Changes in Working Methods Urged, as Some Raise Issues of Self-determination
After 15 years, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had matured into a unique platform for the exchange of knowledge, but must now find ways to ensure the implementation of its recommendations or risk losing its hard-won credibility, speakers said today while suggesting changes to consider in developing future work programmes.
During a half-day meeting, speakers representing indigenous groups, Governments and the United Nations system explored the potential for sessions to include new formats in which indigenous peoples and States could discuss critical issues. Several advanced ideas for the Forum itself to better act upon recommendations it received each year, and in turn, to ensure that its own guidance to States and other partners was implemented.
“Without change, States and indigenous peoples will continue to talk across each other,” the speaker for New Zealand’s Ben Wakefield Trust noted, suggesting that the Permanent Forum hold regional meetings, facilitated by expert members, to foster direct dialogue.
The representative of the Alifuru Council urged the Permanent Forum to send a questionnaire to indigenous peoples, Member States, United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations, asking how its working methods for the sixteenth session could be improved.
Denmark’s representative declared: “Recommendations have little or no value if they do not become a reality on the ground and, in fact, change the lives of indigenous peoples,” a task in which States, indigenous peoples and United Nations must be engaged. Speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, she said that compiling the recommendations and a record of their implementation status would create a “point of departure” for discussions on a future strategic focus.
The Russian Federation’s representative, noting recent changes in working methods, asked how effective closed meetings had been and whether the practice would continue, warning that they could threaten the Forum’s credibility. Expressing regret over attempts to politicize debate, she voiced hope that the Chair would redirect discussions appropriately.
Other speakers pointed out that hopes for a better future often came down to whether and how well States implemented the right to self-determination. The representative of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition called for a three-year study on State implementation of self-determination, and a two-year study on contemporary dispossession of indigenous peoples, focusing on how the United Nations could facilitate adjudication between States and indigenous peoples.
Amid other calls for a three-year strategic plan, the Director of Governance and Peacebuilding of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that engaging with indigenous peoples would comprise a core part of the Programme’s implementation support for the 2030 Agenda. UNDP would also continue to implement a wide variety of environmental programmes for the benefit of indigenous peoples, he added, citing more than 192 projects implemented with indigenous organizations through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) during the 2014-2015 period.
A Forum member from the Philippines said that the Permanent Forum had had ample possibilities to participate in different meetings in which the Sustainable Development Goals were being framed. “We are rights holders and it is important that we are treated as equal partners,” she emphasized, adding that she looked forward to stronger collaboration with Member States and other partners in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Also speaking today were representatives of Guyana, Chile, Guatemala and Australia, as well as the European Union.
An indigenous parliamentarian from Indonesia joined speakers representing the following organizations in addressing the Permanent Forum: National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact; Indian Law Resource Center; Disability Caucus; International Native Tradition Interchange; and Tebtebba.
The Permanent Forum also heard interventions by officials of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), WEConnect International, High-level Panel of the Secretary-General on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Voluntary Fund on Indigenous Peoples, and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).
Permanent Forum Members from Australia, Ecuador and Cameroon also spoke.
The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 19 May, to continue its fifteenth session.
Ms. GARFIELDT-KOFOED (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said recommendations had little or no value unless they became realities on the ground and changed the lives of indigenous peoples. It was, therefore, the Forum’s responsibility to ensure appropriate follow-up to its recommendations and their implementation. She proposed that its sixteenth session set aside space for ensuring that concrete action was taken on past recommendations, in particular through a compilation of such proposals and the status of their implementation. Emphasizing the need to preserve, at all costs, the Forum’s orientation towards dialogue, she proposed a three-year strategic work programme to focus discussions, suggesting a strategic focus on one or two main themes, as well as one or two follow-up themes as one way forward.
RAFAEL DE BUSTAMANTE, European Union, said the bloc’s policies on indigenous issues dated back to the 1990s, and it was currently in the process of reviewing them with a view to ensuring their coherence with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous issues focused prominently in the European Union Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019, adopted in 2015, which called for stepping up efforts to protect human rights defenders, with a particular focus on those working on labour rights, land-related human rights issues and indigenous peoples in the context of land-grabbing and climate change. Citing the plan’s section on ensuring a comprehensive European Union approach to conflict and crisis, he emphasized the need to ensure full and effective participation by indigenous peoples at various levels in developing policies affecting them. The European Union’s new policy document would be published by the end of 2016, he said, expressing his high expectation that it would bring added visibility to the bloc’s engagement in indigenous issues.
