The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues concluded its thirteenth session today, sending nine draft reports to the Economic and Social Council containing proposals, recommendations and five draft decisions, including a call for the General Assembly President to act swiftly to ensure the fullest participation of indigenous peoples in all aspects of the World Conference set for September.
“We know that, with Member State cooperation, with respect for and recognition of the minimum international human rights standards embraced by the Declaration, genuine good governance can become a reality,” said Permanent Forum Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough, as she provided an overview of the thirteenth session, held under the theme of “Principles of good governance consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: articles 3 to 6 and 46”.
She highlighted discussions on the sexual health and reproductive rights of indigenous peoples, and more broadly, human rights. Such issues must be addressed in a substantive and “intellectually honest” fashion, she said, stressing: “Our common desire is to respect our past, gain recognition and respect for our present status and rights, and promote those rights to ensure our future.”
Speaking on behalf of the Assembly President, Crispin Gregoire, his Special Adviser, updated the Forum on preparations for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, saying that Member States had not reached a consensus on two proposals with regard to indigenous peoples and the Conference. The President would, next week, announce his intentions for future actions in the lead-up to the high-level event.
Before Forum members took action on the texts, Government delegates exchanged views on a current impasse over the scope of indigenous peoples’ participation in the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples — with many speakers calling for speedy resolution of the matter.
Mexico’s speaker said his delegation was profoundly concerned about the manner in which the World Conference had been planned. Mexico and the group of countries supporting the Conference accepted the agenda proposed by the President of the General Assembly. As yet, his delegation had not received any instructions on how to proceed in the matter and appealed to the President for solutions. Expressing support for his statement were the representatives of Norway, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Guatemala, Finland, Bolivia, Australia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Sweden, Panama and the United States.
In response, a representative of the indigenous Global Coordinating Group called on all Member States to honour the modalities resolution (resolution 66/296) with regard to the Conference. She regretted the President’s failure to take decisive action and said that the impasse clearly demonstrated that Member States were unable to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and represented a serious setback for relations between indigenous peoples and States.
“We are not demanding anything new, we simply wish that the United Nations adhered to principles of non-discrimination and the recognition of our rights,” she said, noting that the Declaration affirmed that the indigenous peoples were equal to all peoples.
Weighing in on the matter, Raja Devasish Roy, a Forum member from Bangladesh, said discussions among delegates over the last two weeks had spiralled into alarm over the Conference. Given the best of circumstances, if the interactive hearing took place in June, per the modalities resolution, a clear road map was needed that placed indigenous peoples in the “co-driver” seat. That would not mean they would steer proceedings for an outcome document, but that indigenous peoples and States would steer together. If the General Assembly were to reopen or weaken the resolution, it would be a “serious disservice” to indigenous peoples, undermining their confidence in the United Nations system. If Member States agreed to the resolution, then the process should be moved forward, he said.
When it proceeded to action, the Forum approved, as orally revised, its draft report on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (document E/C.19/2014/L.8). The Forum recommended that the President of the General Assembly take immediate steps to ensure the equal, direct and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples throughout all aspects and processes of the Conference in order to achieve an inclusive, constructive and comprehensive outcome that would genuinely promote the full and effective implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Throughout the thirteenth session, held under the theme of “Principles of good governance consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: articles 3 to 6 and 46”, participants explored issues of self-determination, political participation and non-discrimination that formed the essence of indigenous peoples’ ability to participate in decisions affecting their lives, notably pertaining to land and natural resource administration.
In a wide-ranging text containing draft recommendations on the special theme (document E/C.19/2014/L.2), the Forum noted that transparency, responsiveness, consensus-building and equity were key aspects of good governance, yet indigenous peoples faced obstacles to exercising their rights in terms of “substance, content and procedure”. Whether considered individually or as a whole, the principles of good governance had been achieved by very few countries. “The rights of indigenous peoples must not be empty rights,” the Forum asserted in the report.
Self-determination, as the basis of good governance, meant that indigenous peoples were equal to all other peoples, the Forum stated. Indigenous forms of governance must be supported as they often complied with indigenous peoples’ identity, customs, rituals and rights to their territories, it stated, calling for more coordination between the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and indigenous peoples through their representative institutions.
In the area of health, the Forum, by the report, reaffirmed the rights of indigenous peoples to the highest attainable standards of health, including sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. It recommended that entities, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), collaborate with indigenous groups in all regions to develop guidelines for culturally safe sex education practices. The United Nations system should work with indigenous young people to address homophobia and transphobia, with a view to addressing the resulting issues of mental health, suicide and shame.
The Forum approved a set of five draft decisions, highlighted by a text on matters calling for action by the Economic and Social Council or brought to its attention (document E/C.19/2014/L.10). By draft decision I, the Council would authorize an international expert group meeting on the theme “Dialogue on an optional protocol to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous People”, to be based on the study prepared on that topic (document E/C.19/2014/7). It would focus on land, territories and resource rights, along with the rights contained in the Declaration, notably those on self-determination, self-government and autonomy.
