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UN To Vote Soon on Indigenous Peoples Declaration

The UN General Assembly is expected to vote late this week or early next on the declaration on indigenous peoples rights. The declaration was first proposed over two decades ago, but never approved.

Among those following developments at the United Nations is Kali Mercier of Survival International. The London-based group has been defending the rights of the Bushmen in Botswana to live on their ancestral homelands.

Mercier spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the declaration.

“Basically, it’s a very wide-ranging declaration that recognizes rights that they already have, such as the right to cultural integrity, the right to education in their own language, the right not to be dispossessed of their ancestral land and so on,” she says.

Asked whether it has much support at the UN, Mercier says, “There has been a lot of support for it from some countries. Other countries have not been quite so keen and they’re some of the countries in which we would have hoped to have a much better example set. For example, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, all countries with indigenous peoples, have been very opposed to some of the wide-reaching rights recognized by the declaration.”

Some conservatives in Canada have said the declaration could undermine Canada’s constitution or undermine existing land deals. “I just don’t think that’s the case…Canada’s been very supportive of the declaration right the way through until recently when they had a change of government. And all the opposition parties in Canada support the declaration,” she says.

What about affecting sovereignty? Mercier says, “I don’t think that’s the case at all. I mean it’s more about recognizing their collective rights to identity and culture. It’s not a threat to sovereignty in any way and the declaration has to be interpreted in accordance with international law that’s already in existence. It simply wouldn’t be possible to say split up a country on the basis that you want self-determination as indigenous peoples.”

If the General Assembly fails to vote on the declaration Thursday, a vote could come early next week.