It has been 13 years since the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) has been holding annual meetings amongst the representatives of the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous peoples from over 90 different countries. If the concerned hearings of indigenous peoples by United Nations and its attempt to address the rights are anything to go by, unprecedented progress has been made till now. Yet, there is frustration amongst indigenous peoples who make up the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized, and discriminated against by part of the society.
A recent study conducted by UNPFII titled ‘State of World Indigenous Peoples’ states that the situation of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world continues to be critical. Indigenous peoples in the world face systemic discrimination and exclusion from political and economic power; they continue to be over-represented among the poorest, the illiterate, the destitute; they are displaced by wars and environmental disasters; indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and deprived of their resources for survival, both physical and cultural.
Approximately 1,500 indigenous delegates from all regions of the world came together for this year’s two-week 13th session of the UNPFII held from May 12 to 23 at the UN Headquarters in New York. UNPFII, subsidiary body of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), established in July 2000, holds a two-week meeting annually and is the sole body to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the UN System through ECOSOC. It has a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. It raises awareness and promotes the integration and coordination of relevant activities within the UN System on indigenous issues.
Present at the UNPFII session were Vice Chairman of Nepal Federation of Nepali Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), Dandu Sherpa, Chairperson of National Indigenous Women’s Federation, Shanti Jirel, and Member Secretary of National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN).
Addressing the session, Minister Singh said, “Nepal extends its full commitment to protect human rights and fundamental freedom of all, including indigenous peoples. It also stands ready to engage constructively with the international community in this regard and call up to them to extend its support and cooperation to promote indigenous issues.”
The special theme for this year’s session was good governance. But besides that, the meetings also focused on issues such as violence against women, indigenous children and youth, human rights, post-2015 development agenda, and the situation of indigenous peoples in Asia. The issue of free, prior and informed consent, the escalation of human rights violation, including their right to self-determination, participation in decision-making, discrimination, marginalization etc, received attention, with several speakers calling for respect for their rights.
The principle of good governance for indigenous peoples lies in the right to self-determination. It is an essential right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. This core right is regarded as a prerequisite to the exercise and enjoyment of all other human rights. Good government also encompasses the right of indigenous peoples to fully and effectively participate in decision-making in all matters that impact their rights, lives, communities, lands, territories, and resources. It is founded on consultation and consent, especially in development-related decisions at all levels, ranging from the international to the local levels. It requires the recognition of indigenous forms of autonomy, self-governance and ancestral authorities, as well as of customary governance system and land tenure systems over lands, territories and natural resources.
Attention of UN body drawn for failure of the Government of Nepal on setting up FPIC mechanism
Nepali Indigenous Peoples have a little hope that a new Constitution through the second Constituent Assembly (CA) will fully ensure their rights. Representation of the indigenous peoples has dropped from 37 to 31 percent in the second CA and there is little hope that parliamentarians from indigenous communities will be able to push the rights of indigenous peoples. The government hasn’t set up any mechanism within the CA to ensure indigenous peoples’ participation, as recommended by the UN bodies.
In this context, indigenous delegates from Nepal met with the officials of different UN bodies—Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Chairperson of Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous peoples James Anaya (outgoing), and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (newly appointed) and requested them to follow up on their earlier engagements with thewww.christopherswartz.com Government of Nepal to ensure the rights of Nepali indigenous peoples in the new Constitution.
Responding to a communication from 21 indigenous peoples’ organizations, including Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP), CERD had issued an early warning letter to Nepal Government on March 13, 2009 and a follow-up letter on September 28, 2009. In the letter, the Committee advised the government to establish a mechanism for ensuring indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent in relation to the Constitution writing process (in the first Constituent Assembly), as well as to set up indigenous peoples’ thematic committee to guarantee their representation and participation in political life.
Similarly, in 2008, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous peoples, Prof. James Anaya had made an official country visit and reviewed in his report the human rights situation of Nepali indigenous peoples. On July 20, 2009 and September 15, 2010, Prof. Anaya recommended that the Nepal Government develop a special mechanism for consultation with the Nepali indigenous peoples, through their own representative institutions, in relation to proposals for new constitutional provisions that affect them.
In the meeting, officials vowed to keep their eyes open in the implementation of Nepal’s expressed initiatives to secure the rights of indigenous peoples in policy and law reforms.
World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
The meeting also held a discussion on the expectations of the United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples slated to take place on September 22-23, 2014 at the UN Headquarters in New York. It is going to be the first ever World Conference of indigenous peoples. The decision to hold the meeting was made by the UN General Assembly resolution on December 21, 2010. It is a high level plenary session of the General Assembly which aims to share the perspectives and the best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Conference is going to be a milestone in the history of UN itself, as there has never before been a UN meeting of this level focusing solely on the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.
Indigenous delegates urged the governments and the UN to ensure their full, direct, equal and effective participation in the conference, which is going to assess the two-decade-long engagements of indigenous peoples with UN. The Conference is deciding on the UN’s forthcoming initiatives, and there are huge expectations amongst indigenous peoples in terms of participation as well as its outcomes.
Indigenous Peoples’ concerns on Post-2015 development agenda.
At a time when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN global campaign, is expiring next year (in 2015) and world leaders are discussing the post-2015 development agenda/the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world’s indigenous delegates also raised their concerns.
Despite many successes, they said the MDGs have not paid enough attention to indigenous peoples. Therefore, the SDGs – while dealing with issues such as inequality, access to water, education, health, governance and environment sustainability – should give priority to the indigenous peoples.
The statement of the Asian Indigenous Caucus (indigenous delegates grouped from 21 different countries from the Asian region) reads, “Though indigenous peoples have distinct identities as ‘indigenous peoples’ and have legal instruments protecting their identities and rights, they often have been lumped up with marginalized or vulnerable groups. In this connection, we urge to make a special recognition for indigenous peoples within SDGs/Post-2015 Development Agenda.”
The statement further reads, “We do not want to face the same mistakes of MDGs where indigenous peoples were invisible. We want to contribute and be active partners in defining and in the achievement of SDGs/the post-2015 Agenda.”
It is thus the Post-2015 Development Agenda/the SDGs and their sub-goals, targets as well as indicators developed in this frame that reflect indigenous peoples’ rights and their relation to their lands, territories and natural resources, and take their special vulnerabilities and strengths into consideration.
Sunuwar is a freelance feature writer.
Published on 2014-06-20 02:59:31