United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
“The 13th of September 2007 will be remembered as an international human rights day for indigenous peoples of the world - a day that the United Nations and its member states, together with indigenous peoples, reconciled with past painful histories and decided to march into the future on the path of human rights.”
With these words, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Inidgenous Issues, welcomed the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP).
The Declaration consists of 46 articles, dealing with indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, culture, language, etc. It speaks of indigenous peoples´ right to self-determination and of their right to maintain their distinct political, legal social and cultural institutions, along with many other issues. The Declaration is a standard-setting document in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Like other UN Declarations, it reflects the collective views of the United Nations, which must be taken into account by all members in good faith. Although it is not legally binding, it is a strong tool in the hands of indigenous peoples around the world and has legal relevance. For instance, it may reflect obligations of States under other sources of international law, such as customary law and general principles of law.
The adoption of the Declaration was not easy. For more than 20 years, indigenous representatives and governments have negotiated over the formulation of the text. Among the articles causing conflict were those speaking of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and the right to the lands, territories and resources. Some governments claimed that this could endanger the territorial and political integrity of a State and possibly even lead to secession. Indigenous representatives, on the other hand, stated that granting them the same rights as any other people on the planet would rather prevent than create conflict.
Finally, 143 countries voted in favour of the declaration while four voted against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United States). Eleven countries abstained.