Advancing Indigenous Rights After UNDRIP

January 28, 2016

During President Barack Obama’s administration, we have seen two major developments in the advancement of indigenous rights. The first came in December, 2010, when the President announced the U.S. endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The second came in September, 2014, when the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples resulted in an outcome document in which the UN and member states made major commitments to implement the Declaration. 

The Indian Law Resource Center worked alongside more than 150 indigenous nations, organizations, and Native women’s coalitions to secure positive commitments in the outcome document to improve the lives of indigenous peoples. In 2016, we continue to follow-up the decisions made at the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to:

  • transform the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into an effective implementing and monitoring body for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • secure new rules that will give indigenous governments a more appropriate status in the UN and allow them to participate more fully and permanently in UN processes and activities; and
  • bring greater UN attention and action to address the issue of violence against indigenous women.

As we head toward the 71st session of the General Assembly in September, and the ten year anniversary of adoption of the UN Declaration in 2017, the UN is poised to take concrete steps to implement the UN Declaration. Indigenous peoples everywhere, especially their representatives and governments, must guide the ship, to ensure all of our rights in the UN Declaration become realizable, and to bring the world community from words to action.

Creating an Implementing and Monitoring Body for the UN Declaration 
The UN Declaration is in need of a robust and effective independent expert body responsible for monitoring its implementation. A UN expert workshop to review the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to enable it to monitor and implement the UN Declaration is scheduled for April 4-5, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. Indigenous peoples will have the opportunity to attend and to submit information ahead of time in writing, including by submitting a questionnaire. The report and recommendations from the workshop will then be discussed by states, indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders at the 9th session of the Expert Mechanism in July, 2016, and considered by the Human Rights Council during its 33rd session in September, 2016.  

Enabling Indigenous Governments to take their Rightful Place in the UN
There is a very long and compelling history of indigenous governments participating in the UN, beginning with Chief Deskaheh’s appeal on behalf of the Haudenosaunee to the League of Nations in 1923. The UN is now catching on to the need and desire to establish rules to enable the permanent participation of indigenous governments in the UN. The President of the General Assembly will convene consultations in 2016 on the issue of indigenous government participation in the UN, with a final decision on the matter to be made during the General Assembly’s 71st session, which begins in September, 2016. The details for consultations have not yet been announced, but the first major consultation is likely to take place in conjunction with the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to be held May 9-20, at UN Headquarters in New York.

Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women
Violence against indigenous women is an epidemic worldwide, including in the United States where 1 in 3 Native women will be raped. The Human Rights Council recently decided to hold a panel discussion on the causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women during its 33rd session, in September, 2016. The Commission on the Status of Women, the global policymaking body of the UN on issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment, is also considering how to address the issue. The Commission will meet for its annual session March 14-24, 2016 in New York.

We hope your tribal nation, community, or organization will be able to participate with us in the coming months. Let’s continue to work together to move the UN and member states to better respect, promote, and fulfill the rights of indigenous peoples, and to provide indigenous governments a seat at the table to assert and defend our rights, including the right of all indigenous peoples, especially women and children, to live lives free of violence and discrimination. We may not have another opportunity like this. To support this work, learn more, or join our email list, visit  

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