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

27 January 2006

Ms Helen Clark,
Prime Minister,
Parliament Buildings,

Dear Ms Clark,

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has as one of our goals the elimination of all forms of inequality, oppression, discrimination and exploitation because such conditions are inimical to peace. As part of our efforts to achieve this goal, we support the full recognition and protection of human rights at the international, regional, national and local levels. In line with this, the WILPF Aotearoa New Zealand section is also committed to the Treaty of Waitangi being honoured as a positive way to remedy past and present injustice, to prevent conflict, and to ensure a peaceful future for everyone in this country.

We are extremely concerned about the New Zealand government’s position on the United Nations draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it has, and continues, to be aimed at weakening the text of the Declaration.

In particular, we note the proposal on self-determination put forward by New Zealand, Australia and the United States to the December 2005 session of the Working Group on the Draft Declaration (WGDD) in Geneva. The proposal to confine and restrict the meaning of the right of self-determination in Article 3 of the draft Declaration to "the right to autonomy and self-management in matters relating directly to their internal and local affairs" is discriminatory as it defines indigenous peoples’ rights as substantially less than the rights of other peoples.

The proposal is not consistent with the inherent and inalienable right of self-determination of all peoples as articulated in Articles 1 to 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - both of which the New Zealand government has signed and ratified.

It also constitutes a fundamental breach of the Treaty of Waitangi as it is a denial of the self-determination that Maori exercised for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of non-Maori, the continuance of which was guaranteed to them in the Treaty. Furthermore, the lack of discussion with Maori about the government’s position on the Draft Declaration constitutes a further Treaty breach.

The proposal from New Zealand, Australian and the United States of America also seeks to add provisions about territorial integrity and political unity into the text of the draft Declaration. This is entirely unnessary as the rights of states in these respects are already recognised and protected in international law; the rights of indigenous peoples are not, and that must be the focus of the draft Declaration.

If governments, such as New Zealand, continue to focus the discussion at WGDD on perceived threats to states, rather than the grave and persistent threats to the rights of indigenous peoples, then this may derail the process of finalising the text of the draft Declaration. It may also, as representatives of indigenous and non-indigenous organisations have pointed out, at the least reinforce an unacceptable status quo and at worst may encourage even greater human rights violations against indigenous peoples. All of these possibilities are unacceptable.

We remind you that this is a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, not on the rights of states. It is intended to have international applicability, not to be limited by and reflective of any particular state's domestic political agenda. Indigenous peoples representatives have made it abundantly clear over the past eleven years that they do not support any watering down of the text, their voices on this must be heard.

We therefore urge:

- that the government representatives in Geneva be immediately instructed to 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 texts proposed by government representative in Geneva; and

- that no 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.

We would like to know why your government appears so fearful of recognising that indigenous peoples have the same rights as all other peoples, both in the domestic and international context, and look forward to your reply answering this question.

Yours sincerely,
Edwina Hughes,
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Aotearoa Section)

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