Canada remains the only country not supporting the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Submitter Name: 
Brian Beaton
Submitters Email: 
brianbeaton@knet.ca

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Canadian government isolated as global implementation moves ahead

12 September 2009

A new report released today shows governments and institutions around the world are moving ahead with implementation of a human rights instrument that the minority government of Canada has denounced as “unworkable.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by a vote of the overwhelming majority of UN member states on September 13, 2007. Although Canadian government representatives played a critical role in its drafting, Canada voted against the Declaratio at the General Assembly.

Of the only three other countries that voted against the Declaration, Australia has since reversed its position and publicly endorsed. New Zealand and the USA are reviewing their positions.

The report was prepared by Montreal lawyer Paul Joffe, an expert on international human rights who has regularly attended UN meetings on Indigenous issues. The report is being released on the eve of the second anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration by the UN General Assembly.

The report shows that in the two years since the adoption of the Declaration, governments, UN agencies, and regional and national courts and human rights bodies have increasingly turned to the Declaration for guidance in implementing measures to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“These major advances highlight the unreasonableness of Canada’s position on the Declaration,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General Amnesty International Canada. “The Harper government has said that the Declaration is unworkable. Clearly, the international community and most countries strongly disagree.”

Examples in the report include:

  • Norway states: "The Declaration contextualizes all existing human rights for Indigenous Peoples and provides... the natural frame of reference for... the promotion of indigenous peoples rights."
  • Greenland recently negotiated with Denmark significantly enhanced self-government, which its Premier describes “as a de facto implementation of the Declaration and... hopefully an inspiration to others”.
  • The Supreme Court of Belize relied in part on the UN Declaration in an October 2007 case that affirmed the land and resource rights of the Maya people.
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights used the UN Declaration and other legal standards in its November 2007 ruling on the land rights of the Saramaka people in Suriname.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging “universal acceptance and implementation of the Declaration”, which she describes as a “significant human rights instrument”.
  • Thirty-one United Nations agencies have pledged “to advance the spirit and letter of the Declaration within our agencies’ mandates and to ensure that the Declaration becomes a living document throughout our work.”

The government of Stephen Harper has insisted that the Declaration does not apply to states that voted against it. However, human rights declarations are understood to be universally applicable upon their adoption by the General Assembly. Governments, public institutions, courts and other bodies in Canada are free to rely on the Declaration in interpreting human rights.

The new report shows that despite the opposition of the Harper government, there is growing support for the Declaration within Canada.

  • In February 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission indicated: “The Commission will look to the Declaration for inspiration in our own work.”
  • In April 2008, the House of Commons adopted a motion calling for the Parliament and government of Canada to “fully implement” the standards in the Declaration.

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the best available tool to address the longstanding human rights violations facing Indigenous Peoples worldwide,” says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo. “It’s time for the government of Canada to follow the example of other governments and institutions around the world and support its implementation.”

Assembly of First Nations
Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Chiefs of Ontario
Ermineskin Cree Nation
First Nations Summit
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
Louis Bull Cree Nation
International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD)
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada)
Montana Cree Nation
Native Women's Association of Canada
Quebec Native Women
Samson Cree Nation
World Federalist Movement–Canada

The report is available online at: www.cfsc.quaker.ca/pages/projects_abor.html

Media inquiries please contact:

Joshua Kirkey
Native Women’s Association of Canada
613-722-3033 ext. 231
jkirkey@nwac-hq.org.

Don Kelly
Assembly of First Nations
613-241-6789 dkelly@afn.ca.

Elizabeth Berton-Hunter Amnesty International
416-363-9933 ext 332
BBerton-Hunter@amnesty.ca.

Romeo Saganash
Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee)
418-564-1598 

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Assembly of First Nations Marks Second Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

OTTAWA, Sept. 11 /CNW Telbec/ - September 13, 2009 marks the second anniversary of the passing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada was one of only four countries in the world to vote against the UN Declaration, and continues to oppose it.

"September 13 is a landmark day for the world's Indigenous peoples, but a black mark on Canada's international reputation," Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo stated. "The AFN is going to lead the effort to implement the United Nations Declaration through our work here at home and abroad. First Nations are going to put its principles into practice. The AFN is going to support First Nations in implementing our sacred treaties and our constitutionally protected title and rights using clear standards, such as those set out in the Declaration."

