Leaders of Indigenous peoples in the Americas are meeting on October 12 in La Paz, Bolivia to “put some teeth” in the 13 September 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Representatives meeting in what they called the “Encounter for World Indigenous Peoples’ Historic Victory” have come together to lay down some markers for States’ governments to consider. Nobel Laureate (1992) Rigoberto Menchu proclaimed in a statement before the assembly: “The Declaration is an extraordinary beginning, but now we must continue the struggle for an actual international convention on the rights of indigenous peoples.”
The foundations for such an international convention were placed on the international alter at the time when the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations delivered its Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the Commission on Human Rights in 1994.
On July 28, 1994 Fourth World nations representatives from West Papua, Crimea, Cree in Canada, Nuba in Sudan among others initialed the INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS NATIONS at the Palais de Nacion in Geneva, Switzerland. Considered at the time to be the Fourth World nations’ counterbalance to the then Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Nations spells out the principles and authorities on which Fourth World nations had developed a consensus from 1975 to 1994. Shaped very much like the UN Declaration, the Covenant is affirmative and proactive in its scope. It imposes responsibilities on signatory nations, and it guarantees by way of commitments of nations certain authorities and rights to political identity, economic prosperity, social stability and cultural integrity.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted on 13 September 2007 a mild version of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The draft sent to the Commission on Human Rights in 1994 had measures much stronger…particularly concerning self-determination. The present Declaration seriously constrains and limits the right of self-determination imposing serious limitations on the right of Fourth World peoples to freely chose their own political status and political future without external interference. In other words, the States have agreed that they will seek to limit the political mobility of Fourth World nations…they will prevent them from pursuing their own political future without state control.
This is a fundamental flaw in the present Declaration. What the United Nations has essentially agreed to is the commitment between states’ parties to prevent Fourth World nations from exercising the right to choose their own political future–a right that was practically guaranteed to “peoples” living under colonial control but separated from the colonial power by water: the “blue water rule” that allowed for the decolonization of islands and African, Asian, Melanesian territories from British, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and other state-colonial control. The so-called “decolonization declaration” was adopted in December 1960 as the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples; and also Resolution 1514 (XV), which defined three legitimate options for self-government (becoming freely associated with an independent State, integrating into an independent State or independence ).
The peoples who remain colonized–or occupied against their will–are those original peoples residing inside existing states. The so-called existing states were mostly created in the last fifty years, but includes states like Canada, Australia, United States of America, Russia, China and New Zealand). The present UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples denies Fourth World nations the power or right to freely seek a different political status in accord with Resolution 1514 (XV). In other words, the Decolonization Declaration grants the right to “peoples” to choose their own political status. The Indigenous Peoples Declaration denies Indigenous “peoples” that same right or authority. The apparent difference is the status of various peoples. Apparently some peoples have guaranteed rights greater than other peoples.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples declares that self-determination for Fourth World nations means:
Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
The International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Naitons declares that self-determination for Fourth World nations means:
Para. 3 Indigenous Nations have the right of
self-determination, in accordance with international law, and by virtue
of that right they freely determine their political status and freely
pursue their economic, social and cultural development without external
As you can easily see, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples limits the right of self-determination to autonomy and self-government in connection with their internal affairs, which means they may decide social and local political matters within the constraints of state power. The meaning of self-determination as it has been applied to peoples the world over since 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson introduced the idea in his famous 14 Points has been seriously distorted–denying the right of self-determination in its full meaning to Fourth World peoples.
The International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly applies the principle of self-determination in a way consistent with international practice, and in accord with the 1960 Decolonization Declaration and Resolution 1514 (XV).
Self-determination has no meaning unless it recognizes the right of a people to freely choose their own political status–their own political future. Absent this recognized fundamental right as peoples, as human beings, Fourth World nations are left to the political, economic and security whims of arbitrary states’ government power.
Menchu is correct. An international convention must now be put in place to detail the political, social, economic, cultural and strategic authorities of Fourth World nations. It is equally important that new protocols detailing how these authorities will be exercised become internationally agreed to as well. Peaceful relations between Fourth World nations and states’ government depend on a fully recognized right of self-determination.
The war between Sri Lanka and the Tamil is a direct result of the failure of a state to recognize the full expression of self-determination for the Tamil.
The war between Israel and Palestine is also a direct result of the failure of a state to recognize the full expression of self-determination for the Palestinians.
The war that between Turkey and the Kurds is also a direct result of this failure. The same problem exists between Russia and the Chechens; and Indonesia and the West Papuan peoples.
Violence from the states against Fourth World peoples is strongly connected to the failure to recognize the full expression of self-determination–especially for peoples who have fallen under the power of a state without their consent. Regional wars that threaten world peace mainly arise from the denial of political self-determination.
The International Covenant on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples exists for Fourth World nations and can now be used as a part of a growing dialogue concerning the language of new international agreements describing the political, economic, social, cultural and strategic powers of Fourth World nations. Fourth World nations have their language for international principles and states have theirs in the UN Declaration. The meeting in LaPaz has begun that debate.
(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies
(Dr. Rÿser is the author of Fourth World Geopolitics and the forth-coming book Nationcraft, and actively participated in the twelve-year effort to draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)
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