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At the UN, Indigenous Rights Declaration Moves Leaderless Toward End Game

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 9 --  It was an obvious question at the UN, on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People:

Inner City Press: Has the Secretary-General taken any position on or taken any action on the draft Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples that has been pending in the General Assembly this year?

Associate Spokesperson:  The position to bear in mind is the one taken by Louise Arbour, as well as by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, who is the Human Rights Rapporteur dealing with the issue, where they urged the General Assembly to adopt that Declaration.  And if you look at their statement from yesterday, they come out very strongly supportive of that.

Inner City Press: And that is Mr. Ban's position as well?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, the Human Rights High Commissioner speaks for the system. (Video here, from Minute 7:19.)

            One of the powers, and duties, of a UN Secretary-General is to be a voice for human rights, to provide leadership. A system doesn't provide, but rather needs, leadership. Did Mr. Ban contact Louise Arbour and Rodolfo Stavenhagen and tell them to release a statement in his name? No, it was part of their jobs, and mandates, to issue the statement that they did.

            At an event discussing the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Inner City Press asked the chairman of the Global Indigenous Caucus Les Malezer if Ban Ki-moon has been helpful to the cause.

            "Not before his statement today," Mr. Malezer said graciously. An activist in the audience noted that Ban's statement did not even mention the Declaration, much less urge member states to adopt it.

Indigenous at the UN (Ban Ki-moon not shown)

            Since one of the delays on the Declaration was occasioned by objections from the African Group, one might surmise that it is out of respect for the African Group that Ban declines to support, or even mention, the Declaration. But Ban is simultaneously moving to consolidate the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa.

            Another panelist at Thursday's event, Enrique Ochoa of Mexico's mission to the UN, said there are moves afoot to make additions to the draft, including an explicit tip of the hat to states' rights to territorial integrity.

            From the audience, filmmaker Rebecca Sommer noted the numerous legal opinions offered that the declaration would not undermine sovereignty or territorial integrity. But as another panelist noted, the goal may be to offer so many amendments from the floor as to sink the declaration.  We'll see.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540