PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR
UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
TOWARDS A U.N. DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: INJUSTICES AND CONTRADICTIONS IN THE POSITIONS OF THE
Joint Submission By:
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD), TEBTEBBA Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education), Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Secretariat (NAILSS), Innu Council of Nitassinan, Centro de Desarrollo Kuna Yala (CEDEKY), Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), First Peoples Human Rights Coalition, Na Koa Ikaika o Ka Lahui Hawai`i, FÃ©dÃ©ration des Organisations Autochtones de Guyane (FOAG), Asian Indigenous Women's Network, Centro de Asistencia Legal Popular (CEALP) Programa de Pueblos Indigenas, Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Montana Cree Nation, Louis Bull Cree Nation, Caribbean Antilles Indigenous Peoples Caucus & the Diaspora, CAIPCD, El Consejo General de Tainos Boricanos (Region Central, Puerto Rico), South African First Indigenous and Human Rights Organization (SAFIHRO), Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS Australia, Caney 5to Mundo (Orocovis, Puerto Rico), Native Women's Association of Canada, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples (Southern Cross University), Ngalaya Aboriginal Corporation - Indigenous Lawyers of NSW (New South Wales), Indigenous People ( Bethechilokono) of Saint Lucia, BGC, United Confederation of Taino People UCTP, Puerto Rico), Nepal Indigenous Peoples Development and Information Service Centre (NIPDISC),Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples (NCIV), and KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.
September 10, 2004
The Right Honourable Tony Blair
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
10 Downing Street , London, SW1A 2AA
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
We wish to bring to your urgent attention our deep concerns regarding the basic positions of the UK government that are adversely affecting the human rights of over 300 million Indigenous people globally. We are referring here to the current United Nations standard-setting process relating to Indigenous peoples' human rights.
Impediments by UK and other States
After nine years of careful discussion and reflection, a draft U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had been formulated and approved in 1993 by the experts of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP). Indigenous peoples, States, specialized agencies and academics actively participated and exchanged views during this dynamic process.
In 1994 another group of independent experts, in what is now called the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, approved the WGIP text of the draft U.N. Declaration. However, these significant advancements towards the adoption by the General Assembly of the draft U.N. Declaration have since been severely hampered.
In 1995, States were accorded a more active role when t he U.N. Commission of Human Rights (UNCHR) established an open-ended inter-sessional Working Group to elaborate a Declaration. As a basis for its work, this Working Group has always used the draft U.N. Declaration approved by the Sub-Commission.
It is appalling that, during the past ten years, the UNCHR Working Group has only provisionally approved 2 of the 45 Articles of the draft Declaration. To a large degree, this serious lack of progress is a result of the lack of political will among a number of participating States, including the United Kingdom.
A persistent problem is that the UK and certain other participating States propose the adoption of inadequate and discriminatory double standards. In so doing, they effectively block any real possibility of consensus. They pay little attention to the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter - which require promotion and respect for human rights. Apparently, for some States in the Working Group, the peremptory norm that prohibits racial discrimination is also of little consequence.
Further, these positions of your government are largely inconsistent with international law and its progressive development. If maintained, they will continue to severely impede progress within the current U.N. standard-setting process.
Only two more meetings are scheduled before the end of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People in December 2004. The adoption of a Declaration by the General Assembly - a major objective of the Decade - is being unfairly jeopardized.
In order to fully substantiate our concerns regarding the United Kingdom, we include with this letter an Annex entitled "Towards a U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Injustices and Contradictions in the Positions of the United Kingdom". In our respectful view, UK positions on key issues are most often unfair and obstructionist. In some cases, they squarely contradict the same universal values and principles that the UK government claims to uphold.
The UK and other States are increasingly aware of the global challenges we face. In all regions of the world, Indigenous peoples have been subjected to colonialism, widespread dispossession of lands and resources, discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, forced assimilation and other forms of cultural genocide, genocide and rampant violations of treaty rights. All of these elements are inseparably linked to violations of human rights.
Clearly, in light of the stark historical and contemporary realities impacting upon Indigenous peoples, the UK government should be demonstrating respect for human dignity, tolerance, and a genuine commitment to justice.
