Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse · United Nations

Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Reports on the 10th Working Group on the Draft Declaration, September 23-25, 2004


I am back again with the latest reports for the most recent session of the 10th WGDD. This is not the final report as there are still five days of negotiations which will take place again in Geneva from the 29th of November to the 3rd of December. Please take note that the Report of the Chairperson will not be released until after the end of the November/December session.

The last three days of talks, from the 22nd to the 24th of September, were the same discussions that I have already reported on in the Seventh and Eighth reports on the WGDD. All of the articles that had been broken down into smaller working groups of the various proposal-makers were finally presented to the WGDD and should be released this week in a new document that will be entitled CRP4. It was pretty insane to watch, and again impossible to report on, as many of the proposals were not circulated in hard copies and the talks became very nitpicky as everyone had to let everyone else know which parts of which proposals were acceptable or not and many made further proposals on the language that seemed to have achieved something of consensus within the working groups. Some also had to let everyone know that they either opposed the consensus or were not a part of the consensus, even though the Chair wanted none of these types of comments. Now, these negotiations were meant to be simply discussions about the language proposals and working towards consensus, but there were consistently indigenous organizations that would use significant chunks of time discussing issues facing indigenous peoples or the history of certain situations in the world. Again, even though the Chair noted that he would interrupt people who were not speaking to the direct issue of the Draft Text, he didn’t interrupt these delegates and in turn there were hours of time that were consumed by these broad statements.

The lack of proper translations was an issue that arose consistently in the last few days, as firstly many new text proposals were not available in languages other than English, secondly even the official translations of CRP1 and other documents were not accurately translated into the various languages, and thirdly there were terms that just simply did not translate and all of these created quite an anxious atmosphere in Room 17. For example, the word ‘redress,’ which is very clear in English, does not really translate into Spanish or French. There were many examples of this during the three days and much disappointment was expressed even at the official UN translations of documents which had not been done very accurately. The lack of faithful translations severely impaired or even impeded the participations of many segments of indigenous groups from participating fully in these discussions and there was a fair ammount of anger and frustration bouncing around the room.

So, during the course of these two weeks, a complete reading of the DD was finally completed, and a second reading of the text had begun. Even though there were many calls for the adoption of PP 2, 3, 7, 9 and A8 by both States and indigenous peoples, the Chair refused to break into formal session to accomplish this, stating that it was his feeling that some governments were not prepared to do this. I found out from an official source that the USA, UK, New Zealand and Australia have made it clear not only to the other governments but especially to the Chair, that they will not be supporting the adoption of any articles this year. At all, full stop. Mr. Chavez is working under the knowledge that under no circumstances will the adoption of any articles, even the no-change articles, be supported by any of the above governments. To me, what this means is that citizens of these governments must begin letter writing campaigns or something to encourage their governments to change their position on this. To indigenous delegates, what has been happening with the ‘lack’ of consensus is leading up to Mr. Chavez creating a Chairman’s Text (which is his right as the Chair to produce) which will then be presented to the Commission on Human Rights for adoption. This is extremely problematic as a good chunk of proposals made will probably make it into his text, some of which will significantly water down the rights of indigenous peoples, especially on the issue of self-determination and land rights. In the context of this knowledge, I congratulate the governments of Mexico, Guatemala and Brasil (and to a smaller extent Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba) on the very vocal no-change stance they have taken during these negotiations, as well as their strong support of the rights of indigenous peoples. I would not be surprised if they have stopped receiving aid from the Obstructer governments on account of their position with this Declaration.

On the floor, the Chair claims that the final week of negotiations in Nov/Dec will be the decisive time in which articles will be adopted and proposals finalized. That comment made my blood boil because he has no intention of doing that at all, and I just hate it when people lie. Even more when a lie is told to give people hope. He gave a tentative plan for Monday the 29th of November as the day to discuss and come to consensus on the issue of self-determination and all articles that relate to it; the 30th of November will be reserved for the issue of lands and territories. Mr. Chavez said that he will be in Geneva the week before the final week of the 10th WGDD to consult with whoever would like to consult with him.

Sadly, there was no Indigenous Caucus statement presented at the closing of the WGDD because there was no consensus on the document that had been produced by a group of indigenous delegates. Even though the document had been written based on the comments that had been raised within the Caucus itself, the statement was slammed by several organizations and finally was withdrawn for consideration by the Caucus. All in all, it seemed to be a very disappointing two weeks for many of the participants.

Although I am far from being an impartial observer of these events, I do feel somewhat on the margins of the discussions and on-goings and was asked by a few delegates to make some comments on the process as I witnessed. What I found very problematic from both governments and indigenous delegates was the tendency to think very locally about what is meant to be a global document. Some would make statements that outlined why a proposed change of language would be acceptable to them because the national legislation of their country already provided them with the rights outlined, but then there would be others who would detail how in their case they needed the language as is for they did not have the rights detailed already. It was painful for me to watch this as it seemed that even though collective rights and the rights of indigenous people in general were being discussed, the collective seemed to apply to individual indigenous communities, not in a global sense of outlining a base of rights for all indigenous peoples. To me, this would give the Obstructer governments just what they want in the form of the fragmentation of the indigenous perspective on the DD and makes it easier for them to demonstrate the lack of consensus not just within the government positions, but also within the indigenous perspectives also. The lack of an Indigenous Caucus statement this year seemed to highlight this point in stark relief. The way things have been going, from all sides, seems very dangerous, and it seems another sign among many that there will not be an acceptable Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. People need to be careful about blaming only the Obstructer governments for how things have been going, because in my view it seems to be quite complicated and the obstructions are emerging from many different areas.

I know and feel how important this Declaration is, and for Grampa Tony this was something that he felt would really be able to change things for indigenous peoples around the world. I am quite the idealist myself, and I too believe that if the document can be passed with strong language that it has the potential to make things better for indigenous peoples of the world, maybe not in the short term, but in the long term, for the future generations. In Grampa Tony’s words, everyone needs to ‘Wake up!’ and really look at what has been happening on all sides in these meetings. He would say to look at things from above, the way The Creator sees them, to get some perspective aside from our own personal position on what is happening and to figure out the best way to move forward with a united voice. This will be the only way that the Declaration will move forward. Certainly the final week of the 10th WGDD in Nov/Dec will be decisive, and many have faith that this process will continue for a few more years to actually finalize the Declaration. A letter will be submitted to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Arbour, asking for an extension of the WGDD for three more years, signed by many indigenous delegations and nations. We shall see what comes of that.

For me, it is back to the aching desperation of the job search. As it stands, I am not sure if I will be in Geneva for the final week of the negotiations to report on what will be happening then as I am waiting on many half-baked possibilities to either emerge as plans or fall flat. I will let you all know once I have taken a decision about this, although I do keep in mind that Grampa Tony would want me to finish what I have started with this and I have a feeling that I will still be in Geneva to complete these reports. I thank everyone who shared my reports around the world, and I know that Grampa Tony would have been so happy to know that so many were able to follow the meetings with me. For those who are missing reports or would like a copy of the reports as one document, let me know and I will begin working on getting that out to whoever would need it.

I wish you all the best in the next couple months.

In peace and solidarity,



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