Indigenous Forum Holds Dialogue with World Intellectual Property Organization; Speakers Call for Reform, Greater Inclusion of Indigenous in Decision-making

10 May 2012
HR/5090

Indigenous Forum Holds Dialogue with World Intellectual Property Organization; Speakers Call for Reform, Greater Inclusion of Indigenous in Decision-making

10 May 2012
Economic and Social Council
HR/5090
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Eleventh Session

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Indigenous Forum Holds Dialogue with World Intellectual Property Organization;

Speakers Call for Reform, Greater Inclusion of Indigenous in Decision-making

 

Top Official Says Legal Instrument on Traditional Knowledge Close to Completion;

Many Delegates Say Organization Monopolistic, Contemporary Manifestation of Piracy

An intense debate unfolded today in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as participants in a lively dialogue with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) pressed the Geneva-based body to reform in ways that afforded greater recognition of indigenous peoples in its decision-making processes and respect for their right to safeguard, preserve or promote traditional resources as they saw fit.

Those calls followed a presentation by Wend Wendland, Director of the organization’s Traditional Knowledge Division, who opened the dialogue with representatives of indigenous groups and Governments, saying that WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore was in the process of elaborating an international legal instrument regarding traditional knowledge, genetic resources and traditional cultural expressions.  Significant progress had been made over the past two years.  The “fierce contest of ideas” would come to an end in the coming year, when WIPO’s 185-member States would make a final decision.

He said that in the realm of WIPO’s work, protection meant that traditional knowledge would be protected by a system of mechanisms based on the measures, principles and values that afforded protection for intangibles.  “This does not mean force a square peg — traditional knowledge — into a round hole — the conventional system,” he added.

Innovations based on traditional knowledge were generally patentable, he said, but the underlying traditional knowledge was generally unprotected.  The basic question before the Intergovernmental Committee was whether that traditional knowledge base — which generally “belonged” to indigenous peoples — should be protected in the intellectual property sense.  WIPO was extremely conscious of the sensitivities, and its member States had explicitly instructed it to work with United Nations human rights bodies to seek opinions from the Permanent Forum.

Jennifer Tauli-Corpuz, WIPO’s Indigenous Property Law Fellow for 2012, said the Permanent Forum had made recommendations on process.  An accreditation system had been set up and money was available to facilitate the participation of those wishing to attend the sessions through the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous people and local communities.  “It’s a very open process,” she said.  “Anytime an indigenous person wants to take the floor, he or she can do so.”  Participating indigenous groups also could present amendments and proposals.

In the debate that followed, indigenous delegates sporting “World Intellectual Piracy Organization” t-shirts launched impassioned pleas to dismantle the Intergovernmental Committee, which many said only barely masked States’ desires to appropriate indigenous resources.  The fact that indigenous peoples’ proposals only found their way into negotiated texts with Government permission stood in marked contrast to professions of equality in the organization.

“WIPO is a contemporary, monopolistic manifestation of piracy that magnifies the Doctrine of Discovery and Domination,” said a representative of the Global Youth Caucus, urging the General Assembly to revoke the mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee.  “We will not allow WIPO to impose stewardship on us as it pretends to protect our traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.”  Western modes of development only followed one paradigm, sidelining indigenous alternative models in the international arena.

Measures that excluded indigenous people from WIPO discussions denied their rights outlined in international legal norms, several speakers argued.  Practices that could lead to “cultural genocide” — an element of the legal definition of genocide — must be prevented.  Other speakers blamed countries for trying to commercialize “everything we think is sacred”.  There was concern that a disproportionate emphasis was being placed on economic values and that conservation of cultural and spiritual values was being set aside.

At a minimum, many speakers said, WIPO must amend its rules of procedure to ensure indigenous peoples’ full and equal participation in all processes that affected their well-being.  Without such a move, it was completely unrealistic for indigenous peoples to engage in any meaningful way in discussions.  “It’s not just about coming to Geneva,” said Kanyinke Sena, Permanent Forum Member from Kenya.  Effective participation should mean that indigenous peoples could make submissions without Government permission.

Also today, the Permanent Forum continued its consideration of its special theme for the current session — the lasting impact of the Doctrine of Discovery — with a lively discussion on combating violence against women.  Speakers emphasized that the humiliation, sexual abuse and marginalization indigenous women faced were rooted in the policies and precepts fostered by colonialism.  Indeed, they said, the subjugation of women, indigenous women in particular, were clearly evident in State structures and business practices.

While several Government representatives detailed their countries’ efforts to promote and protect the rights of women and girls, most of the civil society speakers said that such actions were insufficient to address the breadth of challenges indigenous women faced, especially to combat trafficking, domestic violence and workplace discrimination.  Lamenting the engrained sexism that denigrated indigenous women and perpetuated negative stereotypes, one speaker demanded an end to the “indigenous equals backwards” attitudes and called on the Permanent Forum to step up its efforts to raise awareness about the important contributions indigenous women made to society as a whole.  Several speakers also expressed the hope that the newly created United Nations gender entity — known as UN-Women — would devote special attention to combating violence against indigenous women.

Other Permanent Forum experts participating in the dialogue with the representations of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) were:  Valmaine Toki, from New Zealand; Simon M’vidouboulou, from Congo; and Saul Vincente Vazquez, from Mexico.

Groups and Caucuses participating included:  The Arctic Caucus; North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus; Tribal Link/Project Access Training Programme; Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA); Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus; African Caucus of Indigenous Peoples; Assembly of First Nations/Council of The Crees/Chiefs of Ontario/Canadian Friends Service Committee; International Indian Treaty Council; Tebtebba Foundation, Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education; Indigenous Women of the Americas; and the Maori Caucus.

The representative of Mexico also spoke on that issue.

A representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) presented the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples Issues, and a representative from the New York office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provided a brief overview of that agency’s contribution. 

The representative of Denmark participated in that discussion.

A representative of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB) also spoke.

Permanent Forum member Megan Davis, from Australia, briefly introduced the expert group meeting report on combating violence against indigenous women and girls and application of Article 22 of the Indigenous Rights Declaration (document E/C.19/2012/6), and Mirna Cunningham Kain presented the study on the extent of violence against indigenous women and girls.  Victoria Tauli-Corpuz also presented an Inter-Agency study on the topic.

