Obama backs UN declaration on indigenous rights

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday threw his support behind the UN declaration protecting the rights of indigenous people, making the United States the last country to drop its opposition.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is non-binding, recognizes the right to self-determination of the world's 370 million native people as well as their rights to land and resources.

Obama announced support for the 2007 declaration as he met in Washington with leaders of Native American tribes, reversing the previous George W. Bush administration's opposition.

"Today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration," Obama said to applause.

"The aspirations it affirms -- including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of native peoples -- are (ones) we must always seek to fulfill," he said.

In an accompanying statement, the US State Department said the new position came "in response to the many calls from Native Americans."

"US support for the declaration goes hand in hand with the US commitment to address the consequences of a history in which, as President Obama recognized, 'few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans -- our first Americans.'"

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States were the only countries that opposed the declaration, which took two decades to negotiate.

The other three countries have also changed course, with Canada declaring its support just last month.

The four countries had initially voiced concern about the implications of the declaration, fearing that it could trigger new claims of land or resources from indigenous populations.

They were particularly worried about a clause saying that native people must consent to handing over places of cultural or spiritual value.

The United States has some two million Native Americans, who trail national averages in income and health.

Eleven nations had abstained from voting on the 2007 declaration, including Bangladesh, Nigeria and Russia.

~ AFP
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