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Launch of Amnesty International – Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2010)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

Launch of Amnesty International –

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

Australian Human Rights Commission

Yabun – Survival Day 2010

Victoria Park,

Tuesday 26 January, 2010

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties.

Firstly, let me begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.
You always have been and always will be the traditional owners of this land
where we meet today.

I thank Amnesty International Australia, for the invitation to launch their
booklet on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Since colonisation we have been met with unprecedented challenges and have
been denied our most basic of human rights. It is appropriate that here today,
Survival Day, we launch Amnesty’s booklet on the Declaration. It is
appropriate because as Article 43 of the Declaration states:

The rights recognised [in the Declaration] constitute the minimum standards
for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the

The adoption of the Declaration by the UN in 2007 marked the end of a 30 year
struggle by Indigenous peoples in seeking recognition for our fundamental human
rights through the treaty body system. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people were deeply involved in drafting and campaigning for the
Declaration. Without the tenacity and belief of those people, including Mick
Dodson, Les Malezer, Megan Davis, Lowitja O'Donoghue and many others, we would
not have this Declaration. They were also supported in these aims by many
non-Indigenous Australians including Darren Dick and Sarah Pritchard. This is a
perfect example of Indigenous peoples taking control of our own destiny.

The Declaration includes all of the rights already contained in international
human rights law. It also recognises our unique and collective rights as
Indigenous peoples. As an international instrument, the Declaration provides a
blueprint for Indigenous peoples and Governments around the world, based on the
principles of self-determination, and participation, to respect the rights and
roles of Indigenous peoples within society.

Our next challenge is to ensure that our people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people, and our Governments at all levels, fully understand, utilise
and implement the declaration. The Amnesty Booklet provides us with guidance on
how we turn this international human rights instrument into a mechanism that we
can use in our communities to ensure our full participation in Australian
society and increase our ability to determine our own futures –
achieving self determination.

The Declaration, through the key principle of self-determination, affirms
that Indigenous peoples, have the freedom to live in accordance with our values
and beliefs.[1] It is about
placing control in the hands of the very people that know best how to address
the problems in our communities, our mob. However, self-determination is
also about increased partnership with Government and wider society based on
mutual respect.

Australian governments should use the Declaration to frame its engagement
with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. And this has been tried and
tested with the creation of the new National Indigenous Representative Body.
The proposed model applies Article 18 of the Declaration as its guiding
principle.[2] Article 18 provides

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in
matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by
themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as maintain and
develop their own indigenous decision making institutions.

The model for the new representative body is designed to give effect to these
standards. The decision to create such a representative body is not a mere
policy objective for government; rather it gives effect to the rights set out
in the Declaration.

The rights contained in this Declaration are yours, you can use them.
Encourage your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s
organisations to adopt the Declaration as their guiding framework. Frame the
injustices and challenges you face in the language of human rights, and use the
Declaration as the standard by which you measure your enjoyment and fulfillment
of human rights. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides
the only acceptable benchmark for our peoples.

The Declaration provides a light at the end of the tunnel however it
won’t work for us if we don’t actively use it. This is our
Declaration, we must use it.

Thank you to Amnesty International Australia for your continued support in
our struggle to fight for our rights. Thank you for this booklet that provides
us with a starting point to fully implement the rights included in the United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Because from self
respect comes dignity, and from dignity comes hope. Thank you.

[1] E Daes, ‘Striving for
self-determination for Indigenous peoples’ in Y Kly and D Kly, (Eds) In pursuit of the right to self-determination, Clarity Press, Geneva,
2000, p 58; see also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2002, pp

[2] Steering Committee for
the creation of a new National Representative Body, Our future in our hands
– Creating a sustainable National Representative Body for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Peoples
, 2009, p 1.