I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to be a lecturer at this thirteenth Oxford Amnesty Lecture Series: 2005. It is truly an honour to visit your world-famous University and to address this distinguished audience.
The theme of this year's Lecture Series is "Land Rights". The subject of my lecture today is "Indigenous Peoples and International Human Rights". An in-depth law article has also been prepared for this occasion. For those of you who are interested in a more detailed examination of the issues highlighted in my lecture, I would encourage you to look at the law article that I have co-authored.
Three preliminary points
At the outset, I would like to emphasize three preliminary points. First, when Indigenous people speak of "land rights", we generally refer to the broader context of lands, territories and resources. For example, in regard to my own people - the James Bay Cree people - our traditional territory Eeyou Istchee includes lands, waters and resources, and is approximately 400,000 sq. km (about three times the size of England). It extends beyond the boundaries of the province of QuÃ©bec and includes offshore islands and waters in James Bay and Hudson's Bay.
For thousands of years, the Crees have occupied, governed, used, protected, and managed its traditional territory. We continue to do so in a spirit of sharing. At the same time, we have a profound relationship with our territory and its resources and environment. This relationship has economic, social, cultural, spiritual and political dimensions. Therefore, it is in this wide-ranging perspective that our "land rights" must be considered.
Second, it is critical to appreciate the magnitude of the human rights challenges that Indigenous peoples face today. There are over 300 million Indigenous people in the different regions of the world. This includes more than 5,000 cultures. Yet we share a common legacy of human rights violations that still profoundly affects most Indigenous peoples and individuals today.
The historical and contemporary experiences of Indigenous peoples globally are most often described in such terms as dispossession, colonization and colonialism, racism and discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, cultural genocide or ethnocide, and genocide. These tragic and often brutal encounters with States, settlers, corporations, religious orders and other outsiders have resulted in far-reaching adverse impacts.
I am highlighting this global situation because it remains extremely urgent. Yet too often Indigenous peoples are compelled to suffer abuses by States or others in virtual silence. Too often, within our various States, we simply do not have a voice. As I will later illustrate, in the human rights standard-setting process concerning Indigenous peoples at the United Nations, there are a number of so-called democratic States that participate, but show little regard for these ongoing atrocities or other rights violations.
Third, in order to appreciate the various dimensions of Indigenous peoples' rights to lands, territories and resources, it is necessary to examine the broader context of our international human rights. This is because issues that we consider to be essential are viewed by some States as "impediments" to making progress on the draft U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that is being considered in Geneva.
These key matters include: i) affirmation of our legal status as "peoples" or "Indigenous peoples"; ii) affirmation of the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination under international law; and iii) affirmation of our collective rights as human rights. All of these aspects are interrelated with the central issue of our land, territorial and resource rights.
Brief background of U.N. standard-setting process
In discussing the international human rights of Indigenous peoples, it is vital to provide a brief background on developments within the United Nations. Human rights atrocities, both past and present, have compelled Indigenous peoples to seek effective remedies outside the States or territories in which they live.
Since the early 1920s, the search for justice has brought Indigenous leaders, representatives and organizations to the United Nations or to its predecessor, the League of Nations. Over the past 20 years, I have seen Indigenous people from different parts of the world - who had little or no means and had never before left their remote villages - find their way to the United Nations in Geneva. Many came in desperation and as a last resort.
Finally, in 1982, the U.N. took a significant step in responding to the growing global concerns of Indigenous peoples. The Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) was mandated to devote special attention to the evolution of standards relating to the rights of Indigenous peoples. In 1985, the WGIP decided to begin work on a "draft declaration on indigenous rights" for eventual submission to and adoption by the General Assembly.
During a period of about nine years, a draft U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was carefully formulated and ultimately approved by the expert members of the WGIP. Within this democratic and dynamic process, Indigenous peoples, States, specialized agencies and academics actively participated and exchanged views. In 1994, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (as it is now called) approved the draft Declaration elaborated by the WGIP and submitted it for consideration to the Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).
While these achievements within the U.N. system generated much-needed optimism in regard to our human rights, a new reality was soon to appear. In the next stage of the standard-setting process, States and not independent international human rights experts would play a central and controlling role.
