Fourteenth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
New York, New York April 20 –May 1, 2015
Agenda Item 7: Human Rights – Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Eradicating Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls
Speaker: Dr. Dawn Lavell Harvard
Statement of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; Assembly of First Nations; International Indian Treaty Council; Akali Tange Association (Pargera Alliance) Papua New Guinea; Quebec Native Women; Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa; Southeast Indigenous Peoples’ Center; Pacific Region of Global Indigenous Caucus; First Peoples Human Rights Coalition; Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers); KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives; Chiefs of Ontario; Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee); Amnesty International; Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA); Na Koa Ikaika KaLahui Hawaii; Samson Cree Nation; DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) Canada; Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs; First Nations Summit
Combating violence against Indigenous women and girls, Article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration)
Violence against Indigenous women and girls and the State’s failure to respond appropriately to this problem are integrally linked to the fact that Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) women and girls experience widespread discrimination and are amongst the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups in Canadian society—a reality which is deeply rooted in colonization and its impacts. Discrimination against Indigenous women and girls is also embedded in the culture of the Canadian criminal justice system. The social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women and girls not only makes them prey for violent men, but is also used by officials as a justification for failing to protect them.
Despite the overwhelming statistics concerning disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls, the Government of Canada (GoC) has failed in their obligation to exercise due diligence to adequately prevent the violence, investigate reports of disappearances and murders, and bring perpetrators to justice. Authorities, and in particular the Federal government, have failed to implement a comprehensive, National Plan to address the violence, including measures that address the social and economic factors contributing to their risk of violence; appropriate training for police, prosecutors and judges in all jurisdictions, effective police protocols for dealing with missing Indigenous women and girls, reliable systems for disaggregated data collection, co-ordination across jurisdictions, and accountability mechanisms. So far, initiatives to address the disappearances and murders have been piecemeal. The GoC must take immediate and comprehensive action in order to fulfill its international human rights obligations to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls throughout Canada.
The International Expert Group Meeting and numerous international bodies have identified eliminating violence against Indigenous women and girls and their safety and security in communities as being directly linked to implementing self-determination and dismantling the social, political, and economic barriers that impede the right of Indigenous Peoples. Persistent barriers to Indigenous women and girls’ human, civil, political, and social rights have caused them to experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, violence, and dispossession of lands and resources. The ramifications of these occurrences are grave and have had continued impacts on Indigenous communities.
Violence is a critical symptom of greater systemic discrimination and barriers to rights realization that exist in many states. Regeneration of Indigenous self-determination and nationhood is critical, as strong and independent governance structures and capacities will enable Indigenous Peoples to address poverty, violence, and the restoration of their traditional territories. Strong and meaningful implementation of the UN Declaration and the many rights it affirms will greatly contribute to improvement of safety, security, wellness, and strength for Indigenous societies and communities.
International conventions and other human rights instruments, such as the UN Declaration, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, denounce and condemn violence against women and girls. States must continue to work with Indigenous Peoples to ensure their domestic laws and policies respectfully enshrine the values and principles of these international instruments, and with the full participation and involvement of Indigenous Peoples, specifically women and girls.
More meaningful, fair, respectful, and comprehensive approaches are required and should be developed in conjunction with Indigenous women and girls. National and coordinated action is required by all governments, and must adhere to and acknowledge the holistic approaches of Indigenous Peoples.
We recommend the following action items be explored and implemented to meaningfully address the grave issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada:
1. All States, including Canada, need to develop and implement a comprehensive National Plan of Action to end violence against women, including addressing the social and economic conditions contributing to this violence: and immediately develop and implement a national strategy to address the disadvantaged social and economic conditions of Indigenous women and girls, including poverty, inadequate housing, low educational attainment, inadequate child welfare policies, and the over-criminalization of Indigenous Peoples.
2. Canada should initiate a national inquiry into the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls that will lead to the design of independent, national, cross-jurisdictional mechanisms and protocols for police and justice officials. This inquiry should include a review of practices and measures related to child welfare, social assistance, housing, criminal justice, policing, and incarceration and identify where systemic correction is needed to dismantle institutionalized sexism and racism where Indigenous Peoples can meaningfully participate in the process. In addition, there can concurrently be a global study of violence against Indigenous women, coordinating and sharing data and other relevant information about trafficking of Indigenous women and girls.
