Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the General Assembly on Thursday, 13 September 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favour, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine).[1] The work towards this declaration can be seen as far as in 1923 and 1925 by the works of Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh and Māori T.W. Ratana who attempted to bring issues of Canada and New Zealand failure to uphold treaties to the League of Nations [precursor to the United Nations].[2][3]

In May 2016 Canada officially removed its objector status to UNDRIP, almost a decade after it was adopted by the General Assembly. By now also the other 3 objectors have, to various degrees, turned their vote.

While as a General Assembly Declaration it is not a legally binding instrument under international law,[4] according to a UN press release it does "represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN's member states to move in certain directions"; the UN describes it as setting "an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet's 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisation."

UNDRIP codifies "Indigenous historical grievances, contemporary challenges and socio-economic, political and cultural aspirations" and is the "culmination of generations-long efforts by Indigenous organizations to get international attention, to secure recognition for their aspirations, and to generate support for their political agendas."[5] Canada Research Chair and faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan[6][7] Ken Coates argues that UNDRIP resonates powerfully with Indigenous peoples, while national governments have not yet fully understood its impact.[5]

Purpose

Due to the past and ongoing violence and abuse of Indigenous individuals and peoples, the UN created this non-legally binding declaration as an aspiration for how Indigenous individuals and peoples should be treated. The Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues. It also "emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations".[8] It "prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples", and it "promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development".[8][9] The goal of the Declaration is to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous peoples to solve global issues, like development, multicultural democracy and decentralization.[10] According to Article 31, there is a major emphasis that the indigenous peoples will be able to protect their cultural heritage and other aspects of their culture and tradition in order to preserve their heritage from over controlling nation-states.

The elaboration of this Declaration had already been recommended by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.[11]

This declaration is a resolution, meaning it is not a law bearing document. Indigenous people are not considered a country [nation - state] and do not have right to international law protection through the international court of justice. Article 40 states that Indigenous peoples have right to fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and dispute with countries or other parties, because Indigenous people cannot use the International court of justice, UNDRIP has no indication of which judicial power indigenous peoples are to bring disputes to.[12]

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