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Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2012 (11th session), New York, May 7th-19th 2012 | Martin Préaud - 19 juin 2012

- Martin Préaud is commenting on the main issues raised during the 11th session of The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in New York between May 7th and 19th 2012.

This article is also available in French/Cet article est aussi disponible en français

To cite this article :

Martin Préaud, "Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2012 (11th session), New York, May 7th-19th 2012", SOGIP-Scales of governance and Indigenous Peoples [Online], 19 June 2012. ISSN 2260-1872.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held its 11th session in New York between May 7th and 19th 2012 (1), celebrating the 5th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As has become usual, hundreds of indigenous delegates, states representatives and members of Un agencies gathered to debate the themes on the agenda, , disseminate information through side events, and establish alliances and relationships. Two international events framed this 11th session : first, the adoption by FAO of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security – chapter 9 is entirely dedicated to indigenous peoples who are among the first concerned by land grabbing processes for agricultural purposes, depriving them of their land base and means of subsistence. Second, the Forum dealt with issues such as the impact of climate change on reindeer herders and the right to food just a few weeks before the Rio+20 international Conference, where indigenous peoples are determined to have their voice and concerns heard.

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Chef Todadaho Sid Hill (Onondaga nation), lors de l’ouverture de l’Instance Permanente sur les Questions Autochtones, Photo : Martin Préaud

The Doctrine of Discovery and the Framework of Dominance

The special theme for this session of the Forum was “the Doctrine of discovery : its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests”. The theme was discussed during the first meetings of the Forum. According to indigenous peoples, the doctrine of discovery does not only refer to 16th century papal bulls that authorized Christian powers to conquer pagan lands but also to the framework of dominance that continues to underscore colonial societies, particularly in the CANZUS settler states (2) where Crown or State sovereignty is ascertained through legal doctrines based on the Doctrine of discovery, thus imposing the domination of the settlers’ legal system.

The discussion on the doctrine of discovery and framework of dominance leads to a complete questioning of the legal, cultural and epistemological foundations of colonization, international law and the international institutions that are founded on documents such as the 16th century papal bulls. Indigenous organizations and delegates insist on the enduring impacts of the Doctrine and its contemporary effects, most particularly in relation to extractive industries on indigenous territories. Consequently, they generally reject the term “past conquest” in the wording of the special theme. This rejection is also a refusal on indigenous peoples’ part to consider themselves vanquished or extinguished, affirming the value of their sovereign and inherent rights in the contemporary world.

Further, claims of redress and compensation are not only directed to the contemporary states established through colonization and implementation of the doctrine of discovery but also to the catholic church and to multinational corporations, i.e. to all the beneficiaries of the Doctrine, past and present. The Vatican representative did state that the Doctrine did not have any current legal or spiritual value according to the Holy See but indigenous organizations, especially those from Latin America, demand an official apology from the Pope and an explicit rejection of the Doctrine.

The main issue raised in relation to these discussions pertains to their impact within an organization that stems from the international legal system that indigenous peoples contest. In other words, Indigenous peoples have now brought their questioning of State legitimacy to a further level, raising new obstacles and possibilities.

Intellectual Property : a new Doctrine of Discovery ?

Indigenous delegates have used the special theme of the year throughout the 11th session, particularly during the meeting on the violence against indigenous women and girls and during the constructive dialogue with representatives of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). At stake was the demonstration that the Doctrine of discovery informs all of the issues that indigenous peoples confront.

The constructive dialogue with WIPO was one of the most obvious political moment of affirmation of an indigenous voice during the 11th session. OMPI representatives presented the work of the Intergovernmental Committee that negotiates a new international instrument on traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetic resources. At no point was it mentioned that indigenous peoples had left the whole process in February this year because of their subservient status and their refusal to see an organization dominated by states to decide on what pertains to Indigenous peoples own institutions and heritage.

After a few peaceful statements congratulating WIPO on its work and openness in relation to indigenous peoples organizations (made by States), the atmosphere visibly changed when the global indigenous caucus, followed by numerous others, denounced the operation of the IGC, demanded full and effective participation, and vigorously expressed their sovereign rights on their knowledge, heritage and resources. T-shirts that held the mention “World International Piracy Organisation”, distributed throughout the room, pushed the argument visually while the concept of “bio-colonialism” made the link with this year’s special theme. The two hours of constructive dialogue thus saw a movement between conciliatory positions and strongly opposing statements hotly supported by applause.

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T-shirts siglés « Organisation Mondiale de la Piraterie Intellectuelle », Photo : Martin Préaud

Indigenous youth stand strong

Another remarkable event of this 11th session was the demonstration organized by indigenous youth in the United Nations building, demanding full, effective and direct participation on issues that concern them and for which they demand to be recognized as experts. These claims were repeated throughout the meetings of the Forum alongside constructive participation to the debates. Indigenous youth, as well as women (and maybe soon disabled indigenous people), are growingly integrated in indigenous institutions at the international level, in parallel with regional caucuses. Thus, the global coordinating committee for the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is made up of representatives of the 7 socio-cultural regions as well as youth and women representatives.

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Youth Forum Coordination-Photo : Martin Préaud

Generally speaking, the issue of indigenous participation within United Nations processes and agencies is an important point on the agenda of the Forum (that many people would like to see renamed as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples Rights) whose members have announced that the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights had commissioned a study on this topic. The issue is that the NGO model adopted thus far may not be the most appropriated vehicle to ensure indigenous peoples participation as they have other forms of organizations (e.g. as nations, clans, etc.). A solution would be to create an ad hoc status within international organization, on the level with States and NGOs.

Food sovereignty : towards Rio+20

The meeting on indigenous peoples right to food illuminated an opposition between states, who promote food security, and indigenous delegates, who claim food sovereignty. This concept seem to relate to the capacity for a given people to attain its own food security through the production of its food resources independently of State subventions or international aid, which means that the need a secure tenure over their territories and an effective control of their resources. In a context where the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights has announced that he will focus for the remainder of his mandate on extractive industries and indigenous peoples rights, and where the FAO just published voluntary guidelines to guarantee food security, the issue of food sovereignty will certainly appear high on the agenda of indigenous peoples on the international scene, beginning with the Peoples Summit that will take place at the Rio+20 conference in June.

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  • (1) All statements and documents are available on the Docip website under the tab “Conference”.

    (2) Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States

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