A new status should be created for indigenous peoples to participate more fully in the work of United Nations bodies, speakers in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said today, advocating a process that would allow them to choose their representatives in line with their unique legal and cultural norms.
Claire Charters, Adviser to the President of the General Assembly, described the process under way to address the question of enhanced participation, noting that it first and foremost recognized indigenous peoples as peoples rather than non-governmental organizations. The Assembly President was compiling views and had appointed four advisers to assist in the preparation of a final document to be presented to the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples on 11 July.
Among the positions advocated was for the granting of permanent observer status, she said. Some had suggested it apply “across the board” to ensure that indigenous peoples’ views were reflected in decisions that impacted them. To accredit participants in a unique category, others had proposed forming an “independent group” of indigenous peoples. Criteria for determining whom would be eligible for unique status raised questions about how to define “indigenous peoples” amid difficulties around self-identification and State recognition.
Nonetheless, she said, views had coalesced around the point that where indigenous peoples participated at United Nations, they had helped in the formation of policy and the legitimacy of processes.
In the ensuring debate, speakers from indigenous groups, Governments and United Nations bodies described efforts to follow-up on the outcome of the 2014 World Conference of Indigenous Peoples, which contained a pledge to consider how to enable the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies.
The representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway said there was nothing in the United Nations Charter or the Assembly’s rules of procedure that prevented it from granting observer status. Decision 49/426 — stipulating that the granting of status should be confined to States and non-governmental organizations — should not constrain deliberations on indigenous peoples’ participatory rights. “The question of whether observer status is granted is contingent on whether States have the political will to do so,” she stressed.
With that in mind, some Government speakers noted that existing categories did not adequately reflect indigenous peoples’ unique features, with the United States representative noting that they should not have to participate at the United Nations as non-governmental groups, because many tribal communities self-governed and their leaders were accountable to those who had elected or appointed them. While discussions were ongoing, she encouraged indigenous peoples to contribute to discussions through the major groups mechanism.
On that point, Joan Carling, Forum member from the Philippines, said she had participated in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) process within the major groups mechanism. “This procedure has very limited influence on the overall result of the SDGs,” she stressed.
Guatemala’s representative said there should be better coordination among existing United Nations mandates on the issue of indigenous peoples, specifically among the Expert Mechanism, the Special Rapporteur and the Forum. A similar point was raised by the representative of Denmark, on behalf of the Nordic countries, who said proposals to change the structure of the Expert Mechanism into a special procedures working group or a monitoring body resembling treaty bodies were not convincing. She envisaged reforms that included a specific and more independent mandate.
Mexico’s representative, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, stressed the need for cooperation with indigenous peoples to identify measures at the national level. None of the goals set out in the outcome document could be achieved without broad inclusive partnership.
The Vice-President of Guyana added that there were four indigenous ministers in the administration, the highest in history.
Taking a historical perspective, the representative of the National Salvadoran Indigenous Coordination Council said the dynamics of States functioning in international spaces had always been geared to denying the existence of indigenous peoples. Currently, however, thanks to the struggle of indigenous men and women, a process of dialogue and political convergence had been established.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Indigenous Missionary Council, Tebtebba, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Federación Nativa del Río Madre de Dios y Afluentes (FENAMAD) and Tribal Link, as well as an indigenous parliamentarian from Venezuela.
The representatives of Indonesia, Bolivia, South Africa, New Zealand and Brazil also spoke.
Representatives of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) also made interventions, as did the Permanent Forum member from the United States.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 16 May, to continue its fifteenth session.
Remarks by Adviser to General Assembly President
CLAIRE CHARTERS, Adviser to the President of General Assembly, described a process for indigenous peoples’ participation at the United Nations, stemming from the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The process recognized that indigenous peoples were not non-governmental organizations, but rather peoples who had the right to self-determination. It was appreciated that they had a unique form of participation at the United Nations. The process was advancing that it would not undermine their participation in forums such as the Forum. There were difficulties for indigenous peoples acquiring non-governmental organization status in the Economic and Social Council, which was also relevant for the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
She said the process under way had been mandated by the General Assembly. The Assembly President was responsible for compiling views and contributions on the question of indigenous peoples’ enhanced participation. He had appointed four advisers to assist in the compilation process, which had started in February and was officially launched in March. The first consultation had been an electronic one, in which the President received submissions on indigenous peoples’ participation. On that basis, a first draft of the compilation of views had been prepared. She urged reviewing the draft and making contributions.