Civil society statements were made on behalf of the following:  Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus; Asian Indigenous Peoples Caucus, North American Caucus; International Indigenous Women’s Forum; Africa Indigenous Peoples Coordinating Committee (IPACC); Inclusion International; Native Women’s Association of Canada/Assembly of First Nations/National Association of Friendship Centres/Grand Council of the Crees/Amnesty International; and the Continental Network for Indigenous Women.   

Participating as observes were the representatives of Mexico, Kenya, Finland and Nicaragua. 

Representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also spoke.

Permanent Forum member Eva Biaudet, from Finland also made a statement.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10:00 tomorrow for a special half-day discussion on Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia.

Background

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to begin its comprehensive dialogue with United Nations agencies and funds.  For that dialogue, participants had before them a note (document E/C.19/2012/5), submitted by the secretariat of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which summarizes action undertaken or planned by WIPO regarding indigenous peoples’ issues.  It touches on matters related to the status and renewed mandate of the norm-setting work; participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the work of the Intergovernmental Committee; and capacity-building and awareness-raising initiatives on national, regional and international levels.

Participants also had before them a note (document E/C.19/2012/9), summarizing five reports on the progress and implementation of the recommendations of the Permanent Forum, submitted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The Permanent Forum was also set to continue its open debate on the special theme for the year:  “The Doctrine of Discovery:  its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”.  For more information, see Press Release HR/5086.

Opening Remarks and Dialogue with World Intellectual Property Organization

VALMAINE TOKI, Permanent Forum member from New Zealand, said many areas in the work carried out by WIPO had a focus for indigenous peoples.  The establishment of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore was one such area.  Among other initiatives that enabled indigenous peoples to participate in WIPO’s work were the Voluntary Fund, which facilitated their attendance at meetings, the Indigenous Intellectual Property Law Fellowship Programme, and capacity-building-workshops.

Following those remarks, WEND WENDLAND, Director, Traditional Knowledge Division of the World Intellectual Property Organization, said the Geneva-based organization had been present at the very first meeting of the Permanent Forum some 11 years ago.  Since that time, there had been many changes regarding intellectual property rights, and WIPO looked forward to deepening cooperation with the Forum during the coming year.

He said that WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore was in the process of elaborating an international legal instrument regarding traditional knowledge, genetic resources and traditional cultural expressions.  Significant progress had been made over the past two years, but much remained to be done.  The Intergovernmental Committee was involved in a “fierce contest of ideas”, he continued, and at some point in the coming year, WIPO’s 185 member States would make a final decision.  All people who were concerned about the misuse of indigenous genetic resources and traditional knowledge were urged to take active role in the process, he said, specifically urging indigenous peoples to “seize this opportunity.”

Providing some background on WIPO and where its work intersected with indigenous communities, he said that intellectual property concerned the “fruits of the human mind” — inventions, music, narratives, designs, performances and symbols.  Intellectual property rights sought to give the inventors and creators some say over how and if the fruits of their labour were used by others, for a limited period and subject to exceptions and limitations.  Such rights were not absolute and were balanced against the benefits of the creators and the public good. 

Mr. Wendland said his Division dealt with the areas to be covered in the instrument being discussed, traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions — “in daily life, inseparable from traditional cultures” — and genetic resources, as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity.  Indigenous peoples and many others were calling for greater recognition, safeguarding, preservation and promotion of traditional knowledge and cultural expressions.  But, protection could mean different things, he continued, explaining that in the realm of WIPO’s work, it meant that traditional knowledge would be provided protection by a special system of mechanisms based on the kinds of measures, principles and values that comprised the system established for the protection of intangibles.  “This does not mean force a square peg — traditional knowledge — into a round hole — the conventional system,” he added.

Innovations that were based on traditional knowledge were generally patentable, but underlying traditional knowledge was generally unprotected, he continued, emphasizing that the basic question before the Intergovernmental Committee was whether underlying traditional knowledge — which generally “belonged” to indigenous peoples — should be “protected” in the intellectual property sense.  WIPO was extremely conscious of the sensitivities, and its member States had explicitly instructed the organization’s secretariat to work with other United Nations human rights bodies and to actively seek opinions from the Permanent Forum.

Turning to the work of WIPO’s Traditional Knowledge Division, he said that it promoted norm-setting regarding intellectual property and genetic resources, and provided technical assistance and capacity-building to States, indigenous communities, research institutions and museums, among others.  Returning to the work of the Intergovernmental Committee, he said that that panel’s text-based negotiations were under way with the WIPO General Assembly planning to take stock of its progress in October.  At that time, a decision would be made on whether to convene a “diplomatic conference”, where the instrument would be adopted. 

In any case, he said, this was the first developing country-led international norm-setting process.  “This is an historic opportunity,” he said, explaining that, if there were to be a positive outcome, it would be the first shift in intellectual property law “in many, many decades”.  He said there were draft texts on the three issues on the organization’s Website.  Those documents contained, among other issues of importance to the Permanent Forum, how the instrument would deal with free, prior and informed consent; collective rights for the benefit of indigenous peoples; customary laws; and disclosure of origin in patent applications.  

Speaking next on indigenous participation in the Intergovernmental Committee, JENNIFER TAULI CORPUZ, WIPO’s Indigenous Property Law Fellow for 2012, said that five intergovernmental sessions had been held thus far and the Permanent Forum had made recommendations on the process.  An accreditation system had been set up and money was available to facilitate the participation of those wishing to attend the sessions through the Voluntary Fund for indigenous people and local communities.  “It’s a very open process; anytime an indigenous person wants to take the floor, he or she can do so,” she said, adding that participating indigenous groups could also present amendments and other proposals.

In addition, before each session, the Intergovernmental Committee Chair briefed the indigenous peoples’ caucus.  The discussions were also webcast and could be followed on WIPO’s website.  The process wasn’t without problems, however, as there was not yet parity between the participation of indigenous peoples and WIPO member States.  Yet, the organization was examining ways to address that issue through changing indigenous peoples’ status from the current “observer” category.

Next, three Permanent Forum members posed questions to the WIPO representatives.

