Mexico votes for UN indigenous rights declaration

Fox is a savvy one. We recently noted that the UN’s Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples has singled out his government for criticism. Yet he casts a vote for the Universal Declaration of Indigeous Peoples to win support from Mexico’s ten million indigenous people. Talli Nauman writes for El Universal, Sept. 25:

As one worthwhile parting shot, lame duck President Vicente Fox went to New York this past week to vote Mexico’s support for the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Rights at the General Assembly meeting of more than 100 nations.

If you remember when Fox took office nearly six years ago now, you might see the irony in this action. After all, he failed to make good on his campaign promise to make peace within 15 minutes on the first day of his administration over the festering armed struggle led by indigenous rebels in the Zapatista National Liberation Army centered in the southern state of Chiapas.

Although Fox’s vote does not make up for his weakness in guaranteeing Mexican indigenous populations the very land-based demands embodied in the declaration, Mexico’s position at the U.N. is nonetheless an important contribution to both indigenous community and environmental protection.

The declaration says, among other things, that indigenous peoples have the right to freedom from discrimination and the right to self-determination. It says indigenous peoples have the right to distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, as well as to access of those of the State. Best of all, it affirms indigenous control over native land, environment, and genetic diversity.

This resolution, mandated by the U.N. Economic and Social Council, has been a long time in coming. It’s been in the works for some 25 years, with a new draft proposed each one of the last 12 years. Finally in June 2006, the U.N. Human Rights Council recommended the latest version for General Assembly adoption.

Participation from native community representatives around the globe during the U.N. International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, 1995-2004, established the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which contributed to the consensus eventually reached on strengthening international cooperation for the document as a road map for problem solving.

Looks like a pipe dream

The final wording proposed by the new Human Rights Council, which replaced the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in a bureaucratic reorganization earlier this year, looks like a pipe dream today for many who suffer from discrimination.

It states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

“States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, of a just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programs for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.

“States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programs for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.

“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of their mineral, water or other resources.”

Although this is heady stuff, it’s actually just a smidgeon of the mandate. And now comes the hard part: putting the paper to work.

Indeed, the text requires the U.N. to implement these measures. Mexico’s future presidents will have to do their part in that regard. The challenge is just beginning.

See our last posts on Mexico and Chiapas. The Special Rapporteur also had some harsh words for Colombia.