In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly resolved to hold a high-level plenary meeting, to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), in 2014 (Resolution 65/198). Currently, the WCIP is scheduled to take place on 22-23 September 2014 (official web link). In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/296, commonly known as the “modalities resolution,” which among other things provides that discussions during the WCIP would be “co-chaired by one Member State and one representative of indigenous peoples.”
Despite the modalities resolution, however, establishing the exact procedure for the WCIP has been fraught with conflict, with disagreement regarding the manner in which Indigenous peoples would participate in the process. Indeed, the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus has called for the cancellation of the WCIP and withdrawn from the Indigenous Global Coordinating Group (GCG) formed to lobby for the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples in WCIP processes. Although great effort was expended by Indigenous peoples and states to reach consensus, the exact details of the process for the WCIP remained unknown heading into this year’s UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (Forum) beginning 12 May.
The WCIP was part of the Forum’s official Agenda this year, and discussion took place on Monday, 19 May. Ambassador Crispin Gregoire, (former Permanent Representative of the Commonwealth of Dominica) and now the UN General Assembly President’s (UNGA President) focal point on the WCIP, addressed the Forum plenary to give an update on the way forward. He relayed the UNGA President’s proposal, which involved holding consultations, presided over by the UNGA President, to develop a “zero draft” of the WCIP’s outcome document. At these consultations, the UNGA President would be assisted by four “Advisers”: on the state side, a representative from Costa Rica and a representative from Slovenia, and on the Indigenous peoples’ side, Myrna Cunningham Kain and Les Malezer were proposed. Full details of the proposal are available here in the written statement of Ambassador Gregoire.
On 23 May, during the last session of the Forum’s last day, the issue of the WCIP was addressed again. Ambassador Gregoire reported that some states opposed the UNGA President’s proposal put forth on 19 May at the Forum, and as a result the UNGA President decided to postpone any decision until the following week (the week of May 26) pending further dialogue with states and Indigenous peoples to decide on a way forward.
The Forum Chair allowed almost an hour of interventions on the WCIP during the final session (link to detailed documentation). Ambassador Gregoire said that the position of the opposing states was based on their desire to uphold the “sanctity of the intergovernmental process.” He was unequivocal in saying that “we totally disagree with that,” noting that the UNGA President had been clear that the zero draft would be taken up by states for review after the consultation process was completed. Mexico, Norway, Denmark, Guatemala, Finland, Bolivia, Australia, Nicaragua, Sweden, Panama, and the United States all made statements expressing support for the UNGA President’s proposal (although some noted that it was an unsatisfactory compromise). The interventions from states overall were unanimous in expressing profound disappointment that a consensus could not be reached.
Interventions made by Indigenous peoples’ groups expressed profound disappointment as well, and a representative for the GCG noted that this development represented a serious setback for the relationship between Indigenous peoples and states,. Accepting the UNGA President’s proposal had already been difficult, and for many Indigenous groups, the fact that after consultations the zero draft would be taken up by states before the final outcome document was completed undermined the spirit of co-chairing and relied on the good faith of governments. Both states and Indigenous peoples made repeated reference to upholding the provisions of the modalities resolution and called on the UNGA President to show leadership and decide a way forward.
Unfortunately, the Permanent Forum closed on Friday 23 May without any agreement on next steps for the WCIP. It remains to be seen how the UNGA President will decide to proceed.