17 December 2010The announcement by President Barack Obama that the United States supports the landmark United Nations treaty outlining the rights of the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous peoples was hailed today at the world body. The US was one of only four countries – along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand – that voted against the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when it was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007, a move that followed more than two decades of debate.With its announcement, the US has now joined the other three countries in endorsing the treaty – a non-binding text that sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.“This is an important milestone that signifies that the international community has reached consensus on the Declaration,” Tonya Gonella Frichner, the Vice-Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said in a statement.Ms. Frichner added that she looked forward to working with the US and other countries toward full implementation of the Declaration with no reservations.In addition, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, issued a statement saying he is “elated” at the US announcement, calling it a “groundbreaking development” for Native Americans and all those who seek greater protection for human rights across the globe.“With its endorsement of the Declaration, the United States strengthens it stated commitment to improve the conditions of Native Americans and to address broken promises. Indigenous peoples can now look to the Declaration as a means of holding the United States to that commitment,” said Mr. Anaya, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.The Declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.
Looking back on his 10 years as head of the United Nations, Secretary-General, Kofi Annan today spoke of the continuing need for reforming the world body, efforts to build partnerships between the UN and other organizations, and the myriad challenges that lie ahead, particularly in bringing peace to strife-torn Darfur.“When I became Secretary-General [in December 1996]? I felt the Organization needed to be reformed and brought in line with today’s requirements, and so I embarked on a very early reform at the beginning, trying to improve the management, administrative and financial processes of the organization,” he told the International Women’s Forum.Describing this as a process and “not an event,” Mr. Annan also stressed his belief that if the UN was going to help people, it had to focus on inequality, and that was the reason for proposing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight targets that aim to reduce poverty, hunger and other social ills by 2015.“We needed to focus on inequality – inequality within States and between States, and that we had to really come together to fight abject poverty, and that’s what led to my report ‘We the Peoples’ and the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals by the? General Assembly in the year 2000.”As he prepares to step down at the end of this year, Mr. Annan voiced satisfaction that Member States accept that the UN’s work rests on three major pillars. peace and security; economic and social development; and human rights and the rule of law.He also pointed to such challenges as HIV/AIDS, bird flu and environmental degradation, saying that individual governments alone couldn’t deal with such problems and that was why he had sought to develop partnerships between the UN and other organizations to improve the world body’s efforts to counter these threats.“As an international community we needed to find ways of dealing with this, and the only way I could think of is that we needed to work in partnership with all the stakeholders – civil society, governments, international organizations, private sector and foundations, and so I can say that today the UN has become a partnership organization, reaching out and working with others.”However, while pointing to UN achievements, Mr. Annan also admitted that “many challenges remain,” particularly how best to stop the bloodshed in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region.“Darfur is still a challenge,” he said, acknowledging that despite the recent agreement in Ethiopia to put an eventual UN-African Union force into the troubled region, the “challenge will be in its implementation.”“The expectation is that the Sudanese will work with the international community to get it done, and so we will be pressing ahead on that,” he went on, noting that “everybody is looking at how we handle Darfur.”Mr. Annan also stressed that the UN is made up of Member States, a fact often forgotten particularly by those criticizing the world body.“When people talk of the UN, what is the UN? There are two UNs – the UN that is of Member States who sit in the Security Council and the General Assembly and give mandates to the Secretariat – the Secretary-General and the Secretariat. And there is a Secretariat which carries out these mandates,” he said.“But the way the media covers it if anything goes wrong, ‘It’s the UN.’ They talk and write about the UN as if it’s some satellite out there which their governments and others have nothing to do with. But the UN is their government and mine,” he said. read more