At the Tenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) from 16-27 May 2011, the KKF youth team from around the world attended the opening ceremony at the UN General Assembly and joined other Indigenous groups in congratulating Ms. Mirna Cunningham on being selected as the Chairperson of the UNPFII. We had the privilege in hearing statements presented by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon and Mr. Sha Zukang, the Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. In their speeches, both stressed the importance of protecting and guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples as this is evident through the establishment of the Permanent Forum, adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the creation of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Our youth also attended side events hosted by various agencies; these included IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), Climate Change and Food Crisis, UNICEF’s event on the rights of indigenous children, as well as a Caucus meeting regarding water. In addition, with the help and support of Indigenous Youth Caucus, our KKF team drafted and submitted a statement on water, which was read by Ricky Tran, newly elected co-chair of the Indigenous Youth Caucus, at the Permanent Forum.
Many members of the KKF also took part in the celebration and recognition of the Maori people, which are the Indigenous group in New Zealand. Movies, appetizers, and refreshments were enjoyed, as well as, expanded knowledge of other indigenous groups worldwide.
Though not necessarily a part of UNPFII, UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) extended an invitation to KKF to give a presentation on the basic tools in forming grassroots organizations to the Hmong and Montagnard indigenous peoples. Serey Chau, who is a Director of the KKF Youth Committee, reiterated that we are not politicians; rather we are human rights activists. Recognizing that we have a lot of similar struggles, new friendships were forged between members of KKF youth, Hmong, and Montagnard who agreed to collaborate and stand in solidarity for future endeavors. Thus far, this is realized through the establishment of IPIV (Indigenous People in Vietnam) Forum on a social networking site, Facebook.
The KKF youth also attended a meeting with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People (Professor James Anaya) to advocate for the cessation of human rights abuse for Khmer-Krom and other indigenous groups from Asia. Due to some administration oversights by UNPFII this year, we did not get to specifically give our statements regarding our unique cause, nevertheless, the team worked hard and each left with a greater understanding and the desire to do more to help Khmer-Krom achieve fundamental human rights.
To say I was excited about attending the United Nations would be an under statement. It had been a topic of debate and discussion in my undergrad studies, and to have been in the General Assembly was almost an out of body experience for me. There was a sense of unity as I watched other indigenous groups in their traditional attire present their cases to the Forum. We are not alone in our struggle for rights. There was great wealth of knowledge to be taken in at the United Nations and it was a great learning experience that I cannot get from any other place. However, my fondest memories, which affected me the most while attending UNPFII, was the bond that was formed between our KKF Youth group. We met Paul and Billy, who we are very grateful to for hosting us and providing our bodies with nourishments. My favourite moment of the whole trip was when we sat around Billy and Paul’s dining table and each of us reflected about being Khmer-Krom. We discussed Khmer-Krom’s history and shared our own thoughts and feelings about how each of us could contribute to move Khmer-Krom’s struggle for freedom and other inalienable rights forward. I came to UNPFII not knowing anybody but left with many great friends that I can now call family.
I’ll end with a quote that inspires me by Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." By: Lyben Lam