December 17, 2010

What supporting the UN declaration means

Here's the "Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" Obama promised at the tribal summit:

Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

And some comments on its language:

UN hails U.S. Backing For Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

By Terri HansenIITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen, Yaqui Nation, participated in the work on the Declaration at the United Nations over many years. Hearing today’s news, she expressed IITC’s appreciation to the thousands of Indigenous Nations, organizations and human rights allies who called upon the US to express unqualified support for the Declaration since the US announced the “formal review” of its position in April of this year.

However, she also expressed IITC’s strong disappointment with the limitations the US decided to place on its support. The “Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” released today contains a number of qualifications which call into serious question the US government’s intention to fully recognize and implement many of the key rights contained in the Declaration.

Several references are made to implementation of rights in accordance with existing Federal Laws and policies. Of particular concern is the statement that the US plans to recognize “a new and distinct international concept of self-determination specific to indigenous peoples…“different from the existing right of self-determination in international law.” This interpretation by the US has no basis in the actual text of the Declaration or the principles of international human rights standards which uphold non-discrimination and equal rights. In Article 3, the Declaration defines Self-determination for Indigenous Peoples consistent with the language affirming this right for “All Peoples” in international law.

The US statement also limits the US interpretation of the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent contained in many provisions of the Declaration to “consultation”, a much more limited and diminished standard.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an international standard adopted overwhelmingly by the UN General Assembly. It must not be subject to selective redrafting or new interpretations by the US or any other State attempting to redefine or limit the inherent rights it recognizes. It also can’t be limited by narrow interpretations subject to existing federal laws and policies. The IITC calls upon the US government to reassess its position on these qualifications and express its full support for all of the Declaration’s provisions.
Rob's reaction

Here are what I consider the key points after skimming this document, along with some good rejoinders from a Facebook friend:

1) No mention of actually endorsing or signing the declaration. The US simply "supports" it.Is there a difference? Do countries actually sign it? It's a declaration, not a treaty. Maybe they just vote for it, or "support" it.The UN already passed the declaration by a 143-4 vote. I don't think we'll get an opportunity to officially reverse our vote or the equivalent.

But Canada did more than simply "support" it:"The Government of Canada today formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a manner fully consistent with Canada's Constitution and laws. Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. John McNee, met with the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Joseph Deiss, to advise him of Canada's official endorsement of the United Nations Declaration.I'm waiting to hear about that level of commitment from the US.

2) The US offers no criticisms of or changes to any of its existing laws or policies. In fact, in a couple of cases it redefines the declaration to match existing laws and policies.What did you expect? It's for the tribes to offer the critique.I expect our government to be more critical. It can shift the blame to past administrations, so it doesn't have to criticize itself. But pretending that everything's rosy and the problems are nearly solved doesn't help anyone.

Of course, I also expect our government not to crack down on Wikileaks simply for revealing confidential information. The government should operate much more openly and transparently--as Obama promised. Part of that is tolerating if not encouraging constructive criticism.

3) The Obama administration provides a long laundry list of its accomplishments and implies Obama is giving Natives everything the declaration demands. Therefore, the declaration doesn't require anything except a continuation of Obama's policies.I have to admit, I found the list impressive.The list is impressive, but the declaration and the tribal summits exist to move forward, not backward. The point is to identify, address, and resolve outstanding issues and problems. Congratulating ourselves for past accomplishments doesn't do anything to improve conditions in Indian country.

For more on Obama's actions, see Obama Backs UN Declaration, Obama Signs Cobell Settlement, and Obama Proclaims NA Heritage Month.


Burt said...

Wording is everything. The US and its laws have a perverse and corrupt tradition of reversing legislation and amending everything that gets voted on.

I have not seen any reversal in Bush's policies from Obamas administration that puts any teeth into what Bush and Cheney did and do, to show the American people real transparency.

Bush had a secret government, plain and simple. Everything from open records; presidential papers; military; financial and corporate dealings were all done without public input with the use of public tax dollars, and former military and corporate buddies landed jobs controlling federal agencies.

What does this have to do with the UN Declaration?

The US government and its people do not care what the rest of the world does for its indigenous peoples, especially its own.

The only way American Indians have ever, or will ever make real change or light up a bulb in the American mind is by violence. I am not agreeing to this way, but America only respects and fears, destruction.

Talk is not only cheap, its a waste of time for Americans until something or someone lights a match under its belly.

Look at your history and tell me I am wrong Rob!

dmarks said...

"The only way American Indians have ever, or will ever make real change or light up a bulb in the American mind is by violence. I am not agreeing to this way, but America only respects and fears, destruction."

The lessons of Dr. King need to be remembered, too.

Burt said...

Dr Kings lessons in theory and philosophy have my utmost respect and admiration, if this were a world fitting of his character, but it is not, and his brief existence only proves that this world was not made for men such as him.

Throughout the worlds history, men like King were martyred, tortured, assassinated and crucified for being peacekeepers, while men of destruction rose, and rise, to prominence, prosperity and success.