The National Chief stated that, in addition to domestic work the AFN will work with its counterparts at the National Congress of American Indians, with the international community and at the United Nations itself to give life to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The AFN Quebec-Labrador region has been a leader in pressing Canada to support the UN Declaration. The AFN Regional Chief for Quebec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard, stated: "The majority of recommendations at Canada's Universal Periodic Review on its human rights record were directly related to the treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This clearly indicates the need for Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The adoption of this UN Declaration would give the message that Canada is serious about bringing to an end its colonial and assimilations policies and practices. The Declaration could provide us with a basis from which a new relationship could be built on mutual recognition, mutual respect and lead us away from the current state of extreme poverty and dependency resulting from legislation and policies that are anchored in colonialism."

Regional Chief Picard is also inviting First Nations and all Canadians to sign a petition asking the Canadian government to endorse the UN Declaration.

The petition can be found online at www.apnql-afnql.com.

There is high support for the UN Declaration nationally and internationally. In 2008, 100 legal scholars and experts signed an Open Letter calling on the Government of Canada to "...cease publicizing its misleading claims and, together with Indigenous peoples, actively implement this new human rights instrument." In April, the Government of Australia reversed its position and now supports the Declaration.

National Chief Atleo stated: "It is time to move forward with the Declaration in all that we do. It is a statement of the principles that should guide our relationship, and it is a way to measure our progress. It is time that we all embrace these principles and act on these principles."

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/For further information: Alain Garon, Communications Officer, AFNQL,

(418) 842-5020, Cell (418) 956-5720; Robert Simpson, (778) 991-1407; Chantelle Krish, (778) 990-9544/

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From the Toronto Star

Lagging on indigenous rights

Sep 10, 2009

Warren Allmand, Former minister of Indian and Northern Affairs

Indigenous peoples around the world, who now number 370 million, have been routinely marginalized, impoverished and victimized. At the United Nations, efforts have been made to affirm and protect the rights that are indispensable to their survival and well-being.

Two years ago, on Sept. 13, 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by an overwhelming majority of 144 to 4. The declaration recognizes the distinct identities and cultures of indigenous peoples, their rights to lands, territories and natural resources that are critical to their way of life, and their need for protection against genocide and discrimination.

The idea for the declaration originated in 1982 and its development for more than 20 years has made it one of the most intensely debated and carefully scrutinized instruments in UN history.

The declaration provides an inspiring vision of a new relationship between states and indigenous peoples, one based on cooperation and respect for the rights of all. The declaration consistently and repeatedly refers to collaboration, cooperation or partnership and contains some of the most comprehensive balancing provisions that exist in any international human rights instrument.

Although UN declarations are generally not legally binding, they intensify public awareness of the issues and exert moral pressure on nations to implement the human rights principles that have been affirmed.

Four countries voted against the declaration: Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada.

The arguments put forward by the Harper government for opposing adoption of the declaration do not stand up to legal scrutiny. This text is standard-setting and aspirational, and does not create a legally binding treaty. Its provisions have been examined, and supported, by federal government lawyers in the departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs, as well as by previous governments.

A May 2008 open letter endorsed by more than 100 experts in the fields of indigenous rights and constitutional and international law calls on the government of Canada "to cease publicizing its misleading claims, and together with indigenous peoples, actively implement this new human rights instrument." Former UN high commissioner for human rights and former Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour has expressed "profound disappointment" over Canada's stance.

In Australia in October 2007, then prime minister John Howard pledged to hold a referendum on changing their constitution to recognize indigenous Australians if re-elected. Subsequently, the new government under Kevin Rudd apologized to indigenous communities who had suffered at the hands of European settlers for decades. His government formally endorsed the declaration in April.

The government of New Zealand, after heavy criticism from the Maori Party, Greens and the Human Rights Commission, is currently reconsidering its stance. According to a spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, the Obama administration is also reviewing its position.

In Canada, the fight to reverse the government position continues. Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories passed a motion in February 2008 calling on their government to accept the declaration as an aspirational document. In April 2008, the House of Commons adopted a motion to endorse the declaration and fully implement the standards therein. The minority government did not support the motion and has subsequently ignored it.

Sept. 13, 2009, will be the second anniversary of the declaration. It is high time for Canada to once again become a leader in human rights, and not a laggard that for this and other reasons is fast losing respect in the international community.

Warren Allmand is president of the World Federalist Movement-Canada.