OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada said on Monday it wanted the United Nations to delay a vote on a key draft treaty enshrining the rights of indigenous peoples, a document which has already taken 20 years to put together.
Political opponents accused Canada’s Conservative government of trying to sabotage the treaty, which is supposed to be adopted soon by the U.N’s new Human Rights Council in Geneva.
But Ottawa, which said the treaty could wreck talks on granting its native Indians control of land and resources, said it wanted two more years of discussions.
“We think the text that has been put forward at this point is not one that satisfactorily addresses a number of issues in Canada,” said federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice.
Separately, officials said Canada would vote against the document unless major changes were made. The draft treaty is opposed by the United States, Australia and New Zealand, which like Canada have significant aboriginal populations.
Canada has about 1.3 million native Indians, or about 4.4 percent of the overall population. Many live in poverty and suffer from ill health and high levels of unemployment.
Some aboriginal activists complain about what they say is centuries of ill-treatment and racism at the hands of the majority population and want more control over the resources on their lands, some of which are home to rich mineral deposits.
The government has opened land claims talks with some aboriginal bands on handing over rights to exploit resources but the negotiations generally proceed very slowly.
Angus Toulouse of the Assembly of First Nations, which groups many of Canada’s aboriginal groups, said the treaty would boost the “economic, political and resource rights of Canada’s first nations.”
But Prentice — without giving details — said the draft document was inconsistent with both Canada’s charter of human rights and its constitution.
“Frankly, it’s entirely inconsistent with all of the land claims policies that the government of Canada has been using for the past generation. So clearly it requires more work,” he told reporters.
A coalition of opposition parties, human rights activists and native groups accused Ottawa of trying to sabotage the treaty and said Canadian diplomats in Geneva were trying to have the document pulled off the council’s agenda.
“Canadian leadership on this issue is rapidly disappearing … governments have had more than 20 years already. We do not need more delays and dithering from the Canadian government,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International’s Canadian wing.
The Conservatives — who won power in late January — are already under pressure for killing off a C$5 billion ($4.5 billion) deal struck last November between the previous Liberal government and aboriginal leaders. The deal would have pumped more money into health, education and social services.
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