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International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (170KB) (IDRIP or Declaration) is an international human rights instrument that sets a standard for the protection of Indigenous rights.

The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on the 13th of September 2007, after more than twenty years of discussion within the UN system, and represents a significant achievement for Indigenous peoples throughout the world. 

As a declaration, or aspirational document, the IDRIP is not legally binding on states, meaning it does not impose legal obligations on governments and hence violating the terms of the IDRIP does not result in legal action. Consequently, the standards outlined in the Declaration are difficult to enforce. Nevertheless, the IDRP carries considerable moral force.

The Declaration recognises a range of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples. Among these are:

  • the right to self-determination: Indigenous peoples have the right to make their own decisions on issues that concern them
  • the right to cultural identity: Indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, but they also have the right to be different and culturally distinct
  • the right to free, prior and informed consent: Indigenous peoples have the right to be consulted and make decisions on any matter that may affect them, having all the information, before anything happens, and without being pressured
  • the right to be free from discrimination: Governments must ensure that Indigenous peoples and individuals are treated equally, regardless of sex, disability or religion

United Nations

The Declaration also recognises Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands and other natural resources, and requires fair and adequate compensation for wrongful dispossession. 

 

144 countries voted in favour of the IDRIP. Australia, under the Howard government, was one of only four countries that voted against the Declaration (along with Canada, the United States and New Zealand). Consequently, Australia cannot become a signatory to the Declaration. However, on the 3rd of April 2009, the Rudd government formally endorsed the Declaration.

While Australia’s decision to support the Declaration is an important step in the right direction, speaking at the official endorsement ceremony in 2009, Indigenous leader, Professor Mick Dodson, wisely remarked that “The value of human rights is not in their existence, it's in their implementation. That is the challenge for the world with this declaration. The standards have been set, it is up to us to meet them.” (1)

Indigenous lawyer and author, Larissa Behrendt, writes that the adoption of this instrument is the clearest indication yet that the international community is committing itself to protecting the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples. (2)

 

View the original International Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (170KB) or an easy to understand detailed explanation of the Declaration (9.2MB)


Stop & Think... A Global Imperative

  • What do you think it is about the common experience of Indigenous people that led the UN to issue this Declaration?
  • How do you feel about the fact that Australia was one of only 4 out of 148 countries to vote against the Declaration?


The rights detailed within the UN Declaration are not all fully realised amongst Indigenous Australians, even today. Some of this can be amended through policy change, but some is due to a lack of cultural understanding. These issues are often more difficult to change. As Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together, we should all be able to agree to work towards a day when we all have access to fundamental human rights and freedoms.


Want to know more?

Watch Sharing Our Story Episode 3 to find out more about Indigenous self-determination and recognition in Australia.

To watch the full Sharing Our Story series, click here.

 


References

  1. Rodgers, E. 2009, Aust adopts UN Indigenous declaration, ABC 
  2. Behrendt, L. Indigenous Australia for Dummies, 2012, pg. 621
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