19 April 2018
Indigenous Peoples, Member States Express Dissatisfaction with UNGA Decision
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

Recognizing that many indigenous peoples and Member States are disappointed with the UNGA’s 2017 resolution, the UNGA President invited focus on the opportunities ahead, noting that “things may be moving slowly, but they are still moving”.

Representatives of indigenous peoples expressed “dismay” that all their inputs have been left out, adding that Member States went far below the indigenous peoples’ stated red lines as soon as they were "thrown out of the room” when intergovernmental negotiations began.

9 April 2018: Indigenous peoples and many UN Member States expressed deep dissatisfaction regarding the outcome of a process on enabling indigenous peoples’ participation in UN meetings. The views were expressed during an informal interactive hearing organized by UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Miroslav Lajcak, meant to reflect on possible further measures to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and organizations in meetings of UN bodies.

The hearing took place on 17 April 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, as part of a preparatory process agreed by UN Member States in September 2017. By that text (A/RES/71/321), UN Member States agreed to hold interactive hearings during the next three UNGA sessions to address the participation of indigenous peoples at the UN. They will then consider possible measures during the 75th UNGA session, following consultations with indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions from all regions, as an input to the intergovernmental process.

Opening the meeting, Lajcak underscored that rights are not aspirational, ideals or best-case scenarios, but rather minimum standards. “They are non-negotiable, and they must be respected and promoted,” he added, “yet, here we are,” over a decade after the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with rights “not being realized.” He acknowledged disappointment with the UNGA’s 2017 resolution, noted that there are opportunities ahead, and invited participants to be blunt, concrete and innovative in their interventions.

The representatives of indigenous peoples said the outcome of the consultation process conducted in 2016 and 2017 is “far from what was on the table” when they last consulted with the States. They expressed “dismay” that all their inputs have been left out, adding that Member States went far below the indigenous peoples’ stated red lines as soon as they were “thrown out of the room” when the intergovernmental negotiations began. Noting that “the UN is not able to live up to its standards,” the representatives stressed that the past two years of work yielded a resolution that indigenous peoples do not recognize. They emphasized that as long as they are kept out of the room, their rights will not be respected.

The representatives called for: being granted the right to participate in UN meetings at the same level with other observers; being empowered to fully engage in the negotiation of resolutions that directly affect them; the establishment of an “appropriate, dignified” status for indigenous peoples at the UN; the right to attend, speak, and make written inputs, with priority before NGOs; and financial assistance and support to participate in the meetings. They also stressed the need for regional consultations to build consensus among indigenous peoples and ensure that all the voices are heard. They requested the UNGA President to develop a program of annual hearings with indigenous peoples to ensure progress. Some suggested that special attention should be given to indigenous peoples from Africa and to indigenous peoples made vulnerable by armed conflict. Several representatives thanked the Voluntary Fund for enabling their participation in the present meeting, adding that the Fund should ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples in processes affecting them, with a focus on enabling the participation of communities that are hard to reach.

Canada, also for Australia and New Zealand (CANZ), stressed that indigenous peoples have the right to participate and be heard on issues affecting them at the UN, and, supported by Mexico, expressed disappointment that a system for enabling their participation was not decided during the UNGA’s 71st session. “We are countries with a colonial past,” she said, adding that “for far too long, we have not given indigenous peoples a voice. Now we are committed to work to enable their participation in global decision making on issues affecting them.” She said indigenous peoples need to participate in all the UNGA meetings and benefit from an open and transparent appeal process. She further stressed that the “non-objection basis” clause is not acceptable for CANZ.

Ecuador underscored the need for a new mechanism and application process that will enable indigenous peoples’ participation, emphasizing that they cannot be considered NGOs. Brazil supported broad representation of indigenous peoples. Finland suggested that the UN Human Rights Council hold a panel discussion or workshop on how to ensure the means of participation. He expressed hope that the information compiled by the advisors to the process over the past two years can be used to build the way forward.

The Russian Federation, supported by Indonesia, pointed out the lack of an agreed definition of indigenous peoples, and recommended the use of existing mechanisms rather than creating new ones. They stressed the need to ensure that new potential modalities for participation will not worsen indigenous peoples’ participation in the UN.

Lajcak’s spokesperson noted that the event marked the first-ever interactive hearing between a UNGA President and indigenous peoples. Also taking place at the UN is the 17th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII 17). [Meeting Webcast] [UNGA President’s Letter] [Statement of UNGA President] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Indigenous Peoples Process] [Spokesperson’s Briefing]

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