KANYINKE SENA, Permanent Forum member from Kenya, said the panellists’ assertion that WIPO was not well known was a clear sign that the activities outlined, especially on capacity-building and awareness-raising at national levels, were not working.  It would be interesting to know how WIPO was up-scaling its awareness activities, and the budget allocated to that exercise.  African indigenous communities had a wealth of knowledge and should participate fully in WIPO processes.  The organization should increase its efforts to bring them into the WIPO Assembly, and carry out studies related to the African continent

At the same time, “it’s not just about coming to Geneva”, he said. Effective participation should mean that indigenous peoples were allowed to make submissions without Government permission.  It was of the utmost importance that the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore agree on the nature of disclosure, the trigger for disclosure and the consequences of non-compliance.  Further, indigenous peoples should be co-chairs on the Intergovernmental Committee.  He asked about WIPO’s cooperation with other agencies.

Responding, Mr. WENDLAND said outreach activities had not been robust enough.  WIPO conducted briefings at the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  WIPO also published various publications and was translating them “as much as possible”.  Its e-newsletter had 5,000 subscribers — and should have three times that number.  WIPO also webcast its Intergovernmental Committee sessions, and at the same time, remained conscious that not all indigenous peoples had access to electronic media.

On the issue of disclosure, he said the proposal that patents disclose the origin of biological resources was widely supported by Member States.  In terms of co-chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Committee, he said there had always been one chair of all WIPO bodies, including for those dealing with copyrights and designs.  The Traditional Knowledge body had only one chair, who always had been an ambassador from Geneva, selected for his or her diplomatic experience and expertise.  Indigenous peoples were involved in the Intergovernmental Committee subsidiary bodies.  They could form part of the Friends of the Chair, and could co-chair the drafting or working groups.

Also, inter-agency cooperation was “extremely important”, he said.  States had instructed WIPO to be in touch with UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

SIMON M’VIDOUBOULOU, Permanent Forum member from Congo, pressed WIPO participants on the negotiation of a legal instrument related to the intellectual property of indigenous peoples, to be put to the General Assembly for approval.  He asked about indigenous people’s participation in preparing that instrument.  WIPO was in Geneva, and not represented in the world’s regions.  In the case of Africa, indigenous peoples had much traditional knowledge, but the legal framework had not been sufficiently established.  What was WIPO’s strategy to encourage indigenous peoples to make their traditional knowledge known?

Responding, Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ said indigenous peoples had participated in the Intergovernmental Committee since its first session.  The Voluntary Fund was another avenue for them to participate.  There was a mechanism for preparatory meetings that allowed indigenous peoples to meet before each session to prepare their statements.  Voluntary Fund support depended on how much had been donated, but typically, WIPO was able to support one indigenous person from each region.

Expert panels were the main avenues for making traditional knowledge known, she said.  They convened on the first morning of the Intergovernmental Committee meeting.  One representative from each region was invited to share insights on traditional knowledge in order to guide Intergovernmental Committee discussions.

SAUL VINCENTE VAZQUEZ, Permanent Forum member from Mexico, reminded panellists of a study on indigenous intellectual property which stated that protections — like intellectual property rights or patents — were insufficient and intrinsically not appropriate, as they provided limited protection and aimed to promote use through sale or licenses.  Subjecting indigenous peoples to such concepts would “divide everything up until nothing is left”.

Last month, in Mexico, reform of a federal law on vegetal varieties was to be approved, he explained.  Indigenous organizations had opposed that change, as it would have been made in the framework of intellectual property, and lead to the privatization of seeds and traditional knowledge.  Fortunately, the Agriculture Ministry was sensitive to those claims and the reform did not go forward.  It also had taken account of a study by Erica-Irene Daes.  He asked the WIPO panellist about ways to guarantee the protection of all parts of indigenous peoples’ intellectual property.

Further, he wondered why there was no direct relationship between a legal framework that was consistent with human rights standards, and indigenous peoples’ rights.  Prior consent referred simply to “beneficiaries” who were not clearly defined as indigenous peoples.  In their role as observers, how were indigenous peoples’ contributions considered in the WIPO genetic resources committee?  Indigenous peoples could make statements, but those statements were not allowed to appear in a negotiating text without the support of at least on Government. Indigenous peoples were not allowed to participate on equal footing with Member States. He invited WIPO to revise those procedures.

Responding, Mr. WENDLAND said the study by Erica-Irene Daeshad been a source for WIPO’s initial work.  As had been rightly identified and recognized among States, the existing intellectual property rights system was not well-suited to protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.  The Intergovernmental Committee’s work was not about forcing or assimilating traditional knowledge into the existing intellectual property system.  It was about recognizing traditional knowledge as a form of intellectual property, and building a system of protection that drew on the kinds of values and measures found in the intellectual property rights system, but adapted to the particular features of traditional knowledge and needs of indigenous peoples, who were their holders.

Property rights were “probably not” the right model for traditional knowledge.  “We’re very concerned to avoid the danger that exactly has been identified with the privatization of traditional cultures, if that is not what is wanted,” he said.  He could not comment on Mexico’s law.

In terms of beneficiaries, he said indigenous peoples and local communities were mentioned as groups of beneficiaries, about which there was almost no doubt.  But, there was controversy over whether there should be other beneficiaries.  “Member States have put forward other beneficiaries such as families, individuals and nations.  That discussion is not yet over,” he said.

As for an insufficient alignment between the legal framework and indigenous peoples’ rights, he said there should be greater involvement of human rights experts in the Intergovernmental Committee’s work.  WIPO would welcome more information on what that alignment would look like.  The beneficiaries question would benefit from that discussion.

As for the participation question, he said the Intergovernmental Committee — for a United Nations process — was “remarkably open”.  What was missing was parity of status between indigenous peoples and member States.  WIPO had been asked to write a report on the separate status of indigenous peoples, which would be ready in early June.  At the end of the day, it was a question for Member States to resolve as they determined procedure.  The chair of the Intergovernmental Committee did not have that power.  The Secretariat was “at the very bottom of the pile”.

