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Inner City Press Podcast --

At UN, Indigenous Rights Are Threatened With Amendments, by Global Warming and Agency Hot Air

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, May 22 -- While UN agencies including the UN Development Program celebrated Biodiversity Day with a flurry of references to indigenous people, the declaration of indigenous rights stalled before the General Assembly continues to be opposed, with no apparent attempt at solution from the agencies, the Secretary-General or, so far, the GA President.

            Inner City Press asked Mattias Ahren, a Saami lawyer from Norway, about the status of the draft declaration on Tuesday. He confirmed that some in the African Group had given the GA President amendment last week; he called these "so way off" that they should be ignored. Having been provided over the weekend with copies of the African Group's 30 proposed amendments, Inner City Press asked the Spokesman for the GA President what the PGA is doing, if she has circulated the proposed amendments.

Indigenous searching at UN: where did our (draft) rights go?

 From the transcript of Tuesday's noon briefing:

Inner City Press: On that draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, she got this list of proposed amendments.

Spokesman:  Yes, she received some proposed amendments from the African Group.  This was a week ago.

Inner City Press: But now I’m told that wasn’t really from the African Group.  Is it your understanding that that’s an official African Group proposal or just some countries in the group?

Spokesman:  Again, it’s not an official position proposal because you have the draft declaration and what they’re trying to do now is introduce amendments to it.  So she still has to consult with a few parties on whether this is possible or not.  You have to take aboard everybody’s concerns.  But this will take some time.

Inner City Press:  Did she write to all Member States about “make or keep”, either circulating the amendments or saying something about this?

Spokesman:  If the amendments were circulated, then we would have circulated them to all of you. 

            So, apparently the proposed amendments have not been circulated. To summarize them, they would allow each government to define for itself who is indigenous, and would subject most of the rights in the declaration to limitations of national law. One proposal:

"Recognizing that the situation of indigenous peoples varies from region to region, country to country and from community to community, every country or region shall have the prerogative to define who constitutes indigenous people in their respective countries or regions taking into account its national or regional peculiarities."

            Mattias Ahren on Tuesday called this a non-starter. Video here, near end. The draft declaration was passed unanimously in Geneva at the Human Rights Council, where for example South African voted for it. Within the African Group, among the most aggressive in opposing the indigenous rights declaration are Botswana and Namibia. New Zealand and Canada were also among the open opponents. A spokesman for the South African mission said that the African Group has been meeting trying to arrive at a unified position -- after the above-quoted was provided to the PGA -- and Mattias Ahren said that negotiations are ongoing.

            What many are asking is, where in Ban Ki-moon?

            Where too is UNDP, which on Tuesday made much of its work with the indigenous, handing out awards, alluding to $2 billion in funding for biodiversity, most of it through the Global Environment Facility, according to UNDP's Charles McNeill. Inner City Press asked what is UNDP's position and work in regard to the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and what are UNDP's biodiversity programs in North Korea? Subsequently, Inner City Press also re-posed its questions about UNDP in Georgia, Timor L'Este and elsewhere. Any and all responses will be reported on this site.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540