If the most important part of any United Nations world conference or high level plenary meeting is the Outcome Document, then states were the beneficiaries of the document adopted at the High Level Plenary Meeting to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) held recently in New York.
The conference was held for states to form an agreement on implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). That the two-day conference was needed now – after the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on September 13, 2007 – speaks to the unhurried approach states have taken to advance the human rights of the world’s 379 million Indigenous Peoples.
The Outcome Document (OD) was prepared prior to the WCIP and adopted by the UN member states without a vote on Monday, September 22. The OD reaffirms states’ commitment to support the Declaration and promises to consult and cooperate with Indigenous Peoples and obtain their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) before doing anything affecting their lands and resources. The document also commits states “to empower” Indigenous Peoples, to improve access to “appropriate” education, health and economic development and to make the elimination of violence against Indigenous Peoples, especially against women, a priority.
Essentially, the OD commits states to implement the human rights they committed to in adopting the Declaration seven years ago.
Indigenous Peoples did not participate in writing the final OD, other than their input during the preparation process, ICTMN columnist Dina Gilio-Whitaker said. “The WCIP Outcome Document, as expected, makes no revolutionary new commitments to elevate the political status of Indigenous Peoples in the UN.”
Gilio-Whittaker noted that the International Indian Treaty Council issued a statement appreciating the states’ commitment to strengthen efforts toward the repatriation of cultural and ceremonial items and human remains and acknowledged sections of the document that encourage states to incorporate UNDRIP more fully with their human rights obligations.
But the Treaty Council's statement also expressed “regret that the final WCIP Outcome Document did not include a specific reference to the development of an international oversight mechanism for the observance of Treaties, Agreements and other Constructive “Arrangements” as recommended in the Alta Outcome document. The Alta Document was created as a roadmap for the WCIP by representatives of Indigenous Peoples from all of the world's global geo-political regions at the Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference in Alta, Norway in June 2013.
“Additionally, the Document was adopted with reservations by the Holy See (objecting to a clause guaranteeing reproductive rights) and Canada (who objects to the concept of ‘free, prior, and informed consent’),” Gilio-Whitaker said. “Reservations” means that states’ governments opt out of those clauses to which it objects, and it’s possible that more governments will formally register written reservations, she said.
Indigenous Peoples’ got far less in the OD than they wanted based on their recommendations in Alta, but modest gains were made, Gilio-Whittaker said. “The WCIP Outcome Document is part of a growing body of international protocols that collectively can be seen as a gradual accumulation of political power for Indigenous Peoples in the UN system. What Indigenous Peoples got out of the World Conference, however imperfectly, is greater recognition of their rights in the international system”
Not everyone agrees. Glenn Morris, a tenured professor of political science at the University of Colorado Denver, did not attend the conference but watched the live streaming with his students. There were no surprises, he told ICTMN.
“I found the meeting to be a predictable success for UN state members,” Morris said. “Similarly, it marked a retreat from the 40 years of international struggle towards Indigenous Peoples' liberation that took hold after the liberation of Wounded Knee in 1973.”
Morris supported the call made earlier this year by the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC) by “absolute consensus” for the cancellation of the WCIP after then President of the General Assembly John Ashe made it clear that Indigenous Peoples would not have full and equal participation on par with states in preparing for and at the conference. Some NAIPC members later distanced themselves from that decision. But NAIPC’s official – and dissident – voice was not heard at the WCIP since elected Chairwoman Debra Harry did not participate.
Morris said four essential principles that have defined the last four decades of advocacy for indigenous rights have now been excluded from the “so-called” OD:
1.Self-Determination: The right indigenous nations freely have to determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development is a hallmark of the UNDRIP, but is not mentioned once in the OD.
2.The international personality of indigenous nations and international character of treaties between indigenous nations and invader states: That indigenous peoples are not conquered nations and are not rightfully under the domination of settler states is an extension of the principle self-determination, Morris said. Similarly, the treaties between indigenous peoples and invaders must be accorded international status and be subject to impartial, international arbitration. There is no mention, whatsoever, of treaties between indigenous nations and states in the OD.
3.The right of Indigenous Peoples to control their territories, natural resources and traditional knowledge: There are no guarantees in the OD to secure the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples prior to state or corporate invasions of these areas. Any references to FPIC in the OD are gratuitous, and have been rendered meaningless.
4.Dismantling the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. The legal bedrock upon which all U.S., Canadian, and other invader states rationalize their domination and destruction of Indigenous Peoples, is left entirely unexamined and intact in the OD.
“How can states make the pretense of honestly implementing the spirit of the UNDRIP while ignoring these four essential areas?” Morris said.
Some people argued that “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu” during NAIPC’s debates about withdrawing from the WCIP, Morris said, but another menu-related thought came to mind while he watched the WCIP on the internet. “[It was] from the great Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. He said, ‘Your participation in this process allows you to suggest the sauce with which you will be eaten,’” Morris said. “That is the most that came out of this meeting for Indigenous Peoples – the ability to participate in choosing the methods that invader states will use to destroy us.”