In March 1995, the Commission on Human Rights established an open-ended inter-sessional working group (WGDD) of the Commission on Human Rights with the sole purpose of elaborating a draft declaration. During the past 10 years, the WGDD has considered the text of the draft Declaration that was approved by the Sub-Commission and has made little progress in reaching consensus.
Only 2 of the 45 Articles in the draft U.N. Declaration have been provisionally approved by the participating States. The two Articles of the draft U.N. Declaration that were approved in 1997 only affirm individual rights. As a result, no text has been recommended for adoption by the General Assembly. Thus, at the end of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People in December 2004, its "major objective" to adopt such a Declaration was not achieved.
The Grand Council of the Crees wholeheartedly commends the U.N. General Assembly for proclaiming a Second Decade to deal with Indigenous issues at the international level. This Second Decade, which commenced on January 1, 2005, can provide sorely needed opportunities to constructively confront the numerous challenges and problems facing Indigenous peoples. However, the fate of the WGDD will only be determined in April of this year. At that time, the Commission on Human Rights will decide if it will extend the mandate of the Working Group and for what period.
At this point, it would be beneficial to pose two fundamental questions. Why is it that international human rights experts, at two different levels of the U.N. system, were able to approve the whole text of the draft U.N. Declaration - which predominantly deals with the collective human rights of Indigenous peoples' And why is it that the WGDD during the past 10 years only approved 2 out of 45 Articles - which 2 Articles only affirm existing individual human rights?
In our respectful view and that of numerous other Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations, the lack of progress in the WGDD can be attributed to at least two recurring and interrelated problems. One is a lack of political will among certain States and the other is the discriminatory positions being taken by them.
In considering these problems and the international human rights of Indigenous peoples, I will devote particular attention to the positions of the United Kingdom, among other States. As will be demonstrated, the UK positions are highly inflexible, regressive and discriminatory. They serve to severely impair the integrity of Indigenous peoples' basic rights. If adopted, these positions could have widespread impacts on our status, rights, legal systems and worldviews.
International duties to respect and promote human rights
In the context of the U.N. standard-setting process, Indigenous peoples globally have repeatedly emphasized that the human rights norms in the draft U.N. Declaration must be consistent with international law and its progressive development. In striving to ensure that our fundamental rights are clearly embraced by the international human rights system, we have repeatedly underlined the duties of the U.N. and Member States to uphold the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter.
As the U.N. Charter makes clear, its Purposes and Principles require actions "promoting and encouraging respect" for human rights and not undermining them. The duty to promote respect for human rights is to be based on "respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples".
Clearly, the U.N. and its Member States have no authority to weaken our human rights under international law and thereby create a double standard. In relation to both Indigenous peoples and individuals, the creation of discriminatory double standards based on race would be a violation of international law, including the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter. It would also be a violation of the peremptory norm that prohibits racial discrimination.
Thus, States could not validly agree to create discriminatory norms in a new Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples or other U.N. instrument. Clearly, in such a situation, the obligations of Member States under the U.N. Charter would prevail over those in any other international agreement. In regard to the Charter or other international instruments, legal obligations must be fulfilled in good faith.
In light of these essential principles and duties, it is most disconcerting and wholly unacceptable that some States in the WGDD are refusing to recognize that the collective rights of Indigenous peoples are international human rights. Among others, these States include the United Kingdom, France, United States, Netherlands, Belgium and Greece.
As stated in its Human Rights: Annual Report of 2004, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) states the government's position on collective rights in the following terms:
With the exception of the right to self-determination, we do not accept the concept of collective rights. Human rights obligations - developed over the last half century require states to treat individuals, rather than groups of people, in accordance with international standards. The key is that indigenous people should be able to realize their individual rights and participate effectively in decision-making processes, particularly on issues concerning land and resources.
In response to the UK's positions on our collective rights, Indigenous organizations and nations from different parts of the world jointly submitted to Prime Minister Blair a 166-page analysis. This in-depth, substantiated Submission challenged the soundness of the presumptions and conclusions of the UK positions. Our overall conclusion is that the UK positions are in many ways discriminatory and they cannot be sustained.
