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Letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs re draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

26 January 2006

The Hon Winston Peters,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Parliament Buildings,

Dear Mr Peters

I am writing to express my deep concern about the New Zealand government’s behaviour at the meetings in Geneva regarding the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, over the years the Declaration has been discussed.

I am particularly concerned at this time about the proposal by the New Zealand government to change the text of the Declaration so that it defines indigenous peoples’ rights as substantially less than the rights of other peoples.

The Draft Declaration provides minimum standards of protection for the rights and well being of indigenous peoples around the world which are generally taken for granted in dominant societies, i.e. the right to survival, to political and cultural identity and to control over resources. It seems to have been part of the history of this country since colonisation to deny these rights to Maori. The government seems to want to deny these rights to other indigenous peoples as well.

There seems to be concern by the New Zealand government that the rights of the state are going to be affected by the right to self-determination by indigenous peoples, but my understanding is that the rights of nation states , including provisions about territorial integrity, are already recognised and protected in international law.

The New Zealand government’s position on the draft Declaration is a fundamental breach of the Treaty of Waitangi, as it is a denial of the self-determination guaranteed in Article II. The lack of discussion with Maori about the present proposal and indeed over the whole issue, I believe is shameful. There have been and still are many Maori who are knowledgeable in this area and who have been attending the meetings in Geneva over the years, whose advice could have been taken.

It is a sad reflection of the New Zealand government’s attitude towards Maori that you are apparently not able to support the full and effective enjoyment by indigenous peoples of their fundamental freedoms and human rights either here or overseas. If you cannot play a constructive role in the WGDD, then at the very least please stop obstructing progress towards a strong and effective UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In this respect I urge you to instruct the government representatives in Geneva to immediately withdraw support from the New Zealand, Australia and United States proposal; that pending full discussion with Maori about the draft Declaration and the government’s position, there should be no further amendments to the text proposed by government representatives in Geneva, and that no New Zealand support should be given to amendments by any other government representatives, unless the amendments support the original Sub-Commission text or strengthen it in ways agreed by indigenous peoples’ representatives to the WGDD.

Yours sincerely,
Joan Macdonald.

cc: Helen Clark, Prime Minister

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