UN Commission on Human Rights Remarks

by U.S. Delegate Luis Zuniga

April 8, 2004

Over hundred years ago the United States was in conflict with the Native Peoples of America. In the hundred years since, the United States has adopted various policies from assimilation to the termination of tribal status to the current era of self-determination. And, history is witness; the United States did not always get it right.

Through it all, Native Peoples struggled to survive, to reclaim their strength, to heal their people. They fought to defend the land, America, through world wars, the conflicts of the cold war and now in the war against terrorism. As a percentage of the population of the United States of America, there are more Native Peoples protecting our land in this way than any other group. Their patriotism is evident. The United States is fortunate to have the native people at our side. The United States is proud to have a government-to-government relationship with over 560 Indian tribal governments within the U.S.

Tribal elders have said that the seventh generation of contact is a time for healing and reconciliation in all of the Americas. The United States of America could not agree more. Indigenous people in the Americas comprise the majority of the population in a number of countries in the hemisphere and a significant minority of the population in the remainder of the continent. We must work together. Political systems and political parties must ensure that they are fully open to participation of native peoples at all levels without discrimination. States must recognize the humanity and dignity of each indigenous person and put an end to discrimination. States must understand the human desire of indigenous peoples to have control over their own local affairs and work with them to meet their needs.

We welcome the efforts of Mexico, Peru and Guatemala and applaud their persistence in creating the Special Rapporteur. We encourage Mr. Stavenhagen to use his good offices and encourage dialogue between States and Indigenous communities. The U.S. supported the Danish initiative to create the Permanent Forum and have been watching its development. The Forum, still in its infancy, is beginning to fulfill the vision of mainstreaming the concerns of indigenous communities throughout the United Nations system. And the working group on the draft declaration continues its work to articulate international protection for indigenous people. With the Permanent Forum, the WGGD and the Special Rapporteur, the U.S. cannot continue to support the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. We believe the WGIP has been overcome by events and is now an obsolete bureaucracy, consumed by its own institutional interests and continues to absorb resources. It does not want to willingly fade away in favor of more valuable tools. But, unlike dinosaurs of ages past, WGIP will not itself spawn a lasting resource. WGIP has continued to consume scare resources at a time when the full range of indigenous issues is now being addressed by the permanent forum. The U.S. does not find this duplication of performance appropriate or justifiable. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Commission, the WGIP deserves a dignified funeral. Let us give its due. It is the time for WGIP to go.

The Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continues to struggle to achieve the decade's goal of completing the work. This declaration is important, as it would have a worldwide impact from the Americas to Asia, to Africa, to Oceania, to Europe. It will apply to us all, even for those who say they are all indigenous . In this respect the draft declaration could have unintended consequences as its applicability makes clear that a unitary state would be unable to comply with its structure.

While the declaration as an instrument is an aspirational statement, the U.S. is aware that at least one regional body and a host of international human rights lawyers have begun to cite to the draft as an authoritative source. Let us be clear on the legal status of this draft. It is a draft and as such has no legal standing anywhere.

Much has been said about so-called U.S. obstructionism at the WGDD. The United States of America takes the work of itinerating a Declaration of Indigenous Peoples seriously. For this reason the U.S. has examined its position and has offered the notion of internal self-determination . The notion of internal self-determination recognizes that local authorities will and should make their own decisions and a range of issues from taxation to education to land resources management to membership. These are the powers of a government. This is the essence of a federal system with which we are quite comfortable. In this sense, the Draft Declaration is not a human rights instrument. Instead, it is a blueprint for how States ought to conduct relations with indigenous peoples. The United States stands ready to negotiate that kind of aspirational document. But we will not support continued negotiations on a Draft Declaration that pretended to re-order internal relationships within a sovereign democratic state. Neither can we accept the fiction put forward by the states that their native populations are not indigenous or that everyone in the population is indigenous and therefore the Declaration does not apply to those states.

The U.S. will insist that this Declaration must apply universally. The Organization of American States is working on a hemispheric Declaration and it is our hope that this declaration will address the unique circumstance in our hemisphere. For us a global declaration must meet the needs of indigenous peoples and States in Asia, Africa, Oceania and Europe.

In over a decade, the WHDD has approved only two Articles. The WGDD has not even been able to complete a first reading. The decade ends next year. We expect that at the 2005 Commission on Human Rights, this body will have to decide whether the process can continue. In our view, unless rapid progress is made, the CHR would not be using its resources responsibly if it continues this exercise. We urge the WGDD to make rapid progress based on principles that can apply everywhere to the benefit of native peoples and the nation states of which they are part. We hope that Declaration is possible before the end of the decade.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

- Valerie Phillips Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director of Native American Law Center University of Tulsa College of Law John Rogers Hall 3120 East 4th Place, Room 2422 Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104-2499

Telephone: 918.631.3540 Facsimile: 918.631.2194 Email: valerie-phillips@utulsa.edu

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