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Commission On Human Rights

Sixtieth session
Items 15 of the provisional agenda

INDIGENOUS ISSUES

Written statement submitted by Inuit Circumpolar Conference, non-governmental organizations in special consultative status 

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

Given the discussions and the debate at the October 2003 session of the inter-sessional Working Group (UNCHR Res. 1995/32, 3 March 1995), it is probable that there will be no approval of the draft Declaration by the Commission on Human Rights, the Economic and Social Council and the UN General Assembly before the end of the first Decade and before a second Decade is approved. In light of this apparent fact, the ICC would like to share their concerns about the future of the process and the urgent need to evaluate and assess the continuation of the Working Group and its associated working methods.

First of all, the decision to continue the standard-setting process must be separate from the anticipated Decade of the World’s Indigenous People review. The human rights standard-setting process concerning Indigenous Peoples should not hinge upon the end of the first Decade or the decision or question to establish a second Decade. Rather, this critical standard-setting initiative should continue in order to fulfill one of the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations itself in the context of the world’s Indigenous Peoples.

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 substance of the status and rights of Indigenous Peoples. No other standard-setting activity within the UN has been as time consuming. Yet, at the same time, no other standard-setting body has grappled with the extensive and distinct political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual rights of Indigenous Peoples. Therefore, additional time is needed to comprehensively respond to the status and rights of such Peoples.

In this regard, it is essential that both nation-state members and Indigenous peoples to make efforts to ensure the continuation of a standard setting process leading to the adoption of a draft U.N. Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The significance of the draft Declaration (although not adopted by the U.N. General Assembly) is quite extensive. Around the globe, the draft the courts, legislative bodies, international agency policies, academics and elsewhere refer to Declaration, as relevant standards to consider concerning Indigenous peoples' rights. Such references may not continue in the future, should the process of standard setting be prematurely terminated. Otherwise, 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.

Yet at the same time, if there is a new mandate beyond the Decade, we must recognize that the current procedures are inadequate and ineffective. Therefore, the UN must improve the working methodology concerning the development of standards taking into consideration the unique and distinct characteristics of Indigenous Peoples.

It is likely that many 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 first determine concrete ways to substantially improve the current standard-setting process.

The ICC would like to suggest some improvements that might be considered by Indigenous representatives and states in order to proactively move this initiative forward. Such elements include:

- Altering existing rules so as to allow 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 Indigenous representatives could have timely Spanish, French, Russian, etc. versions of proposed revisions to the draft†Declaration;

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

- Live video broadcasts of UNCHR WG sessions;

- Specified rules that ensure strict adherence to the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter when making proposals on Indigenous human rights;

- Increased financial assistance to expand Indigenous participation from different regions of the globe;

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

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

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

- Ways of increasing State commitment to such basic human rights goals;

- Possible role of the Permanent Forum and its members in advancing the goals of human rights standard-setting;

- Greater coordination between such processes at the international level with those at a regional level (such as the OAS); and

- Encouraging a greater participation by specialized agencies in the UNCHR WG; and increased attention and priority accorded by the UNCHR and U.N. General Assembly towards achieving a draft U.N. Declaration.

Our second matter of concern relates to Part VI of the draft Declaration. The ICC would like to convey our strong concern and alarm over the most recent proposal by the Chair of the inter-sessional Working Group (UNCHR Res. 1995/32, 3 March 1995) concerning Part VI of the draft Declaration (Articles 25-30) addressing our critical rights to lands, territories and resources. Prior to the Chair’s announcement of his proposal, both nation state members and Indigenous Peoples worked cooperatively to achieve consensus on at least eight articles. Though we were too rushed in our efforts, an unprecedented momentum was generated. Despite positive progress on a range of articles, we were alarmed by the introduction of dramatic and wholesale changes to the lands, territories and resources section by the governments of Australia and Canada, which diverted attention away from the probable opportunity to provisionally adopt a number of articles at the session.

With little or no consultation with Indigenous Peoples’ representatives, the Chair announced his proposal to begin the preparation of the "Chair’s text" for Articles 25-30 as a way of addressing our most critical and fundamental rights to lands, territories and resources. The ICC believes such an approach to be wholly unacceptable, especially given the current time frame of the inter-sessional Working Group or even if its mandate is expanded for one to two more years or by another Decade. On the contrary, all of the Articles of the draft Declaration, including Articles 25-30, should be addressed in an open and fair manner, consistent with the above suggested methods for improving the dialogue and remaining work of the Inter-sessional Working Group.