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Joint Non-Indigenous NGOs Statement on the Draft
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

14 December 2005

Mr. Chair, I am speaking today on behalf of the following human rights organizations, Amnesty International, FIDH, IWGIA, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, Rights and Democracy, and the Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers).

We appreciate your efforts to focus discussion on proposals that have the potential to achieve the support of a large majority of state and Indigenous representatives.

We believe these deliberations must also concentrate on proposals that are consistent with our common goal of inspiring and giving shape to a new and more positive relationship between states and Indigenous peoples - one in which the security and well-being of Indigenous individuals, communities and societies can finally be assured.

We have said before that our organizations do not see any need in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to include explicit references to the specific principles and provisions that already protect state interests under international law. We have also expressed concern that trying to insert references to specific concepts such as territorial integrity may have negative consequences for achieving consensus on this Declaration and for the observance of human rights.

We note that a number of states, and the vast majority of Indigenous representatives, have supported an alternative proposal that instead of naming specific concepts such as territorial integrity, would explicitly affirm that all the principles of international law and the existing obligations of states must be given due consideration in the interpretation and application of the rights found in this Declaration.

In addition, conference room paper 2 includes a proposal supported by many Indigenous peoples' organizations and a number of NGOs that would affirm that the rights found in the Declaration must be implemented in the context of fair processes in which other interests and obligations are given full and fair consideration.

This is a reflection of an existing standard of due process that we would urge states to uphold in every instance.

We would encourage all the participants to give careful consideration to these proposals as a potential basis for achieving a Declaration that can address the legitimate concerns of states while affirming that the rights of Indigenous peoples can not and must not be arbitrarily ignored or denied.

We would also like to ask those states that have expressed preference for including a specific reference to territorial integrity to more clearly explain why this is necessary for them, when it is not for other states.

With the obvious imbalance of power between states and Indigenous peoples, we are not clear why this discussion has been preoccupied with perceived threats to states, rather than with the very grave and persistent threats to Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous representatives have expressed concern the concepts of political unity and territorial integrity are already being used by some states to justify denial of Indigenous peoples' rights and repression of the defenders of those rights.

As human rights organizations, we are concerned that the inclusion of a specific reference to the principles of political unity and territorial integrity in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples may at best, reinforce an unacceptable status quo and at worst encourage even greater human rights violations against Indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, the proposal of New Zealand, Australia and the United States for article 45bis is particularly concerning as it would allow states to invoke the concepts of political unity and territorial integrity to justify the denial of any and all rights in the Declaration, no matter how fundamental to the welfare and survival of Indigenous peoples.

In our opinion, a Declaration containing such sweeping limitations on the rights of Indigenous peoples would fail in its fundamental purpose.

Craig Benjamin
Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Amnesty International Canada

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