UN votes for native peoples' rights, powers oppose

Thu Jun 29, 2006 1:22 PM ET


By Robert Evans


GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council, brushing aside opposition

from Canada and Russia, on Thursday backed a declaration that would


claims by native peoples to control over lands where they live.


The declaration, which calls on states to grant a wide range of rights to

indigenous groups around the globe, won 30 votes in the 47-member Council,


12 abstentions.


Only Canada, which led the opposition and was known to be also reflecting


views of non-Council members Australia, the United States and New Zealand,


Russia voted against.


"This is a victory for all indigenous peoples who have been waiting for

centuries for something like this," said Kenneth Deer, a native American

closely involved in the negotiations.


The 18-page declaration, which is not binding but calls on governments to

introduce laws to underpin its provisions, now goes to the U.N. General

Assembly in New York for final approval, probably in September.


Diplomats and representatives of a native peoples' coalition said it will

provide states with the basic guidelines for helping their indigenous

populations maintain their cultures and their separate identities.


But a Canadian delegate, whose new conservative government lobbied hard to


the declaration delayed for further negotiation, told the Council it would


"no legal effect" in his country -- once a champion of the project.


Canada argued that several of the articles would violate the national

constitution or even prevent the country's armed forces from taking measures

necessary for its defense.


Indigenous coalition representatives say they believe the big power


was largely driven by concern over the potential loss of state control over


natural resources, like oil, gas and timber, are exploited.


Latin American countries with big indigenous communities, including the

declaration's main sponsor Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala,


the vote as a major achievement.


But Argentina, accused by rights groups of mistreating its native peoples,