Center for World Indigenous Studies
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UN FW Observer Nations?

Published: May 10, 2016, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

Fourth World Nations can become observer nations at the UN if Member states fulfill their commitments made at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014!

The September 2014 United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) produced a consensus Outcome document that mandated, among other things, the Secretary General to “concrete proposals to enable participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions, building on his report on ways and means of promoting participation at the United Nations of indigenous peoples’ representatives on the issues affecting them. Dina Gilio-Whitaker, CWIS Research Associate and Associate Scholar writing in Indian Country Today recounts actions taken by the UN General Assembly President  beginning in March 2016 to create “an avenue for meaningful participation and representation of Indigenous governments in the U.N., and how to implement a mechanism to monitor the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)” based on an extended digital consultation about recommendations and comments from “Indigenous Peoples'” governments and organizations.

The Center for World Indigenous Studies contributed an extensive analysis and set of recommendations calling for creation of a mechanisms in the UN including an Observer Indigenous Nations Council (with 22 rotating members) directly functioning as a subsidiary body to the UN Economic and Social Council and adjoined to a 1002 member Observer Indigenous Nations Assembly meeting quadrennially with participants from nine global regions. The CWIS proposal takes into account the global aggregate indigenous peoples population estimated at 1.3 billion and provides for regional and sub-regional bodies to permit direct participation at the ground level.

The biggest problem facing formation of such a body arises from objections by UN member states most of which claim they do not have indigenous peoples in their populations (this accounts for the UN population count of 370 million). The CWIS position is that ALL of the more than 5,000 indigenous nations representing 18% of the world’s population must be recognized as possessing the right to exercise their free, prior and informed consent on matters affecting them as participants in local, regional and international dialogue. This can be achieved through a multi-layered global organization connected to the United Nations. Such a multi-layered body would recognize that most Fourth World nations do not have financial or technical resources to directly engage in meetings at the UN Headquarters in New York or in Geneve. Most Fourth World organizations do not have financial or technical resources either. But, when matters affecting their interests and rights are part of a local, regional, and international dialogue they must have the opportunity to participate and influence the outcome based on the granting or rejecting consent based on freely obtained information without external interference.

CWIS has advanced the following principles during the digital consultation on “enabling Participation of Indigenous Constitutional and Customary governments in the UN:

  • The political identity of a people (nation) sending a delegation must be part of the eligibility meaning they are a nation, community or society governed under constitutional or customary laws and that the people may be categorized as: Integrated or Absorbed, Autonomous, Associated, Independently Federated, Confederated, Independent Nation [not now an observer or member of the UN] 
  • State recognition must not be a condition for eligibility since such a condition will result in disallowing participation by 72% of the world’s 1.3 billion indigenous peoples in a new UN framework.
  • The structure of a UN framework must include four delegation organizations (local, regional, international and UN).
  • Indigenous nation delegations may speak or intervene at any level concerning any topic deemed relevant to the interests or rights of each nation consistent with the right of free, prior and informed consent.
  • Any delegation may originate an instrument of law or practice at any level of the UN system.

The UN General Assembly President’s digital consultation continues through to June 2016. The Center for World Indigenous Studies will continue to offer criticisms, praise and recommendations. Whether UN Member states will fulfill their commitments issued in the September 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Outcome Document will be the subject of intense negotiations. Whether Fourth World Nations will indeed take their seats as observer nations with all the powers that status implies remains an open question.

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