Indigenous people demand substantive participation in UN spaces
| By Gabby De Cicco
FRIDAY FILE: AWID spoke with Mirna Cunningham, President of the Center for the Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples, about the recent UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the importance of participating substantively in this and other preparatory processes towards the World Conference of Indigenous People (WCIP) in September 2014.
In November 2013 we spoke to AWID board member Mirna Cunningham about the World Conference of Indigenous Women "Progress and Challenges Regarding the Future we Want" held in October 2013, in Lima, Peru. There, indigenous women from seven socio-cultural regions across the world discussed the basis of a common indigenous women's agenda for the coming years. She spoke of their hope for substantive participation in upcoming UN processes, including the first World Conference on Indigenous People (WCIP) scheduled to take place in September this year.
AWID caught up with Mirna Cunningham following the recent UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to hear how these processes have gone and what some of the challenges are.
AWID: What were the outcomes of the recently held UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?
Mirna Cunningham (MC): Governance was the core theme of this session of the Forum. Two spaces of governance were analyzed: those processes and spaces of self-government and autonomy that are being restituted by indigenous people, and the mechanisms by which indigenous people interact with States to participate in decisions affecting not only their communities but also broader society.
What is clear is that the gap between the recognition of rights and being able to freely exercise them continues to be a key challenge, along with the right to self-determination. Indigenous people are demanding the right to prior, free and informed consent- that is, to be able to participate in consultation mechanisms at the national level, to ensure consent in agreements so that no policies or programs are imposed on communities without their prior knowledge.
We discussed governance spaces both within and outside communities. At the global level, with the energy and financial crisis, there is increased pressure on indigenous people and their territories, being exploited for mining, forestry and even hydroelectric investments. In that context, what indigenous people are demanding that consultation and participation mechanisms are created so they can make their voices heard.
AWID: The World Conference of Indigenous Women held last year proposed four key issues for indigenous women - violence against indigenous women, land rights, sexual and reproductive rights and women's political participation. Was there an opportunity to discuss these issues at the Permanent Forum?
MC: Women had the opportunity to present the work done at the Lima Conference on several occasions. This year, the Experts' Meeting with the Permanent Forum focused on sexual and reproductive health, and its outcomes included references to the Lima outcomes on these topics. The key challenge here is for the Forum itself to understand sexual and reproductive rights. Women's concerns, and the outcomes of the Experts' Meeting held last January, were noted, but they were not addressed in depth in the recommendations.
AWID: Why is the September World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) important?
MC: The Conference is important for two reasons. Firstly, because this is the moment when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are being assessed; and the new development agenda that will outline priorities for the next 15 to 20 years is being negotiated.
In these last 15 years indigenous people achieved the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, which defined how rights must be exercised by indigenous women, men and communities, complementing individual rights with collective rights. But we consider that it was approved as a purely aspirational instrument. We see the WCIP as an opportunity for the States that adopted the Declaration to take their commitment further, moving from recognition to implementation of rights. At the global level, we expect that mechanisms to monitor compliance with the Declaration will be implemented.
AWID: Since the WCIP is short - just one and a half days? How do you prepare yourselves to negotiate in such a short time once you get there?
MC: The most important thing has been, and continues to be, the preparatory process. In this case, it started in 2011. Indigenous people from different regions organized their preparatory meetings and identified their priorities. During the Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference for the high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, known as the Alta Conference, that took place in June 2013, indigenous representatives from the seven sociocultural regions, women and youth identified the main priorities for indigenous people. The four main claims coming out of Alta were: (1) self-determination and permanent sovereignty over our lands, territories, resources, oceans and waters; (2) that a stronger UN mechanism to fulfill the rights of indigenous people is established through a specific UN Secretariat and strengthening of existing mechanisms like the Permanent Forum and the Experts; (3) the fulfillment of economic and social rights, its implementation within the framework of the Declaration, and (4) is what we call "living well" (buen vivir) as a development paradigm for indigenous people that respects prior, free and informed consent.
In 2012 the UN adopted resolution A/RES/66/296, requesting the President of the General Assembly to organize an informal interactive hearing with representatives of indigenous peoples and representatives of entities of the United Nations system, national human rights institutions, civil society and non-governmental organizations, to provide input into the preparatory process for the World Conference. The drafting of the WCIP outcome document started at the interactive hearings that took place from 17 to 18 June. Taking into account the inputs from the preparatory regional meetings, the Alta and the Women´s conferences, it was agreed that a draft will be shared by June 30 for feedback, followed by two more informal consultations between July and August .
The expectation is that the final document will be concise, action-oriented, focused on the implementation of indigenous peoples' rights set out in the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
AWID: What are the challenges there for full and effective participation by Indigenous Peoples in the World Conference?
MC: The pressure we put on the UN General Assembly to accept indigenous advisors has been an achievement not only for indigenous people but for civil society in general. We can see how difficult it still is for the UN to open up. There were many hard months of negotiation in which they refused to accept our participation, and that was our main concern.
Until the very last day of Permanent Forum there was no consensus from States and the President expressed it in this final message and the reaction of the friendly countriesand indigenous representations was to reject any procedure without indigenous participation.
Days later, the President took the lead in the process and organized an informal consultation, announcing that he would be assisted by four advisors, two from States (Slovenia and Costa Rica) and two from and appointed by indigenous people. The Africa Group strongly resisted the procedure, calling for facilitators or advisors to be State representatives only, to preserve the inter-governmental nature of the proceedings. Russia and China disagreed as well, but said that they would participate in the process.
We will keep opening a path that allows greater participation by non-governmental sectors historically excluded from defining policies in the UN system. Within that complex space, what we want is a consensus document that is adopted with the involvement of all States, so they take responsibility for outcome document that is being produced. The President of the GA has ensured the participation of representatives of indigenous peoples throughout the process.
 Free implies no coercion, intimidation or manipulation. Prior implies that there has been an attempt to obtain consent well in advance of any authorization or beginning of activities, and includes the time necessary to allow Indigenous Peoples to undertake their own consultation/consensus processes. Informed implies that Indigenous Peoples have been provided information including (at least) the following aspects: a. Nature, size, reversibility and scope of any project or activity proposed; b. Its goal or goals; c. Its duration; d. The areas thatwill be affected; e. Its probable economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts, including risks and how its benefits will be distributed; f. Staff likely to intervene in executing the proposed project. Consent: Consultations must be held in good faith. The parties must establish a dialogue allowing them to find adequate solutions in a climate of mutual respect, full and equitable participation. Consultations require time and an effective communication system among interested parties. Indigenous Peoples should be able to participate through their freely elected representatives and their customary or other institutions. Including a gender perspective and the participation of Indigenous women are essential, as well as the participation of children and young people, when relevant. This process can include the option for Indigenous Peoples to withdraw their consent for the proposed project.
Source: www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/workshop_FPIC_tamang.doc and http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/free-prior-and-informed-consent-protecting-indigenous#sthash.1Eo6EXsT.dpuf
 Friendly countries supporting the Conference belong to different regions. From Europe they are Norway, Denmark, Finland and Spain; from the Americas, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru; and from the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia and Congo Brazzaville, from Africa. This is what we call the friendly countries group that has been working with us. Slovenia and Costa Rica are facilitating the conversation and have somehow joined the network of friendly countries, but the support we have is still that of a minority.