Friday, April 3, 2009

Australia Adopts UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights: U.S., Canada, and New Zealand More Isolated

Australia backs UN declaration on indigenous rights

Last Updated: Friday, April 3, 2009 2:09 PM ET
CBC News

The Australian government has endorsed a United Nations declaration that recognizes the rights of indigenous people to their own culture, institutions and spiritual traditions.

Friday's endorsement of the non-binding declaration on the rights of the world's more than 370 million indigenous peoples reverses a position taken by Australia's previous conservative government.

Australia was one of four countries to reject the declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, the others being Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

"We do this in the spirit of resetting the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and building trust," Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said.

In one of his first acts after taking office last year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a formal apology to Australia's Aborigines for past government injustices, a gesture that his predecessor John Howard had resisted for years.

At the time, some Aborigines said the apology should have been accompanied with compensation for their suffering.

'Canada … even more isolated'

Still, indigenous leader Tom Calma on Friday described Macklin's statement as a milestone.

"This declaration gives us the scaffolding we need for our efforts to reject forever a passive acceptance of the brutal fact that indigenous Australians are dying on average about 17 years earlier than non-indigenous Australians," he said in a statement.

The Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador said it's "thrilled" by Australian's decision to join the 143 countries that have supported the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

With this additional support for the declaration, "Canada finds itself in an even more isolated position," the group said in a statement.

Australia's former conservative government had argued the declaration could give unfair advantage to Aborigines and override Australian law. Canada and the U.S. voiced similar concerns.

With files from the Associated Press

Copyright © CBC 2009

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