MEGAN DAVIS, Forum Chair and member from Australia, said the rotation rule was informed by the fact that one person had held the position of Chair for six years and arose from people’s desire to see one of their own hold the position. She recalled that at the outset of the session, she had presented a report on the progress of recommendations made the previous year, and emphasized the importance of acknowledging where reforms had been carried out.
CATHRYN EATOCK, Aboriginal Rights Coalition, recommended a three-year study on State implementation of self-determination, and a two-year study on contemporary dispossession of indigenous peoples, focusing on how the United Nations could facilitate mediation and adjudication between States and indigenous peoples. Australia had retreated from commitments to self-determination through such policies as the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention, which had sent 600 soldiers into remote Aboriginal communities, removed their management and access to social security payments, and broken up previous communal land titles. The Indigenous Advance Strategy had reduced funding from 2.4 billion Australian dollars in 2014 to 860 million Australian dollars in 2015, awarding 55 per cent of grants to non-indigenous organizations, she noted.
SYDNEY ALLICOCK, Vice-President and Minister for Indigenous Peoples Affairs of Guyana, noted that indigenous peoples had been among the nine major groups involved in the consultations leading up to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. As a result, the Agenda contained numerous elements that could help address the development concerns of indigenous peoples. The Permanent Forum had the responsibility to monitor and highlight critical gaps that must be mainstreamed across the 2030 Agenda to ensure full realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, he said, adding that there must be a continuous push for guaranteed access to education at all levels. More qualified teachers were also needed, and indigenous languages should be incorporated into school curricula. Emphasizing the importance of prioritizing housing and urban development and addressing the challenges of climate change, he said one benefit of such efforts would be an increase in the job opportunities available to young people. Access to reliable energy was critical to ensuring that information and communications technology penetrated hinterland, poor and remote indigenous communities, he said, stressing also the need to improve the provision of health-care services, personnel and facilities for indigenous peoples, in particular women and girls.
IRENA ZUBCEVIC, Officer-in-Charge, Intergovernmental Branch, Division of Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, briefly reviewed the history of the 2030 Agenda, noting that in adopting it, Member States had taken a decision to place the world on a sustainable path and to leave no one behind. The Agenda’s universality was of critical importance for indigenous peoples, since they were mentioned in it, among other groups, as part of the “most vulnerable” category, and were specifically referred to in Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger and Goal 4 on ensuring quality and equitable education. The Permanent Forum could engage with the follow-up process at various levels, including the national and regional levels. The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development was tasked with thematic review of the Sustainable Development Goals, she noted, stressing the importance of indigenous participation in that process, while citing a letter from the Economic and Social Council seeking the Permanent Forum’s inputs into the High-level Political Forum’s discussions.
ERMA SURYANI RANIK, Indigenous Parliamentarian, said she was from Indonesia, where 30 to 50 million out of a total 254 million people were indigenous. She said she had visited indigenous leaders in Papua, who did much to defend their rights. Indonesia had previously not used the term “indigenous peoples”, but today the Constitution’s recognition of indigenous peoples was based on the principle guiding the unitary republic. Related to rights was the issue of forest and land fires, most of which occurred around palm oil plantations, she said, expressing hope that a bill on the protection of indigenous peoples, a legacy from the previous Government, would be completed by 2019. Noting that the current Criminal Code was a legacy of the Dutch, she said that a new bill, to be completed in 2017, stated that a judge had the right to apply customary law in each local area, meaning that its use in each district would be accommodated in the criminal justice system.
JACKIE HUGGINS, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said her country’s programmes did not meet international human rights standards, and despite the United Nations having recommended constitutional reviews to ensure non-discrimination, the Australian Constitution remained unchanged, allowing Parliament to make laws that discriminated against Torres Strait Islanders. The National Congress had called on Australia to restore local governments and decision-making structures, but “these changes have not happened”, she said, pointing out that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were imprisoned at more than 25 times the rate for non-indigenous Australians.
