[Helena, MT, May 29, 2019] – The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has recommended that the UN Economic and Social Council “approve an international expert group meeting, as soon as possible, to draw attention to ongoing issues of human trafficking, impunity, and the failure of police and justice systems to respond to cases of missing and murdered indigenous women.” The Permanent Forum made this recommendation in response to the voices of countless indigenous advocates and allies who have done so much work to bring awareness to this issue, and in response to the advocacy of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Indian Law Resource Center, National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, during the Permanent Forum’s 18th Session in April. “We are just now beginning to see results from the years of hard work to secure justice for the countless indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing,” said Paula Julian, Senior Policy Specialist for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. “We thank the Permanent Forum for their work, and for this essential recommendation, and we look forward to working with indigenous women and indigenous nations around the world to turn this proposal into a decision.”
On April 24, 2019, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Indian Law Resource Center, National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center co-sponsored a panel discussion at the United Nations in New York, Violence against Indigenous women in the United States: How Indigenous nations and women are leading the movement to end the epidemic of violence in Indian country and Alaska Native villages. This was a side event at the annual session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, one of the United Nations’ bodies specifically tasked with examining matters affecting indigenous peoples around the world including their human rights. Tami Truett Jerue from Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center and Paula Julian from National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center spoke on the panel. They were joined by moderator Terri Henry, Member of the Permanent Forum.
Besides educating UN staff and indigenous advocates about these issues, the speakers offered two direct recommendations to the UN. First, they called on the Permanent Forum to propose an international expert group meeting to study and discuss missing and murdered indigenous women as a complex international phenomenon that needs a multi-faceted response from the UN. “We know that this is not a problem unique to the United States and Canada,” said Chris Foley, staff attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center. “It is a violation of indigenous women’s human rights that is occurring worldwide and it is very often connected with human trafficking, with issues of femicide and legal impunity, and with colonialism and discriminatory criminal justice systems.” Secondly, panelists urged the UN to adopt new rules to improve the ability of indigenous peoples’ representative institutions, including tribal and village governments, to participate in UN meetings on matters affecting them. “Our governments have the expertise, the resources, and the legitimacy to speak about our needs, but the UN needs to create space for our leaders to advocate directly for us and the UN needs to give our governments a status that respects them as rights-holders and global actors,” said Tami Truett Jerue.
The Permanent Forum responded positively to both of these recommendations. In addition to its recommendation regarding the Expert Group Meeting, the Forum also urged UN Member States to continue working to enhance indigenous participation at the United Nations. These recommendations will be formally presented to the Economic and Social Council as part of the Forum’s Session Report later this year. “We know it will take more work and more advocacy to convince the UN and the Permanent Forum to move from issuing recommendations to address missing and murdered indigenous women to actually getting started,” Chris Foley said. “Even so, securing a formal recommendation from the Forum is a great victory and an essential step in this work.”
The recommendation regarding missing and murdered indigenous women is available in UN Document E/C.19/2019/L.10, Draft report: recommendations of the Permanent Forum on the implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Recommendations regarding indigenous participation at the United Nations are available in UN Document E/C.19/2019/L.7, Draft report: recommendations of the Permanent Forum on the follow-up to the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Both documents can be downloaded at https://undocs.org/en/E/C.19/2019/INF/2. Additional details about the side event are available at https://indianlaw.org/swsn/UNPFII_2019.