3. GoC is urged to implement recommendations made by the recent reports by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Organization of American States: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding Canada’s conduct and the situation of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
4. States should ensure that Indigenous women and girls are actively and increasingly involved in all political, economic, and social processes so as to honour and strengthen the traditional roles and responsibilities of women in Indigenous Nations.
5. GoC needs to establish independent mechanisms for investigations into misconduct and discrimination within the criminal justice system and police forces and needs to establish independent mechanisms for investigating allegations of misconduct or discrimination within the federal, provincial or territorial components of the criminal justice system, to hold accountable those entities who commit acts of misconduct or discrimination.
Download this joint statement in PDF.
Read our blog from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Three members of CFSC are in New York City for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (more on CFSC’s Indigenous rights work at international forums) – Jennifer Preston (Program Coordinator), Monica Walters-Field (Associate member), and Rachel Singleton-Polster (CFSC Program Assistant). As time permits between meetings they will be blogging about their experiences.
First Day (April 20, 2015)
The hum of voices slowly rise as delegates enter the General Assembly to start the 14th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. It’s almost at a crescendo and drumming starts with voices raised and the drum beat of invocation, we are brought together. Feathers, colours of costumes and skin, hand decorated regalia, jingles of bells, hugs and greetings, traditional headgear and footwear, many languages and dialects: We know we are here….we sit with our partners and are again impressed with the privilege we have in being trusted partners to our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
Chief Tadadaho Sid Hill, the traditional Chief of the Onandaga territory on which the UN sits, gives the message of welcome in his own language (which for the first time is translated) asking us to commit to putting our minds together to acknowledge what the Creator has given us…..putting our minds together as one to go forward in a good way. He is on stage with his small son and this gives a poignant symbol of the significance for the future of what is accomplished during the Forum.
As usual representatives of the UN Agencies give greetings and all reminded us that during the High Level World Conference on Indigenous Peoples member states reaffirmed their commitment to the rights of IPs in its entirety. During this time the acceptance of the visions and aspirations of the Indigenous Peoples is honoured. This acknowledgment is a reminder of how we are interdependent, recognizing that the view of the world by IPs is the way to Peace with Nature which will safeguard our future….there is no Planet B.
It is proposed that an upcoming agenda should be transformative, leaving no one behind and one that makes real and historic change to achieve dignity for all.
The presentations end recognizing the uniqueness of the PFII, as a time to come together to concentrate on the rights of IPs, being committed so that the young son of Tadadaho Sid Hill will have a better world in which to live!
The UN re commits the work of the UN systems in the promoting and protecting the rights of the Indigenous Peoples during the 2015 year for Global Action.
Elections are done, the Agenda adopted. The proposed organization of the programme of work adopted and a profound minute of silence to honour the death of two committed activists, sets the tone.
We desire that this is a solid foundation for the two weeks ahead!
Second Day (April 21, 2015)
In an intervention during the morning session of ‘Youth, self-harm and suicide’, it was stated, ‘ We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’
The morning is one seeped with sadness, mourning and loss. The topic urgent and crucial. The interventions underscore the epidemic of the lack of security of Indigenous youth where suicide rates exceed as much as tenfold that of non-Indigenous youth.
The morning reminds me of ‘parallel play’.
Interventions by the delegates are passionate, pleading, brave and full of recognition that Indigenous youth are often hopeless and spiritually broken. The proffered causes are varied: poverty, physical and sexual abuse, colonization, lack of personal and family safety, lack of education and employment, mental illness, racism, insecurity, drug abuse, loss of traditional land, wellness problems, direct result of political practices, desecration of sacred sights, discrimination, racism, battling for fundamental rights, loss of traditions, child welfare, bullying, cyber bullying, historic trauma, addictions, stress of the loss of hope, disparity in the socio economic strata, denial of sexual orientation are all leading to the eradication of Indigenous Peoples identities.
The states and agencies, those few present, talk about how many programs they have started and how much money they have spent.
The interventions point out that Indigenous Peoples are losing future leaders, culture, competence with the loss of their young…their future is compromised
There is consensus that future positive changes depends on an applicable action Plan. A plan where Indigenous Peoples can create their own studies. One that asks the youth and communities their thoughts. The youth and their supporters want to reiterate that their experience is a lack of political will, matched by the lack of sufficient levels of resources.
