[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Monday called on governments to work to improve the human rights conditions [statement] of the world’s indigenous peoples. The statement, made on the International Day of World’s Indigenous People [official website], urged world governments to come into compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [text], which was adopted by the UN [JURIST report] in 2007. The treaty outlines the global human rights of the approximately 370 million indigenous people and bans discrimination against them. Explaining the need for greater attention to the living conditions of the world’s indigenous population, Ban stated:
Indigenous peoples have preserved a vast amount of humanity’s cultural history, and speak a majority of the world’s languages. [They] have inherited and passed on a wealth of knowledge, traditions and artistic forms. … Indigenous peoples’ issues are more prominent on the international agenda than ever before. But indigenous peoples still suffer disproportionate poverty, poor health and racism. Their languages, religions and cultural traditions are often shunned. … In some countries, indigenous people are six hundred times more likely to contract tuberculosis than the general population. In others, an indigenous child can expect to die twenty years before his or her non-indigenous compatriots. Every day, indigenous communities face issues of violence, brutality and dispossession of their lands. We must increase indigenous peoples’ access to vital services including education, health care and employment. We must continue to raise the status of indigenous peoples.
Ban also noted the findings of January’s UN Report on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples [official website], which he said “should alarm us all.” The report found that indigenous peoples, who account for five percent of the world population, comprise 15 percent of the world’s poor. It also found that indigenous peoples face systemic discrimination and exclusion from political life and are overrepresented among the illiterate and destitute. Ban called on world governments to renew their commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples.
The UN observes the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People every August 9 in an effort to “promote the enjoyment of the rights of indigenous people and the full development of their distinct cultures and communities.” The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 after 143 member states voted to adopt the treaty and four member states—Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US—voted against it. The four cited concerns that it conflicted with their countries’ own laws, among other contentions. Amnesty International Australia (AIA) [advocacy website] on Monday criticized the Australian government [JURIST report] for not taking greater measures to eliminate racial discrimination against indigenous people, violating its obligations under the Declaration, which was endorsed by the Australian government last year [JURIST report]. AIA pointed to the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act (NTER) [text, PDF] as the most pressing discriminatory policy, interfering with almost every aspect of indigenous life.