Human Rights Commissioner Karen Johansen shares her story about attending the Fourth Session of the Expert Mechanism for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Geneva, July 2011. Continue reading…
You can imagine what Billy T James would have done with a name like ‘Expert Mechanism’. In fact it is United Nations speak for a process by which elected experts on indigenous issues are able to meet to discuss, research and report on global issues effecting indigenous peoples including, of course, Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Each year since 2008, the EMRIP experts have met in Geneva for a week to discuss the work they have been undertaking, with representatives of States, indigenous non-government organisations, academics, young people and human rights commissions. The study which has been completed is, “The Right of Indigenous People to Education” and search under Expert Mechanism Studies) and the study which is complete but still to be presented to the Human Rights Council is “Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Participate in Decision Making.”
Each year, participants are invited to make statements (called interventions in UN speak) on the current study before it is finalised and presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. This year, participants delivered their interventions on Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Participate in Decision Making and on the permanent agenda item which is about implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This year, the meeting was a real whānau or maybe I should say, wāhine affair : Anahera Scott, the co- principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāti Kahungunu o te Wairoa was invited by expert Chief Willie Littlechild to open the meeting with karakia. Then New Zealand Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner, Rosslyn Noonan, addressed the meeting in her capacity as Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, Anahera delivered her intervention on the journey of her kura towards becoming a human rights kura, Tracey Castro Whare spoke as a representative of the Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust, Victoria University law professor, Catherine Iorns spoke and Valmaine Toki, Auckland University law lecturer and member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues observed. Claire Charters, Senior Lecturer in law at Victoria University and a specialist in indigenous issues in international law, is currently a member of the EMRIP Secretariat.
Ae, the Aotearoa people were small in number and I was particularly sorry that there were no young New Zealanders taking part in the Youth Forum this year. My dream is to see whole rows of the EMRIP big meeting room filled with representatives from all around the motu including our rangatahi. Valmaine Toki writes in this issue of the profound value of participating in international indigenous meetings – the networking, the learning, the sharing and the strategising possibilities are all there. There is a problem however, and that is access to these meetings. It is not a closed door problem as T.W. Ratana found in 1924 but a funding problem.
United Nations meetings are held in New York or Geneva. Travel and accommodation are very expensive. The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations provides travel grants for participation by indigenous representatives and the funds come from voluntary donations made by countries from all around the world. This year, for EMRIP alone, there were 2000 applicants and only 54 were given grants (of which Anahera Scott was one). We were also advised at EMRIP this year, that in four years donations have dropped by 70 per cent. For whatever reason, this is a significant obstacle for our people.
If you want to be involved in international discussions with our indigenous brothers and sisters from around the world on such issues as the rights of indigenous women, on free, prior and informed consent and extractive industries, on the right to language, on the right to participate in decision making, then start preparing your case for funding now. While a world wide appeal will be made to all States and foundations for donations, start talking to your own organisations (forget the sausage sizzles). Look also at the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations web site The Permanent Forum holds its annual meetings in New York each May and EMRIP holds its annual meetings in Geneva each July. There is also being planned a World Conference of Indigenous peoples in New York in 2014.
In the hall outside the EMRIP meeting room was an unforgettable exhibition of photographs of indigenous peoples. At its beginning, in large text were some words by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “The indigenous peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.”
Click here Presentations to EMRIP 2011