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NZ put up or shut up: NZ actively opposes any UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples

22 June 2006

The newly established UN Human Rights Council is meeting in Geneva over the next two weeks. Yesterday, in the general segment of the Council's Agenda, statements were read by national delegations, UN specialized agencies and other bodies.

New Zealand availed itself of the opportunity to both express its honour at Chairing the negotiations for a new draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its rigorous opposition to the appeal to the new Council to demonstrate moral leadership and make its mark on history by adopting, at its first session, the Declaration of the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Don Mackay, Permanent Representative, NZ Permanent Mission to Geneva , stated "New Zealand cannot associate itself with this text which, despite our most strenuous efforts and genuine intentions, remains fundamentally flawed."

Underlying NZ's statement is a failure by government to respond to a practical way forward to a diplomatic impasse that has plagued the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the past 10 years. NZ has participation in the annual negotiations from their inception, and far from being passive participants, NZ actively pursued every possible prospect to force its opinions into a consensus text that will eventually be adopted by all 191 UN member states. Many, if not most of NZ's concerns have been accommodated, but government continues to whine that every single concern it has expressed (in an ever-growing and ever-changing list) isn't able to withstand scrutiny or gain the support of other UN member states , and of indigenous peoples globally.

The Crown has not engaged in any meaningful way with Maori since August 2001 despite frequent requests from Maori organisations and individuals active in the draft Declaration processes. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Winston Peters, on numerous occasions has stressed the importance for Government's foreign policy to be guided and informed by our domestic policy. The domestic policy around the draft Declaration seems to be one that exempts Government from talking to the people who will be most affected by this international Declaration.

Don Mackay's statement also stressed that the Human Rights Council "needs to make sure that it delivers quality outcomes and supports proper process." But, what is New Zealand's process?

Government participated in the original negotiations of the draft Declaration (1986-1994). It participated in the subsequent Inter-governmental sessions (WGDD 1995-2005), and when a proposal was put forward by the Chair of the WGDD to table a new 'compromise' text, and momentum quickly developed to have the Chair's text adopted, New Zealand objected. NZ even took the floor on behalf of Australia, NZ and the US to oppose the Chair's text as being fundamentally flawed.

But earlier this year, Hon Winston Peters in a letter to Aroha Mead and the 1000+ signatories calling for the Crown to engage with Maori on the Government's position on the draft Declaration, described the original text of the draft Declaration as being unworkable for New Zealand. He also incorrectly said that the original Declaration had been drafted by NGOs. For the record, it was drafted in an inclusive process involving both States and indigenous organisations and was the first time in the UN's history that the peoples most affected by a Declaration were included at the outset in its development.

So what is it that New Zealand actually wants? Government has placed on official record its opposition to the original draft Declaration and now it consider's the compromise Chair's text to be fundamentally flawed. It complains that the new Chair's text hasn't emerged through a proper process, but also complains that the original Declaration, negotiated over twenty years, is 'unworkable'. It hasn't engaged with Maori on the Declaration for the past six years and yet counsels the new UN Human Rights Council "to look, feel and act differently. We must concentrate our efforts on real dialogue."

The time has come for New Zealand to either put-up a constructive solution that is not based on whining and complaining about other's efforts to realise a badly needed international human rights instrument to protect the rights of the world's over 350,000 million indigenous peoples, or else, shut-up and not stand in the way of progress.

Aroha Te Pareake Mead
Maori Business, Victoria Management School, Wellington

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