Collective rights - UK blocks historic UN declaration

November 16, 2004

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The world's Indigenous people are targetting the UK government for blocking an historic UN declaration on Indigenous rights. The UK has decided that collective human rights do not exist – a position which could harm tribal and Indigenous peoples around the world.

This year marks the end of the UN Decade of Indigenous Peoples, during which a draft declaration on their rights has been completed following hundreds of consultations with Indigenous representatives. The declaration would be the strongest international agreement on Indigenous peoples.

Collective rights are vital for tribal peoples, particularly the right to communal ownership of their land. Mining and other companies are starting to have to recognise the rights of tribes to decide what happens on their land, and to seek tribal peoples' free and informed consent – but if such consent is to be meaningful, it can only be given or withheld collectively.

Inuit woman Dalee Sambo Dorough says, 'The UK position that our collective rights are not human rights is nonsense. Is this Tony Blair's idea of spreading "the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and justice for the oppressed"? Such contradictions and inconsistencies being expressed by the UK government should not be tolerated by their citizens. They will not be tolerated by Indigenous peoples.'

Azelene, a Kaingang Indian woman from Brazil, adds, ' I remember my first meeting at the UN. We were defending our collective rights. A UK diplomat surprised me with the coldness with which he referred to Indigenous peoples. He looked at me and said, "I can't recognise the collective rights of you people. I don't see any difference in you – we are all the same." So I spoke to him in Kaingang, the language of my people. There was no translation, and I asked him if he'd understood what I'd said and he replied, "No." Then I looked at him again and said, "That's why I'm different. Because only my people speak this language."'

A delegation of Indigenous people will be in the UK on 24 and 25 November to protest against the UK government's stance.

For more information and interviews contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]

Photos and footage of Indigenous peoples available.