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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AS A CROSS-CUTTING THEME IN THE WORLD CONFERENCE ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
17 September 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a panel discussion on human rights as a cross-cutting theme in the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, highlighted the significance of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which would be held in December 2014.  Robust indigenous participation in the World Conference was essential to ensure that the Conference addressed the challenges and priorities for indigenous peoples.  Human rights must be at the heart of the Conference, which would also be an opportunity to engage the United Nations system in its entirety to promote the full realization of the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Ulises Canchola Gutierrez, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Moderator, said that Mexico was preparing to host a preparatory meeting for the World Conference which would take place in the first quarter of next year.  It was worth highlighting the multifaceted nature of the international protection and promotion of human rights for indigenous persons.  They needed to consolidate a good and systematic overview while streamlining at the same time. 

John Henriksen, Co-facilitator in the process towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Member of the Sami Parliament of Norway, said that it was indeed encouraging that the United Nations had decided to make serious efforts in meeting one of the most fundamental requirements under the Declaration, namely to promote respect for and full application of the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to follow-up the effectiveness of the instrument.

Raja Devasish Roy, Vice-chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that the prospect of the World Conference was a great step.  This would not be a major conference like the ones concerning women and the environment before it but it would be a major opportunity for indigenous peoples to address their concerns.  Many developments were taking place in parts of the world and, whatever they were called – tribes, ethnic minorities – the concerns of indigenous peoples were making an impact on the post-2015 agenda.

Tania Edith Pariona Tarqui, Indigenous Global Coordinating Group, said that the World Conference would be an opportunity to strengthen the commitment of States to guarantee systematically the rights of indigenous peoples.  The Global Coordinating Group had the task of protecting and promoting the full and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in the World Conference and its preparatory process. 

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Chairperson of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that it was imperative that the right to participate in decision-making be recognized by the United Nations and its Member States.  Indigenous peoples must be full and effective participants in all aspects of the World Conference, including the preparatory meetings and the outcome document.  A World Conference that was not indigenous peoples-centred would undermine its own success.

Soyata Maiga, Chairperson of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, said that the Conference should be articulated around exchanges of best practices and prospects for the rights of indigenous peoples.  She suggested that particular attention be given to the participation of women and young people.  In Africa this debate was still going on and it was thought that the best way to overcome this was to involve Heads of States.

In the interactive dialogue, speakers valued the innovative approach that had been taken in the Alta preparatory event.  The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was only a starting point and the gap between the Declaration and the reality on the ground for indigenous people was all too clear.  The discussion also highlighted the importance of a human rights-based approach and recalled some of the recommendations included in the Alta outcome document.  Panellists underlined the interlinkages between these recommendations and goals contained in other instruments, such as the International Labour Organization Convention, and reaffirmed the importance of translating global proposals into public policy or programmes which were cross-cutting, sustainable, and led to change.  Recommendations, it was suggested, should be few, focused and workable.

Speaking in the panel discussion were Malaysia, Bolivia, Ireland, Norway, United States, Australia, Cuba on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Paraguay, Finland, Russian Federation, Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, Venezuela, Estonia, European Union, Peru, New Zealand, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, Palestine, Estonia, European Union, Peru, New Zealand, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Also participating in the discussion were the International Labour Organization and the International Development Law Organization.  European Disability Forum, Indian Law Resource Centre, International Indian Treaty Council, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, and Canners International Permanent Committee also took the floor.

The Council will be holding a full day of meetings on Wednesday, 18 September.  At 9 a.m., the Council will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Opening Statement

