Will the UN stand by its commitment to secure indigenous peoples’ full participation?

Will the UN stand by its commitment to secure indigenous peoples’ full participation?

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John Ahni Schertow
January 19, 2012
 

The United Nations is pretty notorious these days for sidelining Indigenous Peoples at high level meetings and conferences, despite the fact that these gatherings concern our rights and our quality of life as Indigenous Peoples.

For instance, there was the UNFCCC in 2007, the Second Working Group on Protected Areas meeting in 2008 and the more recent UN climate change negotiations in 2010 and 2011, to name a few.

Knowing this sad trend all too well, a group of Indigenous representatives met in Copenhagen this month to discuss the best way to secure Indigenous Peoples’ full participation in the 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

In the article below, the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs discusses the outcome of that meeting.

Will the UN stand by its commitment to secure indigenous peoples’ full participation?

Last Friday and Saturday, around 30 indigenous peoples’ representatives and invited UN experts met in Copenhagen to brainstorm about how best to secure indigenous peoples’ full participation in the planning and celebration of the 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The organizing of a World Conference on indigenous peoples was decided by the UN General Assembly at its 65th session in 2010. It is, however, still very unclear and undecided which form the Conference will take, as the UN resolution merely talks about organizing a “high-level meeting of the General Assembly that is to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples”.

The Copenhagen indigenous peoples’ brainstorming meeting was organized by the Greenland Governments’ Representation in Copenhagen, the Sami Parliament of Norway and IWGIA, and it was opened by the Premier of the Greenland Government Kuupik Kleist, the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Villy Søvndal and UN Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya.

In his opening speech, James Anaya welcomed the World Conference as a celebration of the fact that indigenous peoples are still present and contributing to a world of dignity and respect for human rights and diversity, but also as a catalyst for taking indigenous peoples rights to participate a step further towards full implementation, not least within the UN system.

The challenge of the UN in relation to the actual process is whether it will be able to live up to its own declaration and give indigenous peoples the space to assert their right of participation.

At the core of the subsequent two days discussions was thus the urgent need to define modalities that will ensure that indigenous peoples will be able to fully participate in both the preparatory process of the World Conference and the conference itself on an equal footing.

As stated by Kuupik Kleist: “the wording of the resolution, that the World Conference be a high-level meeting of the General Assembly, immediately raised worrying questions as to whether the standard rules of procedures for General Assembly high-levels could accommodate the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples”

Although “indigenous peoples increasingly feel at home at the UN”, he said “in order to fully make the UN our home, we as indigenous peoples, need to be able to take part in the housekeeping and the parenting of the UN”.

The outcome of the Copenhagen meeting is a resolution affirming the importance of maintaining the standards established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and outlining a set of minimum terms regarding indigenous peoples’ participation in the process, including the appointment by the UN of an indigenous co-facilitator who should work together with the State appointed Ambassador, the setting up of an indigenous coordination group, and modalities for the accreditation of indigenous peoples delegations and the full recognition of indigenous peoples’ own preparatory processes and governing bodies.

The participants also welcomed and supported the Sami Parliament’s initiative to host a global indigenous preparatory conference in Alta, Norway in June 2013.

After one a half days internal discussions, the meeting proceeded into an open dialogue with governments. Apart from Denmark and Greenland, the Governments of Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, Canada and Norway was represented by their embassies to Denmark.

At the end of the meeting, the participants expressed their positive expectation of the will of governments to follow the lead of Denmark and bring the demand of the indigenous peoples forward in the process.

“We now have a golden opportunity to prove in practice that we are able to implement this key element of the Declaration by securing that indigenous peoples’ right to full and effective participation at all stages of preparation and decision-making of the World Conference are being respected”, stated the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also promised that “the Danish Government will work to push in the right direction”.

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Download the Resolution from the meeting here (pdf) Courtesy of IWGIA.org

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