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Historical Use of Legal Term “Indigenous Peoples’ in UN Declaration

4 September 2002

The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August – 4 September 2002), for the first time in UN history, has just adopted the unqualified term ‘indigenous peoples’ in its official political declaration:

‘We reaffirm the vital role of indigenous peoples in sustainable development.’ (paragraph 22bis)

In stark contrast to last year’s UN World Conference against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, where the term peoples was qualified as still being ‘under negotiations’ (paragraph 24 of the Durban Declaration), the term ‘indigenous peoples’ was unconditionally adopted for the first time in an official UN document.

‘We think the UN has made an vital step towards respecting Indigenous Peoples equal to other peoples of the world,’ stated Vicky Tauli-Corpus, ‘This is a significant step in defining the rights of Indigenous Peoples.’

We hope that with this historical advancement, this respect will be reflected in the implementation of the Plan of Action of the WSSD. We expect governments, UN Agencies and corporations to give the respect that indigenous peoples deserve in all future consultations, relationships, partnerships and negotiations.

Indigenous Peoples now look forward to the upcoming discussions on the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in December 2002, where we hope that this will open the way to a smooth approval of the Declaration.