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UNDRIP UNDRIP in other jurisdictions
6 minutes

UNDRIP in other jurisdictions

Last edited: July 10, 2024

While numerous nations have ratified UNDRIP, the complete realisation of its rights for First Nations communities worldwide has been limited. However, several countries are endeavouring to incorporate its components into national and state/provincial legislation through various mechanisms, with mixed results. Let’s delve into a few of these efforts…

Aotearoa /
New Zealand

Aotearoa / New Zealand initially hesitated to support UNDRIP, similar to Australia. In April 2010, New Zealand affirmed its support for the Declaration, emphasising its connection to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Despite not being incorporated into law, UNDRIP has begun to influence policy and judicial decisions in New Zealand. For example, the Declaration has been referenced in several decisions of the Supreme Court of New Zealand and extensively in rulings of the Waitangi Tribunal.

In March 2019, the Government initiated the development of a National Action Plan with Māori leaders and commissioned He Puapua (‘A Break’), a report to inquire into and report on appropriate measures to achieve the goals set out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In June 2021, it committed to public consultations on implementing a Declaration Action Plan to measure progress in addressing Māori rights and interests. By April 2022, the initial stakeholder consultation phase for the Declaration Plan, which included over 70 online targeted engagement workshops, had concluded. The Government announced that the next steps were to draft the Declaration Plan in partnership with the National Iwi Chairs Forum’s Pou Tikanga and the Human Rights Commission before being shared for public consultation.

By December 2022, the Government announced that ministers wouldn’t receive any further reports on developing a draft plan in response to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until 2024. In response, 61 organisations and individuals released an open letter calling on the NZ Government to push ahead on “recognising Indigenous human rights in Aotearoa”.

Later in 2023, conservative party New Zealand First announced it would withdraw New Zealand from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples if elected, citing concerns over race-based preferences.

Canada

Despite Canada’s initial hesitation to sign on to UNDRIP, in 2008 the Canadian House of Commons adopted a motion supporting UNDRIP and in 2010, Canada announced its qualified support for the Declaration.

In 2021, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Canada) came into force, setting binding requirements for the Federal Government to implement UNDRIP, including ensuring consistency of existing federal laws with the Declaration. In June 2023, after working in consultation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, the Canadian Government released its five-year Action Plan as a roadmap for implementing UNDRIP.

Interestingly, the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, during its inquiry on the application of UNDRIP in Australia and the study of international examples, heard from several witnesses that the cultural shift in Canada which enabled the Declaration to be implemented was a result of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), Canada’s formal truth-telling process, which helped the wider public understand the need to grapple with the legacies of colonisation.

BC’s Declaration Act (DRIPA)

In November 2019, the British Columbia (BC) provincial government became the first Canadian province to enact UNDRIP in its provincial legislation with its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act).

The legislation entails four primary aspects:

  1. Mandating the alignment of provincial laws with the UN Declaration.
  2. Requiring the development and execution of an action plan in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples to achieve UN Declaration objectives.
  3. Demanding regular reporting to the legislature to monitor progress in aligning laws and implementing the action plan, including annual reports by June 30.
  4. Allowing flexibility for the Province to engage with a broader array of Indigenous governments and jointly exercise decision-making authority.

After consultation with First Nations in BC, the province also released the Declaration Act Action Plan, an 89-point plan that includes goals, outcomes, and tangible actions needed for meaningful progress in reconciliation from 2022-2027.

Four years on, some First Nations leaders say BC must do more to implement DRIPA, with less emphasis on meetings and more on how the legislation needs to be practically implemented. Still others lament the fact that despite the groundbreaking DRIPA legislation, First Nations land and water defenders continue to be railroaded and criminalised when attempting to prevent extractive projects from proceeding on their ancestral territories without free, prior and informed consent. The province also recently put forward a suite of legislative amendments to its Forest and Range Practices Act, none of which bring the law into alignment with UNDRIP.

It’s mind boggling that things are so much the same as they always have been, when, on the face of it, the law requires such a radical change.

Merle Alexander, lawyer at Miller Titerle Law and a hereditary chief of Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation

Finland

Finland officially acknowledged the Indigenous Sámi people in its constitution in 1995 and established the Sámi Parliament as their legal representative body in 1996. While Finland voted to adopt UNDRIP in 2007 and reaffirmed its commitment in 2014, it has not yet incorporated the Declaration into legislation. Instead, UNDRIP has been informally integrated into Finnish legislation and policies, with the Sámi Parliament playing a key role in interpreting existing laws through the lens of the Declaration.

Additionally, all Finnish government agencies have been provided advice (in collaboration with the Sámi Parliament) on guidelines for consulting and negotiating with the Sámi people within the spirit of UNDRIP.

While the Sámi Parliament has proposed to the Finnish Government its collaboration in co-developing a National Action Plan to fully implement UNDRIP, this has not occurred to date.

Key lessons

We can see from the above case studies that the implementation of UNDRIP will and should differ according to the unique needs and priorities of First Nations and other Indigenous communities as well as the unique political circumstances in each country. One important takeaway from the Joint Standing Committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs’ review of international applications of UNDRIP is that where progress was being made on implementing UNDRIP, it coincided with other activities, such as truth-telling processes, building on recognition (constitutional and otherwise), contemporary treaty making, and flowing from the advocacy of representative First Nations or Indigenous bodies.

As we look to integrate these lessons from other jurisdictions into the particular application and implementation of UNDRIP here in Australia, this is a reminder that the most effective avenue for increased justice, rights and respect for First Nations Peoples will come not through one isolated effort or piece of legislation, but through a cumulative, relational and multi-faceted process. UNDRIP alone is not a silver bullet, but together with the Uluru Statement’s calls for voice, treaty and truth – and widespread public pressure and support – it holds promise for structural reform based on respecting and enabling the right of First Nations Peoples to self-determination above all.

Resources
Factsheet
Free, Prior & Informed Consent Read
Submission
Civics education, engagement & participation Read
Factsheet
Land Back Read
Media Release
Allies Statement of Commitment Read
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UNDRIP
UNDRIP What is UNDRIP? Read More
UNDRIP UNDRIP in Australia Read More
UNDRIP Free, Prior and Informed Consent Read More