UN Human Rights Council approves text of indigenous rights declaration

In a historic vote which brought a standing ovation from those present, the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva has this week approved the text of a declaration on indigenous peoples' rights that was first discussed over twenty years ago.

The draft declaration will now move to the UN General Assembly, where member countries are expected to vote on it later this year. The Council recommended that the General Assembly approve the draft declaration.

In a signal of increasing support amongst African governments for recognising indigenous peoples' rights, Cameroon, South Africa and Zambia all voted for the declaration. Only Canada and Russia opposed it.

If approved, the declaration would set a benchmark against which countries' treatment of tribal peoples can be judged; it is not legally binding.

The declaration recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their land and to live as they wish. It also affirms that, for example, they should not be moved from their lands without their free and informed consent.

Speaking after the vote, the UK's representative cautioned that the UK does not accept the concept of collective rights in international law, a position that has made it the target of a sustained campaign by indigenous people and Survival.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘At long last the UN is moving towards properly recognising the world's indigenous peoples, most of whom are still suffering dispossession, many of whom are staring extinction in the face. It remains to be seen which governments will actually do something to help them. Of course it's dismaying that the UK government's immediate response to the Declaration is to deny the existence of collective rights.'

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