Highlights of the Day

Highlights from the Twenty Second Session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations

Day 1 (19 July 2004)

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour opened the 22nd session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) on 19 July, citing the achievements of the Working Group and drawing attention to the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

Miguel Alfonso Martinez (Cuba) was elected as the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group. Following the adoption of its agenda and programme of work for this session, the Group began a discussion of recent human rights developments relating to indigenous peoples.

Day 2 (20 July 2004)

The Working Group on Indigenous Populations continued its review of developments concerning the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly in relation to the main theme of the session, 'Indigenous Peoples and Conflict Resolution'.

Miguel Alfonso Martinez presented his working paper on conflict resolution, which is serving as a framework for the debate. Commenting on the paper, one of the five members of the WGIP, Yozo Yokota (Japan) , also focused on conflict prevention and noted that arbitration may represent a useful form of conflict prevention, allowing conflicting parties to negotiate their differences and avert physical conflict.

During discussions, participants highlighted current methods of conflict resolution that fail to incorporate important indigenous cultural values, such as notions of collectivity and communal society. It was also suggested that when possible, domestic mechanisms and institutions should be used to resolve issues related to indigenous rights.

Day 3 ( 21 July 2004)

Resuming the discussion on 'Indigenous Peoples and Conflict Resolution' -- the main theme of this session of the Working Group -- participants today raised issues such as sources of conflict, equal access to culturally appropriate education, unchecked and unregulated development, and legal disputes over territories and natural resources. Speakers also supported the swift passage of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The session began with the Chairman of the Working Group, Miguel Alfonso Martinez, addressing procedural issues related to the debate.

At the afternoon plenary session, El Hadji Guisse (Senegal) presented a working paper on "Globalization and Indigenous Peoples", which served as the framework for the discussion. Among the key issues raised related to this area were its impact on natural resources and the environment, and its effect on international terms of trade. Under the item of the agenda devoted standard setting, member Yozo Yokota (Japan) discussed his working paper on the review of the draft guidelines on the heritage of indigenous peoples, which was jointly prepared with the Saami Council.

Day 4 (22 July 2004)

The fourth day of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations began by celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the International Decade, which featured cultural performances from around the world. The gathering was honored by the attendance of both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director General of the United Nations Office in Geneva. After the celebration discussions continued on Working Group member Mr. Yozo Yokota’s report on the protection of the heritage of indigenous peoples that had been elaborated jointly with the Saami Council. The debate then moved to a legal discussion regarding free, prior and informed consent, which included the presentation of elements for a legal commentary by Antoinella-Iulia Motoc together with the indigenous organization Tebbteba. In the end of the day, the discussion turned toward reviewing activities undertaken during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

Day 5 (23 July 2004)

The morning of the final day of the Working Group was dedicated to discussing the remaining agenda items, including the cooperation with other UN bodies in the sphere of indigenous issues, the follow up to the World Conference against Racism, the state of the Voluntary Funds and the draft UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, The morning’s session concluded with the presentation of Ms. Hampson’s conference room paper on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in States and territories threatened with extinction for environmental reasons. In the afternoon session, the Working Group was closed by the Chairperson, Mr. Miguel Alfonso Martinez, who made concluding comments and presented elements for recommendations. More than 500 participants attended the twenty-second session of the Working Group this year.