Prestigious appointment leads to the United Nations

13 April 2016

claire charters

Auckland Law School Associate Professor Claire Charters is one of two people appointed by the President of the United Nations General Assembly to advise on ways to increase Indigenous Peoples’ participation in UN affairs.

The prestigious Presidential appointment follows her nomination by a number of indigenous caucuses from regions around the world.

”It’s important to me because it goes to the to the heart of the right to self-determination, and to some extent it’s recognition that Indigenous Peoples historically were excluded from being recognised as Sovereigns, often through discriminatory processes.”

Claire says there are currently two main problems with Indigenous Peoples’ participation at the UN – they don’t clearly qualify for status as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and, even if they did, NGO participation does not reflect Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination.

“The Indigenous Peoples’ argument is that they have a right to self-determination and so should have some greater right to participate in the United Nations,” she says.

Claire’s task is to help run four consultations with Indigenous Peoples and the Member States. The first, involving only written submissions, was launched in New York at a ceremony she attended during a recent four-day “there and back” trip.

There will be two on-site consultations in New York in May at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues session, which is usually attended by about 2000 people, and a final consultation round in New York at the end of June. The consultation results will be presented at the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva in July.

Claire says the biggest challenge will be trying to find a balance between the demands and expectations of Indigenous Peoples and those of the Member States. “I think it will require some creative thinking,” she says.

“I am really excited by the process because this is a topic especially dear to me, idealogically and politically. The UN rules around participation are traditionally very strict and I think it’s possible we will see a shift to a more open and inclusive approach as a result of this latest body of work.”

Claire’s UN responsibilities will require some juggling in order for her to meet teaching and family commitments.

She says the goodwill of her teaching colleagues, coupled with sabbatical leave at the end of June, will solve some of the issues and she intends to take her family overseas with her, including a three and a five-year-old, in June and July.

Claire, who is of Ngāti Whakaue, Tainui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāpuhi descent, has a law degree from the University of Otago, a Masters from New York University and a PhD from Cambridge University.

She was raised in Rotorua and says her interest in social justice generally and in justice for indigenous peoples in particular, stem from her childhood where “Māori rights were part of the context”.

“My father worked a lot with Ngāti Whakaue and as I went through the education system, I became increasingly disturbed by international and domestic history. That, along with my Mum and Dad, was my motivation to do what I’m doing now.”