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Reactions to the outcome of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples express moderate satisfaction with the Outcome Document adopted Monday 22 September at the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples: It is not as action oriented as was hoped for, but it confirms and reaffirms the language of the UN Declaration and will be an important tool for lobbying for implementation of rights back home

“I was actually quite surprised that we were able to hold the line on critical rights such as land and Free, Prior and Informed Consent” says Mililani Trask from Hawaii. “Things could be a lot worse. I think we came out with more than the States wanted.”

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Cree from Canada and member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says he personally wanted to “ensure that no State uses this process as an attempt to reduce what was in the Declaration” (The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007 ed.).

Myrna Cunningham, Miskata from Nicaragua and indigenous Special Advisors to the President of the General Assembly on the World Conference, is content that the Outcome Document reaffirms the commitment of States to the UN Declaration and includes many of the priorities established by indigenous peoples’ global preparatory process in Alta.

“This is the floor, not the ceiling”

Some priorities did, however, not make it into the Outcome Document. The reference to the impact of extractive industries, a major concern of indigenous peoples, is very weak, and States did for example not accept references to self-determination, treaty rights and demilitarization of indigenous peoples' lands in the terms suggested by indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples, on their side have rejected to accept language falling below the standards set out in the UN Declaration.

Especially, the exemption of a reference to militarization, which was included in a previous draft, is disappointing to many of the delegates. Militarization continues to be a huge problem for indigenous peoples in for examples Bangladesh, Philippines, Colombia, and many Pacific Islands.

But the Outcome Document should not be seen as the end product of indigenous peoples’ struggle, says Devashish Roy, Chakma Raya from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, and member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who prefers to see the Outcome Document as the “floor, not the ceiling.“

“The possible document”

Rukka Sombolinggi, Toraya from South Sulawesi, Indonesia, is quite satisfied with the document “given the process”.

“The challenge now is how we work together. The commitments will remain on paper unless governments and indigenous peoples take forward this document and make it work,” Rukka Sombolinggi says.

In Indonesia there has been important progress on the relationship between indigenous peoples and the State. The Parliament is rights now reviewing a law on indigenous peoples and the new President to take office later this year has committed himself to support indigenous peoples.

“This Outcome Document will help him to realize his promises to indigenous peoples in Indonesia,” says Rukka Sombolinggi.

An important step forward

“The Outcome Document is an important step forward, but it will require action from indigenous peoples to ensure that the commitments are followed up at the international and national level," says Myrna Cunningham, who sees the commitment of states to develop national action plans, (mentioned in paragraph eight), as a good tool for this.

In the case of Nicaragua, the references to land, the Post 2015 development agenda, women’s rights, health and the inclusion of youth are some of the important commitments of the Outcome Document, which according to Myrna Cunningham can be used by the indigenous movement to lobby for restitution of their rights and improvement of their living conditions.

”A problem known is a problem half solved”

According to one of the African delegates, Elifuraha Isaya Laltaika, Maasai from Tanzania and Executive Director of the Association for Law and Advocacy for Pastoralists, it is still premature to say if the Oucome Document is good or bad, but he sees the celebration of the World Conference in itself as a step forward for the cause of indigenous peoples in Africa.

"The high level exposure will provide the building blocks for us for conducting lobbying back home,” says Elifuraha Laltaika. ”When we go back home, we don’t have to explain what indigenous peoples issues are, policy makers already know - we can go directly to the issues affecting the communities. So it is a victory in itself”.


Read the adopted Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (22 September 2014)




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