Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse

First Report on the 10th Working Group on the Draft Declaration, September 13, 2004


As you all know, the 10th WGDD opened today in Geneva and as last year, I will be writing reports summarizing the main events and discussion points of each day’s sessions. Please feel free to forward this report and if anyone would like to be removed from the list do let me know.

The opening session of the WGDD began today around 1130 (as opposed to the theoretical start time of 10AM). The morning proved to be quite disappointing as there was not much substantive discussion as well as the fact that there were massive problems for most delegates to receive their badges. People who had received their letters of accreditation months ago had to wait hours for their name to somewhat miraculously appear in the badge system and so much time was wasted this morning in this regard. But, this was not only limited to problems with indigenous delegates and even the Chairperson himself, Mr. Chavez, was not on the list of accredited individuals! They even wouldn’t let the drum be brought inside and Julian Burger had to write a report about why the drum was important for a honoring ceremony that would be held during the WGDD so that the security would allow the drum into the UN!

Once discussions began, it was New Zealand on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, who presented the Nordic proposal in regards to the Draft Declaration text. They gave their usual spiel about their commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples and how they feel that these ammendments will in fact strengthen the text. Notably, they stated that the Sub-Commission text as it stands is unacceptable and they stated that for those delegations with no-change positions, there will end up being no Declaration outlineing the rights of indigenous peoples. A few key issues in their ammended text includes: 1) the DD must be compatible with democratic legislation, 2) self-determination does not include anything that may threaten territorial integrity and state sovreignty, 3) articles that relate to lands and resources are too wordy in the rights that they outline, 4) the words ‘their lands’ are too problematic in terms of indigenous peoples rights, 5) that redress is a more appropriate concept than restoring lands or compensation for lost lands, 6) if collective rights are provided for then the inclusion of individual rights must also be mentioned, 7) 3rd party rights in the form of access to sacred sites that may be privately owned must also be addressed in the DD, to mention the salent few. Mr. Chavez opened the floor for general debate, and the notable comments came from the Latin American Group who stated that they are in favor of (for the most part) sticking closer to the original sub-Commission text. Ron Lameman, on behalf of the IITC and the Treaty 6 Confederacy noted that the sub-Commission text already contains the very minimum standards of rights for indigenous peoples and that it is inappropriate for governments such as New Zealand et al to be making proposals such as this.

The afternoon session was was opened by a beautiful prayer from a Cree Elder. The 3 hours were much more productive (and lively) and Mr. Chavez presented a work plan for the week which very quickly got underway. Mr. Chavez reminded the WGDD that the Nordic Proposal was on the table. He brought forward the proposal of the Indigenous Caucus to provisionally adopt articles that have no changes in comparison of the Nordic Proposal to the original text, of which include PPs 1-5, 7-9, 12, 14, 16-18 and OPs 8, 10,14,19,40,42,44. He noted a third thread of work which included the cluster presented by the Nordic countries at the end of the 9th WGDD of articles 16,18,33, and 45. The fourth thread of work will include discussion of the following articles that either are problematic or have never been discussed in the WG to date, PPs 6, 10, 11, 13, 19 and OPs 22, 32, 34, 35, 37-42. There is some overlap in the articles, but in any case a heavy load of work he would like to accomplish in this first week.

Before beginning the substantive work, Chavez informed the WGDD that in the discussions, he wanted only to hear if there were new proposals, objections and reservations, he did not want to hear declarations and explanations of why someone is in agreement or not with another party’s perspective. IITC asked the Chair if it would be possible to provisionally adopt the articles as a group, and he responded with a ‘no’ saying that they must go article by article to determine consensus. The WG began by discussing the no-change provisions within the PPs.

PP1: Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal in dignity and rights to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such,

*The UK noted that the term ‘peoples’ should be changed to either ‘people’ or ‘individuals.’ they also found it problematic the terminology of the right to be different and stated that it should be reworded in the language of non-discrimination.

*The USA said that they could not discuss this PP until OP 2 was discussed.

*France expressed reservations about this PP also.

*The ICC and AILA both asked that the Chairman’s report reflect only 3 governments who are opposed to the current wording, plus the ICC asked both the UK and USA to substantiate their problems with the article in legal terms.

*Willie Littlechild brought up the issue of consensus as there is only a very small group who have reservations and asked the Chair why consensus was not reached. The Chair noted that consensus means there are no objections, and there were objections.

*IITC noted that last year in the Chairman’s report there was no government who had a problem with the term ‘peoples’ and wanted to point out that certain governments appeared to be backtracking.

