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Serious blow for 350 million indigenous

General Assembly of the United Nations refuses to pass the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples

Bolzano/Bozen, Göttingen, 29. November 2006

The Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) condemned as a serious blow for the human rights work for indigenous peoples on Wednesday the postponing of the passing of the "General Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" by the UN General Assembly. The Human Rights Committee of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Tuesday had postponed this point on the agenda at the request of some African countries to September 2007 in order to be able to discuss further wishes for modifications on the part of individual states. "The United Nations have frivolously thrown away a chance to set a clear signal against the marginalisation and disenfranchisement of 350 million native people", criticised the GfbV. "We cannot understand the need for more time for modification wishes. After all, the fundamental declaration on the human rights of indigenous peoples was passed 24 years ago."

"Today is a very sad day for the United Nations and for the credibility of the newly founded Human Rights Council, which had formally asked the General Assembly to pass this historic document", said Grand Chief Ed John, the spokesperson of the "Indigenous Caucus", the diplomatic representative of the indigenous peoples at the UN in New York. "It now looks as though the United Nations will never officially pass this Statement. This is a surprising and grotesque development", said Ed John.

The present draft of a General Statement on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples deals in nine sections with many rights of the approximately 5,000 indigenous peoples throughout the world. It deals among others with the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples, their participation in state organisations and their nationality and contains a prohibition on discrimination. The Declaration covers the protection of their linguistic, cultural and spiritual identity, as well as their rights in the fields of education, society and the economy. Particularly important are the requirements concerning the land rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to the mineral deposits. The Declaration on the rights of the indigenous also lays down that they must be included in all decisions concerning their future and development.

Finland had spoken in the name of the European Union for the Declaration to be passed and warned against a further postponement of the vote. However it was not only African states, but also New Zealand, Canada and Australia which called for a postponement of the vote. The USA, which had expressed considerable reservations on the Declaration, abstained from the vote. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva had recommended to the General Assembly on 29th June 2006 that the Declaration be passed.

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