Wednesday, April 21, 2010

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

New Zealand finally formally agreed to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) early yesterday, more than a year after indicating it may do so, and a year after Australia voiced its support .

Last month, Canada indicated it would support the declaration, meaning the US will soon be the only UN member not to support it.(Update well, maybe not). And from the outset, may I remind everyone that that this declaration was not “signed” - it is not a treaty, it is not legislation, in fact it is not even a convention like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - and it is not legally binding. Any influence it has on law is open to interpretation by states - meaning it could have influence on legal matters, but it doesn't have to.

This support should have happened ages ago, but unfortunately Labour refused to support it based on Article 26, which gives indigenous peoples the right to lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired and that states should give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources.

The Government has that covered by stating that approval of the declaration is conditional on a proviso attached saying that progressing Māori rights occurs within New Zealand’s “current legal and constitutional frameworks”. Canada, no doubt, will do something similar. Article 27 of the Declaration urges governments to establish a ‘fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process... to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used’. Arguably, National’s current process with regard to the Foreshore and Seabed is doing this.

But that hasn’t stopped ACT saying that the declaration is divisive, is about “separating New Zealand into two”, and about providing special rights to Māori, but ACT has never shown any willingness to understand indigeneity. Clearly Article 46 of the declaration notes that nothing in the declaration may be interpreted as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.

Phil Goff could see no point in "signing up" to the declaration, claiming that the Government did not intend to fulfil it after John Key said that the agreement has no practical effect. If that is the rationale behind support or opposition, perhaps Goff should ask himself why he supports our position on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [PDF]. Perhaps he could ask himself why he supported the anti-smacking legislation, which, unlike a declaration, is legally binding.

Like other UN declarations and conventions agreed to by New Zealand (including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by NZ in 1948), rights recognised in UNDRIP have been supported in New Zealand for years, and there's no harm in officially reminding the UN community of it.

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