JUAN EDUARDO FAUNDEZ MOLINA (Chile) said his country was working for structural and cultural change in order to meet the needs of indigenous communities. Noting that the world was up against a major environmental crisis, he said that most indigenous communities had an implicit ecological dimension. Protecting the rights of indigenous peoples benefited all the planet’s peoples, and “every right that is conquered for indigenous peoples means moving in a direction that puts what is human at the centre of sustainable development”. That was no easy task, and accomplishing it would mean changing the order of priorities inherent in the current economic model. The situation of indigenous peoples was unique and distinct in each country, and international bodies must take that into account to a greater degree, he said, calling upon United Nations Expert Mechanisms to strengthen their efforts in carrying out studies relating to indigenous issues. The classification and extension of good policies on indigenous practices was also important, and Chile was on the brink of building a “new social contract” between its nine groups of indigenous peoples and the rest of society, which would make it possible to enshrine indigenous peoples’ rights in the national legal order.
HANS BRATTSKAR, United Nations Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), described an ambitious programme launched by the Government of Norway and other partners in 2015 to ensure that indigenous voices would be heard at the Paris Conference on climate change. While indigenous peoples played a critical role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, not least as stewards of the world’s tropical forests, their voices often went unheard in decision-making processes, despite their clear contributions, he said. The Indigenous Peoples Caucus had presented a clear set of priorities before the Paris Conference, he said, adding that two global dialogues had also been held in advance of that meeting to ensure the incorporation of those messages into national positions. As a result of such efforts, indigenous rights and priorities were formally embedded throughout the Paris Agreement, he said, noting that indigenous peoples had contributed in an unprecedented way to global and national climate policy. They had also created lasting platforms for advocacy and the sharing of knowledge, he said, emphasizing that their participation in the Paris Conference had contributed to a more inclusive and credible climate agreement.
KINGI SNELGAR, Ben Wakefield Trust, said that when indigenous peoples raised issues, there was often no response from States. “Without change, States and indigenous peoples will continue to talk across each other.” The Forum should hold regional meetings, facilitated by expert members, to foster direct dialogue on issues relating to the Declaration, he suggested. Noting that New Zealand did not recognize his people’s constitution, which had been legalized by his ancestors, he said the country had also not domesticated the Declaration. It had determined that Maori self-government was unworkable, basing that determination on the doctrine of State sovereignty. Emphasizing that sovereignty should not be an absolute barrier to discussing self-government, he urged the Forum to better promote dialogue, consider a study on the doctrine of State sovereignty, and give standing to indigenous peoples’ participation at the United Nations as indigenous nations.
DWIGHT DOREY, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments must use the Declaration and consult all indigenous peoples in reviewing and reforming laws and policies. They must also acknowledge that indigenous peoples must be provided the necessary financial and human resources to fully participate in open and fair consultations. The 1999 Daniels v. Canada case, which outlined Canada’s obligation to consult with Metis and non-status “Indians” with respect to their rights, interests and needs, meant that Canada could no longer continue to play a “political game” with provinces over jurisdiction and could thus initiate a framework for reconciliation. His organization had submitted a political accord and “road map for renewal and reconciliation” to the Prime Minister.
GHAZALI OHORELLA, Alifuru Council, said the Forum should send a questionnaire to indigenous peoples, States, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, asking how it could improve its working methods for the sixteenth session. He went on to emphasize that a rights-based approach was essential to addressing climate change, which exacerbated the political and economic marginalization of indigenous peoples. In response to comments made yesterday by the representative of Indonesia, he said that General Assembly resolution 2625 (1970) outlined that the principle of territorial integrity applied only to States that were in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination. He reminded Indonesia that all States were obliged to respect the right to self-determination.
MARIA E. CHOQUE QUISPE, Forum member from Ecuador, said that indigenous peoples in the Latin America and Caribbean region had long debated the concept of sustainable development. For them, development had frequently meant “bad development” that led to hunger, poverty, land-grabbing and dispossession of indigenous lands. Indigenous communities had been fighting against such activities on a daily basis, she said. Emphasizing the indigenous concept of “living well”, she said it hinged upon authenticity, dignity and self-determination. Living well also meant a close relationship with Mother Earth, a viewpoint that must be taken into account in the new sustainable development agenda. Indeed, sustainable development could provide an alternative to the “bad development” of the past, she said, stressing the need to recognize land as more than an economic resource. Efforts to combat climate change must also incorporate indigenous knowledge and ways of thinking, she added.
