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UN Week – 12/20/10

January 14, 2011

By John and Douglas Carey, editors, 

Contents of this issue: more from US Ambassador Susan Rice;

US-Indonesia interreligious dialogue; indigenous people’s rights.


More from US Ambassador Susan Rice.

          Last week we provided some of the background and qualifications of our main US Ambassador at the UN, Susan Rice. Now we want to tell you about a meeting she co-hosted at the White House on December 13th. Guests were representatives of the fifteen current members of the Security Council, and of the five countries that will begin two-year terms in January.

President Obama began by congratulating the new members, and underscoring the importance of the United Nations and the Security Council to the United States. In particular, the President stressed the importance of the Security Council remaining united in urging all parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Sudan to abide by their commitments, particularly in light of the upcoming referendum scheduled for January.

The President also underscored the importance of continued Security Council support for non-proliferation, building on the strong work that has been done to hold North Korea and Iran accountable for their failure to live up to their obligations. The President noted the broader role that the Security Council has in supporting peace, security and development around the world.

          Mr. Obama then led a discussion that covered a wide range of issues facing the council, including nuclear non-proliferation, the Middle East, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, North Korea and our shared efforts to combat terrorism. The foreign diplomats present were from Austria, Bosnia, Brazil, China, Colombia, France, Gabon, Germany, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Uganda and the UK.

US-Indonesia interreligious dialogue.

          Back on November 30th, Ambassador Rice had held an interreligious dialogue with Indonesian Ambassador Kleib and Dr. William Findley of Religions for Peace. She referred to “the inspiring first U.S.-Indonesia interfaith dialogue, which took place last January in Jakarta. That was a very important step: a bilateral, interfaith working group specifically guided by a deeply American principle that is also a deeply Indonesian principle. We believe, as President Obama put it in his historic speech in Cairo last year, that faith can be a force for partnership and healing, rather than a pretext for division.

          “The US Ambassador noted that: “The United States and Indonesia are the world’s second and third most populous democracies, and we are two of the most diverse nations on Earth. We are home to Christians and Buddhists, to Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and others. Our communities retain their individual beliefs, but they share a common commitment to the health and well-being of all communities.”

          On December 16th, Ambassador Rice made two significant speeches, one on women, peace and security, and the other announcing US support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Here is some of what she said on women:

We are gathered because we all agree on the importance of addressing an issue that cries out for the world’s conscience—and that is sexual violence in conflict. We agree that the challenge is urgent and immense. The human cost is all too real. Armed conflicts continue to have a devastating impact, particularly on women and girls. Rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence are all too often used deliberately and cynically as a weapon of war. And the fight to end sexual violence has yet to be universally recognized as central to securing international peace and security.
          “Some still think that sexual violence is somehow a natural accompaniment of conflict. It is not. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, “The myth that rape is an inevitable byproduct of war is persistent and dangerously self-fulfilling.” I hope that this session, in some small way, will help put an end to that myth—and channel our shared commitment to confront and combat sexual violence and take concrete actions that improve the fate of women and girls.
          “The United States commends the United Nations, especially UN Action, for its leadership in finding effective ways to address this problem. We have been encouraged by the UN’s response and follow-up to the appalling August attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the additional steps it’s taken to build mission-wide strategies to better protect civilians.

“The UN has increased random patrols, recruited more female peacekeepers, and improved communications. It’s also employing scenario-based training for peacekeepers to help combat sexual violence. But obviously, more must still be done. We hope the UN will continue to identify women’s protection advisers and put them in more peacekeeping operations and complete a gaps analysis of UN protection strategies. * * *
          “We must also shine the international spotlight on the perpetrators and use this mechanism to inform targeted actions by this Council and by member states. With improved information, the UN will be able to assist states to respond more robustly to these crimes. As in the DRC after the Walikale rapes, we expect our actions will spur commanding officers to turn those who commit sexual violence over to the authorities to be brought to justice.”

Indigenous people’s rights.

Finally, here is Rice’s announcement on indigenous people’s rights:

“Today, I join President Obama in underscoring the United States’ support for the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is a milestone in the international community’s efforts to identify and address the needs of indigenous peoples around the world, to protect their ways of life and to help their communities to flourish.
          “After a thorough review, the United States is pleased to join more than 140 countries in support of this Declaration. As the President himself recently said, we believe that, “Together, we can advance the arc of human progress toward a more perfect Union and a more perfect world — one in which each human being lives with dignity, security, and equality.”

The official announcement of US support included this: “In September 2007, at the United Nations, 143 countries voted in favor of the Declaration. The United States did not. Today, in response to the many calls from Native Americans throughout this country and in order to further U.S. policy on indigenous issues, President Obama announced that the United States has changed its position. The United States supports the Declaration, which – while not legally binding or a statement of current international law – has both moral and political force.”

The reasons why the US did not for over three years support the Declaration may be guessed. Foremost is the possibility that a declaration may over time become legally binding. The prime example of this is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in 1948 but by now generally thought to have acquired the status of customary international law. It should be fine with us for the new declaration to gradually gain that status through general acceptance, if the text raised no problems. But it would if binding.

Article 19 provides that: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representa-tive institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” This seems to give a veto power to such peoples.

Article 26 (1) says that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” This could mean the ousting of good faith purchasers of land previously occupied by such peoples.

Article 32 (2) requires good faith consultation with such peoples “in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources . . . .” This may simply be imprecise drafting, but it could be taken to mean nothing affecting such peoples’ lands could be done without such peoples’ consent.

Small wonder that earlier, conservative US leaders withheld American approval of the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.

That’s all for this December 20th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime do send along your own views on these or other UN-related issues to our blog at

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