Iceland's support of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was an 'impediment' to US/Iceland relations at the United Nations
The United States scrutinized Iceland's support of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, according to new cables released by Wikileaks. The US cables reveal the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of the United States, the last country in the world to support the Declaration.
US Ambassador Ambassador Carol van Voorst said Iceland's support of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was an "impediment" to full cooperation between the US and Iceland at the United Nations.
Van Voorst said Iceland is the only country in the Nordic that does not have Indigenous Peoples. Iceland officials, however, said they would join other Nordic countries in support of the Declaration, Van Voorst wrote to the US State Dept.
"The Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents the main impediment to full Icelandic cooperation with the U.S. in Geneva," Van Voorst said. Van Voorst found support in Iceland to bolster the US position that the the text of the Declaration "was seriously flawed," in 2006.
Van Voorst, who served as US Ambassador to Iceland from 2006--2009, describes meetings with Iceland Embassy officials in 2006, stating that Icelandic officials indicated agreement on most key issues for the June 19-30, 2006, first session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
"The Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples may prove to be a sticking point, as Nordic solidarity dictates that Iceland should not openly oppose what has been a Norwegian priority," Van Voorst said in the cable on June 16, 2006.
Although Icelandic officials "expressed sympathy with US views," they also "outlined the potential problems," with the Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The meeting included Iceland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Political Department Human Rights Officer Ingibjorg Davidsdottir and Permanent Secretary Gunnar Snorri Gunnarsson.
Gunnarsson "emphasized establishing effective HRC processes and maintaining a lean agenda, and outlined the potential problems with the Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples."
Iceland, according to the Van Voorst, wanted to avoid country-specific trouble at the UN Human Rights Council, like that of Arab countries and Israel. "Iceland MFA officials agree that the first session of the HRC must avoid the rancor of the organization's predecessor body by eschewing country-specific resolutions such as those that the Organization of the Islamic Conference may intend to raise against Israel."
Van Voorst called Iceland's support of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples an "impediment."
"The Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents the main impediment to full Icelandic cooperation with the U.S. in Geneva. While Davidsdottir personally shares our concern that the Declaration's text is seriously flawed, she and Gunnarsson asserted that Iceland's equities lie with following the Scandinavian lead in supporting the document. Iceland is the only Nordic country without an indigenous population," Van Voorst wrote.
Van Voorst also said new Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir is a "neophyte," and will follow others lead. "As Sverrisdottir, who comes from six years at Iceland's Ministry of Industry and Commerce, is a foreign affairs neophyte, we expect her to accept the MFA career officials' advice on what positions Iceland should take at the HRC.
"Unfortunately, that is likely to include going along with the other Nordics in their outreach to indigenous peoples."
In a second cable four months later, the US points out the "US-Australian-New Zealand position" in regards to the Declaration.
Ultimately, these three countries, and Canada, were the only countries in the world who voting against the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Declaration. The UN adopted the Declaration on Sept. 13, 2007. Since then, all four countries have issued statements of support, with the US and Canada issuing limitations on their support.
Before the UN vote, in a second cable from Iceland dated October 31, 2006, US Ambassador Van Voorst, again expressed concern over Iceland's support. This time, the concern was over procedural irregularities of the draft Declaration.
"Allowing that Iceland's lack of indigenous people left the GOI with few equities on the matter, Davidsdottir (protect) said that as a matter of human rights law she personally shared many of the USG's concerns regarding the draft declaration. She added that the procedural irregularities in the draft's progress through the UN system left her uneasy. However, the GOI was firm in its desire to stand with the other Nordic states, and would vote for the declaration's adoption when the matter came to the floor," Van Voorst said in the Oct. 31, 2006 cable.