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Comments by Aqqaluk Lynge, Geneva 2002

United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

8th session, Geneva 2-13 December 2002


(photo: Miki Lynge)

Comments by Aqqaluk Lynge, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), Greenland and member of the Greenland Home Rule Parliament.

Thank you Mr. Chairman. As you may know, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference has been involved in this process since the establishment of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. The ICC has been an active and direct participant, from the very beginning of the standard-setting process and has made a substantial contribution and commitment to the draft Declaration, which was eventually adopted by the Sub-Commission on Human Rights in 1994. As an international indigenous organization, we struggled hard to achieve an acceptable draft: the very Declaration now being technically considered by this working group.

The collective work of the ICC and many other Indigenous Peoples’ representatives, organizations and Indigenous Nations, along with state governments, has been done in order to secure the rights and well being of Indigenous Peoples through this important document. We believe, Mr. Chairman that we succeeded in this effort. Though the Inuit Circumpolar Conference wanted a much stronger Declaration, we feel that we have been able to come up with an acceptable document that does embrace our fundamental rights to self-determination, lands, territories and resources. These rights are intimately linked to one another. They cannot be separated. The interdependence of our fundamental social, cultural, spiritual and economic rights all reflect aspects of our collective rights as Indigenous Peoples.

It is unfortunate that some governments remain unable to respect or recognize the collective dimension of our basic human rights. They insist upon narrowing the scope of our rights as if they attach only to individuals. For example, the recent Council Conclusions on Indigenous Peoples of the European Union contains a footnote on the term “peoples,” which states:

“There is no common EU position on the use of term indigenous peoples. Some Member States are of the view that indigenous peoples are not to be regarded as having the right of self-determination for the purposes of Article 1 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), and that use of the term does not imply that indigenous people or peoples are entitled to exercise collective rights.”

Their rationale has been to state that collective rights do not exist in international law and therefore, cannot be included in the Declaration. They are wrong in this assertion. At last year’s session, the ICC took the initiative to develop and substantiate the collective rights of indigenous peoples. As noted in the explanatory note contained in Annex II of last year’s report, the Declaration is not the first international instrument to attribute rights to peoples and groups, as well as to individuals. International law already recognizes the concept of “collective” rights, including the right to self-determination and the physical protection of groups as such through the prohibition of genocide. Other international instruments also affirm collective or group rights. Furthermore, numerous domestic constitutions, legal decisions, legislation and policies affirm the collective rights of indigenous peoples.

A troubling discussion has been prompted by states concerning the notion of “internal” and “external” self-determination. This false dichotomy was introduced at the 1997 session of this working group and has been repeated by states such as Australia and the United States. The ICC asserts that the right to self-determination cannot be separated; it is a whole right. Our direct participation here at the United Nations is an example of the external exercise of our right to self-determination. We have left our communities in order to express our views and perspectives here at the UN. In this way, we are expressing ourselves outside of our own communities – this is one aspect of our right to self-determination. Furthermore, ICC’s participation in the Arctic Council and other international forums are an external expression of our right to self-determination.

Governments cannot affirm that indigenous peoples, like all peoples, have the right to self-determination and in the same breath state that we have only the right to “internal” autonomy or self-government. It is all the more alarming to hear proposals by states, such as that of Canada, which attempt to confine and limit the right to “internal” self-determination based on negotiation so that would further prescribe the right, in order to bring about “harmonious relations.” There is absolutely no guarantee or security for indigenous peoples when it comes to domestic legislation and domestic political institutions.

Mr. Chairman, without the recognition of and respect for our basic collective rights we cannot exist as peoples. To deny our collective rights would only serve to perpetuate destructive and discriminatory policies and effects. The ICC cannot accept any attempt to weaken the existing text, especially in relation to our collective right to self-determination, as well as our rights to lands, territories and natural resources. It is essential that these basic collective rights be guaranteed both nationally and internationally through this important Declaration. If states maintain their views with regard to our fundamental collective rights and fail to abide by the ongoing United Nations mandate, it will be very difficult for the ICC to continue with our long-term commitment and involvement in this work.

Mr. Chairman, it is our hope that States, through your capable, supportive and sensitive leadership, can come to realize that there is no threat to their stability and their interests if they are genuinely willing demonstrate mutual respect and work with us to achieve the goal of a strong Declaration. Thank you.