United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

Thursday October 12, 2017 Hillmare Schulze

10 years on - did it make a difference?


What is UNDRIP


The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. This is an aspirational document which sets out a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. It addresses both individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. It declares discrimination against indigenous peoples unlawful, and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It also affirms their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The Declaration clearly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between states and indigenous peoples.


UNDRIP is a Declaration, as opposed to a Convention, and therefore it is not legally binding under international law. However, declarations are part of the development of international legal norms and by voting in favour of the Declaration states have indicated a commitment to uphold the rights contained in it. Furthermore, the Declaration provides a guide for the proper implementation and fulfilment of other human rights instruments affecting indigenous people such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. New Zealand did not endorse the Declaration until 2010.


10 Years, what now?


When New Zealand endorsed the Declaration the government made it clear that they considered the document aspirational rather than legally binding and it would only be implemented within the current legal and constitutional frameworks of New Zealand. New Zealand has taken steps which go towards fulfilling the rights in the Declaration such as repealing the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and instituting a constitutional review which included discussions about the role of the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori representation in Parliament and local government, and the Bill of Rights Act. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples has commented that New Zealand’s Treaty settlements process, although having several shortcomings, is one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples (


Of course there is always room for improvements in the future. Massey University-based Global Centre for Indigenous Leadership and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission hosted a two day conference at Te Papa in September bringing together historical and current thinking and perspectives on the Declaration. It was evident from the conference that there is still lots of work that needs to be done, and that Declarations such as UNDRIP can make a difference in the wealth and wellbeing of indigenous people.