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Self-Determination Conference Held In Saskatoon

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1993      v22 n04 p15  
The concept of self-determination in the context of a rapidly changing post cold war world was the subject of a conference held recently in Saskatoon. The conference, which was attended by leading world experts in the field, attempted to breathe new life into the debate over the pros and cons of the concept of self-determination. One of its aims was to produce a message to send to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1993 World Conference on Human Rights to be held in Vienna, Austria on June 14-25.

The conference discussed self-determination in light of specific examples in Africa, Yugoslavia, and the former Soviet Union, as well as nation-state concerns over international peace and security. The conference also looked at Canada's own "internal" self-determination debates.

On Saturday morning the conference examined the problem of Quebec separation and Aboriginal self-determination. Daniel Turp, an associate professor at the University of Montreal, outlined his ideas of how Canadian, Quebec, and Aboriginal self-determination agendas should be "linked." He said, "...we should start on a new basis of the idea that these peoples, these three constituencies in Canada, of the Canadian people, the Quebec people, and the Aboriginal peoples... should work together, realize maybe that the basis on which they should be working to restructure [Canada is by] recognizing their sovereignty, their own respective sovereignties." He later suggested the European Economic Community could be a model for the new Canada.

Mary Ellen Turpel of the Dalhousie Law School in New Brunswick examined the separatist agenda in Quebec to assess whether Quebec separation deserves the support of the international community. She believes, "I found very serious problems from an international legal perspective." In particular, the separatist movement in Quebec commonly denies the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, with few exceptions.

Additionally, she believes that Quebec will not be able to take its current boundaries with it because it would conflict with current aboriginal rights to self-determination in that province.

Later that day the conference worked on a declaration to be sent to the Vienna conference which included important references to the rights of indigenous people. It asserts that "there can be no doubt that [indigenous peoples] are 'peoples' within the meaning of international law" and that they must have "direct access" and "effective participation" in international fora.

The conference recommended the implementation of a "new UN Commission on Self-Determination," a new UN office to monitor observance of current UN human rights instruments, an independent non-governmental commission on self-determination, and that the UN Secretary-General should monitor self-determination violations which threaten international peace and security.