Brochure on the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Chiefs of Ontario.
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THE UN DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
United Nations International Decade Of Indigenous Peoples
Over the past 25 years, there has been a growing interest in
the situation of indigenous peoples worldwide. This
interest has led to several important developments at the
international level such as the proclamation of the
International Decade of the World's Indigenous People by the
United Nations (UN) in December 1994. The stated goal of
the Decade is the strengthening of international cooperation
for the solution of problems faced by indigenous peoples in
such areas as human rights, the environment, development,
education, and health.
To this end, one of the most important events of the Decade
will be the UN's consideration of a proposed Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This pamphlet provides
some basic information on this work which is intended to
improve international protection for indigenous peoples.
WHAT IS THE UNITED NATIONS?
The UN is a political body made up of countries (also called
states) from around the world. It provides a forum for
discussion of international concerns such as human rights,
development, environmental protection and peace. Since its
establishment after the Second World War, the UN has
developed a growing body of international human rights
documents, intended to protect the rights of all people.
WHAT IS A HUMAN RIGHTS DECLARATION?
UN human rights declarations are important statements of
human rights principles which governments are expected and
encouraged to respect even though they are not legally
binding. These declarations provide means of pressuring
governments to improve their human rights performance. They
are the first step towards the development of legally
binding international human rights standards (called
treaties and conventions). The UN has adopted several human
rights conventions including ones that address specific
concerns, such as racial discrimination and discrimination
Human rights documents are not intended to create special
rights, but to promote respect for the equality and
fundamental dignity of all people, as individuals and as
peoples. Existing UN human rights documents primarily
emphasize individual human rights. However, the UN also is
founded on principles of collective equality -- the equality
of all peoples, including their equal right to self-
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A DECLARATION
ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RIGHTS?
Indigenous peoples are entitled to the same human rights as
other people and are supposed to be protected by existing
international human rights law. In their everyday life,
however, their fundamental rights as individuals and as
peoples are too often violated or ignored. A declaration
addressing the specific situation of indigenous peoples
could improve respect for their human rights by addressing
fundamental issues affecting their social, economic,
cultural and political existence. A declaration on
indigenous rights could address the specific ways in which
indigenous human rights are most often violated. It could
provide specific and wide-ranging standards affecting every
aspect of indigenous life at the community level.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE 1993 DRAFT
DECLARATION ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RIGHTS
For many years, indigenous peoples have brought to the
attention of the United Nations the need for international
legal protection of their most fundamental rights. Between
1985 and 1993, a group of UN human rights experts (called
the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations or UNWGIP)
worked on a document now referred to as the draft
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was
done through a series of annual meetings to which government
and indigenous peoples representatives were invited and
presented their views. This work was completed in 1993 and
the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
then was adopted by resolution of UNWGIP's parent body, the
UN Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and
Protection of Minorities.
There has been significant government opposition to certain
key provisions of the Draft Declaration (e.g. land rights
and self-determination). A process has been created to
reconsider and perhaps redraft the existing Draft
Declaration. The UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
created a new Working Group which met for the first time in
1995. The CHR Working Group is a body of political
representatives, rather than an independent body of experts.
It is open-ended, meaning any member state of the UN can
join. Indigenous peoples organizations can apply for rights
of participation in the CHR Working Group (whether or not
they have status as a UN Non-Governmental Organization) to
present their views on the Declaration.
Indigenous peoples worldwide are concerned governments in
the new Working Group will remove or radically alter the
most valuable parts of the Declaration such as recognition
of the right to self-determination. Many indigenous peoples
around the world regard the existing Draft Declaration as
the minimum standard of rights acceptable.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 1993 DRAFT DECLARATION
ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The 1993 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is
divided into nine major parts, containing a total of 45
articles or provisions. The Draft Declaration begins by
addressing the reasons why an international declaration on
indigenous peoples rights is needed. It affirms the
equality of indigenous peoples at a collective and
individual level while identifying many of the human rights
problems that have historically plagued indigenous peoples,
such as the taking of indigenous peoples lands, and racial
PART I - FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
Part 1 affirms the equality of indigenous peoples as
individuals and as peoples. It recognizes the entitlement
of indigenous peoples to all fundamental human rights and
freedoms. Part I affirms the right of indigenous peoples to
be free of all forms of discrimination.
Existing human rights documents recognize the right of all
peoples to exist and develop in all aspects of their
collective life - political, economic, social and cultural.
Article 3 of the 1993 Draft Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples would make clear that indigenous peoples
also have this right of self-determination: Indigenous
peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of
that right they freely determine their political status and
freely pursue their economic, social and cultural
PART II - LIFE AND SECURITY
Part II sets out the right of indigenous peoples to live in
freedom, peace and security; to be free of genocide,
violence, forced relocations and assimilation; and to not
have their children removed from their communities.
Indigenous peoples are recognized as having the right to
their culture and identity and as needing special protection
in periods of armed conflict.
PART III - CULTURE, LANGUAGE AND SPIRITUALITY
Part III addresses rights relating to culture, language and
It protects rights:
to practice cultural, spiritual and religious
to patriation of human remains
to indigenous cultural heritage in all aspects
(including ceremonies, designs, technologies, art,
literature, historical sites and artifacts) and
to rights of restitution
to maintain, develop and pass on to future generations
indigenous language and knowledge.
Part III imposes obligations on governments to act to ensure
the protection of these rights.
PART IV - EDUCATION, MEDIA AND EMPLOYMENT
Part IV protects indigenous peoples rights:
to education at all levels, to control own education
systems, to culturally appropriate education in
to establish own media
to all labour rights and to freedom from
PART V - DECISION-MAKING AND DEVELOPMENT
Part V protects indigenous peoples rights:
to their own means of subsistence and development,
to their own forms of decision-making,
to participate in all decision-making and law-making
affecting them (and state governments must seek the
free and informed consent to all such laws and
to traditional medicine and access to all medical
to special measures to improve economic and social
PART VI - LANDS AND RESOURCES
Part VI protects indigenous peoples rights to:
to maintain their distinctive relationship to their
traditional lands, waters and resources, and to the
return of land taken without consent,
to own and control development of their lands, waters,
coastal seas, sea-ice and other resources,
to recognition of indigenous laws and customs governing
the use of these resources,
to protection of their environment and cultural
PART VII - SELF-GOVERNMENT
Recognizes rights of indigenous peoples:
to self-government in internal or local matters,
to their own citizenship and laws and customs,
to maintain relations across borders,
to enforcement of treaties.
PART VIII - IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DECLARATION
The Declaration is intended as a minimum standard of
guidelines for state governments to respect.
The rights and freedoms protected by the Declaration are for
the equal benefit of indigenous men and women.
This pamphlet is a joint project of the Inuit Circumpolar
Conference and the Chiefs of Ontario (made possible by the
financial assistance of the Department of Indian Affairs and
Northern Development and Inuit Tapirisat of Canada) and will
soon be available in printed form in English, Inuktitut,
Cree and Ojibway.
Copyright Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Chiefs of Ontario.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Special Assistant to President
Inuit Circumpolar Conference
170 Laurier Ave. W. Suite 505
Ottawa, Ont. K1P 5V5
Executive Assistant to Ontario Regional Chief
c/o Chiefs of Ontario
2 College St.
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