Statements on the Fifth Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Multiple sources

Date of publication: 
13 September 2012

Fifth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement by Chief Edward John, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Five years ago on this important day, 13 September, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly after more than two decades of intense struggles.

From the moment the UN Declaration was adopted, it became a unique international instrument that set standards and the foundation for the continued survival of indigenous peoples, the protection of their rights, dignity and well-being. The UN Declaration is an international human rights instrument that, today, enjoys universal consensus. It is the same instrument that underpins the activities of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Today we also need to extend our deep gratitude to the many committed representatives of indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, Governments and the United Nations whose passion and dedication lead to the adoption of the UN Declaration.

With the adoption of the UN Declaration five years ago, the Permanent Forum has new and extensive responsibilities to promote the incorporation of the UN Declaration into national law and policy, including national courts and administrative decisions. Second, it calls upon the Forum to follow up on the “effectiveness” of the Declaration – that is to examine and assess the realities on the ground, to see how the Declaration is implemented at the local and national levels and what gaps in implementation persist.

Even as indigenous peoples commemorate this historic moment, there is still a lot of work to be done. We cannot ignore the challenges and gaps in implementation of the UN Declaration, and I call on Governments, UN agencies and indigenous peoples to reaffirm the spirit, principles and rights enshrined in the UN Declaration and to renew our commitment to its full implementation.


Fifth anniversary of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources more urgent than ever

Joint Statement

12 September 2012

There is urgent need to uphold international human rights standards in response to intensive resource development activities affecting the lands of Indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

Five years ago, on 13 September 2007, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the minimum standard for the “survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous peoples worldwide. As a universal human rights instrument, the Declaration is a beacon of hope and a blueprint for justice and reconciliation.

The rights affirmed in the UN Declaration include the right of Indigenous peoples to determine for themselves when, and under what conditions, resource development will be carried out on their lands and territories.

Canada officially endorsed the Declaration in November 2010. The federal government, however, has not collaborated with Indigenous peoples to implement the rights and related government obligations affirmed in the Declaration. To date the government has failed to ensure that Indigenous peoples are meaningfully involved in decisions regarding resource development. Government practice and policy, as well as new legislation brought forward by the federal government, continue to undermine Indigenous peoples’ rights.

A proposed pipeline to export oil sands crude to Asia has become a flashpoint for Indigenous peoples whose territories would be crossed. Before public hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline began, government ministers declared that increased export of oil sands crude was a matter of national interest. The federal government then limited the scope of environmental impact assessments, as well as the instances in which resource development projects would be subject to federal assessment.

Reliable identification and disclosure of risks is important for protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights, including the right to meaningful participation in the decision-making process. Reliance on the often perfunctory reviews carried out at the provincial level is an abdication of the federal government’s responsibilities to Indigenous peoples and of its obligations to ensure that all levels of government comply with international human rights standards.

The federal government has also played a key role in opening doors for Canadianresource companies to operate in other countries. Canadian corporations account for a significant proportion of extractive activities in the global South and are especially active in the territories of Indigenous peoples. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has twice urged Canada to implement measures to hold Canadian corporations accountable for violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples. The federal government has failed to establish a mechanism with real power to hold corporations accountable or protect the rights of victims. The government has instead relied on voluntary measures and the poorly enforced weak laws of the host countries.

The Colombian Constitutional Court has concluded that at least one in three distinct Indigenous nations are in imminent danger of physical or cultural “extermination” as the consequence of armed conflict and forced displacement from their lands. Widespread human rights violations have been committed by all the warring parties as they fight over the resource-rich territories of Indigenous peoples. It was in this context that Canada negotiated a free trade agreement to promote Canadian investment in Colombia. Despite the crisis situation facing Indigenous peoples, Canada has yet to carry out a proper assessment of the impact such investment will have on human rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, has called for an independent assessment of the emergency situation facing Indigenous peoples in Colombia, including a visit by the UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide.

In his most recent report to the United Nations, James Anaya has drawn attention to the grave risks that resource development activities pose to Indigenous peoples throughout the world. The Special Rapporteur has said consultation and consent are necessary safeguards to ensure that government and corporate activities don’t compromise rights essential to the well-being and physical and cultural survival of Indigenous peoples. The Special Rapporteur also criticized the colonial nature of the current model of resource development in which any benefits to Indigenous peoples “typically pale in economic value in comparison to the profits gained by the corporation.”

Today, as celebrate the 5th anniversary of the UN Declaration and the promise that it holds, we draw attention to the need for good faith implementation in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

In regard to Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources, our organizations are calling on governments in Canada to:

  • Ensure that all processes to review and license resource development activities in Canada are consistent with the constitutional obligation to protect inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights and with international human rights standards, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Recognize free, prior and informed consent as an essential human rights safeguard, consistent with Indigenous peoples’ rights under Canadian constitutional and international human rights law.
  • Implement measures, consistent with the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to ensure the
  • Support the calls for the UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide to visit Colombia as part of an independent assessment of the emergency situation facing Indigenous peoples in that country.

Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Chiefs of Ontario
First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining
First Nations Summit
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
MiningWatch Canada
Native Women’s Association of Canada
The Treaty Four First Nations
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs



Indigenous Peoples’ Centre for Policy and Human Rights in India’s Eastern Himalayan Territories

NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

CORE Centre for Organisation Research & Education Press Release

13 September 2012

The Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE) conveys peace, harmony and equality in the state on the 5th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is now endorsed by the majority of UN Member States including India which is a comprehensive human rights instrument for Indigenous people‟s collective and individual rights. It has legal implications and is formed under the auspice existing relevant international laws.

