22 April 2015
Fourteenth Session, 5th Meeting (AM)

As Indigenous Issues Forum Takes Up Working Methods, Chair Says Body Should Be ‘Laser-Focused’ on How It Carries Mandate Forward

Now 15 years old, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was in “real need” of reform to better respond to the socioeconomic, cultural and human rights concerns of its constituents — both within their respective territories and throughout the United Nations system, speakers stressed today as the 16-member body moved into day three of its fourteenth session.

“What is most critical is that you can enjoy and exercise your human rights,” Forum Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough said during a half-day discussion on working methods.  “If this venue can be a political arena by which you have substantive dialogue with Member States, let’s think of ways to do that.”

To be sure, there had always been an interest in reforming the Forum’s work, she said.  The Forum members — eight elected by the Economic and Social Council and eight nominated by indigenous groups — served in their personal capacity, tasked with “saturating” the vast array of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes with indigenous perspectives.  “We should be laser focused on how we can effectively carry that mandate forward,” she stressed.

To determine where it could have the most impact, the Forum must examine the role of its expert members, the “substantial” need for funds to support intersessional work, and the Secretariat’s interaction with indigenous peoples and the United Nations itself.  Other questions centred on how to make annual sessions more dynamic and inclusive, she said, noting that work to draft working methods guidelines had begun in 2011.

To optimize the Forum’s work, Oliver Loode, Forum member from Estonia, focused on the quality of independence among the members, pointing out that if they were seen as acting on particular positions of Member States or United Nations bodies, their credibility would suffer.  He suggested additional measures, such as signing a “status of experts on mission” document or other written declaration whereby they committed not to seek or accept instructions on the performance of their duties.

He also suggested reforming the way in which ideas presented at annual sessions evolved into Forum recommendations.  Last year, nearly 70 recommendations were adopted and it was unclear how many of them had been implemented.  “If the Forum does not consider them important enough, why should we think Member States and United Nations agencies should take them seriously?” he asked.  Their number must be reduced and Secretariat staff assigned to follow up on them.  States would face a “moment of truth” knowing that their implementation of recommendations would be reviewed.

Mohammad Hassani, Forum member from Iran, said the body should adjust its relationship with the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, the Special Rapporteur (who advises on overcoming obstacles to indigenous peoples’ enjoyment of human rights) and the Expert Mechanism (five independent experts who provide thematic advice to the Human Rights Council).  The success could be judged by how the Forum supported relationships among its constituents, States and the United Nations.

In the discussion that followed, Governments and indigenous representatives weighed in with their ideas, with many agreeing that the large number of recommendations the Forum produced made it difficult if not impossible to implement them.  Some suggested limiting them to between 5 and 20.  In addition, said Andrea Carmen of the International Indian Treaty Council, the last day of the annual session should be dedicated to the follow-up to recommendations.  Pallab Chakma of the Kapaeeng Foundation, on behalf of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network and Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, suggested prioritizing past recommendations that had not been carried out.

To address “reporting fatigue”, the representative of Denmark, on behalf of the Nordic countries, suggested a new format for responding to the Forum’s requests for information that was less burdensome for States.  Also, the short amount of time between the release of reports and the start of the annual sessions meant that States could not give reports the attention they deserved.  He suggested the Forum conduct only two studies per year on topics of “universal” relevance.

To improve dialogue, other speakers suggested the Forum ask specific questions to Member States and indigenous organizations and allot more time to discussion of the annual theme.  At yearly sessions, the Forum could hold one meeting for general statements and another parallel meeting for interactive dialogue.  To ensure every voice was heard, another speaker suggested delivering joint statements.  “These sessions are for the person who has scraped up every penny to attend but been denied the right to speak,” the Chair stressed.

On that point, Joan Carling, Forum Member from the Philippines, added that managing participant expectations was another area of focus, as there were limits on feasibly addressing each concern raised.  To better use scarce resources, another speaker added, the Forum could limit the number and length of closed meetings.

Also today, the Forum concluded its discussion of the follow-up to recommendations in the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  Government delegates described national efforts to improve the quality of life of indigenous peoples — including through the delivery of social services, establishment of new legislation and the creation of new infrastructure — and to empower indigenous representatives in national decision-making processes.

Several also pointed to the evolution of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda as an opportunity to spotlight the needs and contributions of indigenous peoples in the global development machinery.

“We should seize every opportunity to enhance the rights of indigenous peoples,” said the representative of China.  Development was the basis for the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples, and that group must be seen in the context of colonial injustices.

Venezuela’s delegate agreed, noting that the recent social and political awakening in Latin America had allowed States to see more clearly the history of genocide carried out by colonizers in his region.  In line with the values of the Bolivarian revolution, the social, economic and cultural rights of all indigenous peoples were now valued across the region.  In Venezuela, a ministry had been created to protect the rights of the indigenous — in the areas of language, health, education and land rights — and to ensure that population played a leading role in political processes.

In that connection, New Zealand’s representative said the World Conference outcome document was a “road map” for taking stock of progress and addressing challenges.  It placed the “lens” of indigenous rights over existing United Nations mechanisms.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Bolivia, Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Nepal, Australia, El Salvador, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Representatives of Alianza Americana Mesoamerica, Global Indigenous Women Caucus and Ripon also addressed the Forum.

Forum members from Bolivia, Cameroon and the Russian Federation also spoke.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. on 23 April to continue its fourteenth session.

For information media. Not an official record.