GABRIELA GARDUZA ESTRADA (Mexico) said her Government was following the work of the Intergovernmental Committee with great interest.  The outcome of those discussions, especially if an international legal instrument were to be adopted, would be very important for indigenous peoples all over the world.  At the same time, there was a need to not only boost the number of indigenous peoples and groups in that process, but also to ensure that they participated actively in the work.  She called for States to contribute to the voluntary fund set up to facilitate such participation.  She also urged the Permanent Forum to appoint a representative that would be tasked with monitoring and following up the work of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee, and reporting regularly to the Forum.

MATTIAS AHREN, Arctic Caucus, called on WIPO to adopt modalities that allowed for full and effective participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Committee process, as well as in all processes dealing with matters regarding the legally binding instruments that would affect indigenous traditional knowledge and intellectual property rights.  The WIPO Committee was also encouraged to hold intersessional meetings after each of its meetings, which should be open to a limited number of delegates with adequate representation for indigenous peoples.  Further, the Caucus called on WIPO to, as long as the negotiations on instruments dealing with traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression continue, arrange an annual meeting of indigenous experts representing the seven geopolitical regions recognized by the Permanent Forum.

SKY ROOSEVELT-MORRIS Global Youth Caucus, began her statement by thanking the Permanent Forum for helping the Caucus’ members regain their credentials so they could participate in the work of the session.  Turning to the matter at hand, she said that while WIPO was a specialized agency of the United Nations, it retained an agenda that used watered-down consultation policies when dealing with indigenous nations and peoples, as opposed to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent in the framework of discussion on indigenous knowledge and genetic resources.

“WIPO is a contemporary, monopolistic manifestation of piracy that magnifies the Doctrine of Discovery and Domination,” she said, urging the General Assembly to revoke the mandate of WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee.  “We will not allow WIPO to impose stewardship on us as it pretends to protect our traditional knowledge and cultural heritage; with that Committee in place, we reject the legitimacy of WIPO altogether,” she declared.  More broadly, the legacy of colonial domination promulgated the piracy of genetic resources and traditional indigenous knowledge.  Indeed, Western modes of development only followed one paradigm, while indigenous alternative models were sidelined in the international arena.  As such, the Permanent Forum and the wider United Nations system were requested to respect the role of indigenous and first nations peoples as equal to that of other Member States.  If not, indigenous peoples would remain subjugated by the lingering effects of the Doctrine of Discovery.

She said that WIPO continually promoted access to indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage and knowledge, consequently threatening their existence due to exploitation, theft, and misrepresentation in the name of so-called “development”.  The current structure and leadership of WIPO consistently downgraded the status of indigenous peoples by labelling them “beneficiaries” or “observers” in the diplomatic process.  WIPO could not continue to “conquer” indigenous Nations and peoples through a mandate that sought to create broad decisions on traditional knowledge, cultural heritage and genetic resources that would affect future generations.  WIPO must cease its “conqueror-based” destruction of the environment and its biodiversity, she declared.

TESSA MCLEAN, North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus, said that the Doctrine of Discovery had set the foundation for the targeted destruction of indigenous traditional knowledge, and had also set the stage for the continuation of the view that aspects of the natural world that remained “unexplored” could be colonized.  As that was the case, indigenous peoples were locked in an ongoing battle with WIPO to end the organization’s “piracy”.  Yet, indigenous peoples were at a disadvantage, because the negotiations were fast-paced and costly.  Her caucus had expressed its “outrage” at the inability of indigenous peoples to participate effectively as equals in the Intergovernmental Committee process and had decided to withdraw from the negotiations.

With that move in mind, she urged the Permanent Forum to make clear to WIPO that it did not have the support of indigenous peoples.  The Forum should also make clear to WIPO that it could not regulate indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and that that organization must amend its rules to ensure the full and equal participation of indigenous peoples at all levels in the work of the Intergovernmental Committee.       

ATAMA KATAMA, Tribal Link/Project Access Training Programme, said that any mechanism developed at the Intergovernmental Committee must allow indigenous peoples to maintain control of their traditional knowledge in perpetuity.  Moreover, they must be recognized as “rights holders” in any discussions.  “We are concerned by negative trends regarding the lack of full, equal and effective participation in the Intergovernmental Committee process,” he continued, adding that it had been demonstrated that the most successful United Nations processes were those that guaranteed such participation of indigenous peoples.

He was also concerned that some delegations, including the European Union, had suggested that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples did not cover the WIPO intergovernmental process.  With such concerns in mind, he urged the Permanent Forum to remind all Member States and United Nations agencies of the primacy of the Declaration, particularly regarding intergovernmental discussions on issues that would affect the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

PHILLIP MILLS, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), posed a series of questions to the WIPO representative, including on whether the organization had the responsibility to protect and promote indigenous knowledge, and whether it respected the sovereignty of indigenous peoples over their territories and genetic resources.  He also recalled that some States claimed rights over traditional knowledge and wished to derive benefits from its use, and he wished to know if WIPO supported such claims.

ANTONETTE CORDERO, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, said indigenous women were the knowledge holders for future generations.  They were the producers and reproducers of culture, and responsible for the genetic resources found in their bodies and in mother earth.  WIPO was denying indigenous rights, as outlined in international legal norms and in the Declaration.  That denial threatened cultural heritage.  She called for preventing practices that could lead to “cultural genocide”, which was an element of the legal definition of “genocide”.  She urged WIPO to amend its rules of procedure to ensure the full and equal participation of indigenous peoples in all processes affecting them.

Moreover, the Permanent Forum should support that recommendation, she said.  WIPO should fully respect indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent, as well as cooperate and consult with indigenous peoples in good faith through their own representative institutions, before adopting administrative or other measures that could affect them.  For their part, indigenous peoples should work in the development of their own legal standards to protect knowledge systems and cultural heritage, including traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.  WIPO and Member States should recognize those legal standards, and provide legal training and access to decision-making for indigenous peoples on matters that affected them.

ABOUBAKAR ALBACHIR, African Caucus of Indigenous Peoples, recalled that the WIPO panellist had said States were the main negotiators with indigenous peoples.  Indigenous peoples’ proposals were only taken into account if they enjoyed State support, which was different from the procedures of other bodies, such as the Expert Mechanism, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Permanent Forum.  Such behaviour pre-dated the adoption of the Declaration.  Requesting participation in WIPO processes was slow and difficult.  Many times, indigenous peoples were not able to participate in forums related to traditional knowledge or folklore.  They often were underrepresented in those meetings, or not represented at all.