PP2: Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,

*No discussion, meaning no opposition and no additional ammendments to be made to original text.

PP3: Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin, racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,

*Also no discussion. A Maori delegate asked the Chair whether no discussion meant that the WGDD could go directly to provisional adoption, and the Chair said he wanted to discuss first and then provisionally adopt later.

PP4: Reaffirming also that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind,

*UK proposal to delete ‘in the exercise of their rights.’

*Willie noted that this deletion will water down rights.

PP5: Concerned that indigenous peoples have been deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, resulting, inter alia, in their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,

*Canada would like to cut ‘their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests’

*Japan would like to cut the term ‘territories’

*UK again would like it to be ‘people’ or ‘individuals’ instead of ‘indigenous peoples.’

*USA stated that the right to development is not a right and agreed with Canada.

PP7: Welcoming the fact that indigenous peoples are organizing themselves for political, economic, social and cultural enhancement and in order to bring an end to all forms of discrimination and oppression wherever they occur,

*No discussion

PP8: Convinced that control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and their lands, territories and resources will enable them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs,

*Canada did not object but find the language of ‘lands, territories and resources’ problematic and related to issues that emerge from Article 30.

*Australia would like to change the first part to ‘increased control’

*Argentina would prefer it to read ‘lands or territories’, to which Chavez noted that the whole Declaration would have to be changed to make this consistent, if the Argentina proposal was taken.

PP9: Recognizing also that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment,

*No discussion ensued

PP12: Recognizing also that indigenous peoples have the right freely to determine their relationships with States in a spirit of coexistence, mutual benefit and full respect,

*Japan noted again that they have reservations of any articles related to self-determination.

*UK propose to change ‘have the right freely to’ into ‘are free to’ or ‘shall be free to.’

*The USA noted reservations on this as for them, the only people considered indigenous by the government of the USA are the federally recognized tribes, and thus only these federally recognized tribes can determine how they will interact with the government. It is too loose a resolution and they find it problematic.

PP14: Acknowledging that the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights affirm the fundamental importance of the right of self-determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,

*Canada would like to delete ‘the fundamental importance of’

*Japan has reservations due to self-determination issue

*UK has reservations because of self-determination

*USA supports Canada

*AILA and Guatemala have a proposal to add text also but this PP, along with PP15 will be discussed further during the discussion on OP3 on self-determination.

PP16: Encouraging States to comply with and effectively implement all international instruments, in particular those related to human rights, as they apply to indigenous peoples, in consultation and cooperation with the peoples concerned,

*Canada finds this problematic as States cannot be encouraged to comply with instruments they are not party to. They would like to add text after ‘implement all’ which would read ‘of their obligations under’.

*USA had the same position as Canada and very proudly stated that the USA is not party to any human rights treaties which have anything to do with indigenous peoples, and so indigenous peoples and individuals are not protected by any international treaties they have ratified.

*UK supported both the USA and Canada.

PP17: Emphasizing that the United Nations has an important and continuing role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples,

*The UK would like again to change ‘peoples’ to either ‘people’ or ‘individuals.’ Also they would like to delete ‘rights’ and replace it with ‘needs and interests.’

*Ecuador noted that the word ‘rights’ could simply not be removed because this is in fact a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

PP18: Believing that this Declaration is a further important step forward for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples and in the development of relevant activities of the United Nations system in this field,

*The UK apologized “for sounding like a stuck record” (to which laughter broke out as well as clapping) and noted again that ‘peoples’ was unacceptable language and it would have to be ‘people’ or ‘individuals.’ In response to the clapping and laughter the UK delegate asked for a higher degree of “respect, decorum and professionalism” in the hall. Fine thing to ask as her government is demonstrating so much of it towards the indigenous people of the world!

It became clear as the discussions went on that the Chair was attempting to identify which governments oppose certain articles and who they have in their corner. This could be seen as an attempt to further isolate these governments and does shift the balance of power within the WGDD. Now, the USA, UK, Australia, Canada are marked as the minority and inflexible governments, which can have some positive repercussions as the negotiations continue.

It is apparent to many that the Chair is preparing a Chairman’s text which may end up being the document presented to the Commission on Human Rights in April, and this can go either way. Chavez could seriously marginalize the views of these obstructionist governments in his text, but then again, no one really knows what his plans are with this. The meeting was closed with two honor songs for the leaders who have recently passed on, like Grampa Tony Black Feather and other leaders who will now guide us from the Spirit Realm.

Tomorrows discussion will continue on the no-change articles and possibly the Nordic cluster which I mentioned earlier, if time permits. All documents can be found on the website

Until tomorrow,



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