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Effective Functioning Of Human Rights

Sixtieth session
Items 15 and 18 of the provisional agenda


Written statement submitted by Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the American Indian Law Alliance, non-governmental organizations in special consultative status

We wish to bring to the attention of this Commission (UNCHR) a most serious matter concerning Indigenous peoples' human rights and the inter-sessional Working Group (UNCHR Res. 1995/32, 3 March 1995). This Working Group is the standard-setting entity that is considering the draft U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for possible adoption by the General Assembly.

Over a period of about nine years, the expert members of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) carefully formulated the draft U.N. Declaration. Indigenous peoples, States, specialized agencies and academics actively participated in this process. Both the WGIP and the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities have approved the current text of the draft Declaration. However, since its inception in 1995, the inter-sessional Working Group has only provisionally approved 2 of the 45 Articles of the draft Declaration.

We are deeply concerned that the mandate of this inter-sessional Working Group will come to an end in December 2004 and, to date, there is no indication that its mandate will be renewed. This would in effect terminate the standard-setting process on the human rights of Indigenous peoples within the United Nations.

Urgent need to ensure an ongoing standard-setting process on Indigenous peoples’ human rights

The inter-sessional Working Group is slated to hold only one more session prior to the termination of its mandate in December 2004. Therefore, we would like to share our concerns about the future of the standard-setting process and the urgent need to evaluate and improve the overall functioning of the Working Group.

First, it is important to underline that a decision to renew the mandate of the inter-sessional Working Group to consider further the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can and should be made independently of any decision relating to the proclamation of a second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. The human rights standard-setting process concerning Indigenous Peoples is too important to hinge upon the establishment a second Decade. Rather, such a standard-setting initiative should continue in order to fulfill one of the most critical Purposes of the United Nations in the context of the world’s Indigenous Peoples. As Article 1(3) of the Charter of the United Nations stipulates:

“The Purposes of the United Nations are: …To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion …”

The fact that this process has been time-consuming and difficult in terms of achieving consensus or “making progress” is evidence of the complexity of the issues and the unique nature of the status and rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is also evidence of the lack of political will of some States to begin redressing past and ongoing violations of our human rights and prevent such unacceptable acts in the future.

Regardless of the ongoing challenges, it is crucial that the human rights of Indigenous peoples be explicitly affirmed through a standard setting process leading to the adoption of a draft U.N. Declaration. While such a Declaration cannot resolve all of the fundamental issues impacting on Indigenous peoples’ rights, it is an essential and significant first step. Our basic rights must be explicitly embraced within a principled international framework.

Failure within the U.N. to continue this process could serve to undo the important work accomplished to date. In particular, most or all of the efforts of Indigenous peoples throughout the years in regard to the draft U.N. Declaration could be wiped out or severely diminished.

At the same time, should the mandate of the inter-sessional Working Group be renewed, we must recognize that the current procedures are inadequate and ineffective. Thus the U.N. must improve the working methodology concerning the development of standards, in a manner consistent with the unique status and role of Indigenous peoples.

Some States may see no reason to simply continue a process that leads to little or no results. The same reality faces Indigenous peoples, nations and organizations. Therefore, it is important to determine – on an urgent basis - concrete ways to substantially improve the current standard-setting process.

There are a number of elements that might be considered by this Commission, as well as by representatives of Indigenous peoples and States, in order to significantly improve the performance of the Working Group. Such elements include:

Introduction of specific criteria within the Working Group, so as to ensure strict adherence to the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter when proposing new or modified human rights norms

In particular, attempts to undermine the human rights of Indigenous peoples or create discriminatory double standards should not be permitted or tolerated within the Working Group

Alteration of existing rules so as to allow the appointment of two co-chairs (one of which would be Indigenous)

Fair and balanced consideration of Indigenous and State positions in preparing the Chair's yearly report

Improved translations procedures so that representatives of Indigenous peoples and States could have timely Spanish, French, Russian, etc. versions of proposed revisions to the draft†Declaration

Increased encouragement of joint submissions with a view to reaching consensus on specific Articles in the draft†Declaration

Use of U.N. web site to make available Indigenous and State positions on the various Articles of the draft Declaration;

Increased financial assistance to ensure equitable and democratic participation of Indigenous peoples from all regions of the globe

Live video broadcasts of UNCHR WG sessions

Use of expert panels or committees to address specific human rights issues relating to Indigenous peoples

New strategies to increase State commitment to the objectives of the human rights standard-setting process relating to Indigenous peoples

Ensuring an effective role for the Permanent Forum and its members†in advancing the goals of human rights standard-setting

Encouraging greater participation by specialized agencies in the Working Group

Greater coordination between such standard-setting processes at the United Nations and those at a regional level (such as the Organization of American States)

Increased public education and awareness of the importance of developing international human rights standards relating to Indigenous peoples

Increased attention and priority accorded by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly towards achieving a draft U.N. Declaration.

We therefore call upon this Commission to recommend to the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly the renewal of the standard-setting process relating to Indigenous peoples. At the same time, we strongly urge that significant improvements be made to the procedures and functioning of the Working Group (as suggested above), so as to ensure the successful attainment of its overall objectives.