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Aboriginal leaders feel 'betrayed' by Ottawa

United Nations Human Rights Council overrides Canada and Russia to approve native peoples declaration

Lisa Schlein - Canadian Press
Hamilton Spectator
GENEVA (Jun 30, 2006)

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

Over the objection of Canada and Russia, the new United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a declaration to protect the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, including their land claims and resources.

By a 30-2 vote yesterday, the council approved the declaration that says indigenous people should be free from discrimination and that they have a right "to consider themselves different and to be respected as such."

Only Canada and Russia voted against it. A dozen countries abstained and three were absent.

When the tally appeared on the electronic screen, the packed conference room erupted into applause. People wept and hugged each other and smiled broadly. Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights and a former Supreme Court of Canada justice, joined in the standing ovation.

"I'm very excited," said Willie Littlechild, an aboriginal lawyer and Treaty Six international chief from Alberta. "I'm very, very delighted and encouraged by the signal the new Human Rights Council has given the world that they are serious about addressing indigenous issues as we go forward by adopting a declaration."

The declaration goes to the UN General Assembly for final adoption in the fall. The document is not legally binding. But governments and indigenous groups point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also not a binding document, but over time it became customary law.

Indigenous groups had hoped the declaration would be approved by consensus but Canada asked for a vote.

Earlier in the week, a Canadian motion to have the council authorize further consultations on the draft declaration was defeated. A roll-call vote of the 47-member council took place.

"When you're doing the right thing, you don't really worry about whether you're isolated or not," said Paul Meyer, head of the Canadian government delegation to the council.

"I think there were a number of countries that indicated they shared some of our concerns about the process and the substance and some of the deficiencies of both aspects that led us to take the vote we did."

The United States, Australia and New Zealand also opposed the declaration, but they are not members of the council and thus cannot vote.

The Canadian government has problems with provisions on land, territories and resources which were unclear and open to interpretation, Meyer said. Other problematic areas are provisions on land claims, the concept of "free, prior and informed consent" and issues relating to self-government provisions.

Littlechild said he was "personally disappointed that Canada chose to follow that path because ... they were there all the way through since 1982 helping us draft together a document, a balanced document."

Kenneth Deer, who represents Mohawks at Kahnawake and the United Nations Council of Chiefs, also felt betrayed.

"Canada had a lot to do with the declaration getting this far ... It's ironic that for 11 years they carried the resolution and at the end they voted against the declaration and against their own work."

But Meyer doesn't see it that way.

"Our position evolved," he said.

"But ... we always had an objective which was to get the best sort of declaration possible and we were willing to go the extra mile on this. We specifically came here with a plea for additional time."

Deer said the declaration should be stronger, but more negotiations would not help because governments that "wanted to reopen it would want to weaken it and not strengthen it."

He warned of "strained" relations between the Canadian government and indigenous peoples, but Meyer said he doesn't think relations will be adversely affected.

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