At last – Australia announces support for UN Declaration
March 26, 2009
© Helen Ross/Survival
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The Australian government has announced that it now intends to support the UN Declaration on Indigenous peoples’ rights, reversing its previous opposition. Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin will deliver the statement of support to Parliament on April 3rd.
When the Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007 only four countries opposed it: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA. Australia’s change of stance leaves the remaining three countries even more isolated.
Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made history last year by apologizing to the ‘stolen generations’ of Australian Aborigines who had been removed from their families and sent to boarding schools, or been adopted by white families. However, his government has also been condemned for continuing the previous administration’s highly controversial ‘emergency intervention’ in the Northern Territory.
The UN Declaration establishes an important set of standards by which to judge countries’ treatment of their Indigenous minorities, but it is not legally binding. The only binding international law on tribal peoples remains the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169.
Survival is campaigning for all countries to ratify Convention 169 because it means tribal peoples can hold governments to account if they break the rules. To date, only 20 countries have ratified it.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘At last the phalanx of four countries which opposed Indigenous rights at the UN is beginning to crumble. They are all English-speaking and, apart from the US, members of the Commonwealth. New Zealand pretends to rely on its Waitangi Treaty, but what about Canada? Will it continue to hide behind US skirts, or finally come out with an endorsement of a statement of rights which the rest of the world now accepts. As Australians celebrate, it's time for Canadians to hold their leaders to account.’