January 11, 2008
The Human Rights Council has established a new subsidiary body to focus on the issues facing indigenous groups and provide expertise both to advise and inform the Council.
Below is a press release distributed by the International Indian Treaty Council:
On December 13th 2007, in the closing hours of its 6th session, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution to establish a new subsidiary body, the “Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.
The UN Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in March 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. Its mandate is to be “responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all”, to “address situations of violations of human rights” and to “promote the effective coordination and mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system”.
According to the resolution which established it, the new Expert Mechanism will “assist the Human Rights Council in the implementation of its mandate” by providing thematic expertise and making proposals to the Council pertaining to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The new Mechanism will consist of 5 independent experts selected according to the same process established for selection of other UN experts. They will meet once a year and report directly to the Council. Participation will be open to states (countries), UN experts and agencies, Non-governmental Organizations and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, among others. The resolution “strongly recommends” that Indigenous experts be included among the members. Nominations may be submitted by Indigenous organizations as well as states.
At its first session in June 2006, the Human Rights Council adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was subsequently adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13th, 2007. International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) Executive Director Andrea Carmen, Yaqui Nation, was present for both the adoption of the Declaration and the establishment of the new Expert Mechanism, and sees a direct link between the two. “This new Mechanism will provide us with the opportunity to propose ways for the Council, UN member states and the UN system as whole to implement the Declaration” she said.
Andrea also stated that IITC and other Indigenous organizations are looking forward to working with the new body to review recommendations from key studies carried out by the former Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which has now been replaced by this new mechanism under the restructuring of the UN Human Rights System. These include the UN Study on Treaties, the Study on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources, the Study on Indigenous Peoples' Cultural Heritage and others. “These studies include extensive input by Indigenous Peoples and make very important recommendations which have never been implemented or, in many cases, fully endorsed, by the UN and its member states. The new Mechanism has been given a mandate which clearly includes making proposals for follow-up on the unfinished work of these studies”, she said.
IITC Board President Francisco Cali, Mayan Kaqchikel from
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights organized a Meeting, attended by states and Indigenous Peoples, to discuss proposals for this new mechanism right before the final week of the Council’s 6th session. Chief Willie Littlechild, Ermineskin Cree and representative of the International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development (IOIRD) was proposed by the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus to serve as the session’s Co-chair, together with the ambassador from
Chief Littlechild noted the unusually fast time frame in which this new body was put in place once Indigenous Peoples began to advocate for it’s creation in May 2006 during the 5th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. The Indigenous Caucus proposal for the new Expert Body was submitted by IITC, IOIRD and other organizations at each session of the Human Rights Council, beginning with its first session in June 2006. Willie also noted with appreciation the wide support the final resolution received from the members states, including
The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the final piece of the Council’s Institution-building package to be put in place. Its adoption was delayed until the Council's last meeting of the year, due in part to the previous reluctance expressed by some member states to support the creation of a new body focused on Indigenous Peoples' human rights. Its adoption was seen as a major step forward by many states and Indigenous Peoples, including the IITC and IOIRD, who had worked over the past two years to create this new Mechanism.
[Source: International Indian Treaty Council]