UNITAR Alumna Works to Enhance the Rights and Well-Being of Indigenous Peoples
Megan Davis, an Aboriginal woman of the Cobble Cobble clan from Warra in South West Queensland was waiting at the gate of the Palais des Nations on a Saturday evening in July 2000 to board the bus to go to a small village outside Geneva to take part in the first UNITAR Training Programme to Enhance the Conflict Prevention and Peacemaking Capacities of Indigenous Peoples’ Representatives.
“I met the coordinator and told her that I was so happy to be selected for this training programme and that I had wanted to learn more about human rights and conflict resolution.”
Ms. Davis, an Indigenous Fellow at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was among those invited by UNITAR to participate in this first intensive training programme to strengthen the capacities of indigenous peoples from around the world to negotiate, engage in dialogue and promote rights to improve the conditions of their peoples and nations. She took part in group work analyzing root causes of conflict, learned about interest-based negotiation theory, practiced negotiations based on real cases, and participated in discussions with senior indigenous resource persons.
“It was such a thrill to be in the same room with Professor James Anaya, world renowned Indigenous lawyer, and to hear from him first-hand about the precedent-setting cases he worked on in land and resource issues. He explained the UN human rights mechanisms and provided examples of how to use them effectively to engage in dialogue and to promote our rights. It was so empowering to be in a room full of representatives from every region, to discuss the challenges we faced and share strategies on how to address them.”
Ms. Davis wrote after the programme to say that if one day she made an impact in working for progress in the rights of indigenous peoples, that it was the UNITAR training programme that had been a major catalyst and inspiration providing crucial skills and know-how. She went on to complete law school, become a senior lecturer, associate professor and then professor of law, and director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales. She serves as Acting Commissioner, NSW Land and Environment Court and is a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory.
When Professor Anaya was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UNITAR training was conducted at the regional level in Australia for indigenous representatives of the Pacific. He spoke there with participants on his work and mandate. Ms. Davis was invited to present the session on UN human rights mechanisms. She taught in 3 international training programmes when she was elected for two terms as Expert Member, then in 2015, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the highest level body in the UN focusing on improving the conditions and well-being of indigenous representatives.
The 2016 Report of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues highlights the UNITAR programme:
“It is one of the most important human rights training programmes in the United Nations system that examines the root causes of conflict.”
The Permanent Forum also “urges Member States to contribute support to make possible the annual UNITAR training programme to enhance the conflict prevention and peacemaking capacities of indigenous peoples’ representatives so as to strengthen indigenous capacity to engage in negotiation, dialogue and peace processes to contribute to sustainable peace.”
More than 480 indigenous representatives have now completed the training. Four alumni have been elected or appointed as Permanent Forum Members, including two chairpersons. Professor Davis is keen to teach in future UNITAR programmes: “I do believe very strongly in the importance of the training and its impact upon Indigenous people's lives. It literally changed my life. I am keen to give back to something that gave so much to me.”