New York City,
On the margin of the 11th UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Open Society Initiative (OSI) organised for indigenous delegates to attend a briefing between the General Assembly diplomatic focal points on the Rule of Law project and members of civil society organisations.
Indigenous peoples were present from North America, Latin America, Australia and Africa, with IPACC represented by Chairman Vital Bambanze (Burundi), Rahamatu Salli (Cameroon) and Aboubacar Albachir (Niger).
The UN General Secretary has initiated a process with the General Assembly to consider strengthening internationl and national commitments to the 'Rule of Law'. Rule of law is a broad topic, and includes such issues as good governance, human rights, constitutional integrity, impartiality of courts, and access to justice.
Diplomatic representatives from Denmark and Mexico are the coordinators for the General Assembly members interaction with the Secretary General. The Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has released a draft report on the theme, with a goal of having at least a road map ready by the 24 September sitting of the General Assembly.
The resolution by the GA calls on governments and civil society to engage with the process. The meeting in Manhattan, on the margin of the UNPFII meeting, focussed on how civil society, and indigenous peoples in particular can effectively participate in the planning, conceptualising, dialogue, pledges and the key debate in September.
Participation is open to ECOSOC accredited NGOs, as well as those engaged in Rule of Law, with special procedures for accreditation.
IPACC Chairman, Vital Burundi emphasised that all other rights are dependent on the success of the rule of law. Where there is now adherence to constitutionalism and legal independence, other rights cease to be enforceable at the national level.
Nigerien delegate, Aboubacar Albachir of Association Tunfa in Agadez, noted the importance of this theme for Saharan peoples. He recalled how northern Niger is rich in uraninium and other valuable resources, yet the failure of the rule of law and good governance has plunged his country into a series of violent civil conflicts. Adherence to principles of international justice, the rule of law, access to justice for marginalised and vulnerable people is all part of stabilising developing countries and avoiding conflict.
Nigel Crawhall, Director of Secretariat for IPACC, noted that the 11th UNPFII had been dealing with the theme of the Doctrine of Discovery and the restitution of indigenous legal systems, rights and governance. In Africa, indigenous peoples of the Congo Basin traditionally governed large areas of rainforest. Under French law, these rights were aborgated and villagers are told their jurisdiction is only a 2 kilometre radius, and often this excludes indigenous peoples from election to positions at village level. While speaking of the rule of law, it is important to recognise that the colonial legacy has marginalised indigenous legal systems and institutions, and that the failure of the UN to note that colonial distortion could further aggravate the marginalistion of indigenous peoples and their rights.
The Mexican and Danish diplomats noted that four civil society groups are likely to get the floor to speak to the General Assembly in September. It would be up to the Civil society to propose a cooperative use of this speaking time. Indigenous peoples may want to use one of these speaking positions to represent their global caucus and issues.