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Indigenous rights outlined by UN

Published by MAC on 2007-09-13

Indigenous rights outlined by UN

BBC News -

13th September 2007

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples after 22 years of debate.

The document proposes protections for the human rights of native peoples, and for their land and resources.

It passed despite opposition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. They said it was incompatible with their own laws.

There are estimated to be up to 370 million indigenous people in the world.

They include the Innu tribe in Canada, the Bushmen of Botswana and Australia's Aborigines.

Campaigners say they are under greater pressure than ever, as developers, loggers, farmers and mineral extractors move in on their land.

'Important symbol'

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on countries to give more control to tribal peoples over the land and resources they traditionally possessed, and to return confiscated territory, or pay compensation.

The General Assembly passed it, with 143 countries voting in favour and 11 abstaining.

Four nations - Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States - each with large indigenous populations, voted against.

Australia said it could not allow tribes' customary law to be given precedence over national law.

"There should only be one law for all Australians and we should not enshrine in law practices that are not acceptable in the modern world," said Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough.

A leader of a group representing Canada's native communities criticised his government's decision to oppose the declaration.

"We're very disappointed... It's about the human rights of indigenous peoples throughout the world. It's an important symbol," said Phil Fontaine, leader of the Assembly of First Nations.

'Need for balance'

Campaign group Survival International says Canada's Innu tribe, who live in the frozen Labrador-Quebec peninsula, are struggling to maintain their traditional lifestyle as the government allows mining concessions, hydro-electric power schemes, and roads on their land.

The Canadian government said it supported the "spirit" of the declaration, but could not support it because it "contains provisions that are fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework."

"It also does not recognise Canada's need to balance indigenous rights to lands and resources with the rights of others," a joint statement from the Canadian ministries of Indian and Foreign Affairs said.

Canada has 1.3 million indigenous people, among a total population of 32.7 million.

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