In direct contradiction to the UK positions, the collective rights of Indigenous peoples are recognized as part of international law. For example, in the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989, reference is made to the human rights of the "[Indigenous and tribal] peoples concerned". It is only when the Convention specifically addresses the rights of individuals that the term "members" of the peoples concerned is used. This Convention explicitly addresses various collective human rights of Indigenous Peoples, including land and resource rights. Under this Convention, State governments, with the participation of Indigenous peoples, have a general legal duty to "protect the rights of these peoples and to guarantee respect for their integrity".
In addition, in such general instruments as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the rights of "groups" are explicitly contemplated. In the 1948 Genocide Convention, groups have the collective human right not to be subjected to genocide. In UNESCO's 1982 Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, it is underlined: "The State has prime responsibility for ensuring human rights and fundamental freedoms on an entirely equal footing in dignity and rights for all individuals and all groups."
Also, in what is commonly known as the "Human Rights Defenders" Declaration of 1999, the U.N. General Assembly refers to the "effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals". This includes systematic violations such as those resulting from apartheid, all forms of racial discrimination, colonialism, and the refusal to recognize the right of peoples to self-determination and the right of every people to exercise full sovereignty over its wealth and natural resources.
Further, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has interpreted existing human rights instruments to include the collective rights of Indigenous peoples. A Working Group of Experts of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has also concluded that the collective rights of Indigenous peoples are human rights.
It is especially noteworthy that, in 2000, the UK and other EU States entered into the "Cotonou Agreement" with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). Many of the 78 States that are currently in the ACP Group include Indigenous peoples. In this legally binding international agreement, it is stated:
The Parties refer to their international obligations and commitments concerning respect for human rights. They reiterate their deep attachment to human dignity and human rights, which are legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples. Human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-related. The Parties undertake to promote and protect all fundamental freedoms and human rights, be they civil and political, or economic, social and cultural.
Yet it would appear that, in relation to Indigenous peoples, the UK and other opposing States remain oblivious to all of these human rights obligations, commitments and realities. To date, we have never received a substantiated response to the specific human rights arguments that we have raised in our analyses or in our discussions in Geneva.
Instead, in defence of its positions, the UK has conjured up a number of erroneous arguments that are replete with discrimination. These arguments are generating confusion and division. They include the following:
- First, that treaties entered into prior to 1948 have no relevance to international human rights law. However, this view has been contradicted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission has recently concluded that, in regard to human rights issues pertaining to Indigenous peoples, it was necessary to review their particular historical context as well as relevant treaties, legislation and jurisprudence that developed over more than 80 years.
- Second, that collective rights are "granted" or given by national governments and, therefore, must be kept separate from international human rights law, which deals with individual rights. However, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled repeatedly that the collective Aboriginal rights of Aboriginal peoples are "inherent" or "pre-existing". The existence of our collective rights is not dependent on any recognition or "grant" by national governments. Aboriginal title to land has been determined to "arise from the prior occupation of Canada by Aboriginal peoples'. Moreover, a diverse range of international bodies address Indigenous peoples' rights in the context of human rights.
- Third, that the draft U.N. Declaration seeks to "create" new collective rights specific to Indigenous peoples. However, this view is contradicted in the draft Declaration itself, which refers to the "inherent rights " of indigenous peoples, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources. In addition, the British government entered into numerous historical treaties with Indigenous peoples which affirmed their collective rights. For example, the Treaty of Waitangi, entered into with the Maori in 1840, explicitly affirms their collective rights.
- Fourth, that collective rights are a threat to the individual human rights of Indigenous persons. For the UK to pre-judge all collective rights in such a stereotypical manner is highly discriminatory and ignorant. Equal recognition of the collective human rights of "peoples" cannot, in itself, be a violation of the rights of "individuals". Indigenous individuals often exercise rights that flow from our collective rights. Recently, the UK contradicted its own position, by expressly conceding that the collective rights of Indigenous peoples 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." However, to repeat, the UK does not regard these collective rights as human rights.
- And fifth, that individual human rights must always prevail over collective rights. However, this prejudicial assumption would not allow for possible balancing to occur between collective and individual rights that should be based on the particular facts in any given case. In any human rights dispute, should it arise, a "contextual analysis" would take place based on the particular facts and law in a specific situation. This is the fair and just approach that is generally accepted under both international and domestic law.
