I apologize that I have not been able to get this report out sooner, but yesterday all of the built up physical, emotional and mental tension of the week simply floored me; I don’t think anyone would have wanted to read a report written in the state I was in. Needless to say, the final day of the WGDD deliberations was a huge disappointment for the progress of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, although many would say that they had not been expecting anything better. I think some of us were expecting a miracle, and it will come, just not yet. As in all my reports, the opinions reflected therein are my own unless expressly noted.
The morning session opened for about ten minutes and was closed immediately, much to the confusion of the delegates within Room 18. Nobody had any idea what was going on as there were several informal consultations, but none were open for non-negotiators or non-proposal-makers. It was a mess! People wandering around or desperately searching for people who were tucked away in these small meetings. Government delegations disappeared, except for the USA, UK, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, France and Russia who I saw meeting with the Chairman at the front of the room. In the spirit of transparency in process and the United Nations I wanted to present myself to that group and listen, but knew it was just impossible and unfortunately I have yet to master the art of making myself invisible. Hopefully by next time…Of all the meetings, that meeting of Obstructers and the Chair (almost one and the same) was surely the one everyone would have liked to overhear. Consultations were still continuing privately on the issue of self-determination, provisional adoption of articles, lands and territories, and also the theme of cross-cutting issues. All of the groups were to present reports to the Chairperson before the end of the session. The meeting was to resume at 3 PM sharp, as per orders of the Chair.
So, the carnival of the UN continued with people wandering about, some aimlessly and some frantically to finish whatever it was that was happening behind closed doors before the re-opening of the session at 3 PM. I should also note that by Friday morning, many delegates had already left Geneva.
During the lunch break, IndiGeneve organizers had put together a lunch at the famous Broken Chair in front of the UN (it is a tribute to landmine victims as one of the chair legs is jagged and missing) and there was a Drum Ceremony for about an hour. It always amazes me to see people from all over the world not only playing The Drum but also dancing around it. For a few moments, in time with the heartbeat of Mother Earth, we were all just humans singing our happiness and our pain, and there is nothing more than this profound and deep connection to each other and everything that ever was. This was most certainly the high point of the day, and even the sun came out after the singing and drumming was done.
At 3 PM Room 18 began to fill up with both indigenous and governmental delegations, but there was no Chairman. Everyone had copies of the Draft Report of the 10th WGDD (E/CN.4/2004/WG.15/CRP.6) as written by the Chair and Secretariat, and so people were consulting, editing and preparing interventions in regards to that text. Again, there was a lot of disappointment and disgust in the room in regards to the text. The most problematic area of the Draft Report was the mention of Chavez’s desire to present a Chairman’s Text to the Commission on Human Rights that will attempt to find the middle ground between all of the varying positions. It was made public by the hunger strikers on Thursday in the statement that I sent to you all that the Vice-Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights has stated that the Commission will not accept in any way, shape or form Chavez’s Chairman’s text. That most likely it will be the Sub-Commission text that will be presented to the CHR and a vote will be taken from there. I will go into this in more detail at the end of this report.
So the time was just ticking by, ticking by, the room was filling up with people, except for Mr. Chavez. By 4 PM, the room was full, the Secretariat was present, but still no Mr. Chavez. Around 430 he finally emerged and the final plenary session was called to order. And when he began to speak, it was in this very rushed and irritated manner, as if we were the ones that kept him waiting! That really set an uncomfortable tone for the last hour and a half and the tension in his voice was thick with frustration and what sounded like anger. The report of the first two weeks of the 10th WGDD was adopted and then discussion moved to CRP6, the Draft Report of the Chairman. There were several amendments that were made, and so he went through these one by one. Most were simple and small changes, wordsmithing and meddling here and there. Technical and frustrating.
Now, in this Draft Report, the Chairman states that he would like his Chairman’s text to be the basis of future discussions on the Draft Declaration, although the language in the Draft Report does not expressly note this. Norway made a proposal that the Report specifically state that the WGDD not only supports the Chairman’s Text but that this Text WILL be the basis of all future discussions and consensus! For one moment, Chavez did the right thing and stated that he would not feel comfortable stating this as he knows many members of the WGDD and indigenous peoples are totally against the introduction of a Chairman’s Text, full stop. But he did feel that the Chairman’s Text was the only way to foster consensus and he simply wanted to note in the Report that the most effective elements of discussions would be included in his Chairman’s Text. Guatemala, our hero, stated that first of all the basis of discussion was and always would be the Sub-Commission text otherwise the mandate of the WGDD would be violated, and not only this but there could be no discussion of the Chairman’s Text once it had been created, that it would be dangerous for any document to be presented to the CHR without consultations. Mexico supported Guatemala’s statement and further noted that if the Chair really wanted to include this language of support of the Chairman’s Text that he could say something about the creators of CRP1 support the creation of the Chairman’s Text. Before Mr. Chavez suspended the debate on this issue to consult with the CRP1 crew (Nordic countries, et al), Alberto Saldamando from IITC took the floor to point out that the truth was not being reflected in the report and that these proposals were far from innocent, in fact they were quietly swaying and seriously distorting the reality of the WGDD.
