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Call to Action by Expert Workshop on World Heritage and Indigenous Peoples

November 6 2012

Participants at the International Expert Workshop on the World Heritage Convention and Indigenous Peoples, Copenhagen, 20-21 September 2012
In September 2012 an Expert Workshop on the World Heritage Convention and Indigenous Peoples took place in Copenhagen which was attended by Indigenous experts and representatives from all continents. The expert workshop resulted in a Call to Action addressing the “urgent need to make the implementation of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. The Call to Action was to be presented at the Closing Event of the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which is taking place in Kyoto, Japan this week from 6-8 November 2012. However, it recently transpired that the organizers of the Closing Event have decided, for somewhat obscure reasons, to take the report on the Copenhagen workshop off the Agenda, although it had been included in a provisional version of the Agenda.

The 40th Anniversary was celebrated by UNESCO and the States Parties to the Convention through a series of events and workshops throughout the world related to the theme “World Heritage and Sustainable Development: The Role of Local Communities”. It was meant to be “an opportunity for the international community involved in cultural and natural heritage conservation to reflect on the achievements of the Convention to date as well as to take stock of the challenges with which it is confronted”. At the Closing Event in Japan, “the outcomes of the different workshops and studies will be presented that will feed the reflection on the future of the Convention” (Doc. WHC-11/18.GA/INF.11).

As part of the 40th Anniversary, an International Expert Workshop on the World Heritage Convention and Indigenous Peoples was held on 20-21 September 2012 in Copenhagen, hosted by the Danish Cultural Agency, the Government of Greenland and IWGIA. The Expert Workshop was attended by, inter alia, Indigenous experts and representatives from all continents, including from several World Heritage areas, human rights experts, representatives of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, UNESCO, the World Heritage Centre, IUCN, ICOMOS, the African World Heritage Fund and the Nordic World Heritage Foundation, as well as some government representatives.

The Expert Workshop resulted in a Call to Action adopted by the Indigenous representatives and human rights experts who participated in the meeting, addressing the “urgent need to make the implementation of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. The Call to Action among other things urges the World Heritage Committee to “establish an open and transparent process to elaborate, with the direct, full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples, changes to the current procedures and operational guidelines and other appropriate measures to ensure that the implementation of the World Heritage Convention is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a human rights-based approach“. It also calls on the Committee to “establish, with the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples and through an open and transparent process, an advisory mechanism consisting of Indigenous experts, to assist in the implementation of… measures to ensure that all actions related to the World Heritage Convention uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples”. Additionally, the experts put forward proposed amendments to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention related to Indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent.

The Closing Event of the 40th Anniversary in Kyoto will be attended by two experts who participated in the workshop in Copenhagen, Max Ooft of the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname, and James Warden, a representative of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation from Kakadu National Park.

The Indigenous representatives and experts who participated in the Copenhagen workshop have appealed to the organizers of the Closing Event that the presentation on the Copenhagen workshop be put back on the Agenda, expressing serious concern that the important issues brought forward by Indigenous peoples may once again be excluded. This would be even more of a concern in light of World Heritage Committee Decision 35 COM 12D (2011), which noted that considerations regarding Indigenous peoples “should be included in the theme of the 40th anniversary, ‘World Heritage and Sustainable Development: the Role of Local Communities’”, and in light of a Statement by UNESCO at the 10th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (17 May 2011), promising that the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention would “provide an excellent opportunity for indigenous peoples to engage with UNESCO and the Committee and its Secretariat, in order to address concerns that have been raised within the framework of the Permanent Forum and to work towards a constructive solution to the challenges that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples brings to the international community as a whole”.