Courtesy U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Stacks of paper piled high from the seventh session of the Permanent Forum in 2008.

United Nations Permanent Forum is Going Paperless

Gale Courey Toensing


Tables piled high with multi-paged documents, brochures, announcements for side events, programs, agendas and reports in teetering stacks that overflow onto the floor – a forest’s worth of paper – are the usual sight at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Not anymore.

This year the annual meeting of Indigenous Peoples from around the world is going paperless. In fact, the entire international peace and security organization is going paperless.

United Nations, meet 21st century digital technology.

In the interest of reducing its carbon footprint, the U.N. has introduced Paper Smart. Paper Smart will provide information about the various meetings and events taking placing the 10-day international event in various digital formats through an e-Portal with print-on-demand services in meeting rooms, the UNPFII website says.

This year will mark the 12th session of the UNPFII, which usually draws around 2,000 representatives of Indigenous Peoples and nations from around the world. The meeting will take place at the United Nations in New York City from May 20-31. The Permanent Forum was established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in a resolution in July 2000. The resolution gave Permanent Forum a mandate to "discuss indigenous issues within the mandate of the Council relating to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights."

To carry out its mission, the Permanent Forum was directed to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the U.N. system through the Council; raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of relevant activities within the U.N. system; and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues. Eight of the Permanent Forum’s 16 independent experts are nominated by governments and the other eight by indigenous organizations in their regions.

The paper piles were ample during last year’s UNPFI session, which focused on the special theme of “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).” The session itself generated a 30-page report. With the new Paper Smart regime this year’s meeting should leave a much smaller carbon footprint.

The rationale behind Paper Smart – the shorted name for Integrated Sustainable Paper Smart Services – in addition to decreasing the U.N.’s carbon footprint is to increase efficiency, accessibility, and “knowledge management.”

Efficiency will be gained by making information about U.N. meetings available in various digital formats, facilitating consultations and sharing of information without being physically present in the meeting room, the website says. The accessibility piece means the information and documents will be available to people with disabilities. “Knowledge management” is less clear: “The Paper Smart model provides an integrated knowledge management solution for all participants at the meetings of the United Nations,” the website says.

The e-Portal for the Permanent Forum is already up and running with a provisional agenda and documents posted. The agenda shows that major discussions will take place on the Africa region, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and the implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The program part of the website will be up once the session starts and will include a listing of meetings, agendas, official documents and statements. Online access to all official documents and statements will be available and downloadable in all six official world languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. For some sessions, officials documents will be made available on flash drives. (Related story: Preparing for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples)

But paper copies will still be available on request. Those with digital devices can use a ‘print-on-demand’ link to request a document to be printed and pick it up 20 minutes later at the conference officer table in the meeting room. Those without a digital device can get a paper copy of a document the old-fashioned way. “Participants can walk up to the conference officer table located within the meeting room and request for a copy of an official document from a conference officer; the document will be printed at your request,” the website says.

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