A procedure that allowed indigenous peoples to participate in meetings must be defined, he said, adding that the African Caucus must “breathe new life” into its partnership with WIPO.  WIPO also should work in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity financing norms, notably seen in the Programme of Work on Protected Areas under the Nagoya Protocol.  WIPO should also respect the principle of “non-diminishment” of indigenous peoples’ rights, as defined in other instruments, and adopt a transparent, non-binding agreement allowing for patent publication.  There should be at least two permanent observers of the African Caucus appointed by the indigenous regional network to relay WIPO information to all indigenous peoples in Africa.

ROGER JONES, Assembly of First Nations, Grand Council of the Crees, Chiefs of Ontario, Canadian Friends Service Community, focused first on the Nagoya Protocol, voicing concern that the Convention on Biological Diversity was taking positions that undermined indigenous rights.  It was trying to diminish their analyses of the Protocol’s problems and criticising the Permanent Forum for expressing such concerns.  The Convention Secretariat was exceeding its authority in suggesting to the Permanent Forum which views should be embraced.  He was concerned that the Convention Secretariat had provided 30 agencies with erroneous and prejudicial information about indigenous peoples and the Forum should inform the Secretariat of the inappropriateness of sending such a misinformed response.

TAIRA EDILMA STANLEY ICAZA, International Indian Treaty Council, said that after more than 600 years of colonialism, indigenous peoples continued to defend their rights to land, language, spirituality and traditional knowledge.  Countries were trying to commercialize “everything we think is sacred”.  Collective knowledge and genetic resources were not to be commercialized, like any other good in the market.  She was concerned that a disproportionate emphasis was being placed on economic values and that conservation of cultural and spiritual values was being set aside.  That could destroy the cultural integrity of our peoples, which would constitute “genocide”, she said.

She said WIPO viewed indigenous peoples’ dance, language and song as “folklore”, but they were part of indigenous peoples’ spirituality and vision.  It was fundamental for indigenous peoples to control their lands, territories and resources.  Phenomena like climate change, and initiatives like the Clean Development Mechanism, could lead to a loss of indigenous peoples’ right to develop their own protection systems.  She recommended that the Permanent Forum transmit to WIPO such concerns.  In that context, she argued for indigenous peoples’ full and effective participation in WIPO on equal footing with States.  Indigenous peoples’ right to protect their cultural heritage must be recognized, and prior consent must be given to them to ensure appropriate protection.

GRACE BALAWAG, Tebtebba Foundation, Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, said the work of the Intergovernmental Committee was important in order to prevent the misuse of indigenous cultural knowledge.  As such, its mandate should be extended until the Geneva-based negotiations were complete.  At the same time, she urged the States participating in those talks to remember that indigenous people’s ownership of such traditional knowledge was paramount.  She called for the appointment of an indigenous co-chair of the Intergovernmental Committee, and called on WIPO to ensure that such indigenous representation was included in any working groups that were established during the process.  As for WIPO itself, the organization needed to urgently develop an adequate policy regarding indigenous peoples.

FABIOLA DEL JURADO MENDOZA, Indigenous Women of the Americas, said that, despite the recommendations that had been made regarding the treatment of indigenous knowledge and culture, official structures had been slow to take up those suggestions and indigenous peoples’ views continued to be ignored.  Nevertheless, in some regions, processes were under way to preserve traditional knowledge, especially regarding genetic resources such as plant pigmentation and medicinal benefits.  “So you see, indigenous communities are not poor; our knowledge helps Western peoples, it has just never been catalogued in a quantifiable manner,” she said, adding that indigenous knowledge was used in industrial applications from pharmaceuticals to fashion.  She called on UNESCO to educate stakeholders on the important role indigenous communities, their customs and languages played in the daily lives of all people.

RACHEL WITANA, Maori Caucus, said the Caucus believed that ongoing attempts to “commodify” indigenous knowledge were an outgrowth of the Doctrine of Discovery, which had always promoted the notion that the treasures of indigenous peoples were “there for the taking”.  Indeed, there was a conflict between the views of WIPO and indigenous peoples, as that organization believed that nature was not protectable, while indigenous communities believed the very foundation of their existence was nature and Mother Earth and, therefore, deserving of every possible protection.

She went on to say that WIPO was one of the United Nations most exclusionary bodies, concerning the participation of indigenous peoples.  That organization also seemed intent on co-opting as many indigenous ideas, traditions and resources as it could, while it obstructed nearly all attempts for indigenous people to engage in discussions regarding such vital matters.  The United Nations must address WIPO’s ongoing unwillingness to recognize the rights of first peoples to control and protect their knowledge and treasures.  Her group’s struggle with WIPO was, unfortunately, “an extension of the difficult battle Maori people continue to wage at home to protect our traditional knowledge”, she said.

Presentation of Inter-Agency Report

ALFONSO BARRAGUES, Human Rights Adviser, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaking in his capacity as chair of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples Issues, presented the report of the Group’s 2011 annual meeting.  Generally, annual meetings considered how to strengthen cooperation to promote the human rights and well-being of indigenous peoples through joint activities.  Such work was “principled and norm-based”, and viewed constructive engagement on human rights as central to all undertakings.

Participants at the 2011 meeting included delegates from 15 United Nations agencies, the Permanent Forum Secretariat, and two Permanent Forum members, he said.  The substantive sessions addressed “population, development and indigenous peoples’ issues”.  To a great degree, indigenous peoples were invisible, either because they were not formally recognized as a specific group with their own rights and entitlements, or because of the lack of reliable statistical data.

Indicators were indispensable to keeping track of advances under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said, noting that data disaggregation was also fundamental to identifying situations of multiple discrimination faced by indigenous peoples, as well as discriminatory patterns within indigenous communities.  A more thorough understanding of those realities would require investments by, and strengthened capacity of, national statistical institutes.  Indigenous peoples’ right to health — including sexual and reproductive health — was another lens for understanding the multiple deprivations underpinning health problems.