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an opening statement, said that today’s topic was very important.  She highlighted the significance of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which would be held in December 2014.  The preparatory process and the conference should produce concrete results that would resonate beyond Geneva and New York and that would improve the lives and advance the rights of indigenous peoples, including women and children.  The World Conference should not just be about indigenous people but had to be prepared with representatives of indigenous peoples, who had organized themselves all around the world.  Robust indigenous participation in the World Conference was essential to ensure that the Conference addressed the challenges and priorities for indigenous peoples.  They had already put forward a series of very important recommendations in this respect.  Key themes were land rights and the right to free, prior and informed consent.  All main themes and issues that had been proposed so far had an important human rights dimension.  Human rights must, therefore, be at the heart of the Conference.  The General Assembly had decided that the Conference should result in a “concise, action oriented outcome document”.  Since the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007, actions had been taken in several countries.  New laws and new policies that targeted the issue had been introduced.  Progress had been recorded in all regions.  The rights recognized in the Declaration were interdependent and interrelated.  Comprehensive actions plans were needed to address all rights of indigenous peoples.  Comprehensive approaches and implementation strategies had to be developed, implemented and monitored with indigenous peoples in the lead.  The Conference would be an opportunity to engage the United Nations system in its entirety to promote the full realization of the rights enshrined in the Declaration.  United Nations agencies worked closely together with indigenous peoples to advance their rights, including by providing interagency support through the United Nations indigenous peoples partnership initiative.  Indigenous peoples’ rights should be embedded much more firmly in the work of the United Nations.  It was important to increasingly listen to indigenous peoples.  The World Conference would be an important moment to boost those efforts and also in the context of the discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.  The World Conference should boost interagency activities and galvanize support for the work of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. 

Statement by the Moderator

ULISES CANCHOLA GUTIERREZ, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Moderator, said that the Deputy High Commissioner had given a vertical vision of trends in discussions that had taken place.  In the 1990s, there was the beginning of the identification of vulnerable groups.  An advancement that had been made was a push for discussion on fundamental rights of these persons.  Mexico was preparing to host a preparatory meeting for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples which would take place in the first quarter of next year.  It was worth highlighting the multifaceted nature of the international protection and promotion of human rights for indigenous persons.  They needed to consolidate a good and systematic overview while streamlining at the same time.  Panellists would first have an opportunity to make comments on the World Conference on Indigenous Persons and then express their views on the cross-cutting nature of human rights in key themes related to indigenous persons and respond to any questions or comments made.

Statements by the Panellists

JOHN HENRIKSEN, Co-facilitator in the process towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Member of the Sami Parliament of Norway, said it was indeed encouraging that the United Nations had decided to make serious efforts in meeting one of the most fundamental requirements under the Declaration, namely to promote respect for and full application of the provisions of the Declaration, and to follow-up the effectiveness of the instrument.  They should aspire to ensure that the World Conference became another milestone in the struggle for dignity and justice for indigenous peoples.  He believed that they could all agree on one fundamental issue, that the full and effective participation of the rights holders, indigenous peoples, was secured in the World Conference process because this was a prerequisite for the success and legitimacy of the World Conference.  The standards of the Declaration should be respected at all stages of the World Conference.  Member States and indigenous peoples alike would have to demonstrate good faith, flexibility and a genuine desire to find procedural and substantive solutions that advanced the objectives of the Conference and the Declaration.  Indigenous peoples would have to be provided with the necessary financial assistance as many would otherwise not be able to participate in the process.  The General Assembly had expanded the mandate of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, so that it could assist indigenous peoples to participate in the World Conference.  Unfortunately, the expansion of the mandate had so far generated limited interest and pledges from States.  Indigenous peoples throughout the last year and a half had carried out regional, thematic and global preparatory processes, including the holding of a global indigenous preparatory conference in Alta, Norway, June 2013, which adopted an outcome document by consensus, known as the Alta Outcome Document.  This document needed to be taken into account in the work on the outcome document of the World Conference.

RAJA DEVASISH ROY, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that RIO+5 was the first event that opened up the possibilities of participation by indigenous peoples and the prospect of the World Conference was an even greater step.  This would not be a major conference like the ones concerning women and the environment before it but it would be a major opportunity for the rights of indigenous peoples to address their concerns.  One important thing was that the World Conference preparation documents and the Alta document were representative of a “normative framework” for the path forward, particularly with regard to the so-called fourth pillar in terms of the recognition of the right to culture.  Many developments were taking place in parts of the world and, whatever they were called – tribes, ethnic minorities – the concerns of indigenous peoples were making an impact on the post-2014 agenda.

TANIA EDITH PARIONA TARQUI, Indigenous Global Coordinating Group, said that the World Conference would be an opportunity to strengthen the commitment of States to guarantee systematically the rights of indigenous peoples.  The Global Coordinating Group had the task of protecting and promoting the full and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in the World Conference and its preparatory process.  Regional and thematic consultations were organized, as well as a global preparatory meeting.  More financial resources were needed to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in the Conference and Ms. Tarqui thanked States that had contributed to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations.  Ms. Tarqui made an appeal for States to hold consultations with representatives of indigenous peoples, in view of reaching a consensus on issues pertaining to indigenous peoples.

