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The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was designed to affirm the inherent collective and individual human rights of Indigenous Peoples and address their rights related to culture, environment, health, education, economic, and social development. After more than two decades of grueling negotiations, the Declaration was adopted on September 13, 2007. It represents the most comprehensive international instrument setting the minimum standards for the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
Deep in the center of the bustling city of Kathmandu, where life continues amidst the rubble of the 2015 earthquake that shook Nepal to its core, 30 women from 11 different Indigenous communities convened for a radio journalism training this past June led by Cultural Survival, Radio Namobuddha, and Indigenous Media Foundation. In Nepal, a country with 125 caste and ethnic groups, 59 of whom are officially recognized Indigenous groups and 123 spoken languages, Indigenous community radio is the main source of news, education, and information for many Indigenous Peoples.
We are making progress at the international front. The Declaration is now embedded in many of the UN agencies that are part of the follow up, the Inter-Agency Support Group and the System-wide Action Plan. It is also included in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. It is included in the 17 Sustainable Development 2030 Goals (SDGs)
After 10 years, we have to recognize that in the cases where we have gained recognition as Indigenous Peoples with the right to self-determination, it has been much easier to advance the recognition of other rights. I think we have advanced, but at the same time we have to recognize that the adoption of the Declaration was in a very conflicted context at the international level; a context where neoliberal measures were taken in many countries where there is a model of economical development against Indigenous rights.
My expectations have been held up in certain ways, and in other ways there have been some disappointments. There have been victories across the globe, and many cases in which Indigenous Peoples have used the Declaration to raise awareness and to create understanding about their rights and even movement towards the implementations of the rights articulated in the Declaration.
At this stage, 10 years since the Declaration was adopted, I am disappointed that not enough has been done by governments to form partnerships with the Indigenous Peoples.
The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 was indeed a watershed moment in the history of the advancement of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. For Africa, it provided a strong basis and renewed impetus for Indigenous Peoples on the continent to assert their rights, opened up new policy spaces, and had far reaching impacts at the national level in some of our countries.
It was some kind of victory [adoption of the Declaration], it was the feeling of having achieved something, having finally conquered the mountain. But although it felt like a victory, we still feel like we are stagnating in a lot of issues.
My expectation was that we would have first moved to integrate the Declaration into the work of the United Nations agencies and bodies, and that that would move faster than trying to get it integrated into some of the work with the UN and the States such as the Climate Change Convention. We’ve made some inroads there, but the Indigenous voice has been completely overlooked in the renegotiations of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
In terms of legal frameworks, after the adoption of the Declaration in 2007, a few governments have adopted national laws that are reflected in the Declaration. There are a few countries in Latin America that have done that, in Africa as well. But it is not enough to adopt a legal framework.