MAC: Mines and Communities

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Published by MAC on 2006-06-15

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am happy to inform you that on 29 June, 2006, the new Human Rights Council, sitting at its first session at the United Nations office in Geneva, accepted the proposal of Mr. Luis-Enrique Chavez, the Chairperson of the Working Group on the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Document E/CN.4/2006/79) regarding the contents of a future Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The resolution came through a vote. 30 States were in favour, 2 States were against, 12 abstained, and 3 were absent. Those in favour included Council members from Latin America, Europe and Africa, and a few from Asia. We are grateful to all of them and to the Chairperson of the Working Group for his courageous and patient leadership.

In its Resolution 60/142 (16 December, 2005), while adopting the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People at its 64th plenary meeting, the UN General Assembly "[urged] all Governments and indigenous organizations concerned to take every action necessary to facilitate the adoption of the draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples as soon as possible". The aforesaid resolution of the Human Rights Council demonstrates the united efforts of governments and indigenous peoples to take the process forward, as urged by the General Assembly. It now remains for the General Assembly to convert the Draft Declaration into a Final Universal Declaration at its forthcoming session in Autumn-Winter, 2006.

We are aware that the draft may not meet the hopes and aspirations of all the indigenous peoples of the world. It no doubt contains defects and shortcomings. A section of the draft contains language that was not expressly agreed upon by participants at the Working Group. However, it is our firm belief that further deliberations would have weakened, rather than strengthened, the instrument. Therefore, while being quite aware of the aforesaid shortcomings, Asian Indigenous participants at the Working Group, along with participants from other regions, endorsed the proposed draft. We believe that the draft did, on the whole, accommodate our most basic rights without being unacceptable to a large number of member states of the United Nations. Needless to mention, in the United Nations and other international processes, it is extremely important that indigenous peoples and member states of the United Nations work in unison. Such views were incorporated in a statement by Indigenous participants at a Workshop on the Concept of Indigenous Peoples in Asia, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on 3 March, 2006.

Commenting on the Chiangmai Declaration on the Draft Declaration, Dr. Erica I. Daes - the former chairpersonship of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (under whose leadership the first draft of the Declaration was formulated) - wrote thus (in an e-mail message to me in March, 2006): "I should like also to thank you warmly and to congratulate you and all your Colleagues and Participants in the Workshop on the Concept of Indigenous Peoples in Asia for the very comprehensive and timely Statement. I agree very much with its content and your approach. Therefore, I did my best in order for this statement to be taken into consideration by the Secretariat of the Human Rights Commission as well as by its Bureau".

The draft Declaration, as proposed by the chairperson of the Working Group, emphasizes upon the equal access of indigenous peoples to all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including both individual and collective rights, affirms that the right of self determination applies to indigenous peoples, acknowledges individual and collective land and resource rights of indigenous peoples, and makes specific references to other important rights, including the right to fair, just and inclusive means of redress for past wrongs and injustices, the right to the enforcement of treaties and agreements made between indigenous peoples and states, the right to maintain indigenous peoples' customary laws and justice systems, safeguards against militarization of indigenous peoples' territories, and language and cultural rights, among others.

I hope that we will be able to take concerted action in disseminating the draft Declaration as widely as possible, to leaders, activists and workers of indigenous peoples in different parts of the world, and to our friends and supporters. An immediate task will be to translate the provisions of the Declaration into every possible language. Finally, we have to moblize support towards the final adoption of the Declaration with as much support as possible from peoples and governments from different parts of the world, in the spirit of Partnership for Action & Dignity, as declared in the theme of the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

In solidarity, and with best wishes,

Devasish Roy Chakma
Chief & Co-Chairperson, Indigenous Peoples' Caucus
(Former) Working Group on the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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