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EMRIP Item 3: Enhanced Participation for Indigenous Peoples’ Representatives and Institutions at the UN
July 12, 2016

Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)
Ninth session, July 2016

A.I. 3: Enhanced Participation for Indigenous Peoples’ Representatives and Institutions at the UN

U.S. Statement as delivered by Ambassador Keith Harper
U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council

Monday, July 11, 2016; Afternoon session

The US is pleased at the widespread support during the UN consultations for a separate category of participation for indigenous institutions.  We interpret “indigenous institutions” in UN documents to include indigenous governments.

The NGO accreditation process is not appropriate for indigenous institutions, which differ substantially from NGOs in design, purpose and authority. Among other distinctions and perhaps more importantly, indigenous institutions are governments – not non-governmental. Indeed, these institutions are the manifestation of self-governance. Such entities have elected or traditional leaders accountable to specific constituencies. They make and enforce laws, formally or informally. NGOS do not share these powers or attributes. Because of these distinctive qualities, indigenous institutions are appropriately treated distinctly from NGOs.

At the same time, it is the United States’ position that General Assembly decision 49/426 on observer status is also not suitable.  That decision’s wording excludes indigenous peoples by naming only states and intergovernmental organizations.

A better solution is to have a new separate observer category tailored specifically to indigenous institutions and governed by a separate set of participation procedures and selection criteria.

The Permanent Forum procedures should remain unchanged for that body, but for the task of enhancing indigenous institutions’ participation, we recommend borrowing from and augmenting the current PFII procedures.  We propose adding new criteria that would serve to identify appropriate representatives of indigenous peoples, in particular governing institutions where applicable.  Such practical approaches will be useful in crafting a General Assembly resolution on enhanced participation.

On venues for participation, some supported establishing new participation procedures in all UN bodies, while others opposed introducing any new procedures.  Bridging the difference between these extremes will be difficult.  The United States suggests initially considering new participation procedures for selected UN bodies:  ECOSOC, ECOSOC subsidiaries, and the Human Rights Council, in addition to the Permanent Forum and EMRIP.

Over time, we believe that the new procedures, if properly conceived and implemented, will significantly improve indigenous peoples’ engagement without diminishing the effectiveness and efficiency of the relevant UN meetings. With this track record thereby developed, UN member states would be in a better position to consider expanding participation in other UN bodies and meetings, including those of the General Assembly.

Having said that, we are open to discussing other approaches.  If a broader participation arrangement appears achievable as the enhanced participation process proceeds, the United States is open to pursuing that avenue.  For example, it may be feasible to allow indigenous institutions to participate – at a minimum – in all ECOSOC and General Assembly bodies and meetings to which NGOs are invited, in accordance with applicable procedures.

As we know, indigenous representatives not certified by the NGO Committee are denied entry into many UN meetings which indigenous NGOs can access.  As a bare minimum, we should ensure that in all pertinent respects there is a level playing field so that indigenous institutions designated through the proposed new procedures have the same access as NGOs.

The United States suggests that the new procedures should enable indigenous representatives to attend selected UN sessions, submit written input, and make oral statements in accordance with a particular UN body’s rules of procedures.  To handle accreditation, we favor establishing a new body composed of both member state representatives and indigenous peoples’ representatives.  A new body – separate from the NGO Committee – is needed, rather than using an existing body such as the Permanent Forum or EMRIP.

Such bodies already have multiple, varied responsibilities and, in their present forms, will likely have difficulty handling additional duties.  We do not support having states use a non-objection procedure to decide on accreditation.  A non-objection procedure has the potential of excluding indigenous institutions that states do not recognize, or whose views do not coincide with that of specific states.

State recognition should be taken into account in the accreditation process and should be given great weight for inclusion of an indigenous institution. However, the same weight cannot be provided in excluding an indigenous institution, otherwise there will be the potential for exclusion of indigenous institutions which by any objective criteria should be provided enhanced participatory rights. Applicants should be able to present additional evidence beyond self-identification in making the case that they should have enhanced participation benefits.

Thank you.