This month saw a historic achievement for more than 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide as the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.In a Press Release, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) announced the historic milestone as a result of more than two decades of consultation and dialogue among governments and indigenous people from all regions.
According to the Press Release, the Declaration, adopted by the Human Rights Council in June, 2006, "addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights and identity, rights to education, health, employment, language and others. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and Indigenous Peoples. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them".
The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Sha Zukang, stated that the Declaration is proof that the UN has, "fulfilled its role as the world's parliament and has responded to the trust that Indigenous Peoples around the world placed in it, that it will stand for dignity and justice, development and peace for all, without discrimination."
An overwhelming majority of 143 countries voted in support of the Declaration with 11 countries abstaining and 4 voting against. These 4 were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
There were various reactions to the 4 with many questions of their opposition as these countries have significant indigenous populations; the Aborigines in Australia, the Indians, Métis and Inuit in Canada, the Maori in New Zealand and the Native Americans in the United States.
At least one regional organization has commented on the issue, saying that one possible reason for Australia and New Zealand's opposition could be a result of past injustices inflicted on indigenous people with these countries frightened of not having come to terms with it.
As reported by the Fiji Times Online, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC), based in Suva, Fiji, also stated that these countries should practice what they preach as they have under minded their position in the region with their opposition.
The Centre's Ms. Ema Tagicakibau questioned how the countries can "come in and tell us in the Pacific how to run our lives in terms of good governance and human rights violations here in Fiji, when it can not even practice at home what it preaches in the region and the world."
The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 13th of this month at the UN Headquarters in New York.