The US has formally endorsed the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, meaning that no countries now oppose it.
The United States was the only country still opposing the Declaration, after Canada supported it in November. Most countries supported the Declaration when it was first published in 2007.
President Obama announced the turnaround at the opening of the White House Tribal Nations Conference yesterday (16 December 2010). He added, "What matters far more than words – what matters far more than any resolution or declaration – are actions to match those words."
In the United States, a Native American is 62 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the general population and 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis (UN figures).
Across the globe, indigenous peoples have been marginalised, dispossessed and discriminated against, with devastating consequences. The UN Declaration sets an international standard against which governments can be judged, and represents a valuable tool for tribal peoples fighting injustices.
Despite its value, the UN Declaration remains ‘aspirational’, because it is not legally binding. Survival International is campaigning for all countries to ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on tribal peoples, the only international instrument for tribal peoples that is legally binding. To date only twenty two countries have ratified ILO 169. The USA is not amongst them.
Speaking about the announcement, Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, "This is welcome news, a significant step towards universal acceptance that tribal peoples’ lives and ways of living are just as valuable as anyone else’s. But positive action needs to follow promising words; do not let this milestone become meaningless."