The Assembly President had held the first face-to-face consultations on 11 May, she said, and was putting together a compilation of views. There would be one further such consultation on 30 June, after which the compilation would be finalized and presented to the Expert Mechanism on 11 July. The President would then form the basis for further activity in the General Assembly, with the issue addressed during the Assembly’s next session.
Among the questions addressed in the compilation was a unique status for indigenous peoples at the United Nations, she said, some advocating permanent observer status, which had implications for indigenous peoples’ participation in the General Assembly. Many had commented that indigenous peoples’ participation was required “across the board” at the United Nations. In terms of the procedure to consider indigenous peoples’ accreditation in a unique category, one idea that had gained traction was around an independent group of indigenous peoples.
Given the difficulty of defining “indigenous peoples” across the world, there were questions about eligibility criteria. There was appreciation that there must be flexibility in determining who was eligible for unique status, including around self-identification and State recognition, which some stated should not be the determining factor. More broadly, views had coalesced around the point that, where indigenous peoples had participated at the United Nations, they had helped in the formation of policy and the legitimacy of processes through which indigenous peoples had advanced their rights.
The Forum then held its general debate on item 3, follow-up to the recommendations of the Permanent Forum.
SYDNEY ALLICOCK, Vice-President of Guyana, said ending poverty, providing education, addressing climate change and promoting peaceful societies were pertinent to the way of life that indigenous peoples sought to achieve. Guyana was committed to upholding all its treaty obligations that ensured the rights of indigenous peoples. At the national level, it had made progress in addressing their needs through integrated development policies and partnerships. National responses were based on existing sustainable development policies, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The rights of indigenous peoples were guaranteed in the Constitution and outlined in the 2006 Amerindian Act, and they were represented in Parliament and at high levels of Government. Their right as related to land was a priority, notably through the integrated hinterland development plan. Guyana sought to preserve records of indigenous culture, customs and practices. There was more work to do in terms of socioeconomic development and institutional strengthening, including in such areas as project management. Paramount was the formulation of national development plans with indigenous peoples’ participation.
DAVID ALEJANDRO RUBIO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said he also represented the Inter-Agency Support Group of the Permanent Forum, which brought together more than 40 United Nations and other entities to cooperate on indigenous issues. The World Conference outcome document had requested the Secretary-General to develop a system-wide action plan for achieving the Declaration. The 2015 annual meeting of the Inter-Agency Support Group had focused on finalizing that plan and had benefitted from participation by the former Chair of the Forum, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It focused on awareness-raising of the Declaration, supporting implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights at the country level and advancing their participation in United Nations processes, among other things. The Support Group also had shared planned activities to enhance coordination in implementing the Declaration, which it expected to complete in October.
SANDRAYATI MONIAGA, National Human Rights Commission (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia) of Indonesia, said that a national inquiry had identified issues confronted by indigenous peoples in forest zones resulting from Government policies going back to the Dutch colonial period. Her organization valued efforts to resolve those issues which led to human rights violations in West Papua and other places. She recommended that the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues include a category for the accreditation of national human rights institutions so that they could participate in the Forum and related activities. She also recommended that the Forum hold an interactive session on the role of those institutions in monitoring indigenous peoples’ rights and development.
DAVID CHOQUEHUANCA CÉSPEDES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bolivia, said that in his country indigenous peoples were not just consulted. Rather, they participated and took decisions, with representation in such bodies as the judiciary, the executive and local and regional governments. In education, indigenous peoples were recovering their ancestral knowledge, deciphering the codes handed down from their grandparents. They were also involved in the leadership of “multiversities” which focused on knowledge of the cosmos. Noting that his country had a Vice Minister of ancestral medicine and justice, he said that everyone fed off the milk of Mother Earth, which was water, and that fact made them brothers.
