MINELRES: MRG: UK attempts to sabotage new charter on the rights of indigenous peoples

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Wed Sep 29 18:35:02 2004

Original sender: Chris Chapman <CHRIS.CHAPMAN@mrgmail.org>

Minority Rights Group International 
press release 
UK attempts to sabotage new charter on the rights of indigenous peoples 

Minority Rights Group International 

Press Release                   
21 September 2004               
for immediate release

UK attempts to sabotage new charter on the rights of indigenous peoples

The UK government is actively working this week to sabotage a new United
Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by
insisting that every reference to 'rights' is removed from the draft
text. Indigenous peoples attending a UN Working Group1 convened to agree
a declaration text, were shocked at the UK moves, which come after ten
years of negotiations on the Declaration and just before the deadline
for agreement expires this year.  

Last week at the start of intergovernmental negotiations currently
taking place at the UN in Geneva, indigenous participants were
astonished by UK proposals to remove or replace the term 'rights' in
relation to indigenous peoples, throughout the entire text of the

Under Article 2 pertaining to freedom and equality in dignity and
rights, the UK echoed a proposal by the USA to delete 'and rights' and
then called for the term 'rights' to be deleted throughout the whole
Under Article 19, regarding the right of indigenous peoples to
participate fully in decision making process that affect their lives,
the UK asked for removal of the term 'have the right to' and reiterated
its call for the removal of mention of rights from the entire text,
prompting the Guatemalan government delegation to ask what democracy
means in nations that do not encourage full participation of all
Even in relation to the right of indigenous people to use and pass on
their own language and literature, under Article 14, the UK again
proposed that the term 'right' should be deleted and replaced with a
weaker statement about the need for states to take effective measures; 
The UK repeatedly proposed that the term 'indigenous peoples' should be
replaced with 'indigenous individuals'; 
Under Article 42 pertaining to the fact that the rights within the
document constitute a minimum standard for the survival, dignity and
well-being of indigenous peoples, the UK called for the deletion of the
term 'the rights recognized herein'. 

"The effect of these wrecking amendments tabled by the UK would be to
turn the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into a
meaningless piece of paper", said Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority
Rights Group International (MRG). "Such a declaration would clearly be
unacceptable to indigenous peoples and the UK may be banking on this as
a means of sabotaging the entire process", he continued.

Officials have stated that the UK government's fundamental objection to
the concept of collective rights for indigenous peoples lies behind its
attempt to remove specific references to 'rights' within the text.
Doubts remain over the future of the Working Group, and therefore the
declaration itself, unless substantial progress is made in the current
sessions towards agreement on some 45 articles which comprise the

Chairperson of the working group, Mr Luis-Enrique Chavez, seemed equally
surprised by the UK position and confirmed that 'the UK is interested in
eliminating rights from this Declaration'. The UK appears to be taking a
singularly hard line despite the efforts of numerous other states,
including the Nordic states, New Zealand, Switzerland, Mexico and
Guatemala, to find consensus with indigenous peoples' representatives. A
small number of other governments including the United States are known
to favour termination of the Working Group's mandate if substantive
progress is not made, yet seem determined to create obstacles to such

Indigenous and tribal peoples consider themselves distinct from other
sectors of society as pre-invasion and pre-colonial peoples. Worldwide,
they often face complex threats to their survival as distinct peoples.
Not only are they confronted with dispossession of their ancestral lands
and resources, and physical persecution, but they are also faced with
such issues as the appropriation of their collective knowledge, arts and
skills developed through the ages. The situation of indigenous peoples
varies greatly internationally, however, some peoples such as the
Bambuti pygmies of Central Africa and numerous Asian indigenous peoples
including the Hmong, face extreme danger and persecution from both state
and non-state actors alike, and the wider effects of conflict. 

Minority Rights Group International calls on the UK government to review
its position in regard to the rights of indigenous peoples. It considers
this position is inconsistent with the views of the majority of states
and indigenous peoples, and contrary to the provisions of existing human
rights standards relating to indigenous and collective rights and the
spirit of current negotiations. MRG is supporting indigenous
participants to attend the drafting sessions and supports their calls
for a strong and broad ranging declaration of indigenous rights, that
are clearly identified as such.

Notes for editors: 

1. The Intersessional Working Group on the Draft Declaration on
Indigenous Peoples was established in 1995 with the purpose of
finalizing the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It
is currently meeting in Geneva from 13-26 September. The draft is being
prepared for consideration and adoption by the General Assembly during
the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, which
finishes this year. The Working Group is being held in Salle 27, Palais
de Nations, Geneva.

For further information and interviews please contact Graham Fox at
MRG's Press Office on + 44 (0)20 7422 4205 or +44 7870 596863 (mobile). 

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental
organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and
linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide, and to promote
cooperation and understanding between communities.