CHIEF WILTON LITTLECHILD, Chairperson of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that the three United Nations indigenous-specific mechanisms had participated in several preparatory events related to the World Conference.  He called on the Human Rights Council to recommend to the President of the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly that the practice of appointing a State representative and an indigenous peoples’ representative to conduct informal consultations be continued.  The Council should support increased financial, technical and political support for the participation of indigenous peoples in the World Conference.  States that had not yet provided financial support for indigenous preparatory activities should do so as a matter of urgency.  Such preparatory activities included local and national activities aimed at raising the understanding of the issues, rights and processes of indigenous peoples leading up to the World Conference.  Mr. Littlechild said it was imperative that the right to participate in decision-making be respected and recognized by the United Nations and its Member States.  Indigenous peoples must be full and effective participants in all aspects of the World Conference, including the preparatory meetings and the outcome document.  A World Conference that was not indigenous peoples-centred would undermine its own success.

SOYATA MAIGA, Chairperson of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, said the World Conference was a major landmark for hope for the peoples’ of Africa and should serve not only as an opportunity to reaffirm the norms and values of the Declaration, but also serve as a framework to identify concrete and urgent action and innovative strategies.  The Conference should be articulated around exchanges of best practices and prospects for the rights of indigenous peoples.  They should be able to identify good practices but also the obstacles to the full protection of indigenous peoples which was only possible with the full participation of indigenous peoples themselves in the process.  Indigenous people of South Africa often did not have the opportunity to have their voice heard, given the precarious situation in which they lived and as they did not have the means to attend in large numbers.  Ms. Maiga suggested that particular attention be given to the participation of women and young people.  The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights had a number of examples, in terms of practices, to exchange.  In Ms. Maiga’s view, it had not yet been sufficiently involved in the process of preparing for the Conference.  They should also guarantee the full participation and full information of States parties in which indigenous peoples lived.  Heads of States of African countries should also be involved and participate so that they could go beyond the discussion that they saw in some countries in terms of the legal recognition of indigenous peoples.  In Africa this debate was still going on and it was thought that the best way to overcome this was precisely to involve Heads of States.

Discussion

Malaysia welcomed the timely decision to hold the World Conference in 2014, while both the Russian Federation and the Democratic Republic of the Congo noted that the event came at the end of the “decade of indigenous people”.  Just one year away from the end of this decade there were clear signs as to how the issue would progress in the decade after.  Norway said it valued the innovative approach that had been taken in the Alta preparatory event, and had been pleased to support it financially.  Finland, which had been an observer at Alta, thanked the Sami Parliament for its participation, and noted that the World Conference was not an event but a process.  Paraguay said that the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was only a starting point and that the gap between it and the reality on the ground for indigenous people was all too clear.  The World Conference was a watershed moment in this history.  The United States believed the outcome text from the Alta Conference should only be the starting point for negotiations on an outcome document from the World Conference, while the Indian Treaty Council said that the action-oriented outcome document of the Alta event should be the basis for the World Conference.  Ireland said it fully supported the World Conference’s aims to support best practice and the objective to include old, young and disabled indigenous people in the process.  The European Disability Forum said groups of indigenous people with disabilities were beginning to formalize their participation in human rights processes, and had been part of the Alta event. 

Australia, which was between governments following a general election, said it could only make broad points about its Government’s engagement with its own indigenous peoples, but backed a positive outcome for the World Conference.  Bolivia said it was to date the only State that had put the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into its own constitution and had therefore created a national framework which took into account the rights of its indigenous people. Cuba, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that the countries in its region were committed to the human rights of all people, including those pertinent to indigenous peoples.  The Indian Law Resource Centre said that recommendations for the World Conference should have the support of indigenous governments and be few and focussed.  A Special Rapporteur on the human rights of indigenous women and children should be adopted and indigenous governments should be recognised in the United Nations system so that they did not have to represent themselves as civil society organizations or non-governmental organizations.

ULISES CANCHOLA GUTIERREZ, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Moderator, said that issues pertaining to indigenous peoples had to be included in the work of the United Nations system. 

