On 26 February 2014, the President of the UN General Assembly (PGA), John Ashe, issued an Aide Memoire in relation to his decisions on a number of organisational matters concerning the High Level Plenary Meeting/World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (HLPM/WCIP), to be held in New York in September 2014 (on the HLPM/WCIP see particularly UN General Assembly resolutions A/RES/65/198 and A/RES/66/296 – the ‘Modalities Resolution’ – and the Alta Outcome Document from the 2013 Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference for the HLPM/WCIP).
For some time, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and UN mechanisms devoted to IP issues and rights (including the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – see here – and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – see here and here) have been requesting the PGA appoint one co-facilitator representing UN Member States and one co-facilitator representing Indigenous Peoples to pursue the remaining consultations with States and IPs on the HLPM/WCIP together, following the practice established in 2012 by the President of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly. This question has been viewed as highly significant by IPs, not least because of their anticipation that these co-facilitators would be responsible for negotiating and drafting the action-oriented outcome document for the HLPM/WCIP.
However, the PGA’s Aide Memoire specified that the Ashe had decided:
to assume overall authority for the consultations […]. In this context, he would identify representatives from Member States – one from the North and one from the South – to conduct consultations with Member States on his behalf. […] The PGA also indicated that he would request the Indigenous Groups, through the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to identify appropriate representatives to undertake consultations with the Indigenous community on his behalf. These representatives would report directly to the PGA on the outcome of those consultations, and will also be invited to share the outcomes of their consultations with Member States. The PGA further informed that he would be responsible for any text/outcomes resulting from the aforementioned consultation process which member States will be requested to consider.
The Aide Memoire also deals with the informal interactive hearing to be organised by the PGA on the HLPM/WCIP no later than June 2014 (as per operative paragraph 7 of the Modalities Resolution).
In response to the PGA’ s Aide Memoire, the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus (NAIPC) decided by consensus at a meeting held in Kamloops (Secwepemc Territory), British Colombia, Canada, from 1 to 2 March 2014, to withdraw from the HLPM/WCIP process (including from the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Coordinating Group) and to call for the cancellation of the HLPM/WCIP (see here and here). The reason given for this decision is that the Aide Memoire:
made it clear that he [the PGA] was not going to advance the principle of full and equal participation by indigenous peoples in the HLPM/WCIP. The Position of the PGA neither respects nor advances the rights of Indigenous Peoples that are embodied in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
While NAIPC is also calling for the Indigenous Peoples from the other regional and ‘thematic’ (women and youth) caucuses to similarly withdraw from the process and call for the cancellation of the HLPM/WCIP, it appears that many of those caucuses and some other groups representing Indigenous Peoples, including from North America, are still lobbying the PGA to change his decision (see, for example, here and here). Failing this, a number of these IP caucuses and groups may also withdraw their support and participation, and call for the cancellation of the HLPM/WCIP.
The PGA has chosen to reinterpret the modalities resolution in a very restrictive manner to the detriment of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. He makes no reference to the Declaration and does not use the Declaration as a normative framework upon which to base his decision. As such his decision fails to recognize, promote and protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights; it does not uphold the principle of equality and does not provide for the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples.
The GCG’s letter requests that the PGA review their analysis and provide a written response. The letter concludes:
Your decision is not acceptable to us as it violates our right to participate in decisions that affect us on an equal basis with states. We are very concerned that our participation in this process is being severely curtailed making it untenable for us to continue to engage. In light of this, we would ask you to reconsider your decision in order to provide for the full, equal and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples.
Mexico has reportedly decided to provisionally cancel its regional and thematic meeting on the HLPM/WCIP programmed for April 2014. The meeting may be rescheduled if the PGA changes his decision.
However, the likelihood of a change in the PGA’s position on these matters is questionable, particularly given that he has already begun to implement his decisions. A letter sent by the PGA on 5 March 2014 to all Permanent Representatives and Observers to the UN indicates that Ashe has already appointed the Permanent Representatives of Costa Rica and Slovenia to assist him with the necessary consultations with UN Member States in relation to the HLPM/WCIP, and has requested the assistance of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples, to recommend one or more indigenous representatives to assist him with his consultations on this matter.
Consequently, the future of the HLPM/WCIP process, particularly in terms of the nature and level of Indigenous Peoples’ participation therein, is currently unclear.