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Charters Advises President Of UN General Assembly On Indigenous Participation

Indigenous rights expert, Claire Charters, from Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission advised the President of the United Nations General Assembly on how to restart negotiations to allow Indigenous peoples to participate in UN bodies.

“Indigenous peoples, including Māori, have the right to self-determination, which is recognised by the United Nations.

“Yet we are not allowed to participate as Indigenous peoples in the UN. That is outdated, not to mention, unjust,” says Charters who was speaking from New York last week.

“In our context, we want the UN to recognise tangata whenua authority, alongside the government, and so enabling the participation of Indigenous peoples is a crucial step toward that.”

Currently, Indigenous peoples’ governments and representatives can only participate in the UN as non-government organisations, or through the Expert Mechanism or Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Even then, that participation is through an administrative loop hole.

Charters says change could be on the horizon.

“We’ve seen wide acceptance from UN member states and the President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, that Indigenous peoples must be able to participate throughout the UN as Indigenous peoples.”

“Indigenous peoples provide important leadership, whether it is through our Papatūānuku-driven approach to our environment or in achieving wellbeing for communities,” says Charters.

In 2016, Charters was appointed by the President of the UN General Assembly as a special advisor on Indigenous peoples’ participation, as part of work under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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This included intense negotiations over almost 18 months to find consensus on appropriate participation of Indigenous peoples.

Charters said those involved in the negotiations shed “Sweat and tears”, while she “grew grey hair.”

States, however were not able to reach consensus and the COVID-19 pandemic caused further delays in negotiations.

With negotiations restarting, the President of the General Assembly invited Charters to address member states in New York last week, alongside Indigenous peoples, Permanent Forum members, Expert Mechanism members and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Charters highlighted to move forward, the General Assembly must:

  • establish a roadmap for the adoption of a resolution, having learned from previous processes
  • guarantee the inclusion of Indigenous peoples; and
  • ensure transparency, collaboration, honesty and integrity in negotiations.

Charters concluded her remarks by asking delegations “to be generous, to be flexible, to be compassionate and, ultimately, to be just.”

Note to editors

Charters (Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Ngā Puhi, Tainui) was recently appointed as Rongomau Taketake at Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission to advance Indigenous rights. She is also Professor of Law at the University of Auckland.

Charters’ remarks at the UN are available at

Charters also addressed the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – an overview of her comments is available here.

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