SOYATA MAIGA, Chairperson of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, said that vital issues to the indigenous peoples throughout the world included access to land and water; discrimination against indigenous women and indigenous persons with disabilities; cooperation with the private sector; and also mainstreaming of indigenous peoples issues in the work of the United Nations system.  Land not only supplied the means for economic survival, but attachment to the land constituted the very basis of their cultural identity.  In Africa, ancestral land was often lost due to conservation programmes and the promotion of tourism, as well as logging, mining and infrastructural development such as the building of dams.  The loss of traditional lands was aggravated by the absence of policies with regard to prior consultation of the indigenous peoples.  This was a common challenge faced by indigenous peoples all over the world and it should be highlighted at the World Conference.  Best practices that recognized traditional land titles and granted access to natural resources on which indigenous peoples were dependent should be shared for States to emulate.

TANIA PARIONA, Indigenous Global Coordinating Group, welcomed the interactive framework of the dialogue.  In June this year there had been a preparatory meeting for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples which stressed the problems faced by Mayan people and the Alta document had provided consensus on some important issues, among others, those referring to the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights, including the need for a statistical breakdown to make people with disabilities, women and children visible.  Other measures involved the need to combat violence and Ms. Pariona noted that racism and discrimination constituted a form of violence.  It was important to take concrete measures to submit reports on the status of violence against women, including a particular emphasis on young people and indigenous girls.  The document also asked for the cessation to militarisation of territory, waters, and the oceans of indigenous peoples in the context of armed conflict.  One recommendation related to States and how they could support indigenous people to strengthen the abilities of indigenous youth, in particular in connection to the transfer of traditional knowledge, innovation and practice.  It was important to find ways of implementing these global proposals in order to translate them into public policy or programmes which were cross-cutting, sustainable, and led to change.

WILTON LITTLECHILD, Chairperson of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, welcomed the reference to International Labour Organization Convention 69 and highlighted the importance of considering it alongside the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.  Concerning the question from Finland on the proposed themes, Mr. Littlechild said that it was suggested that the four themes were adopted.  In relation to the first theme of the Alta outcome document, it highlighted the link between the right to self-determination and to permanent sovereignty over indigenous peoples’ lands and territories.  Regarding the second theme, the expert mechanisms focused on the right to full and effective participation in relation to the right to education.  Further the need for the establishment of a mechanism for the enforcement of agreements, treaties and other arrangements was included.  A third theme referred to the importance of a human rights-based approach and addressing the underlying causes of violations.  The need for full recognition of the rights contained in the Declaration had also been noted.  Each step forward widened the circle of humanity to one based on mutual respect and recognition.  The World Conference provided the platform so that this important work could be advanced.  Finally, Mr. Littlechild concluded, recommendations should be few, focused and workable.

RAJA DEVASISH ROY, Vice-chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that the content of the Alta document had to be the basis of the themes that would be discussed at the World Conference.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be the framework for the Conference.  The Permanent Forum would give particular attention to the participation of persons with disabilities in the Conference.  The earlier practice to appoint two co-facilitators, one from the indigenous peoples and one from States, to conduct discussions and consultations should be continued by the President of the General Assembly. 

JOHN HENRIKSEN, Co-facilitator in the process towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Member of the Sami Parliament of Norway, said that the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in the preparatory process had to be ensured.  It was difficult to identify what were the most important human rights issues for indigenous peoples, which depended on their specific circumstances.  The Alta document had a particular weight because it was the result of a long and inclusive process.  The issue of lands, territories and water access was one of the prerequisites for the maintenance of the traditional livelihoods of indigenous peoples.  As part of their right to self-determination, indigenous peoples had the right to determine priorities and strategies for the development of their lands and resources.  Traditional lands and resources were of major interest not only to indigenous peoples but also to society at large.  The realization of the right to land was a critical issue.

ULISES CANCHOLA GUTIERREZ, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Moderator, said that land was a fundamental item of cultural identify and an important development aspect depending on the level of development and social impact on a community, including in relation to education.  When speaking of health, mention had been made to lack of access to health.  As to women, the importance of combating two-fold discrimination was stressed.  In connection with the private sector, good practices including consultation mechanisms and the distribution of royalties were highlighted.  Value was attached to recommendations set forth at the Alta Conference. 

