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New Zealand joins Australia and Pacific nations in backing UN indigenous rights declaration

United Nations Plaza, New York City. (Photo by Selwyn Manning, courtesy of Scoop.co.nz.)

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Pacific Media Centre news desk.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has called on all governments and indigenous peoples to support the UN’s declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The call came on the day New Zealand finally signed up to the Bill.

In 2007, New Zealand was one of four nations out of 147 that voted against the declaration. The others voting against the declaration were: Australia, Canada, and the United States of America. Australia later signed up to the bill, after the Rudd Labor Government was elected.

Back then New Zealand argued that the declaration was non-binding and therefore “toothless” with the then Labour-led government’s Maori Affairs minister, Parekura Horomia stating: “The declaration adopted in the UN yesterday is in effect a wish list which fails to bind states to any of its provisions.”

Horomia said in 2007: “Our government has worked extremely hard over a number of years to help forge a declaration which protects and promotes the rights of indigenous peoples in a meaningful way – and which states could actually implement,” Mr Horomia said.

He said the declaration did neither and “while we are proud of our efforts, we are deeply disappointed with the final result which we could not support”.

But today, the current National-led Government’s Maori Affairs minister, Dr Pita Sharples said the declaration must be supported and it reflects New Zealand’s attempts to address indigenous rights, even though the declaration remains a non-binding UN bill.

Dr Sharples said the former New Zealand government’s decision in 2007 was “a great disappointment to Maori”. He said the Labour-led government’s vote against the declaration “called into the question the previous government’s commitment to Crown-Maori relationships based on the Treaty of Waitangi. It also undermined New Zealand’s credibility on human rights in the eyes of the world,” he said.

While the current New Zealand prime minister, John Key, said the declaration will have not “practical” effect, Dr Sharples said: “Today’s announcement restores our mana and our moral authority to speak in international fora on issues of justice, rights and peace.”

In a document tabled at the United Nations, Dr Sharples stated: “The Declaration is an historic achievement: the result of many years of discussions – 22 years in fact – and of hard work and perseverance by many people. I acknowledge the long involvement of Māori in the elaboration of the Declaration and the extent of their investment in its development.”

In a speech overnight to the United Nations forum, secretary general Ban Ki-moon said: “Indigenous cultures, languages and ways of life are under constant threat from climate change, armed conflict, lack of educational opportunities and discrimination,” the Secretary-General highlighted in today’s speech.

“Elsewhere, your cultures are being distorted, commodified, and used to generate profits which do not benefit indigenous people, and can even lead to harm,” Ban said.

The declaration is being debated at the United Nations in New York where over 2000 indigenous representatives from around the world have gathered to take part in a two-week-long meeting.

The session will focus on guarantees in the declaration that asserts indigenous peoples have “full and effective participation in development processes” and will include discussion on relationships between North American indigenous peoples and forests.

See also: (3News): NZ supports declaration on rights of indigenous peoples
(3News): NZ Prime Minister says No practical effect in UN rights declaration

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