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How to take the UN Indigenous report card

  • 03 September 2009
When the statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Human Rights on the situation in the Northern Territory was released last week, there was a howl of protest. Professor James Anaya's 11-day tour of Aboriginal communities did not leave him with a positive impression. He found a compelling 'need to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones — to conform with international standards requiring genuine respect for cultural integrity and self-determination'.

The dyke of discontent duly opened. Warren Mundine, former Labor Party President and prominent Aboriginal activist has suggested binning the report, much like 'other' reports from that same office.

Jenny Macklin, in her role as Indigenous Affairs Minister, was more than a bit put out by the statement. She told ABC News: 'For me, when it comes to human rights, the most important human right that I feel as a Minister I have to confront, is the need to protect the rights of the most vulnerable particularly children and for them to have a safe and happy life and a safe and happy family to grow up in.'

Shredding or, in this case, binning a report from an international organisation is irresistible for hardnosed policy makers in the frontline of combating Aboriginal misery in the Northern Territory. Anaya is not himself being dogmatic. His statement is a sober, obvious reflection that programs are not duplicated, and that such matters as the Closing the Gap campaign, the Emergency Response and other government initiatives be achieved in partnership with local indigenous institutions.

He pays, as he should, respect to international human rights norms that place the Indigenous community in a prominent decision making role. Words like 'autonomy' and 'self-determination' should not be a species of rhetorical flotsam. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples, he argues, should directly participate in the 'design of programs and polices at the national level, within a forum that is genuinely representative of the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples'.

He urges a 'holistic' approach in dealing with the problems of Australia's Indigenous peoples. None of these suggestions should upset the Rudd Government.

Anaya also encourages the deed more than the word. Reconciliation is not merely gnosis but praxis — action must be taken to pursue its objective. He is mindful of this in the context of the