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Clarify self determination.

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Media Release

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC)


2 December 1998

Clarify Self Determination

Indigenous Australian delegations at the United Nations have called on the Australian Gov ernment to clarify once and for all its position and approach to the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The call was made in Geneva today in light of conflicting advice from the Australian Government and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Mr Gatjil Djerrkura told the opening session of a United Nations Working Group responsible for the passage of the Declaration that the Australian Government must "make its position clear to the international community".

The concern and confusion centred on the Government’s approach and its support or rejection of the principle of self determination outlined in the Draft Declaration.

Mr Djerrkura said recent statements by the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Alexander Downer left the Indigenous delegations in no doubt that the Government was seeking to have the term removed from the declaration.

However, the Australian Government delegation in Geneva have said they will not try to remove or replace the term from the document.

Mr Djerrkura, on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations present in Geneva, rejected other statements by Mr Downer as naïve and discriminatory.

"Mr Downer acknowledges that under existing international treaties all peoples have the right to self determination," Mr Djerrkura said.

"Why then is it so difficult for that principle to be reaffirmed for Indigenous peoples in the Declaration?

"The Government’s arguments for terms such as ‘self-empowerment’ and ‘self-management’ are at odds with international practice.

"To proclaim self-determination as a right of all peoples, and at the same time to deny or limit its application to Indigenous peoples, offends the principles of equality, non-discrimination and the absolute prohibition of racial discrimination," Mr Djerrkura said.

Indigenous delegations from around the globe reaffirmed their position of adopting the Declaration in its current form and demanded Governments justify any proposed amendments.

"There is no question of the Declaration’s integrity. Here is a document which has been developed by Governments and Indigenous peoples for more than 15 years.

"Government’s will need to convince us that their amendments are justified and more importantly that they enhance the protection of Indigenous peoples rights," Mr Djerrkura said.

Organisations present at the meeting include: ATSIC, Central Land Council, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), Kimberley Land Council, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, Western Australian Aboriginal Legal Service, National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Service Secretariat, Indigenous Woman Aboriginal Corporation and the National Secretariat of Torres Strait Islander Organisations.

The Chairman and other representatives are available for interview after 7pm AEST.

Please call Ray Morrison on 0419 686 746 or Aaron Ross on 0011 31 6 229 25147.