By draft decisions II and III, respectively, the Council would decide that the fourteenth session of the Forum would be held at United Nations Headquarters, from 20 April to 1 May 2015, and approve its provisional agenda. Draft decision IV would have the Council decide that further discussion was needed on the change of the Forum’s name to “Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, while draft decision V would have it decide that a one-day meeting for the Forum would be organized to discuss methods of work.
Approving a concise text on human rights matters (document E/C.19/2014/L.7), the Permanent Forum, reiterating its previous recommendations, recognized the need to review existing laws and constitutions based on international human rights norms and standards, especially related to persistent forms of racial discrimination in the context of indigenous peoples. It urged States to conduct an independent audit of their constitutional and other laws, policies and programmes to assess their consistency with the Declaration. It also urged all Member States and United Nations agencies and country teams to initiate indigenous human rights training in their institutions and activities.
By its report on the Asian region (document E/C.19/2014/L.3), the Forum expressed concern that most of its recommendations made to Asian States during its sixth session had yet to be implemented, and that climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, such as nuclear power plants and windmills, were being built in indigenous territories without the free, prior and informed consent, or the full participation of indigenous peoples. It recommended that States immediately begin the demarcation process of those lands, in line with customary laws, and ensure that such territories in Asia be free of State military interventions.
By a draft report on United Nations agencies (document E/C.19/2014/L.4), the Forum recommended that United Nations agencies convene a high-level meeting with representatives of indigenous women, underscoring the need to strengthen collaboration with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) in order to finalize a road map, including concrete actions and specific outcomes within their next strategic plan. The Forum also recommended that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) convene platforms for dialogue with countries, United Nations agencies and private sector actors to find solutions to improve the economic empowerment of indigenous peoples.
Also by the draft report, the Forum recommended that United Nations agencies review their policies, which presently allowed them to assist only indigenous peoples in developing countries, and to urgently revise such policies to ensure that all indigenous peoples, in developed and developing countries, had access to resources, technical assistance and other support from all United Nations agencies and funds.
Approving a draft report on children and youth (document E/C.19/2014/L.5), the Forum addressed the poverty and inequality facing indigenous youth, urging States to generate statistics disaggregated by ethnicity, gender, indigenous identity, language skills and self-identification to allow for a more accurate assessment of whether indigenous children were benefiting from funds earmarked for them. It called on States to improve their data collection on self-harm and suicide among indigenous children and youth, and to fund and deliver training in suicide prevention and mental health awareness to all teaching and non-teaching staff in all indigenous schools. It also urged them to implement articles 11 and 13 of the Declaration, particularly with regard to the revitalization of indigenous peoples’ languages, while calling on the General Assembly to proclaim an international year of the world’s indigenous children.
By a draft report on the Forum’s future work (document E/C.19/2014/L.9), the Forum appointed individuals to conduct studies on a range of issues, including traditional knowledge, natural resource and green energy development, and the situation of indigenous children with disabilities. Further, it recommended that States review their official histories and national curricula to include heroes and personalities of indigenous peoples from their perspectives. Where genocide and/or mass violations of human rights of indigenous peoples had occurred, the Forum recommended that States assumed their responsibilities to ensure, through relevant post-conflict mechanism, that such atrocities were prevented in the future.
Finally, the Forum approved a draft report summarizing proceedings of its thirteenth session (document E/C.19/2014/L.6).
At the close of the meeting, a number of speakers delivered statements, including Ukraine’s representative, who announced that his Government had decided to support the Indigenous Rights Declaration. His Government recognized the need to advance legislation of indigenous peoples, so they could play an active role in national affairs. By joining those who supported the Declaration, Ukraine aimed to work towards the protection of indigenous peoples, including the Crimean Tatars.
Mustafa Cemíloglu, an indigenous parliamentarian from Ukraine and leader of the Crimean Tatars, said at the start of the year, his homeland had been annexed to the Russian Federation, violating the Budapest Memorandum. The Crimean Tatars had shown no armed opposition to the occupiers, but would work towards a solution through peaceful means and he counted on support from the international community and the Forum.
In response, a representative of the Russian Federation said Mr. Cemíloglu did not represent all Crimean Tatars. He recalled that 80 per cent of the Crimean peninsula had taken part in the referendum, with large numbers of Crimean Tatars. The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar Peoples represented a minority of those peoples, he said.
Thanking the Forum and delegates for their interventions were Myrna Cunningham Kain and Les Malezer, indigenous representatives appointed to serve as the indigenous advisers to the President of the General Assembly with regard to the World Conference on Indigenous Issues. The Forum officially closed its session with a traditional prayer.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Indigenous World Association and Latin American Indigenous Peoples.
Rapporteur Valmaine Toki, a Forum member from New Zealand, introduced the nine reports and their respective oral revisions.
Mohammad Hassani Nejad Pirkouhi, a Forum member from Iran, also spoke.