Today the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has challenged the Australian Government to introduce a policy on Indigenous self-determination next year.
Congress has criticised the government for failing to live up to pledges that it made at the international level three years ago. In 2011 the Australian Government told the Human Rights Council that it would respect the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, in its role as the national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Congress says that pledge has not been fulfilled and that the government is lying to the international community about its relationship with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
A few months ago the Australian government committed itself in the United Nations General Assembly that it would work with the national representative body to implement a national action plan to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Congress has criticised the government for failing to act on that commitment.
The Congress statement for International Human Rights Day 2014 condemns the constitution, the parliament and the judiciary for continuing racial discrimination in Australia and for a current crop of racist laws undertaken without consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
The full statement from Congress is attached.
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY
10 December 2014
THIS STATEMENT IS ISSUED ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY. IT IS A STATEMENT BY THE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF AUSTRALIA’S FIRST PEOPLES AND WILL BE PRESENTED TO THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT AT THE ANNUAL NGO HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is the national representative body of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia. Our purposes include, inter alia, providing leadership that guarantees the promotion and protection of the rights of the Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia. In undertaking our role Congress accepts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the minimum standard for the rights of our Peoples.
Congress intends to participate in the Universal Periodic Review of Australia by the UN Human Rights Council. Congress will present the Human Rights Council and Member States of the United Nations with evidence that Australia aggressively acts to deliberately abuse the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia. Australia has rebuffed the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review by intentionally ignoring the recommendations for the promotion and protection of our rights and making no effort to improve its racist history and institutions. At its last UPR examination Australia pledged to acknowledge Congress as the national institution representing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. This was not the reality. Nothing has been attempted to build this link with our Peoples.
In September 2014, at the United Nations General Assembly, Australia voted to support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions. This has not been realised within Australia.
The Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia are strictly denied opportunity to exercise and enjoy the rights contained in the UN Declaration. Governments in Australia exercise domination using their unrestrained political powers. The Australian Constitution is constructed to allow governments to create and implement racist laws. In Australia the judiciary sanctions racist law-making in the parliaments. Australian courts fail to invoke any requirement for Australian governments to consult with Aboriginal Peoples or Torres Strait Islander Peoples when making laws that directly affect them.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recently alerted the Australian parliament that Australia’s international obligations extend to include the promotion and protection of the rights of the Aboriginal Peoples and the Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does have an important and specific role in defining Australia’s responsibilities under international law.
“The committee agrees that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, while not enshrined in domestic law, is an important and relevant instrument for its work, and provides specific guidance as to the content of the rights in the human rights treaties which fall within the committee’s mandate. The committee will draw on the Declaration as appropriate in interpreting those treaties and expects that statements of compatibility will refer to provisions of the Declaration where those are relevant.”
(Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, June 2013, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012 and related legislation: Eleventh Report of 2013, Para 1.62)
Congress notes with dismay the Government of Australia continues to define the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a non-binding legal instrument. We soundly reject this definition, out of concern that the government chooses to not accept any obligations to the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia and subsequently utterly rejects that a national responsibility exists to address the injustices of the past and those that continue to this day.
“Debilitating to the Declaration are repeated assertions that the Declaration is non-binding, characterizations of the Declaration as granting privileges to indigenous peoples over others, and the position advanced by some States that the right to self-determination affirmed in the Declaration is different from self-determination in international law. These assertions and positions are each flawed … they only serve to weaken the force of the broad consensus underlying the Declaration and of its role as an instrument of human rights and restorative justice”
(James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, A/68/317, para. 88).
The Australian Government also undertook, in supporting the General Assembly resolution A/69/L.1, to “cooperating with indigenous peoples, through their own representative institutions, to develop and implement national action plans, strategies or other measures, where relevant, to achieve the ends of the Declaration.” Although only a short period of time has elapsed since this resolution was passed the government has refused to engage with Congress in any discussion to ratify this commitment.
We now call upon the government to change its position and to engage with Congress with a view to implement the actions contained in the Outcome Document from the UN General Assembly’s high-level plenary session known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
As a final but most important matter, Congress calls upon the government to adopt by mid-2015 a policy of self-determination for the Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, determined in collaboration with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
The Government of Australia has not openly opposed self-determination for our Peoples, but has failed to act in good faith to assist our Peoples to enjoy the exercise of self-determination. Congress insists that the government provide a clear and open commitment to our self-determination, including actions that will ensure our right to self-determination will be fulfilled with adequate support from, and devoid of improper interference from, the Government of Australia.
In concluding our statement Congress cites the clear message given to the UN General Assembly by the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. We believe his message to be a veritable sign of the times, a message that Australia would be well advised to heed.
“Even today, indigenous peoples and colonized and occupied peoples are not vested with their proper status at the national or international level. The United Nations could grant them such status as a corollary to the right of self-determination in a manner that allows for their equal participation and their free, prior and informed consent on all matters that affect them and at all levels within the United Nations system. Part of the problem with the delayed discussion on the self-determination of indigenous peoples was the fact that Governments essentially marginalized them. Moreover, the devastating impact of the policies applied by the colonizers, including massacres, spoliation, re-education and cultural dislocation paralysed many indigenous peoples. Michael van Walt observed that “a number of first nations of the Americas … no longer exist as a result of genocide”. A partial recognition of the injustices is reflected in several apologies issued by Governments over the past two decades. Such apologies are appropriate, but a proactive policy to reduce continuing effects and to heal the profound trauma inflicted on indigenous peoples is necessary.”
(Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, 7 August 2014, Interim Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, UN Document A/69/272, Para 56)
On Behalf of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples =