On June 29, 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This decision comes as a result of more than twenty years of work by indigenous peoples and the United Nations system.
The efforts to draft a specific instrument dealing with the protection of indigenous peoples worldwide date back over two decades. In 1982 the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) with the mandate to develop a set of minimum standards that would protect indigenous peoples. WGIP was established as result of a study by José R. Martinez Cobo on the problem of discrimination faced by indigenous peoples throughout the world. The study outlined the oppression, marginalization and exploitation suffered by indigenous peoples.
WGIP submitted a first draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which was later approved in 1994. The Draft was sent for consideration to the then U.N. Commission on Human Rights for further discussion and if it was deemed to be appropriate, to approve the proposed declaration before its submission to ECOSOC and the U.N. General Assembly.
The process moved very slowly because of concerns expressed by States with regard to some of the core provisions of the draft declaration, namely the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples and the control over natural resources existing on indigenous peoples' traditional lands. The need to accommodate these issues led to the creation, in 1995, of the open-ended inter-sessional working group to consider and elaborate on the 1994 draft declaration with the view that it would be adopted by the General Assembly within the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004). The mandate of the Working Group was extended by the U.N.Commission on Human Rights into the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (2005-2015). The Commission also urged the Working Group to "present for adoption as soon as possible a final draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people".
At the 11th Session of the Working Group 2005/6, the Chairperson Mr. Luis-Enrique Chavez (Peru) prepared a compilation of proposals submitted and discussed during the 10th session, which formed the basis of negotiations. The Declaration, adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2006 is the exact version proposed by Chairperson Chavez.
It is expected that the Declaration will be submitted for adoption by the General Assembly at its 61st. Session. If adopted, the Declaration will not be legally binding for Member States. Nevertheless, it will have a major effect on indigenous peoples worldwide in regards to their rights. It is a comprehensive statement addressing issues such as collective rights, cultural rights and identity in addition to rights to education, health, employment and language among others. The Declaration emphasizes the right of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in accordance withe their aspirations and needs. The Declaration will undoubtedly assist indigenous peoples in their efforts to combat discrimination and racism.
The Third Committee will take up agenda item 68 "Report of the Human Rights Council" on Wednesday 1 November at 10 a.m. and will take action in due course on the recommendations contained therein, including the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Should the Committee adopt the Declaration, it would recommend it for adoption by the General Assembly in its report of the Assembly under item 68, to be taken up by the Plenary in the course of December.