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Declaration passes despite Canada's dissenting vote

Canadian diplomats are now allegedly working back room channels to exempt the country from the protections the document grants to Indigenous people by pushing to dilute the mandate of the world body's point man on Indigenous issues, reports JORGE BARRERA of Windspeaker

NEW YORK (October 2007) - It was a moment more than two decades in the making and when it was over, the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples was passed in the UN General Assembly with only four countries voting against formal adoption of the document-the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The vote took place on Sept. 13 during the 61st UN general assembly. Adoption of the declaration passed with the support of 143 member countries. Eleven countries abstained from the vote.

"This marks a historic moment when United Nations member states and Indigenous peoples have reconciled with their painful histories and are resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, when the declaration passed.

Now that the declaration has been adopted, Canadian diplomats are allegedly working backroom channels to exempt the country from the protections the document grants to Indigenous people by pushing to dilute the mandate of the world body's point man on Indigenous issues.

Canadian representatives are trying to ensure the declaration casts no shadow over Canada by pushing to change an addition the mandate of the UN's special rapporteur on Indigenous peoples that would include promoting and implementing the declaration. Canada wants the mandate to exempt countries that did not support the text.

"Canada's position is that the declaration is not a legally binding instrument and it has no legal affect in Canada," said Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) spokesperson Patricia Valladao. "So we cannot support the change of the senior rapporteur's mandate."

The move has added salt to a wound left by Canada's decision to vote against the declaration.

"Many states feel that you don't generally get exempt from a non-binding declaration that is passed by the general assembly, but Canada is continuing to push to be exempt," Kenneth Deer, secretary for the Mohawk Nation in Kahnawake, said in a phone interview from Geneva where he was attending the UN Human Rights Council.

"Canada has dug itself into a hole and they don't want to be held accountable to anything in the declaration. They want the status-quo. They don't want to see things improve. They think Canada is perfect the way it is."

Canada's international reputation is no longer perfect, according to Indigenous leaders and human rights groups who leveled serious criticisms against the Stephen Harper government for changing Ottawa's position on the declaration.

"This is a stain on the country's international reputation," said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine.

"We remain shocked and angered at Canada's refusal to support this important international human rights instrument," said Union of B.C. Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. "It is truly ironic that four first world countries that have become prosperous through the exploitation of the lands and resources of the Indigenous peoples, including Canada, chose to oppose the adoption of the declaration."

Charges have also been leveled that Canada went beyond the efforts of other countries in its attempts to derail the declaration.

Canada accused of bribery

During a press conference a week before the final vote, the African Indigenous Caucus co-ordinator accused Canada of trying to turn African countries against the declaration in exchange for aid dollars.

"By approaching Africa, which had so many problems, and trying to use aid as a tool, Canada was committing a crime. Many poor countries did not have the ability to negotiate, because they were dependent on aid from developed countries," said Joseph Ole Simel, according to notes on the press conference posted on the UN Web site.

"Canada had tried to use any kind of 'sweet language' for the declaration to be blocked. However, the African countries ... refused to 'go the Canada way' and (took) independent position on the matter," he said.

"Indigenous people in Canada must be going through hell," said Ole Simel, during a press conference held after the declaration passed.

Foreign Affairs refused to respond to repeated requests for comment on the backroom bribery allegations and referred queries again to INAC.

Valladao said the allegations were "completely untrue."

According to internal government documents obtained by Amnesty International, Canada went against the advice of officials in Foreign Affairs, INAC and National Defence in its opposition to the declaration. But Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and INAC Minister Chuck Strahl defended their government's vote against the declaration, claiming in a joint statement that the document, which sets out global human rights standards for the more than 370 million Indigenous people around the world, contravened Canada's Constitution and tipped the rights balance in favour of the Indigenous over the non-Indigenous.

"The current text ... is fundamentally flawed," said the ministers.

"We have stated publicly that we have significant concerns with the wording of provisions of the declaration such as those on: lands, territories and resources ... self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of Indigenous peoples, member states and third parties."

As one of only four countries to vote against the UN declaration, Canada is in the minority, and it appears the group may soon grow even smaller. Australia's Labor Party, which is leading the polls in the run-up to an upcoming national election, has said they would sign on if they form the government.

Source: http://www.ammsa.com/windspeaker/articles/2007/wind-oct-07-1.html

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