The Grand Council of the Crees

Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Moves Forward Despite Canadian Government Interference

Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Moves Forward Despite Canadian Government Interference

Posted: 2006-06-29

Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations in Canada are welcoming the historic decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council to back the adoption of the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

However, these organizations also expressed their deep frustration and disappointment with the Canadian government's efforts to stall this much-needed and long overdue human rights instrument. Canada called the vote as a pre-emptive move against the Declaration?s passage, but in the end Canada was one of only two countries to vote against the Declaration.

Instead, the Council voted to bring the proposed Declaration forward for possible adoption by the UN General Assembly later this year. The vote was 30 in favour and 2 against (with 12 abstentions and 3 absent).

"Canada's opposition to the Declaration has soured the first meeting of the Human Rights Council," says Beverly Jacobs, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada. "The Council was created in the hope that states would set aside domestic considerations and work impartially to advance the human rights of all. It's a bitter disappointment that Canada would mar the very first session by openly pursuing a dubious domestic agenda."

The Canadian government was an active participant in the Working Group that drafted the current text and, in recent years, had a played a critical role in building state support for the principles of the draft Declaration. The current government has tried to explain its sudden opposition by claiming that some provisions of the Declaration are incompatible with Canadian law. It has not provided any substantiation of this claim. Canada had failed also in an earlier attempt to bring forward a counter-resolution to have the decision on the Declaration delayed so it could be re-opened for further negotiation. All of these moves damage Canada's international reputation as a leader in Indigenous and human rights.

Indigenous peoples' organizations that have participated in the Working Group point out that not only is the Declaration a non-binding, aspirational statement that would not override any domestic laws, it also contains specific assurances, introduced by Canada, that its provisions must be interpreted in a fair and balanced manner that respects basic principles of human rights, democratic society and good government.

"We are outraged that Canada would demonstrate such bad faith in opposing a text that it helped write," says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada "It is even more astounding that Canada would then try to persuade other states that another round of negotiations is needed. It was fortunate -- though embarrassing for all Canadians -- that Canada quickly found itself isolated on a Council that was prepared to move forward with a principled defence of Indigenous peoples' human rights."

Strong international support for the Declaration is an important step forward in countering the widespread racism and discrimination that threatens the survival and well-being of Indigenous peoples worldwide. The draft Declaration clearly affirms that Indigenous peoples must not be arbitrarily denied the right of self-determination, which is recognized in international law as a universal right of all peoples. The Declaration also affirms diverse rights regarding lands, territories and resources that are essential to the cultural identities of Indigenous peoples and the fulfillment of their basic human rights.

"This is an historic day for Indigenous peoples around the globe," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine. "We are grateful that the Council has recognized the importance and urgency of moving ahead with human rights protections for Indigenous peoples. It is very unfortunate that in trying to stand in the way of the Declaration, Canada has done so much harm to its credibility and influence on a Council that it worked so hard to create."

The Declaration has been under development for more than two decades. The current proposal, which emerged from an 11-year-long Working Group process, has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People and by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. It has also been supported by a wide range of states worldwide, including states such as Norway and Denmark which, like Canada, have a history of negotiation and treaty-making with Indigenous peoples.

Media Contacts:

Beth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International Media Officer

Don Kelly, Assembly of First Nations Communications Director
613-241-6789, ext. 320

Ian McLeod, Assembly of First Nations, Bilingual Communications Officer
613-241-6789, ext. 336

Jennifer Preston Howe, Canadian Friends Service Committee

Linda Kayseas, Native Women's Association of Canada, Media Coordinator
613-722-3033, ext. 231

Louis Moubarak, Rights & Democracy
514-283-6073, ext. 261