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Fontaine lobbies for rights treaty at UN

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  • Fontaine lobbies for rights treaty at UN

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    Fontaine lobbies for rights treaty at UN
    First Nations chief seeks to sway African countries

    STEVEN EDWARDS, CanWest News Service

    Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Canada's First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine joined indigenous leaders from
    around the world yesterday to launch an international campaign aimed at
    reigniting support for a treaty on aboriginal peoples' rights negotiated over 20
    He said the new push will focus first on trying to convince African nations
    to reverse their newly voiced opposition to the draft Canada and other
    European-colonized countries such as the United States and Australia have also
    rejected in its present form.
    Indigenous groups hope that winning back African support will have a snowball
    effect to pressure the other countries into changing their positions.
    The African caucus stunned the international indigenous community last month
    when it voted in a key General Assembly policy committee to postpone action
    on the draft treaty after approving it in the United Nations' Human Rights
    Council in June.
    The document, which calls for international recognition of native peoples'
    right to self-determination and control over their traditional lands, needs
    General Assembly endorsement before it can be offered to states for signature
    and ratification.
    "Over the next weeks and months we will be canvassing all member states,
    starting with the African coalition," said Fontaine, national chief of the
    Assembly of First Nations.
    "We were shocked and disappointed at the recent postponement, and we feel
    Canada's stance is a stain on its human rights (reputation) internationally."
    Canada had been at the forefront of talks that began 20 years ago to create
    the first comprehensive treaty recognizing rights of native peoples, but
    withdrew support several months ago.
    Canada said "parts of the text are vague and ambiguous," setting the stage
    for competing definitions that could, for example, enable native groups to
    reopen negotiations on already-settled land claims.
    UN officials aim to get talks restarted for General Assembly action by next
    The document as it stands retains the support of Latin American countries and
    of Europe. But African countries - which vaguely define their indigenous
    peoples as those who maintain traditional ways of life - withdrew their support
    over the self-determination clauses.
    While some African diplomats said their countries feared the provision could
    spark rebellions, a few indigenous activists charged developed countries
    pressured African nations into changing their votes.
    © The Gazette (Montreal) 2006
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