Rights to lands, territories and resources - need for a self-determination context
Let us now turn briefly to the right of self-determination and land-related issues.
Recognition and respect for the right of self-determination and other collective human rights establish an essential context for the enjoyment and exercise of Indigenous peoples' rights to lands, territories and resources. Without an adequate land and resource base, the impoverishment of Indigenous peoples by States and others will continue. In addition, the survival and well-being of distinct Indigenous peoples and the integrity of our nations, communities, cultures and legal systems will be severely jeopardized.
Since the collective human right of self-determination is specifically included in both international human rights Covenants, one would expect that States participating in the WGDD would apply this central right on an equal basis to Indigenous peoples. After all, each and every State that has ratified at least one of the Covenants has an affirmative legal obligation to "promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations".
Yet many of the States in the WGDD, including the UK, United States, France, the Netherlands and Australia, are still not willing to fulfill these legal obligations. They still refuse to unequivocally affirm that the right of "all peoples" to self-determination in Article 1 of the Covenants applies equally to Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. In the case of the UK, Secretary of State Hilary Benn has acknowledged that "The fact that many indigenous peoples are anthropological "peoples' is clear, and is a vital part of their identity." Curiously, he qualifies this by adding "It is not generally accepted as a matter of international law that the right of self-determination in common Article 1 applies to indigenous peoples per se".
This latter position fails to respect the interpretations and conclusions of the treaty monitoring bodies, such as the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both these bodies have applied Article 1 of the Covenants to Indigenous peoples, including the rights to natural resources. Consistent with the right of self-determination under international law, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has repeatedly stated that Indigenous peoples have the "right to own, develop, control and use their communal lands, territories and resources".
With regard to Indigenous peoples, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has explicitly endorsed the self-determining approach of these three treaty monitoring bodies. In terms of improving the conditions affecting Aboriginal children in Canada, the Committee has explicitly highlighted the importance of the observations and recommendations on lands and resources by these bodies.
It is worth noting that the Human Rights Committee is using the collective right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination as a normative standard to interpret individual rights under the Covenant. Therefore, any State that seeks to deny or otherwise undermine the recognition of the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination - including the right to natural resources - is also impairing the full and just recognition of the human rights of Indigenous individuals.
In contrast to these positive developments within the U.N., UK representatives at the WGDD have suggested creating a "new right" of self-determination in the draft U.N. Declaration that would apply globally to Indigenous peoples. According to its latest position, the UK would restrict this right to internal self-government. This unjust approach and position is exceedingly difficult to comprehend. On the one hand, the UK insists - albeit erroneously - that the draft U.N. Declaration must not create new rights, specific to Indigenous peoples. On the other hand, the same government shies away from the existing right of all peoples to self-determination in the human rights Covenants and proposes to create a new right for Indigenous peoples.
The UK delegation in Geneva has repeatedly registered its objection to the use of the term "peoples"' throughout the draft Declaration. The UK intends to retain this objection, until it is satisfied that the collective rights associated with term "peoples" in the Declaration are fully excluded or segregated from the international human rights system. However, in international law, the status of Indigenous peoples as "peoples" is a matter of fact. It is not a question that is dependent on the arbitrary discretion or political choice of States.
For States to deny Indigenous peoples the status of "peoples" in order to deny them the right of self-determination would be clearly discriminatory. It would be contrary to both the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Yet the UK and certain other States continue to maintain their positions on self-determination with remarkable impunity.
In my respectful view, these double standards are inappropriately linked to the UK's refusal to fully apply the right of self-determination under international law to Indigenous peoples without discrimination. This has far-reaching adverse implications for our rights to lands, territories and resources.
"Individualizing" the collective rights of Indigenous peoples' a destructive alternative
The UK and other State governments are in effect offering Indigenous peoples a choice: Either accept that Indigenous peoples' rights are really individual rights that may be exercised collectively, "in community with others", or these States will continue to oppose any affirmation that our collective rights are human rights. These attempts by States to individualize Indigenous peoples' rights directly contradict the rulings of domestic courts and international human rights bodies. In particular, our rights and titles to lands have been repeatedly confirmed to constitute the collective rights of Indigenous peoples or nations.
