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  • Dawn Chatty

Dana +20 Side Event at the 23rd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

Updated: May 3

The  Twenty-Third  United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)  held in New York between 15 and 25 April was special. It was the first time that   Mobile Peoples were clearly welcomed. A side event in the United Nations building had been approved and co-sponsored by the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues (SRIP) for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) and other international agencies wanted to examine the special vulnerabilities, and lack of rights of Mobile Indigenous Peoples around the world. For the Standing Committee of the Dana Declaration this was a long-hoped-for event, an opportunity to advocate for the visibility, rights, and special contributions that Mobile Peoples make.

  

At the Dana +20 conference in Wadi Dana Jordan in September 2022 a manifesto was issued, The Dana +20 Manifesto, calling upon the executive mechanisms of the United Nations to investigate and report on the continuing discrimination, expulsion, and generalized lack of recognition of the human rights of mobile peoples. In the Dana +20 Action Plan agreed by the rights holder at the conference was the establishment of a side event at the Twenty-Third UNPFII in April 2024. The co-chairs of the Standing Committee of the Dana Declaration set out to raise funds for such an event in the hope of being able to bring at least four representatives of Mobile Peoples to speak at the UNPFII. After receiving the very welcome offer of funding from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) we set out to make this event happen. As we started our planning, we learned that the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues (SRIP) for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) had read the Dana +20 Manifesto and had decided to make this his thematic report to the UN General Assembly in early October, the human rights of Mobile Indigenous Peoples. A virtual discussion with the SRIP’s legal team revealed that they, too, were planning a side event. We agreed to organize a joint side event with our RRI as co-sponsors. As it was the International Labor Organization was also happy to be a co-sponsor and managed our expensive room booking in the United Nations Building.  All that was left to do was get everyone registered as participants and formal observers, proceed with visa applications, and worry about simultaneous interpretation in Spanish and in Arabic. The RRI team took on arranging travel and accommodation.

 

Finally the day arrived and the team – four Mobile Peoples representatives from Mongolia, Morocco, Sweden, and Peru, as well as three observers – made their way to the registration building on Monday April 15th  and joined the long line which snaked around the building and wove it way up and down the pre-registration room like queues at airports. The first day of any major international conference is always a delight to the eye.  Delegates from all over the world, in this case representatives of Indigenous Peoples, were all arriving and lining up to be issued their entry passes for admission into the United Nations building. Men and women in ‘national dress’, in this case not of the nation-state, but of the peoples they represented,  that is their nation rather than their state:  First Nation, Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples from Latin America,   Sami reindeer herders from the Nordic  / Arctic Circle countries, Fulani, Mbororo, and Sahrawi peoples from West Africa and the Sahara, Maasai, Turkana,  Boran, Twa, and Ogiek from East African, Mongolian and Central Asian herders,  and many other indigenous peoples all waiting patiently for their turn to be photographed and issued with a lanyard that would be their magic passes for unlimited entry into the UN complex.

  

Once this initial step had been completed, it was a new world, of meeting others from the same nation, or recognizing commonality across borders and regions of the world. Making connections was the most important, if unrecognized, outcome of these meetings. But first, there was the opening ceremony of the Twenty-Third  UNPFII. Expecting to be directed to a smallish – by UN standards – conference room, we were sent up to the third floor to Conference Room Three. On finding the doors to that ‘room’, we were astonished to find that it was the huge, cavernous hall of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Once our surprise had faded, we made out the physical layout of the seating:  country representatives and members of their permanent missions to the UN were set out at desks in alphabetical order at the front. This was followed up the hall with seating and desks for other UN Agency representatives, major International -non-government agencies, important funding institutions and academic and recognized Indigenous Peoples working groups. Academic observers assumed the seating off to the two sides of the room. And interpretation booths ranged across the room in an arc at the upper level. We had hardly sat down when we realized that not all UN member states were represented at this Forum. We looked for the formal seatings of the representatives from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria – all countries that had mobile herder populations. Only Morocco had a place named at the table – empty at the time - and Iraq had a desk and a representative sitting at it. We immediately engaged with the representative of the Iraqi permanent Mission to the UN and learned how such decisions were made – whether to attend or not was entirely at the discretion of the individual member of the mission.  There was no push to take part in such UN events. Further afield we recognized representatives of organizations that had funded our efforts as well as co-sponsors. Our camel herder from Morocco, immediately recognized that the newly elected President of the Forum, Ms. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, was a Mbororo (mobile pastoral Fulani subgroup) from Chad. He determined to meet her somehow in a corridor or the favorite haunt in the building, the Vienna Café. This was clearly the place to meet up, network, and collaborate to promote messages. Our four Dana+20 representatives were enthralled to find fellow Mobile Peoples present. Our Sahrawi camel herder from Morocco found a brotherhood with other representatives of Sahel countries. Our alpaca Quechua herder found other Indigenous Peoples from Latin America to collaborate with. Our reindeer herder from Sweden was already part of a very well-organized representative group from the Arctic Circle. Our Massai delegate quickly found other Massai groups to engage with, and our Mongolian herder was already a part of the World Union of Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners which had numerous Mongolian members.

 

Building up to our Side Event on Friday April 19th, were hours of discussions to try to shoehorn individual inputs into short 3–4-minute interventions. Grabbing these times together was not always easy as there was so much going on in the UNPFII that our representatives wanted to take part in. Eventually, on the Friday we all met in the UN Conference Room 5. Our simultaneous translators in Spanish and in Arabic were in their lit-up booths above us, and we opened the programme with a Mongolian blessing and prayer. The Co-chairs of the Dana Declaration opened the session and welcomed the audience of about thirty participants. The SRIP introduced his forthcoming thematic report on the situation of Mobile Indigenous Peoples and called for further input.  This was followed by interventions from our Sami Reindeer herder, our Maasai representative, our Mongolian herder, our Alpaca herder from the Peruvian Andes, our camel herder from Morocco, an ILO legal specialist, and an international lawyer specializing in rights of Mobile Peoples.

 

After months of planning, the event ended on a high:  advocating for the visibility, rights, and self-determination of Mobile Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations had been accomplished. And more was to come when the SRIP presented his thematic report on the situation of mobile People in the October 2024 General Assembly.   As we all said goodbye to one another and dispersed, our camel herder, who had succeeded in meeting the Chair of the Forum in a hallway earlier in the week made his way to the plenary session in the main hall of the General Assembly where Ms. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the Chairperson,  invited him to speak about the situation of Mobile Peoples in Morocco. What a great ending to our side event.



Dawn Chatty

Co-Chair

Standing Committee for the Dana Declaration on Mobile Peoples and Conservation.

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