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Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights Approaches Landmark UN Decision

September 13, 2007–New York–Today, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly will deliberate over whether to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a human rights framework over twenty years in the making. In advance of these negotiations, MADRE called on the General Assembly to finally approve the Declaration before the end of its 61st session this month.

MADRE further stressed that this Declaration addresses critical issues, such as the right to self-determination, the recognition of the role of Indigenous Peoples in sustainable development, and the rights of Indigenous women. In the context of an escalating debate over climate change, the Declaration also states that, "respect for Indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment."

Later this month, the UN will host a conference with high-level government leaders, to address the challenge of climate change. MADRE asserted that the approval of this Declaration will set a positive tone for progress at that conference and will promote a sustainable approach to halting environmental degradation.

Vivian Stromberg, Executive Director of MADRE, said today, "This Declaration speaks to the core of the crises we all face today, and the UN cannot afford to delay this opportunity. Indigenous communities have too long faced the threat of government discrimination and corporate exploitation of their lands and territories. The passage of this Declaration will signal a major shift in the landscape of international human rights law, in which the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples will finally be recognized and defended."

The Declaration was already approved in June 2006 by the UN Human Rights Council. Yet, it has since faced stiff opposition from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other states. This antagonism towards the declaration comes from governments' fear that it will challenge their control over the land and resources of Indigenous Peoples.

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Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Communications Director, worked for several years as part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem before joining MADRE. She has written extensively on US foreign policy and women's human rights; her critical analysis has appeared in online and print publications such as, Foreign Policy in Focus, and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, published by the Feminist Press in 2004. Ms. Susskind has been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio, and BBC Radio. She is the coordinator of MADRE's upcoming Food for Life Campaign.

Victoria Tauli Corpuz is Executive Director of the Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy Research & Education), which has United Nations consultative status and is based in Baguio City, Philippines. Ms. Tauli Corpuz was the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations from 1996 to 2003; serves as the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples (UNPFII); and is a member of the Asia Indigenous Women's Network. She has a Nursing degree; is an Indigenous activist who is committed to the recognition, protection, and promotion of Indigenous Peoples' rights worldwide; and has been defending the rights and cultures of Indigenous Peoples for more than 30 years.