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UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Canada must fully support vital human rights instrument

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 00:00

    "Adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly was a momentous event, and recent statements of formal support, or movement towards support, by the few States that originally voted against its adoption are to be welcomed. But these achievements cannot be seen as the final or principal goals. Rather, it is the faithful implementation of these rights that must be the focus of concerted attention." - The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


    On November 12th, 2010, the Canadian government endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
    The formal statement of support came after more than four years of federal government opposition to the Declaration, both within Canada and in international meetings. Canada has not repudiated any of it’s previous objections to the Declaration. The public statement says only that the government, having “listened to Aboriginal leaders” and “learned from the experience of other countries”, is “now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the Declaration in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework.”
    The Declaration, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 September 2007, is a vitally important human rights instrument, addressing the security and well-being of some of the world’s most marginalized and frequently victimized peoples. Its provisions reflect well-established principles of international human rights law,including the prohibition of discrimination, and provides guidance for states and other institutions in ensuring that these rights are fulfilled. 
    Indigenous peoples' organizations, human rights groups and faith communities are urging the government to now move forward in a principled manner that fully respects the spirit and intent of the Declaration.
    Human rights declarations are intended to encourage states to reform laws and policies that fail to protect and uphold the rights of all. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is specifically intended to address the widespread and deeply entrenched discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples around the world.

    While Canada is generally known as a leader in the global promotion of human rights, there are clearly significant problems with current laws and policies in respect to the rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples. Canada's endorsement of the Declaration would be meaningless if the government recognized only those provisions that consistent with existing laws and policies and rejected those that would encourage reform and change.

    Take Action

    Send a short, polite letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

    • Note that the UN Declaration is intended to address the discrimination that has denied Indigenous peoples around the world the full enjoyment of their human rights.
    • Welcome the fact that with Canada's official endorsement of the Declaration there is now near universal consensus among states in support of this vital human rights instrument. 
    • Urge the government to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to achieve the full and effective implementation of the Declaration, including by reviewing Canada's domestic and foreign policies that affect the rights of Indigenous peoples.

    Write To

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper
    Office of the Prime Minister
    80 Wellington Street
    Ottawa ON K1A 0A2
    Fax: (613) 941-6900
    Dear Prime Minister

    More Background

    The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes a unique and much needed contribution to global understanding and promotion of human rights. Rights affirmed by the Declaration include the right of self-determination, land rights, rights to cultural identity, and protection against genocide and discrimination.

    Canada was one of only four countries that voted against the Declaration when it was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Australia and New Zealand has since publicly endorsed the Declaration while the USA has publicly announced plans to review its position.

    In a public statement released on the third anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Declaration, Indigenous peoples' organizations and human rights groups in Canada called for immediate action on the following critical priorities for implementation:

    • Making the recognition and protection of Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands and resources an explicit objective of federal policies. 
    • Institutionalizing decision-making processes consistent with the Constitutional duty of Aboriginal consultation, accommodation, and consent, as affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. 

    • Eliminating discrimination in the provision of government services to Indigenous people and communities. 

    • Establishing a comprehensive national plan of action to address the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women and girls in Canada and ensure that they enjoy the full protection of the law.