May 28, 2007

Ogoni: Nigeria Opposes Indigenous Rights Declaration

Nigeria has opposed the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, citing concerns about its implications for the rights of its many indigenous populations.

Nigeria has opposed the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, citing concerns about its implications for the rights of its many  indigenous populations. 

Below is an article written by Abdullahi Shuaibu and published by United Press International:

UN, May 26, 2007 (News Agency of Nigeria - NAN) - Nigeria and some African countries have opposed the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons, describing it as "unacceptable''. The final report and recommendations of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was presented on Friday [25 May 2007] by its chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz from Philippines for adoption by the organisation's General Assembly. The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Nigeria and other African countries, under the auspices of the African Group at the UN, stated that they also rejected the declaration based on some "observations and reservations''. "Nigeria's position reflects the common African view on the subject. Nigeria will welcome changes in the text that will address these concerns,'' Head of Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee at Nigeria's Permanent Mission to the UN, Amb. Chijioke Wigwe, told NAN in New York at the weekend. "Nigeria insists that changes to the Declaration should not be cosmetic but should be reflected in the body of the declaration and not in an introductory resolution, which would be adjoined to the Declaration''. Rights - 2 In Nigeria's position paper presented at the form, Wigwe outlined the country's concerns to include the definition of "Indigenous Peoples''. He noted that the absence of a definition of the term "indigenous peoples" in the text raises legal, social and political issues that would make implementation of the Declaration "problematic''. "There are 371 tribes in Nigeria, all of which are indigenous to the country. It is important that the Declaration's jurisdictional clause defining the rights holder should be included in the text,'' he said. "A clear and unambiguous definition will delimit the term and avoid its misuse especially in countries where all the ethnic groups are indigenous.'' The envoy also raised the issue of Self-Determination, under Article 3 of the Declaration. Rights - 3 "The principle of self-determination only applies to peoples under colonial and or foreign occupation, that is people residing in territories or areas which fall within the jurisdiction of the UN Trusteeship System, as enumerated in Article 77 of the UN Charter as well as those non-self governing peoples within the purview of Article 3 of the UN Charter, he said. "Implicitly recognising the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination in preamble paragraph 13 and Articles 3 and 4 of the Declaration can be misrepresented as conferring a unilateral right of self-determination and possible secession upon a specific subset of the national populace, thereby threatening the political unity and the territorial integrity of the country,'' Wigwe noted. "The 371 indigenous tribes of Nigeria exercised their right of self-determination on Oct. 1, 1960 when the Federation of Nigeria was granted independence by the colonial power, Great Britain. The Declaration must be clear that no new rights for self-determination are envisaged.'' He also told NAN that Nigeria was concerned that "as presently drafted, the Declaration, may be misunderstood as embracing and promoting self- determination within nation states''. "It's very basis and content, namely ethnicity, culture and language can easily become a rationale for other groups seeking exclusivity within nation states,'' Wigwe explained. Rights - 4 "The UN should not be seen as abetting and promoting dynamics that are contrary to the Charter of the UN and that can unravel unity and territorial integrity of member states. "It is therefore important that a document by the General Assembly should be watertight to leave no room for misinterpretation.'' He also said that "any attempt aimed at the particular or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purpose and principles of the Charter of the UN.'' "All states shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity,'' according to the Charter. On Article 5 of the Declaration, Wigwe stated "This article confers on Indigenous Peoples the right to maintain and strengthen their political, legal, economic, social and cultural institution, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they choose to do so, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State''. Rights - 5 "This article contradicts the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and if adopted would create constitutional problems for Nigeria,'' he told NAN. On Article 9, he said: "This article declares that Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nations concerned. "No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.'' The ambassador, however, said that the current borders of African countries, including Nigeria were "artificially drawn by the colonial powers''. Rights - 6 "The borders cut across or divided members of the same tribal communities. There is a real danger that this clause can be interpreted to mean that tribal communities can choose to belong to one country, whilst they are inhabitants of another,'' he stressed. For Article 19 of the declaration, he also noted that "this article provides that States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions, in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. "Nigeria is concerned that this can be interpreted to confer upon a sub-national group a power of veto over the laws of a democratic legislature. So, the Declaration must be explicitly clear that this is not the intended objective,'' Wigwe said. On Article 26, he said: "This article provides that Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used or acquired''. Rights - 7 "But, this provision will be unworkable in the context of the countries concerned, including Nigeria. In accordance with the 1999 Constitution, control over land and natural resources is vested in the State for the common good of all,'' the envoy said. On Article 37, he also said: "This article provides that indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements. "The right of recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties and agreements is the responsibility of the State and Nigeria has serious reservations regarding the implications of this article because the 1999 Constitution vests the National Assembly with the power to enter into treaties and agreements,'' he pointed out. "Nigeria hopes that in consultation with like minded States and all interested parties, the observations and reservations will be resolved to produce a draft that is devoid of any ambiguities,'' he said.