Canada votes against native rights at UN
UN Human Rights Council adopts declaration on the claim of native peoples on land and resources, Canada dissents
Lisa Schlein, Canadian Press
Published: Friday, June 30, 2006
GENEVA -- Over the objection of Canada and Russia, the new UN Human Rights Council adopted a declaration Thursday to protect the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, including their claims on land and resources.
By a 30-2 vote, the council approved the declaration that said indigenous people should be free from discrimination and that they have a right "to consider themselves different and to be respected as such."
Only Canada and Russia voted against it. A dozen countries abstained and three were absent.
When the tally appeared on the electronic screen, the packed conference room erupted into applause. People wept and hugged each other and smiled broadly. Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights and former Supreme Court of Canada justice, joined in the standing ovation.
"I'm very excited," said Willie Littlechild, an Aboriginal lawyer and Treaty Six international chief from Alberta.
"I'm very, very delighted and encouraged by the signal the new Human Rights Council has given the world that they are serious about addressing indigenous issues as we go forward by adopting a declaration."
Indigenous groups had hoped the declaration would be approved by consensus, but Canada asked for a vote.
"When you're doing the right thing, you don't really worry about whether you're isolated or not," said Paul Meyer, head of the Canadian government delegation to the council.
"I think there were a number of countries that indicated they shared some of our concerns about the process and the substance and some of the deficiencies of both aspects that led us to take the vote we did."
The Canadian government has problems with current provisions on land, territories and resources which were unclear and open to interpretation, Meyer said. Other problematic areas are provisions on land claims, the concept of "free, prior and informed consent" and issues relating to self-government provisions.
Littlechild said he was "very personally disappointed that Canada chose to follow that path because ... they were there all the way through since 1982 helping us draft together a document, a balanced document."
The declaration goes to the UN General Assembly for final adoption in the fall.
The document is not legally binding. But governments and indigenous groups point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also not a binding document, but over time it became customary law.