At the recommendation of the Permanent Forum to make policy guides and practices more accessible, the Inter-Agency Support Group was currently defining how to integrate knowledge management platforms, he said.  It also was working to translate the Declaration into action on the ground through the United Nations Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership, which involved the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNFPA and UNICEF.  Moreover, UNEP had involved indigenous peoples in the consultation process leading to the Rio+20 Conference, and engaged with them in “green economy” dialogues.  From that experience, the Permanent Forum might consider recommending that States and the United Nations engage with indigenous peoples in the context of global, regional and national consultations on the post-2015 development agenda.

Statements

ELSEBETH TARP, Senior Technical Advisor, Denmark, said her country had revised its international development cooperation strategy, which would from now on be based on a human rights-based approach to development.  It would build on the principles of non-discrimination, participation, transparency and accountability.  The new policy now specifically mentioned that Denmark would work towards increased recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective and individual rights.  That position would be promoted in relevant forums, and environmental negotiations.

Denmark would promote recognition of collective rights in its support to natural resources management, she said, and was arguing for acceptance of the principles of free, prior and informed consent in connection with the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+).  UNDP could play a more pivotal role in mainstreaming indigenous peoples’ rights and applying a human rights-based approach at the country level.   Denmark wished to see United Nations agencies taking a much more active role in the country-level dialogue on indigenous peoples’ rights by providing space for Governments and indigenous peoples to meet, as well as space for bilateral donors and indigenous peoples.  She agreed with the need for more data collection through censuses and surveys.

DEBBY HARRY, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB), speaking on behalf of several groups, reaffirmed indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, as well as their spiritual and cultural relationship with all life forms.  “We are the guardians of every aspect of our cultural heritage”, she said, reaffirming the responsibility to protect that knowledge for future generations.  The WIPO Director had said that perpetual protection was “not on the table”.  Indigenous peoples were protectors and holders of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and traditional cultural expressions.  It was clear that Governments wanted to subsume that knowledge into the intellectual property framework of States and transnational corporations.  Under what authority did they seek to do that?

She was concerned to hear the WIPO representative suggest that States could become beneficiaries of traditional knowledge.  Did that mean they were owners and holders of that knowledge?  WIPO reflected a “modern day band of pirates and thieves” that continued to pillage indigenous lands and territories.  Indigenous peoples’ most significant, non-negotiable demand was that, at a minimum, WIPO amend its rules of procedure to ensure their full and equal participation in all processes that affected them.  Without that, it was completely unrealistic for indigenous peoples to engage in any meaningful way in the WIPO process.  The Permanent Forum should make it clear that WIPO had no authority to regulate traditional knowledge and demand the dismantling of the Intergovernmental Committee.

Dialogue on the Discovery Doctrine

In its afternoon session, the Permanent Forum concluded its consideration of its special theme — the enduring impact of the Doctrine of Discovery — with a special focus on combating violence against indigenous women.  Forum members Megan Davis, of Australia, and Mirna Cunningham Kain, of Nicaragua, presented separate expert group meeting reports setting the stage for the discussions.  Victoria Tauli-Corpuz also presented an Inter-Agency study on the topic.

GABRIELA GARDUZA ESTRADA (Mexico) said that her Government had a legal framework in place to combat sexism and gender-based violence.  Mexico had also elaborated a legal instrument that aimed to ensure equality among men and women and that mechanisms were in place to promote the integration of a gender perspective in all federal structures.  Highlighting other initiatives, she said that the Government had focused on the situation of women and girls in several states to ensure their health and safety at home.

She congratulated the Permanent Forum for its consideration of the issue, and Mexico believed such a focus and the recommendations that might emerge from it would help States, with the help of civil society and relevant United Nations agencies, improve the lives of women and girls worldwide.  Such joint work should present a holistic model that acknowledged the crucial contributions of indigenous women to poverty eradication and broader development efforts.  She said that next year, Mexico was prepared to present its most recent report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms Discrimination against Women, and her country’s delegation would take into account the discussions held in the Permanent Forum.

BEATRICE DUNCAN, UNICEF, recalled the fruitful and successful Comprehensive Dialogue the agency had held with the Permanent Forum last year.  Following that event, UNICEF had taken a number of bold steps to bring a substantial number of the recommendations that had emerged to reality.  Among others, the process had already initiated a number of allied partners to produce the first global report on the situation of indigenous children, which would be officially published in 2013 and would feature a regional study on Latin America.  That would shortly be followed by UNICEF’s strategic Framework on Indigenous Minority Children, which would aim to enhance and ensure coherence in the agency’s programming for and with indigenous and minority children.  

TANIA PARIONA TARQUI, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, said that her group endorsed the findings in the studies presented and reaffirmed the desires and ability of young people, especially young women and girls, to implement them.  Indigenous youth must be included in designing and implementing plans and policies that would affect their lives and livelihoods.  “Owing to a lack of real data on the situation of indigenous youth, we demand that our view be considered as ‘experts’ in the work of the Expert Group,” she said, also calling on that Group to convene a special meeting on cultural identity and its links to all issues indigenous peoples faced, including the participation of youth in all relevant processes.  She also called for Member States to carry out the request made by UNICEF last year to provide grants to a fund that will allow indigenous youths to participate in intergovernmental processes.

EVA BIAUDET, Permanent Forum Member from Finland, focused on the trafficking of women and girls, saying that sexual exploitation was severely traumatizing and could isolate indigenous women from their communities.  As Finland’s National Rapporteur for Trafficking in Human Beings, she had addressed that issue in many countries.  It was the worst form of exploitation of women and, therefore, particularly complex when it occurred in specific communities.  Traffickers could, too often, be parents or others trusted by the victim, which made it difficult for women and girls to denounce their exploiters or traffickers.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation was a serious abuse of a person’s vulnerable position for someone else’s profit, she said.  While the root causes of vulnerability could stem from different factors, including a strong bond with the perpetrator of the abuse, addressing the problem should focus on prevention.  Women and children did not always recognize that they were trafficking victims.  Going forward, it was essential to create mechanisms of prevention and accountability.  Law enforcement, police and prosecutors also must work with non-governmental organizations to establish truly empowering mechanisms.  The biggest challenge was identifying trafficking victims.  States needed national action plans that included civil society and emphasized disaggregated data.