The youth and adults want ‘Culture as treatment’ and the provision of mandatory Indigenous cultural education with no shaming or blaming for their children and youth. The UN can help by calling on all states to provide resources and commitment to eradicating the causes of youth self harm and suicide.
Looking for a better tomorrow, the youth are clear as they proclaim ‘Nothing for us, without us.’ ‘We don’t want to bury more of our friends and family.’
They declare that they want to stop the ‘screams of pain’ and loss of life. They want a better tomorrow, going from victory to victory
Cultural teachings say that Life is the greatest gift of the Creator and there are consequences if someone takes their life before the natural time. Indigenous Children and Youth can become the reflection of the beauty and uniqueness of a positive Indigenous way of life!
For all this we place well wishes!
First Day (April 20, 2015)
I boarded the train early this morning in Brooklyn, headed to Manhattan to join CFSC delegates at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I recently finished my contract at the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO), and so I was excited to be back in the familiar UN environment, but wearing a slightly different Quaker hat!
The Opening Ceremonies of the Forum were a good reminder of the solemn yet energized nature of these two weeks of meetings. The General Assembly Hall has only just finished being renovated and the gleaming gold and polished wood beautifully highlighted the regalia of Indigenous representatives from around the world.
I spent the day listening to the proceedings of meetings, while also preparing for further events. This week we will host a dinner at Quaker House where Member States, Indigenous peoples, and representatives from around the world will gather to exchange views in an informal way. The dinner will be chaired by Kenneth Deer who is Haudenosaunee of the Indigenous World Association, and a long time partner with Friends.
I enjoy hosting dinners at Quaker House, which is just a few blocks from the UN in the historic Turtle Bay Gardens. The House was a wise investment by Friends back in 1953, and the Rockefeller family even contributed to its purchase so that Friends could continue their quiet diplomacy work at the UN. To me, Quaker House embodies the vision of Friends work at the UN. It is a safe space wherein all voices may be heard, where decorations are minimal and simple in contrast to the grandeur of the neighbourhood, and where windows open wide onto the Garden’s green – bringing illumination to the many diverse conversations that can occur in the House.
Looking ahead, these weeks will be full of interesting discussions, learning, and continued partnerships.
Second Day (April 21, 2015)
The afternoon discussion on Monday was focused on the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which was very interesting as I have been following this Document since its development almost one year ago. This Document was adopted by consensus in the fall of 2014, and Canada embarrassed itself by being the only State to oppose the Document through an Explanation of Vote. Friends supported a Joint Statement in response to this action.
On Tuesday morning, we started our work on a sombre yet pressing issue, “Youth, self-harm and suicide.” Many speakers spoke eloquently, with deep emotion and harrowing facts. I was moved, time and again, by the statements from Indigenous youth from around the world, and representatives and experts from many diverse regions. The Study on the Doctrine of Discovery, prepared by Grand Chief Ed John, was highlighted as it points to these issues:
“The impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery continue to be devastating, far-reaching and intergenerational. […] some of the ongoing adverse effects in indigenous communities [… include] “health psychological and social well-being; denial of rights and titles to land, resources and medicines; conceptual and behavioural forms of violence against indigenous women; youth suicide; and the hopelessness that many indigenous peoples experience, in particular indigenous youth.” The visual impacts of dispossession and oppression, such as the conditions in many indigenous communities and the resulting social problems, serve to perpetuate stereotypes. Racism and discrimination and notions of non-indigenous superiority, whether overt or otherwise, will continue so long as severe poverty remains in communities.”
Later in the session, a Seneca youth pointed out that the highest rates of suicide of Indigenous youth was occurring in the very same States that were the last to sign on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including Canada.
Suicide touches all families, and indeed all communities. To hear this topic discussed in such a high level forum, and with such solemnity, was hopeful.
Each year at this time CFSC goes to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. Together with our partners we issued a joint statement this afternoon on the outcome of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
New York, 20 April – 1 May 2015
Item 3(a) of the agenda
Outcome of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
Joint Statement of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee); Amnesty International; Assembly of First Nations; Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers); Chiefs of Ontario; Femmes Autochtones du Québec/ Québec Native Women; First Nations Summit; First Peoples Human Rights Coalition; KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives; Na Koa Ikaika KaLahui Hawaii; Native Women’s Association of Canada; Samson Cree Nation; Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Outcome of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP). It is not possible in this short presentation to cover all aspects of the Outcome Document. Our focus today will be on select provisions.
