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Old 02-19-2006, 04:48 AM   #1
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U.N. negotiations on indigenous rights wrap up, for now

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This Message Is Reprinted Under The Fair Use
Doctrine Of International Copyright Law:
_http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html_
(http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html)
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FROM: INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY NEWSPAPER

_http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096412482_
(http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096412482)

U.N. negotiations on indigenous rights wrap up, for now

(javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: February 17, 2006 by: _Valerie Taliman_
(http://www.indiancountry.com/author.cfm?id=224) / Indian Country Today

GENEVA - The current round of negotiations on the U.N. Draft Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples came to a close Feb. 3 with nearly
two-thirds of the provisions agreed upon by the member states of the U.N. Human
Rights Commission.

The Human Rights Commission's Working Group on the Draft Declaration,
including member countries as well as many indigenous participants, wrapped up its
final week of negotiations after some 11 years of work.

''We were able to reach agreement with member countries on a number of
articles that protect individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, and
that was an important accomplishment. However, there were several areas where
we could not reach consensus, even though there was agreement on basic
issues,'' said Robert T. Coulter, director of the Indian Law Resource Center in
Helena, Mont., and Washington, D.C.

Articles regarding indigenous peoples' right of self-determination and
rights to lands and natural resources continued to be controversial in
negotiations between indigenous delegates and several nation states.

The United States, Australia and New Zealand, among others, sought changes
in the articles on self-determination for indigenous peoples. Some indigenous
participants sought rights to all the lands and territories that they had
ever traditionally owned.

Lacking consensus on the articles dealing with these major issues, Working
Group Chairman Luis Enrique Chavez, of Peru, will now prepare his version of a
text that includes the agreed-upon provisions and his recommendation for the
remaining articles that he believes are most likely to achieve consensus
among the member-states of the Human Rights Commission. He will submit his
proposed text to the commission before its meeting begins in mid-March.

If the commission adopts Chavez's text, the draft declaration would then be
forwarded to the Economic and Social Council for approval before being sent
to the U.N. General Assembly for final adoption.

However, the United Nations is currently reorganizing its human rights
bodies, creating uncertainty over whether the declaration will be adopted by the
Human Rights Commission or passed along to the proposed Human Rights Council,
which will replace the commission. If the draft declaration is forwarded to
the Human Rights Council, the council would not consider it before its first
session beginning in mid-June.

Though the negotiations did not result in consensus on all provisions, the
advancement of the declaration represents a major development in the rights of
indigenous peoples in international law. The term ''consensus'' in the
United Nations means that no country openly objects to adoption.

''There is a good chance we could get the declaration adopted within a year
or two,'' said Coulter. ''If consensus is reached in the commission or the
council, it could probably be adopted by the General Assembly next fall.''

Coulter said the reason the ILRC and many Native leaders began working in
the international arena was that the rights of Indian nations and other
indigenous peoples are not spelled in the U.S. Constitution.

By creating a set of legal standards and rules at the international level
that have a healthy influence on domestic law, Coulter hopes that Congress will
see that there is something fundamentally wrong with terminating tribes and
violating their rights in other ways.

''Once the U.N. has adopted the declaration on the rights of indigenous
peoples, we will have a formal legal statement on the rights of indigenous
peoples that is accepted by every country in the world. After countries demonstrate
over a period of time that they regard the law as binding, it becomes a part
of customary international law,'' he said.

When Native leaders first went to the United Nations, many countries did not
know much about indigenous peoples. ''Country representatives sometimes said
they didn't have any indigenous peoples, and these were countries that today
acknowledge huge indigenous populations,'' said Coulter.

''There was a lot of disbelief that indigenous peoples had or ought to have
specific rights. It has taken a long time to educate people about who we are.
So when we first spoke of self-determination for indigenous peoples, many
countries thought that was absurd. Now nearly all countries support the idea
that indigenous peoples should have the right of self-determination, to be
self-governing within the countries where they live.''

Coulter said advancement of indigenous rights in the international arena is
a backstop against unfair law within the American legal system, where Indian
and Alaska Native nations are often denied equality before the law.

''Indian nations have particular rights, and we are fighting for justice and
equality before the law. It is about time we stopped termination and the
fear of it. Reforming these laws and putting to rest these old injustices is
way overdue.''

Because the declaration sets standards on how countries should treat
indigenous peoples, it may be effective in influencing federal laws and policies
regarding Indian nations and tribes.

Coulter believes the declaration will eventually have an influence on court
decisions. The Supreme Court at times turns to international law in deciding
cases, including four or five in the past four years in which it looked at
international law concerning the death penalty, equal protection of the law and
other issues.

''We now have the support of most if not all the countries in the U.N. Human
Rights Commission for provisions in the declaration stating that we have a
right of self-determination as distinct groups within the countries where we
live. We are unique in the world that way. No other category of peoples has
such a right,'' he said.

In some countries, the declaration will be especially important -
particularly where the rights of indigenous peoples have been barely acknowledged in
the past.

''In some countries, indigenous people are killed, shot, driven from the
land,'' said Coulter. ''The official acknowledgment of their legal rights could
mean [the] survival of peoples and communities that might otherwise
perish.''
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