Panel on ‘Participation of Indigenous Women at the United Nations and Beijing+20’ Tackled Complex Challenges, Highlighted Progress Made
As a thematic advisory body of the Human Rights Council, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must include the full, effective, and equal participation of all concerned communities, speakers stressed today, as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held a discussion on an optional protocol to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Introducing the report on the Expert Mechanism’s meeting, Megan Davis, Permanent Forum Chair, noted that limitations of the current human rights monitoring system had been discussed. Participants in the Expert Mechanism meeting had agreed that an implementation gap existed with regard to the realization of the human rights affirmed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To address that gap, some had advocated the creation of a supervisory mechanism, while others had identified limitations of such an approach.
The report also highlighted the existence of other mechanisms that indigenous people could utilize, including the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review and other United Nations treaty bodies. However, there was no clear picture of what supervisory bodies were doing on indigenous rights. On the treaty bodies and indigenous mechanisms, the possibility of duplication had also been raised. While some participants had identified duplication as beneficial, others said it might be challenging if there was no clear demarcation of existing international bodies.
The participants, as a necessary step in creating any new mechanism, had also explored the limits of the current international human rights monitoring system. One such method was the “carrot and stick” approach, which involved “naming and shaming” in periodic reporting procedures of the United Nations treaty bodies. “Shaming” was identified as the primary regulatory approach engaged by much of the United Nations system. However, participants said shaming was “at the weak end of the stick”, while the stronger approach was the deployment of economic and military coercion.
In the ensuing dialogue, indigenous speakers said they had not fully tested the human rights mechanisms available to them, including the Special Rapporteur. What was needed was for States to show the political will to enforce their commitment to the Declaration and World Conference Outcome Document. In that context, Grace Balawag, of the Asia Caucus, urged reinforcing the capacity of United Nations agencies, especially at the local level, to address the implementation gap and support community-based monitoring of human rights instruments.
Others said an optional protocol should indeed include a complaints procedure – and further – an inquiry procedure and an early warning system. Bon Lam, of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, advocated a process by which States were obliged to address each complaint and respond to recommendations put forward by a monitoring committee. She also advocated for a process whereby non-governmental organizations, United Nations bodies and others could be trained to act as reporting bodies of human rights abuses, thus offering indigenous peoples diverse avenues through which to report wrongdoing.
Governments outlined their views on the best ways to monitor the implementation of international legal and operational frameworks, with the representative of the Russian Federation pointing to national legislation on its small population of indigenous peoples that was in line with, and in some cases surpassed, international law. Globally, there were sufficient numbers of procedures to ensure respect for indigenous peoples. However, indigenous people had not made sufficient use of them. The good will of States should be the main instrument for monitoring the Declaration and the World Conference Outcome Document. It was important to reject counterproductive practices.
The Permanent Forum also held a panel, “Participation of Indigenous Women at the United Nations and Beijing+20”, featuring presentations by Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Forum member from Burkina Faso; Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe, Forum member from Bolivia; Kara-kys Arakchaa, Forum member from the Russian Federation; and Megan Davis, Forum Chair and member from Australia.
Opening the panel, Ms. Aboubakrine said the Permanent Forum had made indigenous women a priority, noting that between 2002 and 2014, 150 recommendations had been adopted on their situations. One, in particular, urged strengthened cooperation with indigenous women so that their priorities were reflected in global, regional, and national programmes. Indigenous women’s problems were multidimensional and must be tackled systematically. The Forum had prepared reports on such issues as violence against indigenous women and girls, and indigenous women’s political participation at local and regional levels. The Commission on the Status of Women had adopted two resolutions on indigenous women and girls, including resolution 56/4 in 2012, on indigenous women as key actors in poverty and hunger eradication. “These resolutions are historic landmarks,” she stated.
Ms. Choque Quispe said indigenous women had raised their voices on health, human rights, climate change, development, conflict, sexual and reproductive rights, and political participation. “They have been heard,” she said, noting at the same time that the problem centred on guaranteeing their effectiveness in the post-2015 development agenda. Indigenous women were particularly affected by climate change and loss of water and land, which produced malnutrition. As such, their contributions to the framework must be considered. Thanks to indigenous women, most Latin American countries had changed their constitutions to reflect the women’s situations.
Ms. Arakchaa said that, in her visits to different indigenous communities in the Russian Federation, indigenous women represented a substantial number of professionals in science and health care, and that over 100 indigenous communities were being led by women. Indigenous women’s representation in regional authorities, however, trailed that of indigenous men. Voicing support for women’s role as “protector of the family hearth”, she emphasized that it should not be their only role. Gender equality should be taken into account at all levels at the United Nations, and indigenous women should have a voice in elaborating the post-2015 agenda.
However, Ms. Davis pointed out that the Forum had observed a lack of understanding regarding violence against indigenous women and girls, as seen in the paucity of statistics on that issue. To address that gap, the Forum, in 2012, had held the International Expert Group Meeting on Combating Violence against Women and Girls. It was the first meeting to discuss the matter and the correlating article 22.2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That article outlined that “States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.”
At the Meeting, indigenous women experts had recounted historical and contemporary examples of violence, she said, including internal displacement and murder of Aboriginal women, as well as environmental violence and cultural practices. Participants also noted that violence in the private domain, which was under- or unreported, involved spousal violence and sexual assault, as well as racialized sexual violence.
The Meeting’s report showcased the Forum’s pioneering work within the United Nations system, leading to a subsequent report — “Breaking the Silence on Violence against Indigenous Girls, Adolescents and Young Women” — that addressed the system’s failure deal with such serious human rights issues. Indigenous women were often removed from prominent campaigns, such as UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, which either trivialized or did not represent indigenous women’s serious struggle against complex discrimination.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, many agreed it was critically important to discuss issues concerning indigenous women, particularly on the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, adopted at the 1995 World Conference on Women.
For their part, many Government representatives voiced support for the enhancement of indigenous peoples’ rights. Australia’s speaker said the Government had allocated $2.5 billion over four years to the Jobs, Land and Economy Programme, which supported adults into work, and assisted indigenous people to generate economic and social benefits from effective use of their land.
The representative of Ecuador underscored not only how his Government fully supported gender equality and had revised legislation to enhance women’s participation in decision-making, but his pride of being the father of an indigenous child.
Nonetheless, some indigenous speakers spoke to the lack of legal recognition of indigenous groups, with a representative of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samiti pointing out that the Government of Bangladesh did not recognize civil, political and economic rights of indigenous peoples, and was imposing instead a mono-ethnic and unilingual identity.
Representatives of the following indigenous groups also spoke: Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, Comision Juridica para el Autodesarrollo de los Pueblos Originarios Andinos – Capaj, International Organization for Self-Determination and Equality, Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indigenas Campesinas y Comunidades Interculturales de Bolivia – COINCABOL, the Native Women's Association of Canada, Indigenous People’s International Centre for Policy Research and Education, Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network, Youth Caucus, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network, School Sisters of Notre Dame (Lanca Nation), Organismo Indigena para la Planificacion del Desarrollo Naleb, and Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu Conamaq.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Forum members from Cameroon and Bangladesh also addressed the Forum.
The Forum will reconvene on 29 April at 10 a.m.