JOHN MOSOTI (Kenya), on the study conducted by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said that while there was truth on some issues raised, other issues must be explained to understand what was happening in his country.   Kenya was a signatory of major human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The process of making Kenya’s new Constitution involved every community in the country.  The Constitution was adopted overwhelmingly by all communities.  It contained one of the most progressive clauses on women’s advancement, which included affirmative action and quotas, and outlined women’s participation in all spheres of life.  Persons with disabilities and marginalized peoples were properly identified and would be represented in Parliament after elections were held early next year.   Kenya also had passed a Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act.

HAYDEE GIRON-SANCHEZ, Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, recommended that the Permanent Forum continue with the establishment of global, regional and national mechanisms to create laws that protected indigenous women and children.  Priority must be given to research and analysis undertaken by indigenous communities, with a view to reducing violence.  The Economic and Social Council should apply a rapid response system to stop violence against girls and women, and allocate resources for compensating victims.  Further, a special council of indigenous women should work with UN-Women during the 2013 session on the legal and economic condition of women.

Also, a valid registration system must be created to provide follow-up on reports presented by indigenous peoples, she said, urging that laws, customs and indigenous methods to protect indigenous women and girls from violence be respected.  On trafficking in persons, indigenous women and girls in rural areas often did not have identification documents and were forced to emigrate when ancestral lands were acquired.  She urged that indigenous identification systems be recognized and that support be increased for the right to identity.  She also urged an end to the forced reclassification of nationality.  The Human Rights Council should sanction States that did not have a rapid response systems in place to protect women and girls from all forms of violence.

SONIA HECKADON, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that at the country level, her agency was carrying out initiatives in Latin America and Africa aimed at addressing gender based violence, particularly sexual violence, and the need to step up efforts to address that problem.  For example, in both Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania, UNFPA supported women’s organizations to address the issue, along with discrimination.  By providing support to the Gender Networking Programme, it had contributed to the strengthening of a platform or mechanism through which indigenous women and girls were able to advocate for human rights and denounce the many different forms of violence they faced in their daily lives.

Providing examples of the agency’s work in Latin America, she said that in Colombia, it had worked with the Millennium Development Goals Spanish Fund to promote the elimination of female genital mutilation.  Through a non-coercive and non-judgemental awareness-raising initiative, attention had been drawn at the community-level about the harmful nature of that practice and had promoted collective decision-making among civil society groups, women, and their families to address it.  As Mexico was one of the countries with the highest number of trafficked women and girls, especially indigenous women and girls, UNFPA was providing technical assistance to the Government and was supporting its activities in indigenous territories to develop legislation and policies to address trafficking, along with its physical and psychological consequences.

Finally, she shared several lessons learned by UNFPA through its work, including the need to respect agreements between indigenous communities and institutions in order to ensure productive dialogue, and the need to promote the participation of indigenous women in local, traditional justice committees, recognizing as well the important role they could play in supporting the administration of justice. 

NINA NORDSTRÖM (Finland) said that her Government prioritized women’s rights, and its development policy promoted and supported the participation of women in decision-making.  It also fought against discrimination that bred, among others, violence against women and girls.   Finland had also actively supported the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, and had emphasized that special attention be given to vulnerable groups, including indigenous women.

She said that the international community must always remember that women and girls could only be active participants in society if they had the knowledge they needed to make decisions concerning their own bodies, sexuality and reproductive health.  Therefore, those women and girls’ right and access to sexual and reproductive health was an important element of their empowerment.  She said that there could be no change in the situation of indigenous women and girls unless all communities and groups were involved in the efforts.  Therefore, the role of men and boys could not be forgotten.  Finland agreed that deconstructing stereotypical gender roles based on aggression and control contributed to the well-being and empowerment of communities as a whole.  Sensitization on gender roles, as well as involving men and boys in promoting indigenous women’s rights, was, therefore, essential.

SANDRA CREAMER, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, said her group recognized that combating gender-driven violence must start at the community level and must include efforts to eliminate physical, sexual and psychological violence.  There were many examples of best practices within communities that showed how indigenous peoples were using culturally appropriate mechanisms to combat such violence.  Such efforts must be recognized and encouraged, especially where those women were taking leadership roles.  Here, she echoed the calls to include indigenous women at all levels of decision-making in conflict prevention, management and resolution.

She called on the Permanent Forum and United Nations agencies to help build indigenous women’s capacities towards preventing violence and discrimination.  Indeed, only through their empowerment would all forms of personal violence be adequately addressed.  The Caucus also urged States to establish safe houses for indigenous women and children victims of violence and to provide culturally appropriate training to their staffs, so that adequate services could be provided.  She called on the Permanent Forum to recognize “environmental violence” as a serious problem, because toxic products, nuclear waste and pollutants were routinely dumped in indigenous territories, damaging the ecosystems that the people managed and derived their livelihoods from.

JANE FLETCHER, Deputy Director, Office of Treaty Settlements of New Zealand, said combating violence against women was a major priority for her Government, both globally and domestically.  New Zealand was thoroughly committed to eliminating all forms of violence against women and supported the strategies presented during the discussion, as they would hopefully ensure indigenous women’s rights were enshrined in policy and practice.  Along with many other countries, New Zealand faced significant challenges in turning the tide of violence inflicted against indigenous women.  She said that Maori women were three times more likely to face assaults or threats from an intimate partner.  Further, Maori women’s high rate of incarceration was a threat to their well-being and resilience.

Calling for an end to all violence against indigenous women, she highlighted a number of her Government’s efforts to tackle the problem, including through passing the Domestic Violence Act three years ago, which strengthened the responsiveness of criminal justice agencies to the needs of victims of domestic violence.  It had also enabled the country’s police forces to issue on-the-spot protection orders, which ensured the immediate safety of victims by removing alleged perpetrators from the home for a period of up to five days.  She also drew attention to the Campaign for Action on Family Violence, and the “It’s Not OK” campaign as examples of community-driven initiatives aimed at reducing domestic violence.

ELEANOR DICTAAN-BANG-OA, Asian Indigenous Peoples Caucus, said the neoliberal economic development paradigm was the face of colonization in Asia today, seen in the form of multinational corporations extracting everything from minerals and oil to sweat and blood in a war waged against indigenous peoples.  Indigenous women were most affected by such abuse, bearing the burden of nurturing communities back to health.