There was a bit of a tiff between Mr. Chavez and Lazaro Pary of the World Peace Council in which there was a lot of gaveling and raised voices. Mr. Pary objected to the statements regarding consensus in Paragraph 9 as he (and most others) would say that there is no consensus whatsoever. Mr. Chavez, angrily, stated that as the Chair and as the one in control of the report, it was his opinion that there was consensus and that was all he had to say about that.
The lunatics took over the asylum when the USA took the floor to object to Paragraph 5 of the Draft Report which states “At the beginning of the third week, a group of indigenous representatives strongly expressed their concerns about the process as they considered that it threatened undermining their fundamental rights. In order to call attention to their concerns, six indigenous representatives announced a hunger strike and spiritual fast. A number of indigenous representatives expressed their support. At the fourth day of the third week, indigenous representatives declared that their hunger strike and spiritual fast had come to an end.” The USA, after consulting not only with government representatives but some indigenous peoples (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) as well, stated that it is not possible to include this information in an official report of the UN. They said that firstly, protests were not allowed in the United Nations, and that their concern was that by including this text it would encourage further protests within other working groups and meetings. They used the example of a protest that had occurred during the CHR against the Libyan Chairperson in 2002, and stated that this protest had rightfully not been included in the official report of the CHR.
CISA took the floor to state that the basis of discussion always had been and always would be the Sub-Commission text. Mr. Chavez with his head in his hands and shaking his head told CISA to look at CRP3 as it states this in that report, and extremely testily stated that the time for discussion on that issue was past.
Russia (the really mean delegate from the first days who seems to be perpetually in a bad mood) took the floor, livid, in support of the USA statement to say that not everything that goes on in the meetings is reported and that the reports are meant only for ‘substantial issues.’ He incorrectly stated that the hunger strike was provoked by a general assessment of the process of the WGDD as a whole, and that this paragraph be stricken from the record. Certainly, the hunger strike did have to do with the entire process, but it was inspired by this LAST week of discussions and the obstruction and evil maneuverings of governments trying to murder the Declaration. They were in fact protesting the entire process of the last week, the lack of support from the Chair, the call for provisional adoption that never came, the lies and under-the-table dealings. I was seeing red and my hands were shaking, I wanted to cry but held it together because I knew that no one else was taking down all of what was being said. I need to thank all of you for that because without this report I would have just left the room and I never would have really known what would happen. Just as a side note, aside from alternate reports by indigenous peoples and these that I write, there is no record of these discussions in the UN other than the Final Report the Chair submits.
Of course, Australia took the floor to support the USA and Russia. Charmaine White Face had her hand up to speak immediately after the USA delegation made the vicious move to strike the paragraph, and in the process of madness, discussion on Paragraph 5 was closed before she was able to take the floor. Mr. Chavez gaveled her three times, and in a very rude manner. Very disrespectful, especially of an Elder, and his whole manner of speaking had become aggressively defensive and terse. Chavez crossly stated that he would make time at the end for general comments.
Brasil took the floor to state that in these moments, the WGDD was at a point where they were about to lose significant and important advances made in the last years. They appealed to Norway, the Indigenous Caucus, the USA and Russia to assist in the advances of the deliberations, and also to note that nothing is final in regards to the Declaration until it is all final.
The Chairman moved the discussion to the presentations of the small groups on the issues of provisional adoption, self-determination, lands and territories, cross-cutting issues, and treaties.
Norway presented on the outcome of the informal consultations on the issue of provisional adopted and stated that it was difficult to move forward with provisional adoption without settling the issues of self-determination and other important cross-cutting issues such as collective rights. There is a package of articles that are close to consensus which include PP 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, and 18, along with OPs 4, 6, 9, 14, 16, 17, 18, 22, 33, 34, 40, 41, 44, and 45. The invoked the mantra of the WGDD, nothing is final until it is all final, and ended their presentation.
Wayne Lord of the Canadian delegation presented the results of the consultations on self-determination and noted an ’emerging consensus document’ that was a synthesis of many proposals that had been made. Mr. Lord spoke in favor of the ‘package deal approach’ and stated that there was strong evidence of emerging consensus on this issue.
On Lands and Territories Consultations, Brasil and Guatemala noted the numerous proposals that they had received and the fact that there was really no consensus on these issues at all. In terms of OP 25, the issue of ‘traditional knowledge’ was crucial and the word ‘territory’ is still problematic for many governments. OPs 26, 28 and 30 were on the path to consensus, but sub-surface resources, total environment, militarization and reparation were still difficult issues that had no consensus at all. For OP 30 Brasil was able to concretely say that the word ‘obtain’ should be used rather than ‘seek.’ Guatemala discussed OP 27 and this ongoing issue of restitution, reparation, redress, and the language of compensation. There is a new proposal that has emerged but there is no consensus. OP 29 included the problematic term of ‘intellectual property’ and the issue of genetic resources; many States are in favor of CRP1, indigenous peoples and one state prefer the original text.
