Thursday, October 2, 2014

WCIP Concludes in New York with Adoption of Outcome Document

After nearly four years of negotiations marked by incredible efforts and occasional drama, the High Level Meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) was finally held on 22-23 September 2014 at United Nations headquarters in New York. Although it ended with more of a sigh than a shout, it was a sigh of hope for better things to come.

The Outcome Document
The main result of the WCIP is the adoption by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) of the Outcome Document, which among other things reaffirms UN member states' support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). The Outcome Document addresses a variety of issues aimed at facilitating the implementation of the UN Declaration, including with regard to (1) obtaining free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples; (2) increasing their participation in the UN system; and (3) respecting indigenous peoples' role in and right to development. Additionally, the Outcome Document also includes a footnote reference to the Alta Outcome Document, developed by Indigenous Peoples during a preparatory conference held in Alta, Norway from 10-12 June 2013.

FPIC: States committed to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples: (1) before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them (para. 3); and (2) prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources (para. 20).

UN System: States invited the Human Rights Council to review the mandates of its existing mechanisms, particularly the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to facilitate achievement of the ends of the UN Declaration (para. 28). They requested the Secretary General to begin the development of a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach in achieving the ends of the UN Declaration and to report on progress made at the UNGA's seventieth session in 2015 (para. 31).  Additionally, States requested the Secretary General to report on the progress of implementation of the Outcome Document at the seventieth session (para. 40). States also committed to considering ways to enable participation of indigenous peoples in the UN at the seventieth session (para. 33).

Development: States encouraged Governments to recognize the significant contribution of indigenous peoples to the promotion of sustainable development (para. 34), committed to respecting these contributions, including knowledge obtained through traditional practices (para. 35), and noted that indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development (para. 37).

Alta Outcome Document: One subject of debate during the consultations was whether and how to refer to the Alta Outcome Document in the WCIP Outcome Document. Discussion centered on whether to refer to it by footnote or to include it as an annex. Some States objected to including it as an annex because of concerns regarding the precedent that annexing a document developed outside of the UN structure would set (despite the fact that precedent does exist for such action).

On the other hand, the Alta Outcome Document was strongly supported by the Global Coordinating Group and the regional indigenous caucuses, and many States also supported its inclusion as an annex. As the regional representative for the African Caucus stated, the Alta Outcome Document was actually the document that indigenous peoples wanted to come out of the WCIP. Ultimately, however, the Alta Outcome Document is referred to by footnote in the Outcome Document.

Other issues: The Outcome Document addresses several other issues of critical importance to indigenous peoples, including the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities (para. 9), disaggregation of data (para. 10), education (para. 11), empowerment of indigenous youth (para. 15), empowerment of indigenous women (para. 17); establishment of national processes relevant to the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to lands, territories and resources (para. 21), and the responsibility of transnational corporations and other business enterprises to respect all applicable laws and international principles (para. 24).

In general, the response to the Outcome Document has been one of guarded optimism. There appears to be general agreement that at the very least, the Outcome Document does not diminish any of the rights set forth in the UN Declaration, and indeed has the potential to facilitate the achievement of its ends. As with so many other instruments agreed at the international level, however, the challenge remains one of implementation. Many people involved in the process have seen promises made at the national, regional and international level that have not been kept at the local level. That is why the commitments made in the Outcome Document regarding reporting at the seventieth session of the UNGA are so important.

The Negotiation Process
Apart from the Outcome Document itself, another important aspect of its development was the process of negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Outcome Document. Throughout, the process was fraught with difficulty, and many States manoeuvred to reduce the level of participation of indigenous peoples in the development of the text. This manoeuvring played a role in the North American caucus ultimately deciding to withdraw completely from participating in the WCIP.

Nevertheless, during the consultations held in the months prior to the WCIP, the caucus system utilised by indigenous peoples proved to be an effective one. That system consisted of representatives from all the major regions of the world, as well as a youth caucus and a women's caucus, headed by a Global Coordinating Group to deliver unified positions. The caucus representatives negotiated on equal footing with governments during the consultations, joining together to form unified positions or responding individually as needed in the context of discussion. States also consented to allowing the two indigenous advisers chosen to help lead the negotiation process to participate in the development of the draft Outcome Document after the official consultation process ended.

Conclusion
The WCIP marks an important milestone in the long road toward full recognition of indigenous peoples' rights. The Outcome Document is progressive, with several commitments by States to take action in implementing the principles of the UN Declaration. Its adoption serves as a potential catalyst for meaningful change, and it is up to governments now to ensure that they adhere to their commitments and see they are fulfilled at the local level.



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