UN Votes On Indigenous Peoples Declaration
After 22 Years, UN Votes On Indigenous Peoples Declaration
Twenty-two years of intensive debate and negotiations climax this week in New York, as the UN General Assembly votes on whether to approve the declaration on indigenous peoples’ rights. This should be good news for the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the Ogieks of Kenya who are officially classified by the UN as indigenous people.
According to Survival International, an international organisation that supports tribal people worldwide, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the Russian Federation (all of whom have large indigenous populations) have been vigorously opposing the declaration’s approval. Their actions have provoked outrage amongst tribal peoples worldwide.
The opposing countries are well known for their poor treatment of indigenous peoples. Australia, New Zealand and the United States have in the past been subject to ‘early warning and urgent action procedures’ by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Canada has been subject to particular criticism, as it has in the past supported the declaration. Canadian opposition parties are united against the stand taken by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In addition, a large bloc of African countries has insisted on a series of changes to the declaration’s text, which nevertheless still has the support of most indigenous organisations.
Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The declaration has been debated for nearly a quarter century. Years which have seen many tribal peoples, such as the Akuntsu and Kanoê in Brazil, decimated and others, such as the Innu in Canada, brought to the edge. Governments that oppose it are shamefully fighting against the human rights of their most vulnerable peoples. Claims they make to support human rights in other areas will be seen as hypocritical.’
In Kenya the Maasai and Ogiek problems have stemmed mostly from eviction from their ancestral land and being denied the right to continue living in forests as their fore fathers.
Ever since colonial times, most of what used to be Maasai land has been taken over, for private farms and ranches, for government projects or for wildlife parks. Mostly they retain only the most arid and least fertile areas. The stress this causes to their herds has often been aggravated by attempts made by government of Kenya and Tanzania to ‘develop’ the Maasai.
Similarly, since colonial times, there have been persistent attempts to evict the Ogiek from their ancestral forest, usually on the pretext that they are degrading it. But when the Ogiek are removed, their forest is not protected but rather exploited by logging and tea plantations – some owned by government officials. In some parts of the Mau forest, groups of Ogiek are now resisting eviction, while in others they face influxes of settlers onto their land. The most serious threat currently facing them all comes from the government’s plan to open up around one tenth of Kenya’s forests – most of it in the Mau forest – to outsiders.