MARTIN OELZ, Senior Specialist on Equality and Non-Discrimination, International Labour Organization (ILO), outlined steps taken to promote social justice and decent work, including through the hosting of ILO Convention No. 169. The ILO had joined forces with Denmark, Mexico and the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs to hold a 2014 seminar which had taken stock of the Convention on its twenty-fifth anniversary. The outcomes of that seminar contributed to developing the first strategy for action for indigenous peoples, endorsed by the Executive Board in November 2015. It was underpinned by the belief that ensuring their rights was fundamental to achieving sustainable development and included promoting Convention No. 169 and strengthening dialogue between indigenous peoples and institutions. The strategy aimed to address the data gap on social conditions. Despite the visibility of Convention No. 169, its implications were often unknown to decision-makers, especially at the local level. As such, the ILO would promote its provisions among key stakeholders.
The representative of the Indigenous Missionary Council, denouncing violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil, as seen in actions by the three powers of Government, cited constitutional amendment 215, which invalidated the demarcation of lands and questioned the exclusive use of those lands, generating conflict. The judiciary sought to unduly characterize the Constitution’s article 231 through a restrictive interpretation of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples. The Executive Branch tried to paralyse demarcation procedures. There were at least 360 lands that lacked any procedure for demarcation. The political situation was unstable. In the Amazon, there had been routine home burnings, political arrests, deforestation, water contamination, the murder of leaders and spread of monocrop plantations. In the Brazilian Amazon, 105 peoples living in voluntary isolation had been threatened by major infrastructure, timber, oil and agribusiness projects, which had displaced them. A Government decree had established ethno-educational territories, without consultation, only three of which had been set up. They neither were fully functional nor upheld the right to a bilingual education that addressed different cultural realities. The Forum must urge Brazil to demarcate and protect all indigenous territories; ensure the protection of indigenous activists; and ensure free, prior and informed consent, as outlined in ILO Convention No. 169.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said the current session was an opportunity to take stock of progress since the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Reaffirming the Group’s commitment to respect and promote indigenous rights, he stressed the need for cooperation with indigenous peoples to identify measures to be taken at the national level. None of the goals set out in the outcome document of the World Conference could be achieved without broad, inclusive partnership. The Group welcomed the decision of the Commission on the Status of Women to consider the empowerment of indigenous women as a focus area during its sixty-first session. It was also pleased to see progress in implementing those parts of the outcome document regarding the participation of indigenous peoples in relevant United Nations meetings on themes which concerned them, he said, adding that indigenous peoples had a friend at the United Nations who would advocate for full implementation of the outcome document.
GRACE BALAWAG, Tebtebba, expressed concern about the impact of poverty reduction programmes on indigenous women in the Philippines. She said she did not question the benefits of such programmes, but indigenous women had raised concerns of their negative impact on their communities. Indigenous birth processes were meanwhile being disenfranchised as a result of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals concerning maternal and infant mortality. While that might not sound urgent, the long-term effect could be devastating. She went on to recommend that the Forum carry out a study on cash transfer programmes implemented in response to the Goals.
JULIE GARFIELDT KOFEED (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, described initiatives launched in the follow-up to the World Conference, citing an expert workshop, held in April, on review of the Expert Mechanism’s mandate. The main strength of the Mechanism was that it addressed indigenous peoples’ rights from a human rights perspective. Arguments to change that structure into a special procedures working group, or a monitoring body resembling treaty bodies, were not convincing. She supported maintaining the current structure, but envisaged reforms that included a specific and more independent mandate. The Human Rights Council should take better advantage of the Mechanism by amending resolution 6/36. The Mechanism should report annually on the status for achieving the Declaration. States should not be obliged to report on the Declaration, but rather voluntarily share information. Indigenous peoples must participate at the United Nations as peoples, and not as non-governmental organizations, she said, stressing that existing categories did not adequately reflect their unique features and she looked forward to the creation of a new category.
AILI KESKITALO, Sami Parliament of Norway, noting that she represented the Arctic Indigenous Caucus, said the Forum should urge States to adopt national measures in line with the World Conference outcome document. Arctic indigenous peoples had worked with others to promote effective follow up to the document, especially related to operational paragraphs 28 and 33. The Expert Mechanism should be mandated to voluntarily engage with States and indigenous peoples to address country-specific situations to find solutions that fostered the Declaration’s implementation. It should gather information from all sources in matters concerning the rights enshrined in the Declaration. At the United Nations, permanent observer status should be granted to indigenous governments, parliaments and other authorities, she said, noting that a new category should be created at the General Assembly level, which would allow for their independent participation through representatives chosen by them and in line with their own legal procedures. There was nothing in the United Nations Charter or the Assembly’s rules of procedure that prevented it from granting observer status. While decision 49/426 stipulated that the granting of status should be confined to States and non-governmental organizations, it should not constrain deliberations on indigenous peoples’ participatory rights at the Organization. The question of whether observer status was granted was contingent on whether States had the political will to do so.
