Indigenous peoples win historic vote on rights – Canada votes against

August 7, 2006

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On UN Indigenous People's Day (9 August), Survival welcomes the UN Human Rights Council's historic vote in favour of the declaration on Indigenous people's rights. Canada and Russia were the only two countries on the council to vote against the declaration.

Several African countries including South Africa voted in favour of the declaration, breaking with African governments' traditional reluctance to recognise Indigenous peoples.

Canada, which refused to back the declaration, has faced a long campaign by Survival over its treatment of the Innu people of Labrador and Quebec. Over the last 40 years, the Innu have been moved from their land and made to live in settled communities. The new communities are marked by extremely high levels of alcoholism, petrol-sniffing amongst children, violence, and record levels of suicides.

Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, ‘A UN declaration of Indigenous peoples' rights is long overdue and it's encouraging that many of the former colonial powers, together with South Africa, finally supported this very progressive move. What is really dismaying is that Canada decided to join with Russia in opposing the draft declaration. Canada's treatment of many of its Indigenous peoples is very shabby indeed and they will feel further discriminated against by their government's actions at the UN.'

The declaration was first discussed over 20 years ago. It 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 declaration.

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.

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