Specific Indigenous concerns with UK positions
In the Annex to this letter, we raise a number of fundamental concerns with UK positions affecting the human rights of Indigenous peoples globally. These include:
denying Indigenous peoples' collective human rights, which are an integral part of our identity, cultures, traditions, and legal systems
challenging our status as "peoples" under international law, in order to deny us full recognition of our human rights
proposing discriminatory double standards on our right of self-determination and our rights to lands, territories and natural resources, contrary to UK legal obligations under both international human rights Covenants
overall weakening the draft U.N. Declaration through unsubstantiated and obstructionist proposals.
The UK, often in tandem with the U.S. government, effectively disregards its international obligations as a Member State of the United Nations. Without credible reasoning, both governments actively challenge the fundamental principles in the draft U.N. Declaration. Both seriously impede progress on Indigenous peoples' human rights and thereby perpetuate our global impoverishment. Yet, each of these same governments makes vigorous public speeches about their principled foreign policy objectives.
The prejudicial global implications of the UK positions being taken are wide-ranging in relation to Indigenous peoples including women, youth and children. Rather than ensuring our security, the UK - like the U.S. government - is promoting the insecurity of the world's Indigenous peoples by undermining our fundamental status and human rights.
Broader global implications
On human rights issues, the lack of impartiality in the positions of the UK and certain other States have grave implications that go far beyond the more than 300 million Indigenous people in different regions of the globe. Selective or discriminatory application of the Charter's Principles ' whether by developed or developing States - substantially weakens the United Nations and the international human rights system as a whole.
Strict adherence to the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter is of the utmost importance. This is especially crucial in the current geo-political context. A diverse range of measures is being implemented internationally by the U.N. and its Member States. These include promotion of international peace, security and cooperation; combatting terrorism; prosecution of crimes against humanity; and addressing other issues of global concern.
In light of the damaging implications of the UK positions for Indigenous peoples and others in the global context, we strongly urge the government to undertake a profound reform of its human rights strategies and positions.
T o its credit, the UK government has publicly declared that its human rights record is "gladly open" to "legitimate international scrutiny". The government is " constantly working to improve, including learning from others, and admitting and correcting mistakes". It is in this collaborative spirit of constructive scrutiny, accountability and advancement of human rights that we are communicating to you our most pressing concerns.
Indigenous peoples - in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific region, Europe, and North America - are determined to achieve a strong and uplifting Declaration through the current standard-setting process. We welcome and expect the United Kingdom and other States to contribute positively to this urgent and vital process. In this context, democratic States must uphold the principles and values of international human rights law for the benefit of all peoples without discrimination.
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), TEBTEBBA Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education), Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC), Innu Council of Nitassinan, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), Na Koa Ikaika o Ka Lahui Hawai`i, Asian Indigenous Women's Network, Samson Cree Nation, Montana Cree Nation, Caribbean Antilles Indigenous Peoples Caucus & the Diaspora, CAIPCD, South African First Indigenous and Human Rights Organization (SAFIHRO), Caney 5to Mundo (Orocovis, Puerto Rico), Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Ngalaya Aboriginal Corporation - Indigenous Lawyers of NSW ( New South Wales), United Confederation of Taino People UCTP, Puerto Rico), Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD), Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Secretariat (NAILSS), Centro de Desarrollo Kuna Yala (CEDEKY), First Peoples Human Rights Coalition, FÃ©dÃ©ration des Organisations Autochtones de Guyane (FOAG), Centro de Asistencia Legal Popular (CEALP) Programa de Pueblos Indigenas, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Cree Nation, El Consejo General de Tainos Boricanos (Region Central, Puerto Rico), Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS Australia, Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples (Southern Cross University), Indigenous People ( Bethechilokono) of Saint Lucia, BGC, Nepal Indigenous Peoples Development and Information Service Centre (NIPDISC), Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples (NCIV)
Encl. - Annex
Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO
The Honourable Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedoms of the Indigenous People
Mr. Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Mr. Juan Mendez, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide
Ambassador Mike Smith ( Australia), Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Luis-Enrique Chavez (Peru), Chairperson-Rapporteur, UNCHR Working Group
Mr. Julian Burger, OHCHR
Dr. Solomon Passy, Chairman-in-Office, Organization for Security and Cooperation
European Union and other States