OBED BAPELA, Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa, said all Governments had an obligation to consult, at the national level, with their indigenous communities. There should be enough political will to address tensions between the Government and indigenous communities in ways that preserved the territorial integrity of sovereign States, he said, adding that the politics of succession could only undermine the core principles of the United Nations Charter. Legitimate concerns that indigenous peoples’ plight and interests were not being well served by international processes beyond the Permanent Forum required deeper reflection. Serious thought should be given to elaborating a Convention with legally binding norms and standards to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples.
ROBERT LESLIE MALEZER, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, recalled how difficult it could be for indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination to be recognized. That should not be the case. The system-wide action plan, while important, consisted of statements of policy, with no process for indigenous peoples to sign off on. He recommended further discussion on capacity-building for Member State officials who lacked knowledge about indigenous peoples’ interests and concerns. Thanking the Group of Friends for its work, he said that indigenous peoples very much wanted an enhanced status that went beyond the limitations of Economic and Social Council non-governmental organization status.
MARCOS YAX GUINEA, Member of Congress and Chairman of the Commission on Indigenous Peoples of the Congress of Guatemala, said the World Conference had created a platform for bolstering dialogue. Among the main challenges was guaranteeing better application of the Declaration. Guatemala had issued the law on national languages, a municipal code against discrimination, a framework law on the peace accords, and codification of discrimination as a crime. There should be better coordination among existing United Nations mandates on the issue of indigenous peoples, specifically among the Expert Mechanism, the Special Rapporteur and the Forum. Guatemala and Mexico were playing a role in the possible negotiation of a new mandate for the Expert Mechanism, the goal of which was for it to have an institutional foundation and comply with the outcome document. Measures were being reviewed to guarantee indigenous peoples’ participation at the United Nations, without being categorized as civil society or non-governmental organizations.
DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Forum member from the United States, expressed concern at the extent of indigenous peoples’ input into the system-wide action plan, stressing the need to revise procedural rules so as to guarantee their access to United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental forums.
PATRICIA GUATEMENA, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, speaking on the system-wide action plan, recommended that United Nations agencies, funds and programmes develop culturally sensitive approaches and education material, in collaboration with indigenous peoples, and provide resources for translation. They also should support the development and implementation of national action plans, which included administrative measures to implement the Declaration. Their support for capacity-building that helped indigenous peoples maintain engagement with States should be given priority. They should ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights and development were incorporated into national plans for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as report regularly to the Forum on implementation of the system-wide action plan.
JORGE JIMÉNEZ, General Director for Comprehensive Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, reiterated the political will of his Government to move forward on indigenous peoples’ rights. He noted how bolstering their rights was part of the current five-year national development plan, and that the Government was participating in an inclusive process, steered by indigenous peoples, on an indigenous peoples’ action plan. Recalling the motto “nothing above us without us,” he gave the floor to Betty Elisa Pérez.
BETTY ELISA PÉREZ, National Salvadoran Indigenous Coordination Council of El Salvador, said the dynamics of the function of States in international spaces had always been geared to denying the existence of indigenous peoples. Currently, however, thanks to the struggle of indigenous men and women, a process of dialogue and political convergence had been established between indigenous peoples and the State, enabling progress on the recognition of indigenous peoples. She highlighted how El Salvador was finalizing an implementation plan for the outcome document of the World Conference, with support from the United Nations system. Stressing the urgent need for the Government to define a single mechanism for interfacing with indigenous peoples, she called, as a women, for attention to be paid to the criminalization of the struggle to protect Mother Earth.
