Foreshore and seabed information   |   Indigenous Rights

New Zealand Nukes Indigenous Peoples
Right to Self-Determination

14 December 2005

Today, New Zealand, along with the United States and Australia, again made a major attempt to completely negate Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination as set forth in the Declaration on the Rights of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is currently being discussed in Geneva at the United Nations in the Working Group (under the auspices of the Commission on Human Rights).

After last week’s insistence that the human rights of Indigenous peoples be limited to a domestic interpretation, today they took the floor trying to "provide some background" to their limitations.

"Under international law, the right of self-determination is addressed in Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ... This ‘common Article 1’ right of self-determination is understood in international law, under certain circumstances, to include the right to secession and full independence ... We do not deny that some indigenous peoples in the world might qualify for this common Article 1 of self-determination."

In the statement New Zealand, Australia and the United States have exposed their own fears regarding the very legitimacy of their occupation of certain Indigenous territories. Because these rights might apply to Indigenous peoples, they state, they need to be subject to limitations.

To defend their territorial occupation in violation of treaties and as a result of outright theft, they state that:

"This Working Group is seeking to create a new understanding of self-determination as a right that is to be exercised within an existing nation-state and is not intended to impact in any way on the political unity or territorial integrity of any State."

This misstates and distorts the purpose of the Declaration and the Working Group. The purpose of the Declaration is to develop a set of standards regarding the human rights of Indigenous peoples. It is not to protect colonialism or the territorial integrity of states. The rights of states are already covered in numerous existing international covenants and instruments.

In the same intervention, they go on to say:

"This Working Group must explain in this declaration exactly what is meant by the term self-determination that relates to Indigenous Peoples."

Under the position being pushed by these three states, Indigenous peoples’ status under international law and, by extension, as a part of the human race, is somehow different than that of all other peoples. Self-determination, as a right, is well-defined in international law and it continues to evolve as pointed out by Ambassador Tyge Lehmann of the Danish Foreign Ministry in response to the intervention by New Zealand. To somehow exclude Indigenous peoples from this definition and create qualifications on our right to self-determination must, under any definition, be considered discriminatory and racist.

In a statement for the American Indian Law Alliance, Maivan Clech Lam stated that:

"We appeal to you to return us to the positive spirit of last week when most states and Indigenous peoples in the room were energized to work on a new and mutually beneficial relationship. I fear, Mr. President, that our three dissenting anglophonic governments live very much in the shadow of that arch-colonialist, Winston Churchill, who famously said at the end of World War I that colonies were not entitled to self-determination. History, as we know, proved him wrong. And history, in the form of the International Court of Justice has already proven the naysayers here wrong. That court, as we know, interpreted the right of all peoples to self-determination to apply to the nomadic tribes of the Western Sahara in 1975."

Perhaps most offensive to Indigenous peoples who have, as a collective, worked on this Declaration for more than 20 years, is that New Zealand, Australia and the United States pretend to be talking for the benefit of Indigenous peoples, continuing the paternalistic attitude of the white race towards Indigenous peoples. They state, that their definition of the right to self-determination ("the rights of indigenous peoples, residing within an existing nation-state ... "):

"has the chance to make a practical and real difference in the everyday lives of indigenous peoples around the globe. An ambiguous Declaration will, in our view, serve no-one’s interests, least of all indigenous peoples."

Perhaps it is time that true democracy be explored and these countries listen to the Indigenous peoples’ point of view which has, without exception, opposed their position. That should tell them something. That should tell us all something.

American Indian Law Alliance

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