Saturday, May 31, 2014

UPFII Agenda Item 6: Intervention of the US Government

PFII May 2014 session
Agenda Item 6, World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
U.S. Intervention, as delivered by Terri Robl
U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council
Monday, May 19, 2014

         Thank you, Madame Chair.  The United States co-sponsored UN General Assembly Resolution 65/198, which called for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  Our support for this World Conference stems from the U.S. government’s policy to strengthen its relationship with tribal governments and to take indigenous peoples’ perspectives into account when formulating its broader policy objectives.         We support the resolution’s statement that the World Conference share perspectives and best practices on realizing the rights of indigenous peoples, including for the purpose of pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
         This is the first time that senior UN and member state representatives will gather together with indigenous representatives at a UN high-level meeting to consider recommendations that indigenous peoples have presented over the years to the Permanent Forum, Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other UN meetings devoted to human rights, development, environment, and conservation issues.  Indigenous peoples have proposed courses of action, concerning economic development, health care, education, public safety, development of natural resources, and protection of culturally significant objects, which merit consideration.

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         We were heartened by the statement of Ambassador Gregoire this morning regarding the plans of the President of the General Assembly with respect to the World Conference outcomes.  We stand ready to assist the PGA in support of fair and inclusive arrangements, including for the negotiation of its outcome document, which all member states can accept and which take into account the views of indigenous peoples.  In order for the World Conference to be successful, indigenous peoples must be able to participate meaningfully in the preparatory process and in the Conference itself.  While there are differing views on what constitutes meaningful participation, the arrangements ultimately settled upon must be acceptable to the broader indigenous community, as it would not be productive to proceed with a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples if the main stakeholders were dissatisfied.
         The United States supports holding the informal interactive hearing called for in UNGA Resolution 66/296 soon and we look forward to those dates.  The meeting’s interactive aspect is critical, allowing participants to consider jointly how to make the World Conference as useful as possible.  The hearing structure should allow for an inclusive exchange of views, giving member states, elected and traditional indigenous leaders, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academics, and others the opportunity to offer their observations.  The resolution specifies that the interactive hearing will take place by June.  Given the limited time left to hold the hearing, some interested indigenous representatives may not be able to travel to New York to participate in person.  We ask that the President of the General Assembly consider practical alternative arrangements for participation.

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         Regarding themes for the Conference’s three interactive roundtable discussions and one interactive panel discussion, we understand that indigenous peoples place priority on combatting violence against indigenous women and girls, enhanced participation for indigenous peoples at the UN, and repatriation of remains and sacred objects.  These are very important and relevant topics.  The United States believes the following themes also merit consideration:  1) Promoting economic development, preventing environmental degradation, and developing indigenous lands and resources; 2) Promoting indigenous cultures, including through education; and 3) Promoting business opportunities for indigenous peoples and promoting responsible business conduct.
         We strongly support the resolution’s call for a concise, action-oriented outcome document.  Lengthy documents can lack focus and risk being diluted to secure consensus.  The likelihood of not gaining consensus also increases with a document that attempts to do too much.  The outcome document should recommend actions for member states and the UN that would tangibly improve the lives of indigenous peoples and conditions in their communities.  Those steps may include work that UN bodies can undertake on indigenous peoples’ priority concerns, and may also include the sharing of best practices of member states on those topics.  Lastly, in order for the World Conference to meet its potential, the outcome document needs to be adopted by consensus.  We look forward to discussing the substance of the outcome document with all stakeholders and arriving at a consensus document.
         The United States has intensified its engagement with U.S.-based indigenous representatives to invite their views on the World Conference.  The

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Department of State hosted a scoping session in March and formal U.S. consultations on May 9 with representatives of U.S. federally recognized tribes and with other U.S.-based indigenous peoples, groups, and organizations.  We are working on setting up additional opportunities to consult again with U.S.-based indigenous peoples before the World Conference, possibly in July or August.
         The U.S. delegation looks forward to hearing more throughout the day on this topic from the many stakeholders present, and I thank you for your attention.