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UN Declaration on Indigenous People |  The Chrétien government, along with Australia, would have weakened the text

UN Declaration on Indigenous People | The Chrétien government, along with Australia, would have weakened the text

(OTTAWA) The current federal Liberal government is trying to distance itself from an alleged conspiracy with Australia in the early 2000s to weaken a United Nations speech on indigenous peoples.

Newly released Australian Cabinet documents from 2003 show the two countries worked together to propose a softer version of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Declaration sets out the rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to self-determination, the preservation of language and culture, the prohibition of forced removal of lands or territories, and the obligation of states to consult indigenous peoples.

Changes proposed by Australia and Canada would remove references to land reclamation, cultural genocide and militarization, significantly reducing the scope and potential impact of the final version.

The idea of ​​a more government-friendly alternative text emerged from Jean Chrétien's Liberal government, documents show, and was supported by Australia at the time.

Every Liberal government is different, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu told The Canadian Press, adding that every act of attack on immigration and aboriginal rights leaves a “stain” on the country.

“Indigenous First Nations people deserve more than that, and that's what we're trying to do as a Liberal government,” Hajj.

The documents were originally published by the newspaper GuardianBoth governments appear to have worked covertly to weaken the declaration, while realizing that their efforts would face strong domestic opposition.

The records state that the purpose of the exercise was to counter the original draft and prevent it from “reaching the status of customary international law”.

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“Our approach is to discuss the alternative text only with key states that appear to share our views and concerns,” the documents state. Australia and Canada have contacted the United States, New Zealand and Norway and invited them to participate in the Australia-Canada talks. »

An August 2002 Cabinet Note indicated that Canada considered Australia to be its most promising partner in this effort and was prepared to commit “significant resources” to it.

The two countries' activities, which began in 2002, could be criticized by domestic groups for operating in a “bilateral and non-transparent manner,” the documents said.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was revised before it was adopted by the UN in 2007 – only Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States voted against it.

The Australian Government endorsed the Declaration in 2009; The following year, Stephen Harper's Conservative government recognized it as an “ambition document” rather than a legally binding document.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government passed legislation to strengthen the Declaration in 2021, which Hajdu pointed out Tuesday after the announcement of the Eden Valley Reserve, southwest of Calgary.

“We have moved a long way from the initial thoughts of elected leaders of all stripes who sought to undermine and weaken the rights of indigenous peoples in this country,” he said.

Then the statement released on Tuesday by Mme Hajdu and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangari tried to burnish the Trudeau government's reputation as a staunch Indigenous ally.

“Throughout history, successive Canadian governments have been wrong when it comes to advancing Indigenous rights and self-determination, and our government has worked hard to change that,” it says.

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Advocacy for aboriginal people played a key role in the Liberals' 2015 election victory, which came at a time when Stephen Harper's governing Conservatives had a reputation for doing the opposite.

The widespread “Idle No More” protest movement made headlines for months in 2012 and 2013, partly in response to Bill C-45, also known as the Jobs and Growth Act — legislation that domestic critics saw as an attack on their rights.

The movement has grown to encompass environmental and indigenous rights more broadly and has gained widespread support among indigenous peoples across the country and around the world.

Today, after eight years in power, the federal Liberals face the same criticism from Indigenous peoples as their predecessors.

But efforts towards reconciliation are still a long way off, say Patty Hajdu and Gary Anandashankari in their report.

“We will continue to help correct the wrongs of the past, remain committed to the pursuit of the truth, and work to mend relations so that we can walk the path of reconciliation together,” they said. »