Half-Day Panel Discussion on Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls

On the 20th
of September 2016, the United Nations in Geneva held its annual half-day
discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples, the theme of which was: the
causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls,
including those with disabilities.
The panel
was chaired by H.E. Mr. Choi Kyong-lim, President of the Human Rights Council (HRC).
Mr. Adam Abdelmoula, Director of the HRC and Treaty Mechanisms
Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
gave the opening statement.  

Abdelmoula highlighted the need to raise the status of indigenous woman as
equal and valuable partners; to acknowledge historical abuses against
indigenous communities and end this people’s vulnerability; ensure that the
justice system is responsive to the needs of indigenous peoples; break cycles
of violence, among other suggestions. His statement was followed by remarks of
the moderator of the panel, Mr. Albert Kwokwo Barume, Chair of the Expert
Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People. Mr. Barume thanked the HRC for
the panel and particularly for conscientiously making the event accessible to
persons with disabilities. This was achieved by providing live sign-language
interpretation as well as displaying subtitles in English during the entire

 The first
panelist, Ms. Aili Keskitalo, President of the Sami Parliament of Norway, spoke
to the audience of invisibility of women in her Sami community, due to a long
history of colonization and assimilation processes. The next panelist was Ms.
Olga Montúfar Contreras, Director of Fundación Paso a Paso in Mexico, who
stressed the importance of educating women (especially those with disabilities)
about their rights, as ignorance did not make it possible for them to recognize
violations against them. The third panelist was Ms. Hannah McGlade, OHCHR
Senior Indigenous Fellow and Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin
University in Australia, who spoke with concern about the lack of
responsiveness of the criminal justice system to episodes of violence against
Aboriginal women. Next was Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz from the Philippines and
also the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. She
encouraged States to recognize that the issues affecting indigenous women are
multi-layered and to develop mechanisms for women to pursue justice if their
own indigenous communities deny them this.

When the
floor was opened to interventions, all States recognized the fact that
indigenous women and girls were disproportionally affected by domestic
violence, marginalization, harmful practices such as female genital mutilation
(FGM), poverty, etc. Ecuador mentioned its strong efforts to foster the
participation of indigenous women in policy formation and political life,
celebrating its affirmative action plan to employ disabled indigenous women in
the public sector. The International Development Law Organization urged States
to sensitize justice systems in regards to the rights of indigenous women and
girls. Mexico lauded the efforts of its National Commission for the Development
of Indigenous Peoples. Columbia pointed out the need to prevent
re-victimization of indigenous women when national and indigenous forms of justice
find themselves to be in conflict. The Republic of Congo was pleased to share
its new laws that guarantee men and women the same rights as well as the
creation of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, which focused its efforts
on protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples.

The Council
of Europe reminded those present that the Istanbul Convention requested the
criminalization of all forms of violence against women. Similarly, in her
panelist response, Ms. Keskitalo suggested holding States accountable to the
documents they have signed on this subject, for instance the UN Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or the 2014 Outcome Document of the World
Conference on Indigenous Peoples. NGOs, such as the Indian Law Resource Center
and Graduate Women International (GWI) reiterated this call for States to
ratify and uphold these declarations and conventions. 

In their
concluding remarks, the panelists encouraged States to increase national funding
to address the problems of women and girls with disabilities, to ratify
international documents and to allow the participation of indigenous women in
the criminal justice system. The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous
peoples, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, called for a global “femicide watch” to begin the
efforts to officially document the number of women, and especially indigenous
women, being killed around the world.

Mr. Barume brought the panel discussion to an
end with five points. First, the data regarding the prevalence of violence
against indigenous women was alarming; therefore there was a great need for
disaggregated data. Second, it was important to keep the needs of indigenous
women and girls with disabilities at the forefront of State concerns, as this
population carried even more burdens than the average woman. Third, the problem
of inaccessibility to justice is unacceptable. Fourth, the violence expressed
against this vulnerable population is a result of problems and stressors affecting
indigenous peoples, such as the fight for their right to land, to their
resources and to preserve their culture. Fifth, harmful cultural practices
amongst indigenous groups exacerbate the sufferings of women and girls living
in these communities. The general consensus was that this issue needs much
greater global attention.

After thanking the panelists and participants,
H.E. Mr. Choi declared the end of the panel discussion.