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MRG applauds adoption of UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples

16 September 2007

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) applauds the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples – a move that follows more than two decades of pressure from indigenous organizations worldwide.

A non-binding text, the Declaration does not create new rights. However it does lay out the rights of indigenous peoples relating to land, natural resources, culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

Crucially the Declaration recognizes not only that indigenous peoples need special protection, but also that their centuries-long custodianship of land and natural resources needs to be protected as a collective rather than individual right.

MRG's Executive Director Mark Lattimer says, "It is a major step forward that at long last the world's nations have agreed a charter to protect indigenous peoples' collective rights."

The declaration provides an important benchmark against which countries' treatment of indigenous peoples will be judged.

Significantly the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – all of whom have considerable indigenous populations – voted against the Declaration, citing concerns about the provisions on lands, territories and resources.

Mark Lattimer concluded, "It is regrettable that they voted against the declaration, given the proud traditions of their own native peoples. Mealy-mouthed excuses from some of these states about how the declaration could harm the rights of majorities are in denial of the longstanding discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples."

The world's 370 million indigenous people are amongst the poorest and most marginalized groups across the world.