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Cunningham: “We should feel joy for what has been achieved at the World Conference”

“Now we have the enormous challenge of ensuring that States fulfill their commitments”, Miskito leader says.

Miskito leader Mirna Kay Cunningham said that indigenous peoples of the world should be happy about the outcome of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, held on the 22 and 23 of September in New York City.

“Indigenous peoples have taken an important step in this World Conference and now we have the huge challenge of ensuring that States meet the reaffirmed commitments” Mirna Kay stated in a brief dialogue with Servindi.

She was referring to the outcome of a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, whose main purpose is to reaffirm the commitment of the States to work with indigenous people, respect their rights and implement the Declaration adopted seven years ago.

Mirna Kay Cunningham became the first Miskito woman to obtain a medical degree from the Autonomous National University of Nicaragua in 1973. Later, she completed her postgraduate studies in the United States. She has excelled as a researcher, parliamentary and social activist for the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly the women of Nicaragua, America and the world.

- The final document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples went through many changes and it is known that the approved version omitted some proposals made by the indigenous peoples. What is your evaluation of the Conference outcomes?

My evaluation is that we have experienced a very complex process, but in the end we have achieved positive results. The central idea of the indigenous peoples – since the Declaration was adopted – was that we were going to have a world conference ensuring equal indigenous participation in the process.

We did not conceive a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples without indigenous participation, not only in preparing the final document but also in organizing the conference. We struggled so that the United Nations may open its doors to guarantee it… and now we can say it did.

- How has indigenous participation developed?

In 2011 we achieved a decision by the then President of the General Assembly to create a space of facilitation. At that time, from the month of May, there were two indigenous advisers and two advisers from the States that worked with the President of the General Assembly in the organization of the conference and the negotiation of the final document.

- What is the essential contribution of the Final Declaration of the World Conference?

The final document is a framework for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We knew in advance that the document was not to create new rights but oriented towards action, defining what should be done and how, at the national level and at the United Nations, to advance with the implementation of the rights contained in the Declaration.

- But the action plan is still pending?

The approved document establishes a framework for the action plan and its Article 3 specifies that all matters related to indigenous peoples must be based on free, prior and informed consent.

The first part indicates what the commitments that States must meet in their respective countries and the commitment to develop strategies, action plans and concrete measures to implement the Declaration.

Priorities such as indigenous women, youth and children are defined. Also measures to address the extractive industries and apply free, prior and informed consent before adopting any decision affecting territorial rights. These are the pillars of the action plan.

- In one paragraph of the statement, the Declaration mentions “applicable” rights…

Because in some countries there are no indigenous peoples, then it is “applicable” to the cases where there are indigenous peoples. Let´s not forget that the general framework is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

- How important are the comments to the final document made by Canada?

What Canada has raised is that despite having endorsed the Declaration as a country, they do not apply the indigenous people’s right to free, prior and informed consent. But that particular position does not alter the integrity of the adopted document. Countries that have any reservations about some paragraph express them for the record, but that does not mean they are opposing the document.

- Should we feel satisfied by the adoption of the final document of the World Conference?

We should be very happy. Indigenous peoples have taken an important step with this World Conference and now we have the challenge of ensuring that states meet the commitments reaffirmed in the final document.

*Traducción de Luis Claps para IWGIA y Servindi.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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