Friday, 14 September 2007
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma today welcomed the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Today’s decision is a milestone for the world’s indigenous peoples and for the United Nations,” Commissioner Calma said.
“It is the culmination of over two decades of negotiations at the United Nations and fierce advocacy by Indigenous peoples from all over the world since the 1970s. The Declaration reaffirms that indigenous individuals are entitled to all human rights recognised in international law without discrimination. But it also acknowledges that without recognising the collective rights of Indigenous peoples and ensuring protection of our cultures, indigenous people can never truly be free and equal.”
Its adoption follows the decision by the United Nations General Assembly last November to delay consideration of the Declaration for up to 12 months, which allowed governments more time to consider the text.
“Negotiations over recent months with the African nation states have resulted in changes to the Declaration’s text as adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, but the end result enjoys broad support among the Global Indigenous Caucus, which represents indigenous peoples from around the world,” Mr Calma said.
“That a Declaration of such controversy has achieved near universal support at the General Assembly is testament to its importance and appropriateness. We should remember that such enduring human rights documents as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights did not receive this level of support at the time that they were adopted by the General Assembly.”
“However, it is a matter of great regret that Australia and three other nations have opposed the Declaration, particularly given that Australia had indicated its support for the vast majority of the Declaration’s provisions during the negotiations of the text. As I detail in my Social Justice Report 2006, the Australian Government’s reasoning for opposing the Declaration has no sound base and does not interpret the Declaration consistently with international law. In fact, their arguments had been roundly condemned by both Indigenous peoples and other governments in the negotiations of the Declaration in recent years,” he said. “I am confident, that as the Declaration is implemented, these concerns will prove to have been unfounded.”
Mr Calma said the Declaration was among the first international human rights instruments to explicitly provide for the adoption of measures to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoyed protection and guarantees against all forms of violence.
“The Declaration also sets a benchmark for the participation of Indigenous peoples in decision making that relates to indigenous peoples’ needs and interests, including through policy development and service delivery,” Mr Calma said.
The Declaration has been adopted during the second International Decade for the World’s Indigenous People which is based on the theme of partnership with Indigenous peoples.
“The challenge laid out by the Declaration is for indigenous people to develop partnerships based on the principles set forth in the Declaration and on the basis of mutual respect.”