That, indigenous peoples “are equal to all other peoples” and given the importance of this declaration in India per se and the indigenous world in general, it is also high time for democracies like India to repeal Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958, Disturbed Area Act, etc that acts as draconian tools to violate and suppress the rights of indigenous peoples. We may please be reminded that such steps are needed to build accountabilities and trust in order to herald sustainable processes of peaceful and humane socio-political, socio-economic and socio-religious development that respect, promote, preserve, protect and reaffirm the rights of indigenous peoples of India where the State and Indigenous peoples share responsibilities and rights on equal footing.

Further, it is to be noted that there are more than 350 million indigenous [people] in the world. India must clearly define the meaning of “indigenous peoples” so as to clear up the confusion created by claiming all Indians as indigenous which is vague, distorted, over-generalisation and therefore simply hypocritical that, in the end, making a mockery of the very terminology of “indigenousity”. If the Indian government continue to follow/adopt this stand and the world continue to keep silent about it, the United Nations and its Member States should be „proud‟ to have an indigenous state with the second largest population in the world while at the same time be prepared to not only re-define “indigenous” but also prepare itself to deal with the all-round confusion and chaos that is most likely to come in its wake.

Dr. Immanuel Varte
Deputy Director
(Indigenous Peoples’ Organisation in Special Consultative Relationship with ECOSOC of United Nations)
1st Floor, Ibotombi Building, Babupara
Imphal 795001, MANIPUR

Tel/Fax: +91 385 244 13 19
Mobile: +91 9774043541

Australia: Five Years On – The Fifth Anniversary Of The UN Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples


Les Malezer –

12 September 2012

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Without doubt this international instrument has already been established universally as a human rights benchmark to confirm the indigenous peoples of the world are equal to all other peoples.

This achievement, within the first five years of its life, is verification that the rights of our peoples, encompassing social organisation, cultures, territories and development, are progressively being acknowledged.

Our collective rights as peoples are being expressed, interpreted, integrated and experienced by the many distinct indigenous populations, populations which historically have been ruthlessly dominated and exploited by powerful, gregarious societies.

Indigenous peoples everywhere are citing the Declaration and its components as they vie for equality and non-discrimination in their own territories.

Slowly but surely, member States of the United Nations are revising their relationships with indigenous peoples to respect these human rights.

We can see evidence that basic human rights as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are being given extra attention where indigenous peoples are involved.

More importantly the collective rights of indigenous peoples, rights which are so vital to the survival and success of civilizations, can no longer be denied or opppressed through legitimisation by the authority of States.

Indigenous peoples have much to expect from the United Nations to ensure the equality of peoples is respected at the global level.

The establishment of mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues are concrete steps already taken to guarantee change.

These are very specific and important actions taken by the United Nations to ensure that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are a priority concern towards not only global peace, security and development, but also the wellbeing of the cultural and ecological environs.

States should be taking consequent steps, if they have not already done so, to broaden the momentum for change.

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, declared by the United Nations as an event in Year 2014, should be seen as a time for important reflection.

This significant occasion will mark the end of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

The World Conference will offer an opportunity for States and indigenous peoples alike to examine the endeavors, achievements and shortcomings over two decades to realise the rights of the indigenous peoples of the world.

In Australia over the past five years, there has been a turn around in the commitment by the State to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In 2009 the Government of Australia announced its support for the Declaration, having voted in 2007 in the General Assembly against the adoption of the Declaration.

The Government has given tangible support to the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, a body created in accordance with Article 18 of the Declaration.

The Government has also commissioned a review of the Constitution of Australia to provide recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the First Peoples of Australia.

As a third initiative, the Government has established the ‘Human Rights Framework’ as a policy of government.

This framework includes, inter alia, training of government officials in international human rights obligations undertaken by Australia and the establishment of a parliamentary standards committee to review the laws of the national parliament for compliance with human rights standards.

Following examination of human rights in Australia in 2011, under the Universal Periodic Review provisions of the UN Human Rights Council, Australia is considering the ratification of ILO Convention No. 169, an international treaty which addresses the rights of indigenous peoples.

These specific initiatives are yet to achieve tangible benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but have serious potential.

Australia has yet to describe its overall government pertaining to indigenous issues in terms of the Declaration (apart from perfunctorily claiming overall compliance with the standard).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are unquestionably very confused about how the State has addressed, or is to address, implementation of the Declaration.

Greater effort is needed to describe government priorites and administrative actions against the specific human rights articles in the Declaration.

There can be no doubt that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have a high level of awareness of the existence of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and an appreciation that the United Nations will continue to examine the exercise of the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples of the world.

This has been amply demonstrated during the past five years by many UN reports which address Australia and the rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

However, a shortcoming is the lack of clear understanding amongst our population of the specific rights expressed in the Declaration, or the correlation of such rights with articles in the ratified international human rights treaties.

Specifically, the definition of ‘peoples’ is not understood, and is often misinterpreted.

The term ‘peoples’ must be understood in the context of international law and global governance.

More clear understanding of how the right of self-determination is manifested and exercised is important, to avoid disunity between sub-groups and over-reach of sectarian interests.

At the national level there are calls for a comprehensive program for raising awareness and understanding of the Declaration by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Correspondingly there must be increased efforts to generate awareness across the various agencies of government to ensure that the particular and relevant provisions of the UN Declaration are appreciated and lead to revision of laws, policies and programs.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is collaborating with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Indigenous Peoples Organisations to implement a national strategy for increased awareness and understanding of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Looking back we must remember how it has taken so long to have our rights as indigenous peoples recognised in global governance and international law.

Five years on, it is time for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be more vigorous in exercising these rights and freedoms.

  • Les Malezer was the Chairperson / Coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples Global Caucus on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples leading up to and at the time of the UN General Assembly vote on the Declaration on 13 September 2007. He is currently the Co-Chairperson of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.