Ms. DAVIS thanked participants for their concrete recommendations, particularly those on the importance of increasing communication on the Permanent Forum’s workings.
Ms. SUKACHEVA (Russian Federation), noting recent changes in the modalities of the Permanent Forum’s work, asked how effective closed meetings had been and whether the practice would continue in the future. All stakeholders should be included in the Forum’s discussions, she said, warning that closed meetings could threaten its credibility. She expressed regret over attempts by some stakeholders to politicize the Forum’s work, and expressed her hope that the Chair would use his authority to redirect discussions to the appropriate topics. She added that the Forum must adhere to regulations on the length of statements by participants, which had frequently been violated throughout the current session. Regarding themes for future study, she proposed a study on the effectiveness of efforts to facilitate the participation of indigenous peoples.
GRETA SCHETTLER, Vice-President, WEConnect International, and member of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, said that, on basis of global consultations, the Panel would publish two reports that would explore ways in which to better engage indigenous peoples in its activities. The first, to be launched in September, would examine the importance of women’s economic empowerment in sustainable development, including potential actions going forward. She said WEConnect was led by companies interested in incorporating women-owned businesses into their supply chains, explaining that inclusiveness and diversity would result in sustainable economic growth.
The Vice-Chair of the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples said the High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment offered an opportunity to raise the profile of women learning in such fields as gastronomy, tourism, design and combating violence by combining their economic empowerment with their political empowerment. Its report must respond to the challenges facing indigenous women as they learned, by providing appropriate financial and credit schemes, she said, emphasizing that indigenous women must be included in the Panel’s regional meeting, to be held in Costa Rica in June. She suggested that the Forum’s 2017 session include the empowerment of indigenous women as an agenda item, and the follow-up to the High-level Panel’s report. It should also consider the use of science, technology and innovation in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
ATAMA KATAMA, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and PACOS Trust, said that despite significant progress, the Sustainable Development Goals still lacked inclusive language, specific goals and action areas to “leave no one behind”. It was critical to ensure full and effective participation by indigenous peoples in national development planning processes, including identifying and prioritizing the targets and indicators of the Goals. At the United Nations level, indigenous peoples lacked meaningful participation in the High-level Political Forum, the central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda, he noted, calling on the Permanent Forum to urge the Economic and Social Council to ensure their full and effective participation. Attaining the Sustainable Development Goals meant securing the collective rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources, he said, calling on Member States, as well as United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, to pay particular attention to data collection and disaggregation, for the allocation of sufficient funds, and for initiatives to build capacity.
Ms. POP CAL, Ombudsperson for Indigenous Women of Guatemala, said her office had been created in an effort to eradicate violence against indigenous women and to foster a multicultural environment. It currently ran 14 strategic regional centres providing legal and psychological assistance to indigenous women, she said, adding that the Government had adopted various other mechanisms for improving the quality of life for Guatemala’s more than 2 million indigenous women. Describing a number of those social programmes, such as the “Zero Hunger Pact”, she said such efforts had reduced chronic malnutrition and seasonal hunger among indigenous peoples. The Ombudperson’s office also worked to provide basic health and nutrition services, education on nutrition, care for those vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition, sanitation in schools and housing. Among other proposals, she suggested that the draft resolution on the Permanent Forum’s present session include a recommendation urging the United Nations system to ensure that Governments initiate programmes and policies promoting ethnic and linguistic diversity in their national plans.
PATRICK KEULEERS, Director of Governance and Peacebuilding, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that engaging with indigenous peoples would comprise a core part of the Programme’s implementation support for the 2030 Agenda. Particular attention would be paid to Goal 16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies, Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities. Equally important would be providing support for building capacity in indigenous organizations so they could track progress, he said, adding that UNDP would work closely with them at the country level to ensure that “localization of the Goals reaches even the most remote communities”. At the global level, the Programme saw the 2030 Agenda as a unique opportunity to realize the full rights of indigenous peoples and to support consultations between communities and Governments in order to resolve conflicts fairly. It would continue to implement a wide variety of environmental programmes of benefit to indigenous peoples, he said, pointing to the more than 192 projects implemented jointly with indigenous organizations through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) during the 2014-2015 period.
GERVAIS NZOA, Forum member from Cameroon, requested that the UNDP representative provide details on the work presented during the fourteenth session.