JULIO CUSURICHI, Federación Nativa del Río Madre de Dios y Afluentes (FENAMAD), drew attention to the violations of rights resulting from mining activities and oil concessions which affected rivers, forests and indigenous economies. Noting a lack of political will to protect indigenous peoples voluntarily living in isolation, he called on the Forum to call upon Governments, especially that of Peru, to implement legal mechanisms to protect their rights. Otherwise, he said, those people faced genocide due to extraction activities. Those who administered forests so that humanity could breathe did not get to experience any of the benefits. Rather, they were getting poorer and poorer, with not even the most basic services, he said, recommending the establishment of an international tribunal for the rights of indigenous peoples.
LINDA LUM (United States) said indigenous peoples should not have to participate at the United Nations as non-governmental groups, because many tribal communities self-governed and their leaders were accountable to those who had elected or appointed them. Hearing from tribal representatives would inform debate by injecting a wider range of views. While proposals had complex policy and legal considerations, “we must make the effort”, she said, noting that in April 2015, her Government had outlined which United Nations bodies would be candidates for the new participation procedures; criteria for determining how indigenous peoples could qualify; and information on application, evaluation and selection processes. While talks were ongoing, she encouraged indigenous peoples to contribute to discussions through the Major Groups mechanism.
Mr. RUBIO, responding to comments by the representatives from El Salvador, said IFAD’s commitment was to concrete action in each canton where there were indigenous peoples. He called on the Government to give life to documents related to indigenous peoples, noting that the Fund would facilitate space for dialogue and democratic participation, while strengthening environmental processes through ways of life and focusing on economic development.
JOAN CARLING, Forum member from the Philippines, encouraged indigenous peoples to participate in consultations on their participation at the United Nations. She had participated in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) process within the major groups mechanism. “This procedure has very limited influence on the overall result of the SDGs”, she said, noting that while it was another level of participation, there were limits on indigenous peoples’ effective participation. On the system-wide plan, she advocated partnership with indigenous peoples at the country level on its planning, implementation and evaluation.
An Indigenous parliamentarian from Venezuela emphasized the fundamental importance of indigenous languages, calling them a way to ensure that modernity and new ways of colonization would not lead to the disappearance of indigenous peoples. She said that, for 180 years, indigenous people in Venezuela had been ignored by racist and exclusive constitutions, but that changed with the arrival of President Hugo Chávez, who decreed that they would participate in the drafting of a new constitution that recognized the official nature of indigenous languages.
JACLYN WILLIAMS (New Zealand), recalling that her country was undertaking a range of actions consistent with the outcome document of the World Conference, said there was still more to do, particularly to increase social, cultural and health indicators for Maori. She welcomed consultations on the participation of indigenous peoples in relevant United Nations processes, saying their voice was crucial for advancing indigenous rights and issues. To achieve the objectives of the outcome document, the Government would strengthen its relationship with Maori to ensure that long-term priorities for advancing indigenous well-being were addressed.
DANIEL SALAU, Tribal Link, noting that he represented indigenous peoples from Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean and North America, expressed concern at the lack of implementation of key provisions of the outcome document pertaining to free, prior and informed consent. Across the regions, States were limiting such consent in their focus on implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. They were excluding indigenous peoples in those processes by not obtaining their free, prior and informed consent in plans for forced development, contravening the Declaration, the outcome document and the Paris climate accord. The Forum should call on States to report on the full participation of indigenous peoples in the development, review and monitoring of action plans to implement the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
ARTUR NOBRE MENDES (Brazil) said the only way to achieve social justice was to foster indigenous peoples’ participation in forums that affected their lives. In 2015, Brazil had held the first national conference on indigenous policy, which included more than 30,000 indigenous people, who had put forward their opinions to the President. He also cited the creation of the national council of indigenous policy, under the Ministry of Justice, which had begun its work in April. Brazil was aware of its shortcomings and was working to support indigenous peoples’ rights. Since the 1988 promulgation of the Constitution, Brazil had regularized 500 indigenous lands, equivalent to the surface area of the twenty-fifth biggest country, 95 per cent of which were in the Brazilian Amazon, where the deforestation rate was less than 2 per cent. Recent decisions included four land studies, recognition of six more indigenous lands and demarcation authorizing seven new lands. Noting that the Special Rapporteur had found that draft amendment 215 could hinder recognition of indigenous lands and peoples’ protection, he underscored his Government’s commitment to ILO Convention No. 169.
* The 7th Meeting was closed.