In Article 1 of the international human rights Covenants, it is explicitly 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 our 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 have already described to the UK and other like-minded States the far-ranging adverse effects of individualizing our collective rights. For example, in the United States, 90 million acres of Indian land were lost, after the U.S. government unilaterally adopted the General Allotment Act of 1887 and divided tribal lands into small parcels and allocated them to individual Indians and non-Indians. As recently described by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, this ?policy was a failure? and has shattered the integrity of many Indigenous territories with ongoing destructive impacts.
In New Zealand, since the 19th century, Maori customary rights to land and their land regime have been converted to an Anglo-Saxon type of regime. As a result, almost none of the customary lands are left. The majority of these lands have become acquired private property, most often by the Pakeha, i.e. New Zealanders of European origin. Similarly, a Working Group of Experts of the African Commission on Human and peoples' Rights has recently cautioned:
Policies of individuation of tenure are continuing in Kenya and this has in many cases had disastrous effects for the pastoralists, especially the Maasai, who have ended up losing the land that is crucial for sustaining their livelihood and many now find themselves completely impoverished.
Whether some States continue to seek to individualize our collective rights or strive to exclude them from the international human rights system, these misguided actions cannot be justified by the principle of universality of human rights. To a large degree, universality is a flexible concept that embraces the human rights of all peoples and individuals.
The draft U.N. Declaration, which focuses primarily on collective rights, is intended to apply universally to all Indigenous peoples in all regions of the world. In some ways, this is also similar to other human rights instruments that apply universally to all women, or to all children, or to all persons with disabilities, among others, so as to better achieve equality and enjoy their human rights. Human rights instruments do not have to apply to everyone in exactly the same way. Rather, the principle of equality accommodates or otherwise includes the "right to be different". In order to achieve equality, different peoples or people often have to be treated differently.
As confirmed in the 1993 Vienna Declaration, the principle of universality of human rights accommodates "national and regional particularities" and historical and cultural differences. This is wholly consistent with the imperative of cultural diversity, which is inseparable from the human dignity of peoples. All cultures form part of the common heritage of humankind and we will continue to contribute to this ongoing legacy from our own distinct perspectives.
Our collective and individual human rights are interrelated and interdependent. They cannot be artificially separated, so that the individual rights dimensions are human rights and the collective rights aspects are excluded. Our human rights are wholly consistent with international human rights law. As the Vienna Declaration confirms: "All human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated."
We, as Indigenous peoples, will not tailor our human rights to fit the latest assimilationist designs of self-serving States. As described by Grand Chief Ted Moses in November 2004: "Current UK policies on Indigenous peoples' human rights are relics of colonial policies that have failed."
In order to effectively address lands, resources and other key human rights issues of Indigenous peoples, it is necessary to confront the matter of discrimination. As my lecture today illustrates, the widespread biases we face are not limited to the diverse domestic contexts within existing States. It is also evident in the standard-setting process relating to Indigenous peoples' human rights within the United Nations.
Throughout history, Indigenous peoples worldwide have been discriminated against in every way possible. We have been deprived of our lands, territories and resources through so-called doctrines of dispossession -such as "discovery" and terra nullius - and by labeling us as "savages", "heathens" or "infidels". For most of our history, Indigenous land and resource rights did not qualify as property rights. Our traditional land tenure systems were different from non-Indigenous systems and, therefore, our land and resource rights were unjustly deprived of equal recognition and protection.
We have also faced, and continue to face, profound systemic discrimination from some within the United Nations. While wholly unacceptable and contrary to the U.N. Charter, this may have been foreseeable. Many of the same States that have profoundly discriminated against us in domestic contexts have willfully carried their same "baggage" of biases with them to the United Nations.
For example, in order to deny Indigenous peoples our rightful legal status as "peoples", the WGIP that was created in 1982 is called the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Many States have always believed - and some still do - that if they deny the legal status of Indigenous peoples, it will be easier to deny us our right to self-determination and other human rights.
This abhorrent rationale was the basis for not adding an "s" on the term "people", when referring to Indigenous peoples in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993. Such shameful actions were carried out by States, despite the vigorous protests of Indigenous representatives at the World Conference on Human Rights and despite the fact that States were in the process of formulating and adopting a human rights instrument. This was also why no "s" was added when the U.N. General Assembly proclaimed the International Year of the World's Indigenous People in 1993 or the International Decade of the World?s Indigenous People.
