Jul 11, 2011

Aboriginals of Australia: Self-Government Advocated at Reconciliation Forum

Following former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology, experts conclude that action must be taken to include Indigenous Australians in the nation’s constitution and remove sanctioned racial discrimination from the document.

Below is an article published by the Manila Bulletin:

At the forum convened by the Australian Embassy and the Ateneo Law School to celebrate Australia’s National Aboriginal and Islander Day, we listened to the Australian experience given by Megan Davis, and that of the Philippines, by Evelyn Dunuan.

The topic, “The Road to Reconciliation and Recognition of Indigenous People,” examined the historical precedents and the necessary legal and social advocacy that must be undertaken to attain the goal.

Davis who is director of the Indigenous Law Centre and professor of law at the University of New South Wales is a member of an expert panel that will lead the public debate and consultation on possible options for constitutional change. Davis and Dunuan who are both lawyers and belong to indigenous communities are credible and qualified participant observers.

The on-going consultation that Davis describes includes a referendum to recognize Indigenous Australians in the constitution, and the drafting of options for amendments. The latter would make it unlawful to discriminate against any people on account of race, ensure equality, and non-discrimination. At present, the Australian constitution is silent on the history, status, and rights of Aboriginal and Islander peoples, and contains a number of racially discriminatory practices.

The forum brought to mind the dramatic “apology” of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he appeared before the parliament in 2008. I re-lived that moment by watching the clip on You Tube. A remorseful head of state said, “I am sorry” (but in a most sincere way, unlike the lady who called up “Garci”) as he cried out for an apology from the “stolen generations.”

This apology is for the hurt they have suffered, for being regarded as intellectual curiosities, not as human beings damaged by the decisions of government, he noted. “Reconciliation and healing must be accompanied by confronting the truth (injustices were calculated policies of the State).

Human decency requires action in righting the historical wrongs...the forced separation of fifty thousand children from their families, and similar acts of brutality.”


Australian Ambassador Rod Smith described the Australian assistance in critical development areas – partnership with the government in increasing access to quality education especially in Mindanao, Muslim education, peace-building in conflict-affected areas, and community-based projects on agricultural productivity, access to market resources and water sanitation, livelihood projects, among others.

Co-convenor, Ateneo Human Rights Center has its indigenous peoples’ rights desk or Katutubo. The unit serves as the implementing arm of the Free the Indigenous Peoples Legal Assistance Program of the Assisi Development Foundation (which was founded by Ambassador Howard Dee), a component of the Human Security Framework for IP empowerment.

Headed by Atty. Sedfrey Candelaria, the IP desk addresses the problem of hundreds of IPs suffering in detention nationwide by making legal assistance available especially in relation to assertion of their right to self-determination, ancestral domain, and non-discrimination.

Based on the provision in the 1987 Constitution that recognizes the rights of indigenous cultural communities, Congress in 1997 enacted the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act or IPRA, which recognizes rights to their lands, self-governance, social justice, human rights, and basic services.

Basic principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were incorporated in the IPRA law. We have a good law, but implementation requires considerable political and people will.

Atty. Dunuan, former commissioner for the Indigenous Peoples Sector and also convenor of the National Unification Commission states that it is not enough for the people to think that their citizenship duty ends with the act of voting.

They must learn to exercise their right to run their own government.


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