indigenous Rights Declaration A Priority

MONTREAL – April 13, 2005 – The UN draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be finalized and adopted within the next two years, Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today at a meeting in Geneva organized by Rights & Democracy, Amnesty International, FIDH and the Friends World Committee for Consultation (The Quakers).

“Be assured of my commitment, and that of my team, to provide all the assistance needed to help advance the adoption of the Declaration,” she told the meeting.

Rights & Democracy is encouraged by Ms. Arbour’s stated commitment to “maintaining the momentum” of discussions around the draft Declaration and her call for reconsidering “the current methods of work with a view to building greater confidence between the parties” involved in the talks. Rights & Democracy believes this is a vital step toward achieving much needed consensus on outstanding issues, such as self-determination and access and control of land, territories and resources.

As negotiations on the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples enter their 11th year, human rights violations against the world’s indigenous populations continue unabated. Calling Indigenous peoples rights “a critical challenge for the international human rights system,” Ms. Arbour’s commitment to seeing the Declaration adopted in a timely manner is therefore a welcome and important step toward the realization of international standards for indigenous peoples’ rights protected within the international human rights system.

Rights & Democracy firmly believes Ms. Arbour’s pledge of UN support for seeing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted now needs a parallel commitment from the Government of Canada to assume a greater leadership role in the process. A recent statement by Pierre Pettigrew, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, calling the Declaration “a priority” that Canada would like to see adopted in 2005, is helpful, but only if it is followed with contructive and concrete action, said Rights & Democracy.

“These are all encouraging developments that we hope will continue,”said Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights & Democracy. “However, for real change to occur, States will have to accept that many of their current objections to the draft Declaration contradict their responsibilities to uphold and promote the rights of indigenous peoples already enshrined in existing international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”