Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse

First report on the 9th working group of the draft declaration, september 15, 2003

hello everyone,

because i was so kindly accredited for this working group at the un by tony black feather, i have decided to do write-ups of all of the meetings to summarize the major happenings with the current draft declaration on the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. now, since this is an informal medium, i may take a few liberties in detailing the observations i make of events and people therein, and of course if anyone doesn’t want to get these updates just let me know. many of you will be directly affected by the proceedings i will be describing and some of you may just be interested. please forward these at will!

note to val: hello! i have been trying to reach your dad for two weeks now and i can’t seem to get through on his number, the phone just rings and rings. could you show these reports to him also? and of course if there is anything that you or he would like me to do during these meetings, please let me know. i thank tony so much for the opportunity to be at the working group with his treaty council, and i miss him! i hope all is well with you both.

so now, the working group. the first part of the working group was fairly uneventful….introductions and various bits of information regarding upcoming seminars and meetings. most notable of these is a seminar on justice and indigenous people in madrid from 12-14 of november, as well as a seminar in geneva on treaties and agreements from the 15th to 17th of december. also, from 2004-2005 the office of the high commissioner for human rights will be conducting surveys and the like in an attempt to evaluate the 1st decade of the world’s indigenous people. these comments may come in the form of writings or if possible meetings with the indigenous liaisons in the high commissioner’s office. i can help people with this if need be.

mr. chavez was appointed as the chair of the working group and has chaired this meeting for many years now. he found it reprehensible that in 9 years only 2 articles of the draft declaration had been adopted (thank you VERY much usa, australia, new zealand, canada et al. evildoers) and that he was not going to let this inaction continue. there is no general debate in this working group, there is only discussion regarding the articles themselves and their adoption. he discussed the fact that last year’s report on the 8th session had been too long and this year they would be distributing the information that had been cut, which seemed to mostly include proposals from indigenous peoples.

willie littlechild (i want to say he represents a canadian indigenous people’s assembly but i am not sure exactly what it is called, and anyone who knows please tell me, otherwise i will find out from him tomorrow anyway…he’s amazing, i have been wanting to speak with him for a while.) noted that article 36 which states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors, according to their original spirit and intent, and to have States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements. Conflicts and disputes which cannot otherwise be settled should be submitted to competent international bodies agreed to by all parties concerned,” has been removed from the discussion of self-determination, and he requested that it be re-placed in this issue as well as provisionally adopted.

a delegate from the indien mouvement ‘tupaj amaru’ brought to the chair’s attention that the entire process of this working group had been discriminatory as proposals such as the current nordic proposal under discussion (which basically is attempting to water down the language of the declaration) has been deemed acceptable and yet no proposals from indigenous peoples have been put forth. he asked if indigenous people will be able to vote and the chair replied that the only people who will have a voice in consensus will be the governments that are currently members of the working group. (democratic and transparent, right?)

there were some procedural gobbledygook that went on and then article 8 of the draft declaration was tabled for discussion. let me clarify this issue of the nordic proposal: basically the nordic countries got together and made a bunch of changes to the declaration in order to make it as acceptable as possible for all the governments, and this involves adding anywhere from two words to whole paragraphs. there is a series of articles they dub ‘easy’ which have minimal changes and less controversial themes (such as land rights and self-determination, both of which are protected under other human rights treaties but somehow don’t apply to indigenous communities. go figure.) which have been clustered into the following group: 1,2,8,10,13-18,35,45. the international indian treaty council did ask that 16 and 18 be added to this list, although no response came back from the chair on this matter.

they began substantial discussion on article 8:

“Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right to maintain and develop their distinct identities and characteristics, including the right to identify themselves as indigenous and to be recognized as such.'”

in the nordic proposal they would like to make it read ‘indigenous peoples and individuals’ in the first words of the article. basically, all of the indigenous organizations that spoke (including the international indian treaty council, saami council, capaj, tupaj amaru, assembly of 1st nations of canada, and cisa among others) said that these words are not only redundant but in terms of being indigenous peoples they have a less individualistic view in terms of human rights, and also noted individual rights are already protected in the declaration of human rights and various other human rights treaty bodies. the indigenous participants requested that the article be adopted with the existing language as their focus is not individual rights for their communities but the collective rights of their peoples. denmark, china, guatamala, argentina, brasil, new zealand, and switzerland agreed that the article should remain as it is for the two added words to not enrich the article at all. denmark, one of the countries who created the proposal was one of the governments to agree that the wording was acceptable as it is.

on the other hand, the usa stated their intention to merge articles 8 and 9 with completely reworked language that replaced the rights of indigenous peoples with freedoms. very sneaky of them as they would like to stall this process as much as possible. myself and others were livid at their gumption. just livid. of course, the lap dog of the usa, the uk expressed their overwhelming support of the usa’s proposal as according to them, not everything can be enshrined in rights and thus freedoms are just as acceptable. hah! can you imagine? the chair responded by saying that because this working group is about a draft declaration on the RIGHTS of indigenous peoples, it would be outside the mandate to discuss freedoms, but he thanked them with all due respect for their proposal. chile made the insane comment that a preamble must be added to the draft declaration that defines indigenous people, to which the norwegian government responded that a new debate on this issue was not appropriate seeing that madame daes (the premier rapporteur and advocate on the rights of indigenous peoples within the un) stated such a definition would be impossible based on the various geographical circumstances of the indigenous peoples of the world. after a 3 1/2 hour debate on this article, the topic was closed and we broke for lunch.

after lunch the meeting started almost 40 minutes late, which again had me turning red with rage at the complete lack of respect many people seem to have towards the indigenous delegates who have come from all over the world to have a voice in these proceedings. 40 minutes!!!!!! livid sezin! seething sezin! after the governments took their sweet time getting to the meeting and finally settled themselves down, a joint statement was made on behalf of 40 indigenous delegations and organizations which discussed international standards, the shoddy nature of last years report sans indigenous proposals, as well as several legal arguments regarding the process. for those who are interested i can get a copy of this statement, let me know. the chair refuted all statements and claimed he did the best he could with the ammount of space he was allowed for his report, which should have led him to see that the problem is in what he chooses to include and exclude (in my view) which was really what the indigenous found problematic.

article 45 was then brought to the working group.

“Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.”

france brought up a proposal which would delete the words ‘group or person’ and add an expansion of all human rights treaty bodies after the statement about the un charter. the intl indian treaty council asked france to clarify this proposal and what its aims were. france said that all human rights treaties should be expressly stated to protect all human rights in as broad a sense as possible, and the deletion was to make the point that ultimately the state is the supreme power responsible for human rights and this should be clear. there was something to do with third party rights which was highly technical and i did not understand it, although i need to find out so i will clarify this later. the same indigenous groups i mentioned before as well as the federation of indigenous organizations of guyana, indigenous world association, russian association of indigenous peoples, inuit circumpolar conference and an south asian indigenous org all stated they would like the article to stay in its original form. some noted that the expansion and addition of human rights bodies would be acceptable, but if it will create a big problem then just to leave it the way it is. tupaj amaru was the only indigenous org that was in support of france’s proposal. switzerland, norway, china, chile, russia, bolivia, sweden, new zealand, finland, mexico, guatamala, uk, and the usa stated that the proposal would be fine as it is, or with the addition of further human rights bodies. none of these countries found it acceptable to delete the two words. norway supported the french proposal. canada proposed a totally new article of their creation or supported leaving it is as it is already. france withdrew that deletion portion of the proposal and made a formal statement of the language that will be added. they will distribute this in writing tomorrow and i will give it to you then. article 45 was closed for discussion.

the next article up for discussion was article one:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law.”

the nordic proposal again adds the two words ‘and individuals’ as in with article 8 to this first article. indigenous organizations stated across the board that they were not in support of this addition for the same reasons as the morning session with article 8. the indigenous peoples of the world were not willing to relinquish their collective rights as peoples and stated that if the governments were so committed to the human rights of indigenous peoples then they would leave these two words out of the first article. new zealand, norway, finland, switzerland, france, the usa and uk were in favor of the proposal. chile and guatamala were against this proposal. the usa stated that they can NOT have rights that flow to peoples as this is contrary to their constitution, and such rights as autonomy and self-determination are not human rights per se (YES that *ahem* woman, actually said that!!!!!!). they would like to re-word the whole article and indigenous individuals and indigenous peoples must be separated if the usa is to find it acceptable. the uk welcomed america’s comments (hmmmm, anyone surprised? woof woof, cuddle cuddle) and said that rights have different natures, and thus there are individual rights and collective rights making it so that america’s proposal would preserve the wider context of international law (um, don’t think so, makes me wonder who got paid off at the british embassy….). france said that they can not grant group rights as rights belong solely to individuals (this really did surprise me, again i wondered if there had been a financial exchange of some kind, i’ve heard it is quite common).

guatamala then made a brilliant statement in which they called into question the inappropriateness of this entire discussion for amending this article and stated that the cultural and social values present in the nordic proposal run contrary to the cultural and social values of the indigenous peoples of the world. for indigenous peoples, guatamala maintained that collective rights and collective rights only are key to their lives and communities and that america is only attempting to confuse the issue. he said that cultural differences were very evident in the discussion and asked basically asked why no one was in support of indigenous peoples rights detailed the way that the indigenous themselves would like said rights to be presented. raucous applause broke out from the back of the room where all of the indigenous delegates and observers were sitting (myself included, while glaring at that american government delegate who was within easy spitting distance….). the chair vehemently agreed with guatamala and supported the statement that the ambassador made. a bit more discussion ensued regarding why the addition of these two words would be prejudicial and several indigenous leaders discussed again the collective social consciousness versus the individualistic mode. the meeting was closed for the day.

i found the process quite captivating actually. at the beginning i was feeling very bad about the whole thing, i almost cried when the usa made their first ridiculous proposal. oh i was shaking so badly and really had to restrain myself from rushing over and bashing that woman over the head with her microphone. it also drove me mad that the usa, uk, australia, and other pertinent governments who treat their indigenous horribly, would take off their headphones when indigenous leaders would speak! i am completely serious, they don’t even listen. i would like to sneak in and put super glue inside the earphones so that they HAVE to listen! on the fabulous side, there are incredible leaders here, incredible! such eloquent speakers and so knowledgeable, many brilliant lawyers and activists. oh i met some amazing folks today and have many more to meet yet! i do believe that the chair is serious about getting articles adopted and it seemed as if consensus was being reached. i am worried that the usa will buy off those against them in the next week before actual voting begins, but all i can do pray that these people will keep their integrity and do the right thing.

until tomorrow, my prayers are with everyone and their families. you all take care and i will be back tomorrow with a new account. of course, any questions please feel free to ask. not everyone knows about these procedures so just let me know….

again, tony, i can not thank you enough! it is truly an honor to wear a badge with the black hills teton sioux treaty council on it. i thank you to the stars and back, and just can’t wait to see you again! this is of course not to say that i am not looking forward to seeing the rest of you, of course i am.

this is wincincala signing off until the next installment.

toksa ake.



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