Spain and Les Malezer from FAIRA presented on the cross-cutting issues and noted also there had been many proposals made. Les stated that possibly an effective way to address some of these issues is to include new preambular paragraphs that could then solve many of the cross-cutting issues within the operative paragraphs. He suggested that this method could be employed to the benefit of the Declaration for many of the issues under discussion, not just cross-cutting issues. Again, there was no consensus on any of the proposals.
Willie Littlechild spoke about the consultations regarding OP 36 on treaty issues, and stated that although there is no consensus as yet, they are still working on this text and there is a new proposal from indigenous peoples that would be based on text from the OAS.
By this point, it was 5:57 PM and the interpretation services would be finished at 6 PM on the dot. On account of this, Mr. Chavez only had time to make his concluding remarks. He said he had a long list of speakers, but that they had to adopt the report so all who wished to speak would need to submit their comments in writing and they would be included in his Report. There was a quiet murmur as there must have been about 15 people who wanted to speak. On the Chair’s announcement that the Report needed to be adopted before the closing of the session and the dawning awareness that there was no translation, the murmur raised to a dull roar. Guatemala stated there was no way to adopt the report as there was no translation. Mr. Chavez (speaking slowly and in English, then Spanish, then French) stated that firstly, it would not be the first time that a report was adopted without translation. Secondly, he would put a reservation on Paragraphs 5 and 9 and would motion to adopt the rest of the report. Thirdly, delegates had 15 days to submit written comments to the Secretariat that could/would be included in the final draft of his report.
He declared the report adopted, hit the gavel and that was that. No closing prayer, nothing.
From the point of view of indigenous peoples, there was so much disappointment and even despair at how things had turned out. Many felt cheated and lied to by Mr. Chavez, and it was obvious to everyone that many things were going on sneakily and under the table. There was a sense of a total lack of control, an absence of participation and lack of a voice in the proceedings, and there was a lot of anger towards Mr. Chavez on how he had directed the deliberations. The fact is that there can be no more time for the WGDD. In UN policy working groups are only allowed 6 years, and this working group already received 4 extra years of deliberations. Basically, it is now a battle between the Sub-Commission Text and Mr. Chavez’s Chairman’s text and which will be presented to the Commission on Human Rights in April. If the Vice-Chair of the CHR was honest in saying to the hunger strikers that the Chairman’s Text will not be acceptable, then it will most likely be the Sub-Commission text as it stands that will be presented to the CHR.
I was pretty upset at the end of the meeting, really thinking a lot about Grampa Tony Black Feather and all the work he and others have done for so many years to move this process forward, just not understanding how the obstructionist delegations, who are also made up of human beings with this common thread of life between all of us, how they could be behaving in such a grotesque way towards other human beings. It all just felt heavy, it was hard to breathe, hard to smile, it seemed bleak and desolate.
But there is always hope. Always always always. In the coming week I will forward to you all the draft of a letter to Mr. Chavez that would support the inclusion of Paragraph 5 about the hunger strike to remain in his Report. We are also trying to mobilize all of the hundreds of supporters of the hunger strike to write a letter to Chavez to encourage him to leave the mention of the hunger strike alone and to counter the pressure of the USA and their demonic companions to delete all mention. For more information write to firstname.lastname@example.org or to me and in any case, the update will be forwarded this week; we don’t have much time to move on this.
Furthermore, the next bold move will be serious lobbying of governments at the Commission on Human Rights. In the WGDD the USA has a lot of power, but in the Commission (made up of 50+ States), the USA has no credibility and no weight other than their bully-words and the occasional economic aid package to a starving country. I cannot stress how important it will be for organizations and peoples to bring delegations to the Commission for the entire 6 weeks to talk to government delegates, get to know them and then convince them to vote in favour of the Declaration. The CHR will be the place where it is decided whether there will be a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or not, so I would recommend beginning fundraising, trainings on how to effectively lobby governments, and preparations for the CHR as soon as you can. The CHR is the key to the Declaration, and if people need help or information about the CHR process please let me know and I will do my very best to help in whatever way that I am able.
I will continue to keep you all updated on the mobilizing going on in Geneva and will be attending the meetings however I can to continue writing the reports and many thanks to LIDLIP and IWA for sponsoring me to attend the deliberations this past week. I have absolute faith, like Grampa Tony, that the Declaration will pass and it will be a strong one. Please don’t lose hope in this process, it will work, eventually, its just going to take some time. Keep up the righteous fight and know that my prayers are with you all.
In peace, solidarity and in honor of Tony Black Feather,
As one of the ‘Hunger Strikers’ it has been an honour to be a part of it with five other beautiful people. It has become very clear at the end of these proceedings that we as Indigenous Peoples have a long way to go in our struggle for Recognition and Respect in the International Community of Humanity. I am overwhelmed by the support we got from all over the world, the hundreds of emails and phone calls. Of them all I answered only one letter and that was from Leonard Peltier thanking him for his words of support. We must take a stand, sometimes even if we disagree because what we do is for our children, grandchildren and those who are coming. Thank you so much for all and my prayers are with you.