From the outset, it is important to underline a few key points. First, the Outcome Document is a consensus instrument. At the time of its adoption in the General Assembly, no State called for a vote. The subsequent explanations of position tabled by Canada and later by the United States do not constitute objections. An explanation of vote or statement of position has no legal effect on consensus.
Second, the Outcome Document is not merely an “aspirational” instrument. It reaffirms the obligation of all Member States to uphold the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. It reaffirms States’ support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is a vital human rights instrument that has diverse legal effects. Former Special Rapporteur James Anaya emphasized that “implementation of the Declaration should be regarded as political, moral and, yes, legal imperative without qualification.” The International Law Association concluded in 2010 that the UN Declaration is “a declaration deserving of utmost respect”.
Third, specific paragraphs in the Outcome Document cannot be considered in isolation. They must be interpreted in the context of the complete text and other international law. For example, there is no specific reference in the Outcome Document to Indigenous peoples’ right of self-determination, or to Indigenous peoples’ Treaties, or to the doctrine of discovery. However, such key issues are still included in the UN Declaration. In para. 4 of the Outcome Document, States have generally reaffirmed their “solemn commitment to respect, promote and advance and in no way diminish the rights of indigenous peoples and to uphold the principles of the Declaration”.
Commitments already violated
In the context of traditional knowledge, conservation and biodiversity, para. 22 of the Outcome Document uses the term “Indigenous peoples and local communities” without qualification. Yet in October 2014, less than a month after the WCIP, States undermined both the Outcome Document and the UN Declaration at a Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Korea. The Conference of the Parties (COP) decided to use the term “Indigenous peoples and local communities” (instead of “Indigenous and local communities”) solely with the proviso that this change would have no legal effect whatsoever within the CBD now or in the future. Such action contradicts use of the term Indigenous “peoples” in the UN Declaration and other international law.
At the CBD meeting, Canada played a key role in opposing use of the term “peoples” – even though this term is enshrined in Canada’s Constitution and diverse federal legislation. States have no authority to restrict the status of Indigenous peoples, in order to impair in any way Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination or other human rights. Such actions constitute racial discrimination.
Para. 28 of the Outcome Document calls on the Human Rights Council “taking into account the views of indigenous peoples, to review the mandates of its existing mechanisms, in particular the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. Thus, it would be important to focus on all existing mechanisms and not solely EMPRIP, so as to ensure more effective promotion of respect for the UN Declaration.
The purpose in para. 28 is to “modify and improve” EMRIP. It is not to replace this body with a new entity with such wide-ranging powers that it could duplicate the work of UN treaty bodies and mechanisms. Para. 28 does not specify any limitation such as “within existing resources”. Clearly, modification and improvement of EMRIP will require additional human and financial resources.
Para. 31 of the Outcome Document requests “the Secretary-General, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues and Member States, to begin the development, within existing resources, of a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration“.
The system-wide action plan needs to address “rights ritualism”: “Rights ritualism can be understood as a way of embracing the language of human rights precisely to deflect real human rights scrutiny and to avoid accountability for human rights abuses.” A stark example is Canada joining the consensus around the Outcome Document, but then subsequently violating its provisions at the CBD.
UN treaty bodies, specialized agencies and mechanisms need to increase their reliance on, and interpretation of, the Declaration so as to promote, respect, protect and fulfil Indigenous peoples’ human rights and fulfil related State obligations.
In particular, the UN Human Rights Committee has not made specific reference to the UN Declaration in carrying out its mandate as a treaty body. It appears that the Committee may consider the Declaration in its deliberations, but claims that the Committee cannot specifically mention any instrument other than the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This situation requires further examination. No other UN treaty body assumes such a narrow interpretation of its mandate.
In Para. 33, States have committed to considering “ways to enable the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies on issues affecting them”. This would include “any specific proposals made by the Secretary-General in response to the request made in paragraph 40”.
Para. 40 emphasizes “ways to enhance a coherent, system-wide approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration”. It also underlines the need for “specific proposals to enable the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions, building on the report of the Secretary-General” in July 2012.
Clearly, these are interrelated. Without full and effective democratic participation of Indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies on issues affecting them, a coherent system-wide approach to achieving the ends of the UN Declaration will not be achieved. Cooperation with Indigenous peoples is repeatedly stressed in the Outcome Document. Article 41 of the Declaration requires that ways and means of ensuring participation of indigenous peoples on issues affecting them be established.