Denmark hoped that indigenous peoples would remain a key issue on the High Commissioner’s agenda as they approached the upcoming World Conference.  European Union said that today’s discussion would usefully feed into the preparation of the World Conference.  It was committed to reviewing and further developing its policy in the run-up to the Conference.  Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the adoption of the Declaration constituted a decisive step in ensuring the rights of indigenous people, and paid tribute to capacity-building activities undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner.  Peru said that the World Conference would be a valuable opportunity to exchange views on progress made and challenges ahead.  It was of particular importance to hold preparatory meetings. 

New Zealand said that it was important that the Council be engaged in following progress on the Conference and that they had to engage and listen to indigenous peoples outside the Indigenous Peoples’ Coordinating Group. Estonia said that the protection and promotion of human rights of indigenous persons had been high on its human rights agenda and highlighted the importance of their participation in the decision-making process at all levels, including at the United Nations.  Chile said that the United Nations system was implementing a project to expand opportunities for dialogue and to strengthen the capacities of the indigenous people of Chile.  Venezuela said it recognised the rights of indigenous peoples and that it had strengthened the sense of national belonging in appreciating the contribution of indigenous peoples in the making up of this identity.  Ecuador said it was important to establish clear and uniform parameters within the various United Nations bodies and special procedures to avoid discrepancies concerning mechanisms for the administration of indigenous justice and the ordinary justice system. 

International Development Law Organization said that sadly indigenous peoples had been amongst the most vulnerable and marginalized groups and suffered widespread discrimination.  International Labour Organization said that it had been supporting efforts to make indigenous peoples’ rights a reality on the ground, with the participation of indigenous and tribal peoples themselves.  International Indian Treaty Council called upon the Human Rights Council to recognise the outcome document from the Alta preparatory meeting that took place in Norway and agree that it would be the basis for the action-oriented outcome document adopted at the World Conference.  New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council urged Member States to ensure that support for indigenous peoples to actively engage in and advocate for an action-oriented outcome of the World Conference was provided, with significant focus on adopting appropriate mechanisms to oversee the implementation of the rights outlined in the Declaration.  Canners International Permanent Committee noted that all human beings were born free, equal in dignity and rights, endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood, but that brotherhood was not a word one would associate with the tension in Sri Lanka. 

SOYATA MAIGA, Chairperson of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, thanked contributors for their support leading to the World Conference and stressed that it was important to involve States and indigenous people.  The strengthening of the participation of women and those with disabilities was important, as was the participation of indigenous people’s Governments.

TANIA PARIONA, Indigenous Global Coordinating Group, said great stress had been laid on participation; active participation by indigenous people at the local level was to be desired.  It was important to guarantee this and access to timely information.  This had been noted in all preparatory stages.  The participation of indigenous youth was crucial for the post-2014 stage.

WILTON LITTLECHILD, Chairperson of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said in response to the European Union’s suggestion that there be a new body for implementation that the Alta agreement had referred to this.  Denmark’s contribution was gratefully noted.

RAJA DEVASISH ROY, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said with regard to the participation of indigenous peoples at the World Conference, the Permanent Forum had offered its services to the General Assembly to help in any way.  There was also the pending issue of the report of the twelfth session of the Permanent Forum which it was hoped would be adopted by the Economic and Social Council very soon.  It was also hoped that there would be generous funding for participation.  The issue of impunity and violation of human rights and the question of militarization of indigenous peoples’ areas were a matter of serious concern.

JOHN HENRIKSEN, Co-facilitator in the process towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Member of the Sami Parliament of Norway, speaking on how to ensure effective participation of indigenous peoples’ during the Conference, said that from an indigenous person’s perspective several steps were needed for an inclusive process.  A couple of these included that the arrangement of co-facilitators should be reintroduced in the phases of the preparatory process, and that views emerging from indigenous peoples be taken into account in the preparatory process.  States and others should provide financial assistance towards ensuring indigenous peoples’ participation. 

ULISES CANCHOLA GUTIERREZ, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Moderator, at the end of the discussion highlighted the importance of securing broad and inclusive participation for indigenous peoples through timely information and adequate funding.  Discussions should be based upon the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and should be comprehensive and systematic, avoiding legislative inflation.  Furthermore, suggestions should be specific and action-oriented, bearing in mind all the inputs which had been submitted.  As to the process, the international community should make the most out of the discussions held and those that would take place in the context of the General Assembly’s Third Committee.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC13/109E