UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: the real work continues!

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About a month ago the global indigenous peoples’ struggle reached a milestone.

Here are some comments and resources collected and followed by a brief reflection.

First from Resistance Studies:

“The United Nations have overwhelmingly approved the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: after over a decade of negotiations, and a year of Canada trying to stall the final vote on it in the General Assembly” says Nicole Scabus, the International Advisor of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade.

(contd.) “The international consensus [is] that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination, land rights, and collective human rights. On this day of historic importance, that can be compared to December 10, 1948 when the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, 158 nations participated in the vote in the presence of even more indigenous nations and 143 nations voted in favour – 11 abstained and 4 voted against it, namely: Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. The whole of Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe stands behind the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Nicole Scabus adds that: “We now have a UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples that recognizes the universal human and indigenous rights of indigenous peoples, first and foremost the right to self-determination. Congratulations to all indigenous peoples – this is a day to celebrate!”.

– and from the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA):

“With an overwhelming majority of 143 votes in favour, only 4 negative votes cast (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States) and 11 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007. The Declaration has been negotiated through more than 20 years between nation-states and Indigenous Peoples. Les Malezer, Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, welcomed the adoption of the Declaration in a statement to the General Assembly:

“The Declaration does not represent solely the viewpoint of the United Nations, nor does it represent solely the viewpoint of the Indigenous Peoples. It is a Declaration which combines our views and interests and which sets the framework for the future. It is a tool for peace and justice, based upon mutual recognition and mutual respect.”

Find all the official information here: UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES – Adopted by the General Assembly 13 September 2007.

But what does it mean that there is a declaration? Well, it is a declaration, at best, by some, of intent. It is an ideal, a set of principles – some ideas about freedom, autonomy, dignity articulated. Just like human rights – and so the practical work to realise these ideals continue, because the declaration is merely an abstract motion – the movement must continue to rise from the grass-roots to bring about the world (or political) model that taking any declaration seriously necessitates.

The struggle continues, in other words.


7 thoughts on “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: the real work continues!

    Africa, the concept said:
    Wednesday, October 10, 2007 at 17:19 (763)

    Land rights means private. Right?

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, October 10, 2007 at 18:48 (825)

    Hopefully not – a major problem in the Amazon is precisely the invasion of exclusive, private property rights based land ownerships that splits land up into too small bits and cause dispute within families (brothers with each a useless parcel).

    Hence the concept of “Collective Bio-Cultural Heritage” which has been developed by indigenous peoples’ organisation in a global network as a response to absurd attempts to protect traditional knowledge by way of exclusive, intellectual property rights, and which reunites knowledge, territory, practices and community.

    Peter Jones said:
    Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 07:56 (372)

    This is great. I did a series of posts on the topic of the UN Declaration and the United States at the Indigenous Issues Today news blog. I outlined the major points of the Declaration, showed which article’s the US was opposed to in its unwillingness to sign the Declaration and then also noted which Articles the US continues to fail on or historically failed to follow. Yes, the picture is a little brighter but there is still much work that needs to be done.

    Africa, the concept said:
    Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 08:06 (379)

    is this true for brazil, ecuador, and peru? do you have any references for this which you could lead me to besides blogs?

    Africa, the concept said:
    Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 08:06 (379)

    about the land split ups i mean…..it would be greatly appreciated…

    colono responded:
    Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 09:16 (428)

    If you talk to people in the Amazon you will hear many such stories and it should be possible to find references – googling, perhaps google scholar; but cannot give you any peer-reviewed references off the top of my head, if that’s what you’re looking for.

    Some quick links that might or might not get you somewhere below this text:

    The Promise of Land

    In 1994, Bina Agarwal, a professor at the University of New Delhi, wrote the seminal book on gender and land rights – A Field of One’s Own. Last week, the US State Department released a rather distorted version of Agarwal’s conclusions. In a release entitled “Women’s Lack of Property Rights Linked to Abuse, Experts Say”, the State department has reduced the complex web of social and material burdens on women to one simple solution, and one simple right – the right to private property.

    Of course, it is an indictment of our planet that women control pitifully little of it – one factoid based, as far as I’ve been able to find out, on data that’s now over 20 years old, is this: women grow more than half the food in the Global South, but own less than 1% of the land there.

    But rights to property are one set of rights among many – such as rights to healthcare, to education, to employment. And in Promised Land, a book I’ve just finished editing, Sofia Monsalve has put the case for women’s rights to land in a far broader context.

    She asks whether women’s rights to land are “The Trojan Horse of Neoliberalism”, pointing out that women’s rights to land have often been the stealth-mechanism to privatise land. Ownership is, after all, only one way in which society regulates the control of land. It’s possible to control something without being entitled to sell it (and possible, in fewer cases admittedly, to own something without being able to control it).

    In Latin America the contradictions of women’s rights to land and property constituted as individual rights have been called into question primarily by indigenous peoples.

    Deere and León record an Ecuadorian indigenous woman who, in the early 1990s, said: “[T]he whole issue of gender and rights to land is irrelevant, since indigenous peoples have not put forward the individual demand to land; it has always been collective from the community’s perspective”
    (Deere and León 2002, 305).

    Hope that gives a little bit of an idea – also see (just to get started with a literature search):





    Africa, the concept said:
    Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 15:08 (672)

    thanks a bunch! i wasnt typing in the “write” words…i was looking for peer reviewed articles but at least now i know how to search this….

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