Ten years after the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, some progress has been made to formally recognise Indigenous peoples in several countries, but not yet in Australia.
Claudianna Blanco

10 Aug 2017 - 12:29 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2017 - 12:32 PM

Butchulla and Gubbi Gubbi man, Les Malezer, attended the Referendum Council’s Uluru convention with a clear intention: ensuring that Australia takes the necessary steps to meet the human rights standards required for Indigenous peoples around the world.

“This has now been now determined by the [United Nations] General Assembly through the Declaration of the Rights for Indigenous Peoples,” he explained.

Mr Malezer, a former Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and now an expert member of the United Nations Panel for Indigenous issues, has been involved over the years with looking at the Australian Constitution and finding ways to reform it. For him, the Australian founding document is, put simply, “offensive”.

“There’s got to be more done by legislation, but even by the Constitution. And it is in that sense an offensive Constitution, in the fact that it doesn’t acknowledge the true place of the First Peoples and respect the inherent rights that Indigenous people had and continue to hold since colonization,” he said. 

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Mr Malezer told NITV News in May at the Uluru Convention that the message that needs to be delivered to the Australian government is that the United Nations has established a set of minimum standards which must be met.

“That includes the right to self-determination, the rights for Indigenous peoples to have their own forms of governance and decision-making to determine their own futures”.

This has been “agreed by governments around the world”, he added.

When asked about the best way forward, Mr Malezer argued that “the government needs to be aware that there is an obligation to respect the rights, to respect the existence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Indigenous peoples, to protect their rights to self-determination and decision-making, including the right to free prior and formed consent to any legislation, or any developments that might affect them, or their lands or their territories and resources and so on”.

“It’s quite a lot more than there currently is in Australia, a recognition of rights established in Australian law and in Australian legislation. So the government has to really work out with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the best way to ensure that these rights are acknowledged and respected,” he said.

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Mr Malezer believes this is particularly important in Australia’s case as the country has never signed a treaty with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“I think there are [many] viewpoints on this, and it really is about what people themselves want and what is in their best interest,” he said.

“Apart from the Mabo decision only in 1992, after 200 years of colonization, it’s the only recognition in law that Aboriginal people have pre-existing rights as being Indigenous peoples in Australia.”

Mr Malezer’s three-year tenure as an expert member on the UN panel for Indigenous issues started this year and will continue through to 2019.