The Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples started to be prepared in the early 1980’s within the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This first draft was finished in 1993 and since 1995 it started being reviewed within an ad hoc working group: the Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
To achieve one of the targets of the First International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, the Working Group on the Draft Declaration should have finished its task by 2004. However, the complex discussions being held about the draft’s different articles, particularly regarding issues like self-determination or rights over territories and resources, prevented such target from being reached.
In the 2005 meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, thanks to pressure from indigenous organizations and to the support of friendly governments, a resolution was issued requesting all parties involved in the Declaration’s negotiation process to employ their best efforts to successfully comply with the mandate of the Working Group, and to submit a final draft as soon as feasible.
The eleventh session of the Working Group, held in February 2006, resolved to submit to the Commission on Human Rights, for their consideration, the draft prepared by the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Group, Mr. Luis Enrique Chávez, aimed at achieving a wide consensus among the parties. The first meeting of the Human Rights Council, in June, finally approved the resolution as submitted by Peru and co-sponsored by a wide group of countries, requesting approval of the proposed text, despite the open opposition of several countries like the U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
Thereafter, final approval of the Declaration depended on the decision to be taken in the 61st session of the General Assembly. At first, it seemed quite probable that the Assembly would assume the Human Rights Council’s decision, but an amendment proposed by Namibia drastically changed the course of events. With 85 votes in favor and 89 abstains, the General Assembly decided to postpone considering the Declaration in order to extend the consultation period. In general, this meant a disappointment for indigenous representatives and support organizations. In the end, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved by the General Assembly on September 13th, with 144 votes in favor, 4 votes against and 11 abstains.
The Declaration recognizes indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and cultural characteristics, and to participate in the life of the State where they live. It further recognizes their right to exist as distinct peoples, with their own culture and identity; their right to education, information and employment; to take part in decisions and actions affecting them, to develop their economic activities and to define their own priorities and development strategies; their right over their land and resources; and to maintain their own institutions.