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UN: “The Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration is fundamental to the Cancún process”

Alfonso de Alba, an authority on indigenous rights on the international scene.

Photo: Jorge Agurto / Servindi

Servindi, 7 December 2010. – Luis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico’s Special Representative on Climate Change, today emphasised that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is of fundamental importance to the climate change process.

- Alfonso de Alba, 6 dic. 2010 (Archivo mp3, descargar con un clic en el enlace y luego elegir guardar como).

Ambassador De Alba stated that this international instrument was vital to this and many other processes underway. He said that there were many areas linking indigenous rights and climate change in particular.

He stated that there were principles and indigenous rights clearly identified in the Declaration that needed to be reflected in the working documents of the Conference of the Parties, meeting in Cancún.

Mr De Alba said that it was essential to recognise the need not only for consultation but also for free, prior and informed consent before implementing projects that affect indigenous peoples.

He recalled that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by a vote in the United Nations and that, now approved, it had been gaining greater status, recognition and acceptance.

The countries that voted against the Declaration – said Mr De Alba – had been reconsidering their position and had initiated processes by which they could endorse it. “There is no longer any direct opposition to the Declaration,” observed the ambassador.

“Consequently, this whole process must entail a growing recognition of the Declaration and of the indigenous rights that the different negotiations involve,” maintained Mr De Alba.

Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora is a Mexican diplomat who has been Mexico’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva since 2004.

He was the first President of the UN Human Rights Council, and it was under his administration that the process of approving the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was supported.

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Audio: Mp3

What importance does the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have for the Cancún process?

It has a fundamental importance, not only for this process but for many, if not all, processes currently underway. But in climate change in particular, there are many areas in which it is very important to recognise indigenous rights in particular.

These are rights that are clearly identified in the Declaration, such as self-determination, the right to lands and their use, to recognition of traditional knowledge and, one issue in the Declaration that is fundamental, recognition of the need not only for consultation but for free, prior and informed consent before implementing projects that affect indigenous peoples.

I think these are fundamental principles of the Declaration that have to be reflected in the working documents of this Conference and, as I said previously, in the documents of many other processes. We saw this a few weeks ago, for example, in the context of the work on biodiversity which of course has very wide implications.

Would this not diminish the impact?

No, it wouldn’t diminish the impact but you have to give them space and remember that the Declaration was approved by a vote of the United Nations. There were then a few countries that did not agree with it and voted against but, since its approval, it has been gaining space and recognition. A number of countries that voted against have been changing their position and the Declaration is gaining greater status precisely because of this level of acceptance.

There is no longer any direct opposition to the Declaration and some that voted against and still have not supported it expressly have commenced processes of internal dialogue in order to be able to endorse it. The most recent was Canada and so I think it is very important that this process entails a growing recognition of the Declaration and of the indigenous rights that the different negotiations involve.

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