KARLA GENERAL, Indian Law Resource Center of the United States, said that despite important steps taken by the Forum to address violence against indigenous women, the Declaration and the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples demanded that the United Nations system intensify its efforts. The Forum should urge the Secretary-General to issue a report containing recommendations on preventing and eliminating violence against indigenous women and girls, with a view to enhancing existing special procedures of the Human Rights Council. It should also request that the Secretary-General convene a high-level panel on intensifying efforts, in collaboration with indigenous peoples, to prevent and eliminate such violence, during the 2017 high-level event to mark the tenth anniversary of the Declaration’s adoption, she said.
PRATIMA GURUNG, Disability Caucus, said she was the voice for 54 million indigenous people with disabilities, noting that the prevalence of disability was higher among indigenous peoples due to poverty, among other factors requiring urgent attention. “We are often left out,” she said. Indigenous people with disabilities must be included in all consultations, she said, challenging States and other actors to put the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the related Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice, especially articles 21 and 22. The Forum should integrate indigenous peoples with disabilities as an emerging issue and include them in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She urged their full participation in the High-level Political Forum and in the major groups, adding that a study on the social economic status of indigenous peoples with disabilities should also be carried out.
RACHEL O’CONNOR (Australia), responding to several issues raised by indigenous representatives, said the Western Australia government was undertaking reforms to improve the way in which services and programmes were delivered to remote communities, and did not intend to force people off their lands. In response to comments on self-determination, she said the Government recognized that indigenous groups should be consulted about processes affecting them, and supported the work of indigenous communities in strengthening their decision-making structures. Australia was committed to holding a referendum on recognizing Aboriginals in the Constitution, and acknowledged the importance of meaningful recognition. Welcoming the close links between the Declaration and the 2030 Agenda, with particular regard to the mission to leave no one behind, she expressed support for the Permanent Forum’s participation in the relevant follow-up process.
ROCIO VELANDIA, International Native Tradition Interchange, said 15 years after the Forum’s establishment, indigenous people’s participation was limited within it and excluded from closed meetings during the session, where “experts” and a selected few were allowed to participate. Indigenous delegates must participate within the United Nations system, she said, and not be represented by so-called experts appointed by the United Nations. She urged a new form of participation be granted in a spirit of innovation and commitment by Governments to strengthen indigenous people’s legitimate involvement within the Organization.
AINA IIYAMBO, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said the Commission on the Status of Women had a standardized agenda, which took up an annual theme and a review theme. It also could consider trends, emerging issues and new approaches affecting women’s situation. Both themes were determined through a multi-year work programme. In determining the Commission’s item on emerging issues, trends and new approaches to situations affecting women, it considered global and regional developments. As was known to the Forum, the Commission, at its last session, adopted its next multi-year work programme. Furthermore, it considered the General Assembly’s recommendation to consider the outcome of the high-level plenary meeting of the Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. That issue would be the focus of the Commission’s next session in 2017.
DICTAAN BANG-OA, Tebtebba, declared: “we are witnessing our destruction” due to a marked increase in consumerism, which would cost the lives of many indigenous peoples if nothing was done. She, therefore, made a series of recommendations, including that the Sustainable Development Goals be among the issues considered by the follow-up to the outcome document from the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the holding of a special session marking the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration. Conflict was not just about arms and peace, but about its absence, she said, stressing that the manipulation of indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent must stop. She recommended that the theme for the Forum’s next session be on the protection of indigenous human rights defenders and access to justice.
JOAN CARLING, Forum member from the Philippines, said there was still a lack of awareness among indigenous representatives on the Sustainable Development Goals, and that their participation in the Goals’ negotiation process had been limited. Expressing hope that mechanisms would be established at the national level to involve indigenous peoples in the crafting of national action plans, she said the effective participation of indigenous peoples in the work of the United Nations system was critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in order to ensure that their concerns were not side-lined once again. It was crucial to recognize that indigenous peoples were not just vulnerable or marginalized groups, but rights-holders with valuable contributions to make to sustainable development. In that respect, she noted that some 80 per cent of global biodiversity was located in indigenous territories, and that indigenous communities had long been active in the fight against climate change, but that such contributions were rarely recognized. “We are not just subject of the [Sustainable Development Goals],” she stressed, calling for a change of approach that would allow indigenous peoples to be treated as partners.