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UN Consultations, Enhanced Participation for Indigenous Peoples in the UN

U.S. Intervention: “Selection Criteria” (Segment 4)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

— The United States agrees with most of the Selection Criteria section of the Elements for Discussion paper. Because this General Assembly process is focused on indigenous representative institutions, the selection criteria must identify those who truly represent indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples, of course are not the same thing as ethnic or national minorities.

— The selection body should use a non-exhaustive and flexible set of criteria to evaluate applications for enhanced participation. Self-identification would be an essential factor. Government recognition would be important, but cannot be an absolute requirement because some countries do not have a domestic recognition process. We agree with the Elements Paper that other relevant factors include, but are not necessarily limited to, ancestral connections with lands, territories, or resources; a shared history, indigenous language, or indigenous culture; and self-governance.

— As Professor Anaya said, these flexible factors are drawn from decades of UN practice and that of regional human rights bodies, and they have been applied to identify indigenous peoples in all regions of the world. So we are not in completely unchartered waters.

— Once given enhanced participation status, indigenous institutions should have the authority to designate their own representatives through their own procedures.

— We agree that the goal should be to extend enhanced participation status to indigenous peoples’ representatives from all regions. But we should not require that an equal number of indigenous governing institutions be accredited for each of the seven socio-cultural regions. Because of variations in population, numbers of indigenous peoples and their distribution, and how many actually apply for enhanced participation, the number of indigenous institutions ultimately accredited will almost certainly vary from region to region.

— The accrediting body’s determinations are only for the purpose of enhanced participation, and not for any other purpose. It may be useful to state this clearly in an OP paragraph of the draft GA resolution.

— Some countries want a government veto power over the accrediting body’s selection of an indigenous institution for enhanced participation.

— We do not support having states use a non-objection procedure in the General Assembly to decide on accreditation. A non-objection procedure would potentially exclude indigenous institutions that states do not recognize, or whose views do not coincide with those of specific states. It would politicize the process and undermine its transparency.


— Some nations have proposed that the UN General Assembly resolution establishing this process provide a definition of what constitutes an “indigenous people.” The accrediting body would then use this definition when evaluating applications.

— Some propose using language drawn from Article 1(b) of ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. This wording says that the Convention applies to peoples regarded as indigenous because they descended from populations that inhabited the country at the time of conquest, colonization, or the establishment of present state boundaries.

— This proposal omits the Convention’s Article 1(a), which says that the Convention also applies to “tribal peoples” in independent countries whose conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community and whose status is regulated by their own customs or traditions. During the negotiations of ILO convention 169, a proposal to omit this prong from the definition did not garner support.

— Arriving at a definition of “indigenous” that satisfies everyone is extremely difficult to do. That is why the UN Declaration does not contain a definition of indigenous peoples.

— If only the second prong of the ILO definition is used, most Asian and African indigenous peoples would be excluded. Unlike many countries in the Americas, for example, those countries are not populated today by a majority of European descent. But many independent experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have found that indigenous peoples don indeed exist in these parts of the world, and indeed all across the world, and this has always been the U.S. position.

— Special Rapporteurs have provided factors for determining whether particular groups are indigenous that broadly track both prongs of the ILO definition, and also include such factors as self-identification as indigenous and a history of subjugation suffered within a pattern of encroachment by others. Professor James Anaya, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur from 2004-2008, wrote that “[t]he international concern for indigenous peoples … extends to those groups that are indigenous to the countries in which they live and have distinct identities and ways of life, and that face very particularized human rights issues related to histories of various forms of oppression, such as dispossession of their lands and natural resources and denial of cultural expression.”

U.S. Department of State

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