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Statement by Aqqaluk Lynge

Statement by

Aqqaluk Lynge

Vice-Chair of Inuit Circumpolar Conference

Regarding the adoption UN General Assembly as GA is ready to consider next week of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples.

Press Conference, United Nations Headquarters

13 October 2006

Check Against Delivery

I would like to thank those of you in the media who have come to cover this very important matter of human rights.

The story is not new. The doors of the United Nations were shut to indigenous peoples for decades. In fact, the doors of all international bodies and most national bodies were locked as soon as an indigenous person would approach them. It became most woefully apparent in 1923 when Chief Deskaheh traveled great distances to the League of Nations in Geneva. After waiting months to defend his people’s rights, or even just to be heard, he went home without being acknowledged.

You would have thought that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights might have changed this. But it didn’t. Indigenous peoples were shut out time after time after time. Indigenous peoples have not been part of this very important world body. We lived and continue to live in our own parts of the world, using our own languages, eeking out a living in our own economic systems, and practicing our own cultures. And not connected to the global community and often not welcome to do so. Many of us – too many – continue to live in abject poverty. As it is for most indigenous peoples of the world, we are still fighting, even begging, for the recognition of our basic human rights. Abuses continue to be rampant. Many UN experts have noted that indigenous peoples are the most marginalized one can find in the world.

Hope arrived in the UN a little more than two decades ago. An exceptional process was initiated through which member states and indigenous peoples sat at the same table developing a document that would spell out the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples. But then it stalled. A UN Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples passed without notice and without this document being adopted. New hope arrived when the Permanent Forum was established as a high level body inside the UN. This is indeed an accomplishment that all should celebrate. We should also celebrate the recent decision of the Human Rights Council to accept the wording of the Declaration. The exceptional process through which member states and indigenous peoples worked together on each article, painfully yet collaboratively, has come to an end. It was a process that speaks to the greatness of the UN. We welcome all member states to vote in favour of the draft resolution as put forward by the Human Rights Council, and without amendment. A vote for the Declaration is a vote in favour of this collaboarative process and in the greatness of the UN. It would be a vote to open the doors to indigenous peoples once and for all.

When the Permanent Forum was established in 2002, the UN Secretary-General welcomed indigenous peoples into the UN family. If the General Assembly, at this critical time, does not adopt the Declaration, we must ask, “what was the meaning of this welcome?”

We would then also have to ask, “what use is the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues if the UN denies our basic human rights by blocking the Declaration’s adoption?”

In light of the development of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, we must also ask, what use are they to indigenous peoples if we continue to be barred at the door?

I urge all member states to adopt the Declaration without reservation or amendment.