As former Special Rapporteur Anaya stressed: “involvement of indigenous peoples in decision-making in the international arena … remains an important component of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination”. Anaya added: “Financial and administrative support should be maintained and expanded as necessary to ensure that indigenous peoples can participate effectively in international forums.”
As concluded by the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: “Consent is a significant element of the decision-making process obtained through genuine consultation and participation. Hence, the duty to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples is not only a procedural process but a substantive mechanism to ensure the respect of indigenous peoples’ rights.”
1. THAT in implementing solemn commitments of States, the consensus Outcome Document be addressed in a manner that requires maximum compliance. Interpretation of specific paragraphs of the Outcome Document must take into account its whole text, the UN Declaration and other international law.
2. THAT the Permanent Forum and States take steps, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, to ensure that the commitments in the Outcome Document are fully and effectively implemented. States have a responsibility to ensure that their commitments are not violated in other international forums, as has occurred at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting following the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
3. THAT in fully implementing para. 28 of the Outcome Document and ensuring effective promotion of respect for the UN Declaration, it is important to focus on all existing mechanisms and not solely EMRIP.
4. THAT in accordance with para. 28, effective modification and improvement of EMRIP be undertaken together with Indigenous peoples and EMRIP. A reformed EMRIP should include, inter alia, an expanded mandate that focuses on implementation of the UN Declaration; coordination with UN treaty bodies, mechanisms and specialized agencies; engagement in and promotion of good practices; and undertaking of thematic and other studies. All expert members must have the requisite knowledge and qualifications. Consideration should be given to increasing the number of members and the length of the annual session. Indigenous peoples should effectively participate in this process, including member selection.
5. THAT the system-wide action plan be devised and implemented in accordance with paras. 31 and 40 of the Outcome Document, in collaboration with Indigenous peoples at all stages. A coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration should be ensured through a systematic review of UN treaty bodies, mechanisms and specialized agencies with a view to increasing reliance on, and interpretation of, the Declaration. All such actions must be carried out so as to promote, respect, protect and fulfil Indigenous peoples’ human rights and fulfil related State obligations. A constructive dialogue should be initiated with the Human Rights Committee, in regard to its rationale for not making specific references to the UN Declaration, in carrying out its mandate.
6. THAT the system-wide action plan should encourage UN treaty bodies and mechanisms, as well as the Universal Periodic Review process, to scrutinize the reports and human rights record of States, so as to effectively address rights ritualism. This should include ensuring that State claims are systemically compared to the concerns raised by Indigenous peoples and civil society. The system-wide plan should also ensure that Indigenous peoples’ human rights and the UN Declaration are fully integrated in the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals.
7. THAT a process be devised to enable full and effective democratic participation of Indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies on issues affecting them. Financial and administrative support should be maintained and expanded as necessary to ensure that Indigenous peoples can participate effectively in international forums, as self-determining peoples.
To see the references, download this joint statement in PDF.
Learn more about CFSC’s work on Indigenous rights at the international forums.
From our office in Toronto it certainly looks like Spring is here! Which means it’s time to bring you the Spring 2015 issue of our 8 page newsletter Quaker Concern. In addition to short news and updates, in this issue you’ll find the following full length articles:
- How I came to be a Refugee Settlement Worker at Friends House,
- Reconciliation: The journey ahead,
- Partnering to transform justice, and
- Nonviolent direct action in Ottawa.
Did you know that Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) is 100% fossil fuel industry free (as defined by 350.org) with our investments? And our ethical investments have consistently performed well too!
We’ve just joined other Canadian churches with total assets under management of $2 billion, to call on Canada to set a clear, reliable and effective price for carbon emissions. This is just one small component of a comprehensive strategy Canada must urgently adopt to help prevent run-away climate change.
In December, nations from around the world will meet to negotiate an agreement on climate action and Canada’s Finance Minister is presenting the federal budget later this month. Now is the time to set the carbon pricing wheels in motion.
The opportunity for governments to take action on climate change is both a moral concern and a financial one. It’s not a matter of choosing between the economy and the environment, it’s about acting to protect both.
The joint letter was faciliated by SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research and Education), which provides CFSC with responsible investment services. SHARE advises institutional investors on the development and implementation of responsible investment practices.
See the joint Quaker statement Facing the Challenge of Climate Change for more about CFSC’s thinking on this critical topic.