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World Conference Controversy Continues at UN Permanent Forum

The 13th Session of the UNPFII begins next week with unresolved questions centering on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples this fall.

The 13th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues begins next week with a full agenda of crucial issues, important side events – and unresolved questions centering on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples that is scheduled to take place in the fall.

The Permanent Forum will be held at the U.N. in New York May 12-23. The annual event usually draws more than 2,000 representatives of Indigenous Peoples and nations from around the world.

At a daylong discussion during last year’s Permanent forum, indigenous organizations criticized the United States federal government for trying to make an end run around the human rights affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) and voiced concern that state actions would sideline Indigenous Peoples at the “High Level Plenary Meeting known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” (HLPM/WCIP) scheduled for September 2014.

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This past winter, however, attention shifted to a decision by the President of the General Assembly (PGA) John Ashe that Indigenous Peoples would not have full and equal participation on par with states in preparing for and at the conference. Most significantly, according to the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC) – one of seven voluntary global caucuses that represent the world’s Indigenous Peoples at the U.N. – Indigenous Peoples would not be involved in drafting the conference’s outcome document, which would sum up the conference’s decisions on how to define the scope of Indigenous Peoples rights, the best practices for implementing those rights and other issues affecting the relationship between states and the world’s 379 million-plus Indigenous Peoples. The NAIPC is one of seven voluntary global caucuses that represent the world’s Indigenous Peoples at the U.N.

In March the NAIPC adopted a resolution by “absolute consensus” to call for the cancellation of the WCIP and promised to encourage other regions to join in a global consensus to stop it from taking place.

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Ashe later modified his proposal to include indigenous participation by two “advisers” but they would still be excluded from active participation in drafting the outcome document. The proposal caused some conflict in the NAIPC with some people suggesting that the new proposal now made it possible to participate in the WCIP and others arguing that it was essentially the same as the old proposal and that the resolution for cancelling the conference stands. The question of NAIPC’s participation remains unclear.

A two-day interactive discussion hosted by the PGA that was planned to take place at the end of the forum will not happen, said Andrea Carmen, the executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council.

“These issues of rights and full participation are really being played out,” Carmen told ICTMN. “They’re not going to do the interactive dialogue on the so-called World Conference because the president of the General Assembly has not announced what the formula for participation is so [the indigenous representatives] have not accepted yet. And there’s nothing to talk about – we were supposed to focus on the outcome document and people are still grappling with [the question of participation].”

The question of who the indigenous representatives to the WCIP will be is still up in the air. Some NAIPC members seemed to accept the two names that were suggested; others opposed them.

“Of course, we’re closely watching the developments for the planning of the plenary meeting – which is not a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples,” said NAIPC Co-Chair Debra Harry, referring obliquely to the WCIP’s short duration – three hours – as opposed to the nine-to-10 day sessions that usually comprise world conferences. “One of the things we’ll be watching for is whether the Permanent Forum complies with the request of the PGA to identify two indigenous people to serve as advisers to him in the development of the high level plenary meeting and the problem with that is that it violates Indigenous Peoples right to decide upon their own representatives and to speak for themselves and if the Permanent Forum does play that role, basically, it would be a U.N. agency deciding on behalf of Indigenous Peoples who the advisers should be. So it would usurp our right to determine our representative.”

The mechanism for decision-making is in the seven regional bodies that have formed around the permanent forum, Harry said. But It seems there are mixed opinions in the various regions, she said. “I think that no region seems to have a complete consensus around how they’re going to move forward. And I think we’ll continue to see that debate taking place at the permanent forum.”

Although the special two-day interactive meeting will not take place, a three-hour discussion of the WCIP will take place on May 19, according to the Permanent Forum agenda.