The UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can be seen as an interpretation of the Declaration of Human Rights. It states a minimum level for how the indigenous people’s questions should be handled.
The UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN’s general assembly in September 2007. Victoria Tauli-Corpus, chairwoman for the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at that time, participated in the 30-year process of adopting the declaration and the exercising of applicable international conventions.
Why should indigenous peoples have special rights?
“It is not about special right for indigenous peoples”, says Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. “The declaration is an interpretation of the Declaration of Human Rights and the international conventions that apply to everyone.”
There are about 5000 different indigenous peoples and just as many languages. Indigenous peoples live under very different conditions and can be both rich and poor. Many indigenous peoples have under the colonization era been split up by national borders; the Sami in Scandinavia and on the Kola Peninsula are just one example.
A long process
The work before the UN’s General Assembly could adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was an arduous process that has taken almost 30 years. In 1982, a work group within the UN started drawing up the first guidelines. Along the way, numerous obstacles, challenges and negotiations have passed. Up to the very end it was unsure whether the declaration would pass.
“Thanks to the suggestions from the Nordic countries, one could finally agree on changes in the original text that the majority could accept”, Tauli-Corpuz points out.
The declaration states a minimum level for how the indigenous peoples‘questions should be handled in the different counties, even if the declaration is not legally binding. It contains 24 fundamental ideas and 46 articles. One of the rights and the fundamental idea itself in the declaration is the right to self-determination. It is formulated in Article 3.
“The right to self-determination is the most violated since the colonization era”, asserts Tauli-Corpuz. Self-determination is about the right of a people to themselves decide on their political status and their social, cultural and financial development. National states can be afraid that just that article shall lead to an undermining of the territorial integrity and sovereignty. But any right to so-called “emancipation” is not what the right to self-determination is about. Self-determination for indigenous peoples concerns autonomy inside existing borders and not building an own state.
Right to land, water and natural resources
Six articles deal with indigenous peoples’ rights to own, use and control land, territories and natural resources. And that is of course the most controversial part when it comes to the Sami in the Nordic regions. If Sweden is to follow the declaration, it would mean that the Swedish government could no longer maintain that the Sami lands belong to the State.
Cultural and biological diversity
18 articles deal with the cultural rights. The aim of “special treatment” of indigenous peoples and minorities is for all to have the same rights – that minority cultures shall have the same protection as that belonging to the majority culture. There are many multi-cultural nations and an enormous cultural diversity in the world. Not to mention the biological diversity.
“We live in an interesting world,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz exclaims. “And it is the indigenous peoples that are to a great degree the bearers and preservers of the cultural and biological diversity! In our time when we speak of economic collapse and climate changes, it becomes obvious that the indigenous peoples have something valuable to contribute for a more sustainable development”, she concludes.
© Sametinget 2018