Similarly, upon the insistence of such States as the U.S. and Canada, a paragraph was added to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 with the hope of limiting the meaning of the term "peoples" in international law. However, the Chair of the International Labour Organization revision process indicated in the minutes of the proceedings that this issue was beyond the competence of the ILO. Therefore, a neutral position was maintained in relation to the Convention.
At the same time, we acknowledge with deep appreciation the many bodies within the U.N. and its specialized agencies that have refused to be a party to such overt racial discrimination. Clearly, their principled positions constitute the strong majority point of view within the U.N. system.
Should any of you choose to visit the web site of the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (which is responsible for human rights issues), you will note that the FCO generally uses the term "people" and not "peoples" when referring to Indigenous peoples. Apparently, the UK pays little attention to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, 1991. This Declaration requires all Commonwealth members to "recognise racial prejudice and intolerance as a dangerous sickness and a threat to healthy development".
In order to address the consequences of racism and racial discrimination against Indigenous peoples, it is vital to eliminate the deep-rooted prejudices exhibited by a number of States within the WGDD. Discriminatory State positions are likely the largest impediment to a successful conclusion in the standard-setting process.
In particular, proposals from the UK and other States to exclude or segregate the collective rights of Indigenous peoples from the international human rights system should not be tolerated. Such a regressive step would severely blacken the reputation of the United Nations and its Member States. It would be contrary to existing international human rights instruments, the conclusions and rulings of international human rights bodies, and international law as a whole.
It would severely undermine the integrity of our rights, cultures and legal systems. It would create an inherent incoherency - that the indispensable collective rights of Indigenous peoples, from which diverse individual human rights flow, are not in themselves human rights. States would feel emboldened to continue the condemned practice of "extinguishing" Indigenous peoples' collective rights, since these rights would purportedly not constitute human rights.
All States, including the UK, must fully respect the U.N. Charter and fundamental principles of justice, fairness, democracy and respect for human rights. They must respect the rule of law, not only domestically but also at the international level.
Those States that refuse to recognize our collective rights as human rights are failing to respect the inherent dignity of Indigenous peoples. Although Indigenous peoples are distinct and equal "members of the human family", our collective human rights are being disrespected and devalued. This reprehensible conduct constitutes a serious and ongoing violation of the most basic values and principles of international law. As UK Parliamentary Under Secretary Bill Rammell publicly declared in March 2004:
the opening words of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights - state that 'recognition of the inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace'.
In other words, without the observance of human rights by all states, freedom, justice and peace are fundamentally threatened.
The global geopolitical implications of the regressive and illegitimate positions being taken by the UK and certain other States in the WGDD transcend the Indigenous context. As described and concluded by Indigenous peoples:
"in the current geo-political context - [t]he U.N. and its Member States are implementing a diverse range of measures internationally. These include promotion of international peace, security and cooperation; combatting terrorism; prosecution of crimes against humanity; and addressing other issues of global concern."
States who selectively apply, or fail to comply with, the principles of democracy, rule of law, peace, justice, non-discrimination and respect for human rights can hardly demand full respect for these same precepts and values from other States.
On human rights issues, the lack of impartiality in the positions of the UK, U.S. 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.
In order to effect positive change, Indigenous peoples have recommended specific reforms in the functioning of the WGDD. These include the introduction of explicit criteria within the Working Group, so as to ensure strict adherence to the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter when any participant proposes new or modified human rights norms. In particular, proposals to undermine the human rights of Indigenous peoples or create discriminatory double standards should not be afforded any credibility within the Working Group.
Too often, States fail to provide any substantiation for their positions or proposals. We need more effective checks and balances within the WGDD to address the erroneous and discriminatory arguments of some States.
States should be calling attention to proposals that would violate international human rights standards. The performance of State obligations is a legitimate interest of the international community. Consistent with democratic principles, human rights organizations and other human rights defenders in civil society also have an essential role.
Thus, ensuring the affirmation of and respect for Indigenous peoples' human rights is not solely an Indigenous responsibility. It is also a matter of international concern and cooperation. In terms of the overall strengthening of all human rights, there is too much at stake for all.
Meegwetch. Thank you.