She called on Asian States to fully recognize indigenous peoples, implement the Declaration and ensure respect for the rights and well-being of indigenous women.  The United Nations must address the persistence of subjugation by taking a holistic approach that respected human rights, and support indigenous peoples’ initiatives in combating gender discrimination.  “We are not against development,” she said.  “All we want is that development should be appropriate for our needs and well-being.”

ALYSSA MACY, North American Caucus, said a preparatory meeting had been held prior to the Permanent Forum’s eleventh session in the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, hosted by the Chiefs of Ontario.  It was attended by 75 delegates, who adopted a report submitted to the Permanent Forum.  Discussion centred on “environmental violence” against indigenous women.  Against that backdrop, she recommended that strategies be developed to address all forms of violence against indigenous women.  The link between sexism, patriarchy and the Doctrine of Discovery must be recognized, as should the inability to hold indigenous people accountable for violence against indigenous women.  The Permanent Forum should also urge States to ensure that women and girls were involved in all political, economic and social processes to restore their traditional gender role in indigenous nations.

EVELYN TAYLOR (Nicaragua) said 44 per cent of her country’s population was comprised of women.  In January, the Government approved legislation to address indigenous women’s issues.  By way of example, she cited the law on violence against women, and reform of law 641 of the criminal code, which had been approved and was being implemented.  Other reforms outlined that municipal elections would allow for equitable gender participation in elections, meaning that an equal number of women and men would be responsible for implementing laws and programmes.  Legislation relating to the family code also was being enacted, which included the indigenous world view that placed women at the centre of daily life.

OTILIA LUX DE COTI, International Indigenous Women’s Forum, recognized recent efforts to place violence against women and girls on the international human rights agenda.  In that context, she highlighted the 2011 Central American Meeting of Ancestral Authorities and Indigenous Women for a life without violence, held in Panama.  Violence could be explained through colonialism and militarism, which provided the “ideological glue” to support violence, forced labour and stripping indigenous peoples’ of their right to land.  Those foundations continued today, in that indigenous women and girls suffered all sorts of violence.

“We have seen crimes go unpunished, including genocide, ethnocide and femicide,” she said.  States should guarantee women’s participation in the design and monitoring of programmes to eliminate violence against indigenous women.  Indigenous women’s views should be included in General Assembly’s resolution to be adopted in its next session.  UN-Women, UNICEF and UNFPA should help monitor the situation of indigenous women and girls by systematically promoting best practices.

VITAL BAMBANZE, Africa Indigenous Peoples Coordinating Committee (IPACC), said that it was necessary to put effective measures to address the situation of African indigenous women, who comprised one of the most vulnerable groups on the continent.  Indeed, throughout the confinement they lived in conditions of extreme poverty and faced all forms of violence and abuse.  He said that, while the African Commission on Human Rights had taken significant efforts to improve the situation of indigenous women as a whole, its work fell short of addressing the needs of specific groups.  That left many indigenous women, such as those in Ituri and other areas of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, open to ill-treatment.

There was also a need to scale up efforts across-the-board to increase African indigenous women’s access to knowledge and services that affected them, including regarding sexual and reproductive health.  His group called on all African countries to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and called, as well, on the African Commission on Human Rights, the permanent Forum and the Human Rights Council to hold special a session on vulnerable women in Africa as a way of bringing to light — and setting out a framework to address — the situations of indigenous women and girls, women with disabilities and elderly women, among others.  He also called for a study on laws and policies that promoted violence against women and girls so that efforts could get under way to abrogate them.

VICKY IPUL POWASEU, Inclusion International, said indigenous women and girls with disabilities faced specific challenges, including multiple layers of discrimination and high rates of poverty.  Children born with disabilities were at high risk of being killed.  Women with disabilities were often more frequent victims of sexual violence and were the least likely to have access to remedial measures and structures.  She urged the Permanent Forum to promote the participation of indigenous peoples with disabilities in all its work, especially in the run-up to the 2014 World Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to ensure their voices were heard at that important event.

JEANNETTE CORBIERE LAVELL, speaking on behalf of the Native Women’s Association of Canada/Assembly of First Nations/National Association of Friendship Centres/Grand Council of the Crees/Amnesty International, said violence against aboriginal girls and State failure to address that problem was directly linked to the fact that those women and girls were in a disadvantaged position in Canadian society.  Those women were preyed on by men and the Government continued to fail in its obligation to prevent violence, investigate allegations and bring perpetrators to justice.  The Government must put effective police protocols in place to address the situation of missing aboriginal women and girls.  Thus far, the steps taken in that regard had been “piecemeal”, and more needed to be done to dismantle the social, political and economic barriers and indifference that continued to gravely impact indigenous communities.

Strong and meaningful implementation of the Declaration would greatly contribute to the safety, security and wellness of indigenous societies.  Canada and other States must also respect the values and principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  As for the Permanent Forum, she called on the expert body to ensure that Canada and other States enacted comprehensive plans of actions to address the disadvantaged social and economic conditions of aboriginal women and girls.  It should also press Canada to immediately begin an active effort to address the violence against, and disappearances of, aboriginal women and girls.  It must also put in place systemic corrections, where needed, to dismantle embedded racism and sexism in law enforcement and other federal structures. 

TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, Continental Network for Indigenous Women, said it was absolutely necessary for the Permanent Forum to continue to provide a space for discussion between indigenous groups and States to discuss the situation of women and girls.  Indeed, such cooperative dialogue was vital because the current picture was not very encouraging.  Indigenous women and girls and women were routinely denied their right to develop according to their traditions, especially as educational models were imposed that forced their assimilation.  Such models seemed to promote the view that “indigenous equals backwards”, and indigenous women were, therefore, condemned to the margins of their societies.

Those women were also subjected to daily violence as Western development models rendered them invisible and they were, therefore, unable to seek redress or assistance.  Indigenous women and girls were also violated by the drive for economic growth, as big corporations destroyed their livelihoods.  With all that in mind, she urged the Permanent Forum and other United Nations bodies to continue to promote the collective rights of women.  The cultural impact of violence against women must also be acknowledged and all normative and ideological barriers to their participation and empowerment must be torn down.  Finally, she urged UN-Women to devote special attention to indigenous women and to help combat the violence they faced, in order to ensure a better world for all people.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.