Extract of a statement by Les Malezer made on 13 September 2012 Today marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Without doubt this international instrument has already been established universally as a human rights benchmark to confirm the indigenous peoples of the world are equal to all other peoples. This achievement, within the first five years of its life, is verification that the rights of our peoples, encompassing social organisation, cultures, territories and development, are progressively being acknowledged.
Indigenous peoples everywhere are citing the Declaration and its components as they vie for equality and non‐discrimination in their own territories. Slowly but surely, member States of the United Nations are revising their relationships with indigenous peoples to respect these human rights. We can see evidence that basic human rights as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are being given extra attention where indigenous peoples are involved.
The establishment of mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues are concrete steps already taken to guarantee change. These are very specific and important actions taken by the United Nations to ensure that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are a priority concern towards not only global peace, security and development, but also the wellbeing of the cultural and ecological environs.
In Australia over the past five years, there has been a turnaround in the commitment by the State to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2009 the Government of Australia announced its support for the Declaration, having voted in 2007 in the General Assembly against the adoption of the Declaration. The Government has given tangible support to the establishment of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, a body created in accordance with Article 18 of the Declaration. The Government has also commissioned a review of the Constitution of Australia to provide recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the First Peoples of Australia.
There can be no doubt that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have a high level of awareness of the existence of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and an appreciation that the United Nations will continue to examine the exercise of the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples of the world. This has been amply demonstrated during the past five years by many UN reports which address Australia and the rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is collaborating with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Indigenous Peoples Organisations to implement a national strategy for increased awareness and understanding of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Looking back we must remember how it has taken so long to have our rights as indigenous peoples recognised in global governance and international law. Five years on, it is time for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be more vigorous in exercising these rights and freedoms.