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A Milestone Achieved: the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is Adopted by the UNGA

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It is time for celebration and reflection as after twenty five years of discussion and debate, the United Nations has adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This marks a major milestone in achieving human rights for all. 
(Bangkok) FORUM-ASIA celebrates with Indigenous Peoples from around the world on the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) on 13 September 2007 by the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly. The adoption of the DRIP marks the end of the over twenty-five year struggle for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples rights by the United Nations (UN) and the beginning of a new phase to translate the DRIP into public policy and practice that can create functional relationships between the State and Indigenous Peoples.

The Declaration was approved by 144 member states of the United Nations with 4 votes against and 11 abstentions. This is the second time that the DRIP has come before the General Assembly (GA). In November 2006, the DRIP was stalled by the GA; the decision deferred to this September session. On 30 August 2007, the text of the DRIP was amended, still maintaining the key focus. A positive amendment was in the first sentence of the Preamble, “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and good faith in the fulfillment of the obligations assumed by States in accordance with the Charter”. 

 The right to self-determination, to own and control traditional lands, territories and resources and the right to free, prior and informed consent are some of the key points that were argued for by the Indigenous Peoples and included in the DRIP. Although self-determination is a right of all people, everywhere, as enshrined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Declaration on the Right to Development, the states that voted against the DRIP, have argued that it is not a specific right of Indigenous Peoples. International recognition of these rights presents a benchmark for states to achieve in their relationships with the Indigenous Peoples.

Although the DRIP is not legally binding and does not create new rights, it represents minimum standards for the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN member states are now challenged to re-think their laws, policies and practices in dealing with Indigenous Peoples and to amend them to be in line with this new international standard. Over twenty-five years was spent in making the DRIP a reality at the UN. Making it a reality for the millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world, who are excluded from dominant society and living as the poorest of the poor in almost every region, can no longer be delayed.
Making the DRIP into a living document will be an enormous challenge. It is extremely disappointing that the states of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, who voted against the DRIP, are considered some of the world’s most developed and progressive countries but also have some of the world’s worst policies and practices for dealing with Indigenous Peoples. FORUM-ASIA is encouraged by the positive votes from the Asia member states of the UN.1  Perhaps those that are up for the challenge can begin to strategise how to implement the DRIP into public policy and law to be a benchmark for the world to follow.

Although the challenge ahead is huge, the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations is truly a cause for celebration. Indigenous rights have come a long way since being discussed during colonisation of the Americas, on whether enslaving Indigenous Peoples was justified, to Indigenous Peoples attempts to meet with their colonisers on a equal footing in Europe, to being barred from the League of Nations, then finally receiving acknowledgement within the International sphere in 1982 with the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the UN Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, followed by the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The DRIP is a major milestone, a vital point of reflection and affirmation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.


Anselmo Lee
Executive Director

For more information, please contact:
Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, +66 (02) 391 8801 (ext 502), [email protected]
Laura McLennan, Ethnic Minorities in Southeast Asia Programme, +66 (02) 391 8801 (ext
105), [email protected]

1 Of countries in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia, only Bhutan and Bangladesh abstained from voting, all others voted yes.