As you probably know the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People passed by an overwhelming majority. 143 countries voted in support, 11 abstained (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa, Ukraine), and 4 voted against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States).
You can read the full declaration and the FAQs here at the UN.
So which article did John Howard so strenuously object to? He babbled about “special treatment” . However, he doesn’t appear to have a practical issue with treating Aboriginal people differently from white people when it comes to welfare quarantine and alcohol restriction, so that doesn’t hang together at all. Then he emitted some garbled noise about how he didn’t want to have to respect Aboriginal law. Brough went a little further again, whining about savages: “There should only be one law for all Australians and we should not enshrine in law practices that are not acceptable in the modern world”. Hm, I wonder why?
States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.
Yeah, that’d put a spanner in the works of the Northern Territory occupation. I can see some other sticking points:
Concerned that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,
“It would be a big oopsie! to admit to that. Then someone might have to say sorry. Oh boy, would my face be red!”
Welcoming the fact that indigenous peoples are organizing themselves for political, economic, social and cultural enhancement and in order to bring to an end all forms of discrimination and oppression wherever they occur,
“Oppressed people organizing to bring an end to their own oppression? That’s not in our Liberal policy documents. Bzzt. Next!”
Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.
“Can’t work. We had to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act for the NT occupation, we can’t go agreeing willy-nilly to not discriminate! Kerry would skewer me, with scary words like ‘hypocrite’.”
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
“Self-determination?! We tried that in 2003, and it failed!”
Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
“Hrm.” [shuffles feet] [whispers to Costello] “No, that would never work. We’re in charge now, and that’s the way we like it.”
1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
[bursts out laughing] “What are you, some sort of multi-culti-hippy? Ha!”
2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
“I told you, it’s our land now. Those slackers need real jobs in the real economy, and if that means they have to move to the fringe shantytowns or work in uranium mines, so be it.”
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.
“Well it’s not exactly forced, is it? Just free-market pressure.”
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. […]
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
“But if they speak their own dialects, they’ll never learn English! How will the children ever assimilate?”
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
… Now this is just getting silly. There are 46 articles, and the Howard government has probably smashed at least half of them in the past year alone. He even lobbied the Canadian government (successfully, it seems) to join him in his rejection of it. I’m about to punch a wall, so I’m going to stop now.
Whatever the rejection of the International Declaration was about, it certainly wasn’t just about the government being a little squeamish about some of the more violent aspects of some traditional laws. Particularly since Article 46 includes:
“The exercise of the rights set forth in this Declaration shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law, and in accordance with international human rights obligations.”
I hope that signing this Declaration will be high on the Rudd government’s agenda.