Monday, September 17, 2007

The Binding Symbolic Value of the UN Declaration

Four settler states were clearly unsettled by the passage of what, in formal terms, was a non-binding Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, voted against the document, when the majority of UN member states approved it, says a great deal which many of us will be left to debate for some time. Perhaps it will be little time: opposition parties in Canada and Australia, with a good chance of winning the next elections, have already promised to sign the Declaration once elected, and some of us will be sure to remember their promises. In the meantime, the Declaration is now an international "fact," and no longer a "draft." To be seen to act against the contents of the Declaration will be equated with acting against international public opinion. What stands out is not that "the liberal democracies with the most intense engagements with indigenous issues" voted against the Declaration, as some have said, since many other countries, with larger indigenous populations, and arguably more intense engagements, voted for it. What stands out instead is how settler states are still in the process of trying to settle themselves, how much "engagement" has really been disengagement, distance, friction, and conflict, and how much wishful thinking plays a part in reigning fantasies that, one day, Europe Part 2, will be as embedded in its foreign soil as Original Europe can claim to be on its soil.

The vote against the Declaration was a serious tactical error: these four states now sorely stand out as colonial, white states, anachronistic entitites in a world where "decolonization" has become part of the international vocabulary. They have also handed the Chinas of the world a powerful argument--that they too flout the will of "the international community," that they too do not recognize the rights of disadvantaged minorities, and that liberal democracy is really little more than kleptocracy. If accepting the Declaration could have been symbolically binding (even if not legally so), then surely rejecting the Declaration will also come at a political cost. Some of us will see to it that it does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent observations on the "lack of legitimacy" that the settler states have on the soil that they claim from indigenous peoples in North America, Australia and New Zealand.