December 15, 2004
The Right Honourable Tony Blair, M.P.
10 Downing Street
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
RE:U.N. Working Group on the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Concerns with UK positions
It has been brought to our attention that your office has not received the letter, dated September 10, 2004, and accompanying Annex that was sent to you in early September 2004. We are therefore enclosing two (2) bound copies of our Joint Submission entitled "Towards a U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Injustices and Contradictions in the Positions of the United Kingdom".
This Submission was jointly made by Indigenous nations and organizations, as well as non-Indigenous human rights organizations, from the different regions of the world. In September, it was confirmed to us that the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office had received a copy of this important documentation.
As you may be aware, recognition and respect of collective human rights are crucial for the survival of the more than 5,000 Indigenous peoples, comprising over 300 million Indigenous persons globally. Consequently, we are gravely concerned that your government is refusing to affirm that our collective rights are human rights under international law.
The enclosed information includes a 166-page substantiation of Indigenous peoples' human rights positions under international law and is self-explanatory. However, I would like to bring to your attention that a formal Statement has been issued last week by 28 Independent Experts of the Commission on Human Rights, on the occasion of the United Nations Human Rights Day, December 10, 2004. In particular, these Experts highlighted that both "persons"and "groups" must fully enjoy their human rights and that the groups most at risk and in need of protection are Indigenous peoples:
Over the years, we have witnessed the immense obstacles certain persons and groups face in enjoying their human rights fully. Among the groups most at risk and in need of protection are indigenous peoples, who have suffered perennial prejudice and discrimination.
Human rights violations remain the main concern for millions of indigenous peoples and thousands of indigenous communities around the world. We urge the international community to step up efforts to promote and protect the human rights of indigenous peoples.
On December 2, 2004, UK representatives at the U.N. Working Group in Geneva that is considering the draft U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples elaborated on the UK position in a document entitled "UK Statement on Issue of Collective Rights". In particular, it states:
"we recognise that [collective rights] are crucial to the very existence and integrity of indigenous peoples as distinct peoples, and provide the political, social, economic and cultural context within which indigenous people can best enjoy their human rights."
We agree with the above quotation and with the UK's official position that the right of self-determination under international law is a collective human right. However, it makes no sense for the UK to then conclude that Indigenous peoples' collective rights are not human rights.
In Article 1 of the international human rights Covenants, it is highlighted that the right of all peoples to self-determination includes economic, social, cultural and political dimensions. As elaborated in the draft U.N. Declaration, our fundamental rights are also clearly of an economic, social, cultural, and political nature. These same classes of rights are addressed in the two international human rights Covenants. In relation to Indigenous peoples, these types of rights cannot suddenly lose their human rights quality simply because of their crucial collective dimensions.
To restrict international human rights to individual rights would only serve to assimilate or otherwise undermine Indigenous peoples' cultures, traditions, legal systems and worldviews. It would run counter to the basic principles of diversity, tolerance and equality - all of which embrace the right to be different. It would also negate a key reason for adopting a U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We are aware of the often-stated position of your government that all human rights must be recognized and respected. Consistent with this fundamental position, we strongly urge you to reassess the UK policies relating to Indigenous peoples and fully support the human rights nature of our collective rights.
Grand Chief Dr. Ted Moses
GRAND COUNCIL OF THE CREES