Indigenous Peoples Demand Greater Voice in United Nations Bodies, Push States to Implement Declaration, as Permanent Forum Ends First Week of Session
The very survival of indigenous peoples depended on States taking swift action to rapidly recognize and respect all human rights, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today, concluding the first week of its sixteenth session.
In its discussion of the theme “follow-up to the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples”, the Permanent Forum heard from representatives of indigenous peoples, Governments, the United Nations and other bodies, who agreed that inclusive participation would drive progress. The 2014 World Conference, the first of its kind, had requested the General Assembly to develop a system-wide action plan to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was eventually launched in 2016.
During a general debate and a panel discussion, participants reviewed the Secretariat’s first update report (document E/C.19/2017/2), agreeing that more ways to measure progress were needed. Indigenous peoples’ survival depended on fulfilling those commitments now, said a speaker from the Association Tin-Hanane Burkina Faso, on behalf of several groups. Vulnerable populations could not wait any longer.
Despite some gains, many agreed on the urgency of taking immediate action, with the speaker from the International Public Organisation Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea stressing that, while the Declaration marked a turning point, a lingering impasse in certain regions was stymying progress.
Panellists offered their views and suggestions. Jorge Alberto Jiménez, General Director, Bureau for Comprehensive Social Development, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, said drawing up an action plan involved establishing a dialogue between the Government and indigenous peoples. While dialogue had helped to break down prejudices, the process in his country had not been easy, with officials “for one reason or another” setting up obstacles. The challenge would be to ensure appropriate State funding for the action plan.
Kai Sauer (Finland), Adviser to the President of the General Assembly on the process to enable the participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations, said a draft text had been narrowed and submitted to the Permanent Forum, incorporating the views of indigenous peoples and Member States.
Beatrice Duncan, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and Co-Chair of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, declared: “If we do not implement the Declaration at the country level, then we have failed.” Programmes must take a results-focused approach that linked development, humanitarian and peacebuilding components. Indigenous women must be involved at all levels, she stressed.
Indigenous speakers presented a range of examples of languishing disputes. The International Indian Treaty Council’s speaker pointed to the slow pace of international efforts to repatriate cultural heritage, while others highlighted the tragic continuance of violence against women. Many asked the Permanent Forum to support efforts to resolve those and other frictions.
Several speakers made suggestions on how to move forward, with the Congrès Mondial Amazigh’s speaker recommending the creation of an action plan to ensure participation of indigenous peoples in national processes and in competent United Nations bodies.
For their part, Government representatives provided a report card on achievements and identified challenges. Namibia’s delegate, appealing to the United Nations to strengthen support for Member States to fully implement the outcome document and Declaration, said more financial resources were needed to include indigenous peoples in decision-making. New Zealand’s delegate said the Government’s dialogue with indigenous peoples focused on fresh water and climate change, with current efforts exploring options for a work programme on the Declaration’s implementation.
Indeed, action plans varied from country to country, said a speaker from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). But, they should contain some common features and reflect all of the Declaration’s articles. There was a need for true participation by indigenous peoples at all stages.
A speaker from the Massey University Global Centre for Indigenous Leadership pointed out that the draft text of the United Nations action plan did not include the word “rights” in its references to decision-making and processes. Removing that word would suggest a marginalization or watering down of those rights, he said, pressing the United Nations to hire more indigenous peoples and raise awareness among its staff on how to engage with them.
Also speaking today were representatives of Guyana, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russian Federation, Guatemala, Australia and Paraguay.
Speakers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Crimea Tatar Mejlis, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas Centroamerica y Mexico also spoke, as did representatives of the World Bank and the Expert Mechanism of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Permanent Forum members from Peru, Australia, United Republic of Tanzania and Ecuador also made interventions.
The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 1 May, to continue its work.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues began its consideration of implementation of the United Nations system-wide action plan on indigenous peoples. It had before it a note by the Secretariat on the topic (document E/C.19/2017/2).
It began with a panel discussion on the theme “implementation of the United Nations system-wide action plan on indigenous peoples”. Moderated by Mariam Wallet Mohamed Aboubakrine, Permanent Forum member from Mali and Chair of the sixteenth session, it featured presentations by Jorge Alberto Jiménez, General Director, Bureau for Comprehensive Social Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador; Kai Sauer, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations and Adviser to the President of the General Assembly on the process to enable the participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations; and Beatrice Duncan, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and Co-Chair of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues.
Mr. JIMÉNEZ discussed El Salvador’s experience in drawing up an action plan that involved establishing a dialogue between the Government and indigenous peoples. While dialogue had helped to break down prejudices, the process had not been easy, with officials for one reason or another setting up obstacles. Emphasizing that value of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a benchmark, he said El Salvador had identified 26 institutions involved in its implementation. That had led to the creation of a national coordinating forum of indigenous peoples and State institutions, with participation from United Nations agencies. That forum would both receive and issue proposals and continue its work through changes of Government. Going forward, the challenge would be to ensure appropriate State funding for the action plan.
Mr. SAUER described the work of the President of the General Assembly’s four advisers on the process to enable the participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations. During the Assembly’s seventieth and seventy-first sessions, a draft text had been narrowed and submitted to the Permanent Forum, incorporating the views of indigenous peoples and Member States. He expressed hope that participants had discussed the draft and would find a common approach, adding that the text would be subject to a further round of consultations in May. He also said that the four advisers believed a successful outcome could only come about through partnership between indigenous peoples and Member States.
Ms. DUNCAN said the United Nations system-wide action plan had taken 18 months to complete and addressed a host of provisions in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was based on the notion that the Organization had convening powers and the attention of Member States. In addition, the plan could be easily tied to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Awareness must be raised on the Declaration, which must be supported at the country level. The mapping of existing standards and resources must ensure coherence in those efforts. Capacity-building initiatives must work towards successful implementation of the Declaration, while indigenous peoples’ participation in various fora must be broadened. “If we do not implement the Declaration at the country level, then we have failed,” she said, emphasizing that in preparing programmes, a results-focused approach must link the development, humanitarian and peacebuilding components. Before any programme could commence, the United Nations must assess indigenous peoples’ situations in their respective countries. At all levels, indigenous women must be included and involved.
The Permanent Forum then opened the floor for questions and comments.
VALERIA GARRIDO-LOWE (Guyana) said the Constitution ensured the full protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. Addressing the need to revise or repeal the Amerindian Act, which must be amended to become “Indigenous Peoples Act”, ongoing consultations with stakeholders envisioned an early finalization of new legislation. Efforts had also been made on the issue of land titling for traditional territories.
GONZALO OVIEDO, International Union for Conservation of Nature, said the Union had created a new category of membership for indigenous peoples’ organizations, expressing hope that it would lead to more such organizations participating in the Union’s work.
PRATIMA GURUNG, Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, said indigenous peoples should be able to attend all meetings of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and their subsidiary bodies.
OBED BAPELA (South Africa) emphasized his country’s support for the full participation of indigenous peoples in all relevant United Nations structures on issues that affected them. South Africa looked forward to more consultations on the draft text, he said, adding that the Assembly President’s advisers must participate in the process through to its logical conclusion.
LUIS FELIPE DUCHICELA, World Bank, said indigenous peoples had been integral to the process that had led to the Bank’s 2016 adoption of its environmental and social framework. While much progress had been achieved, he urged redoubled efforts to work more closely with indigenous peoples.
MAMANI NAVARRO HILARION, Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu, said transnational companies had been exploiting natural resources with no regard for the rights of indigenous peoples or Mother Earth. “We must say no to pollution,” he said, urging respect for indigenous peoples’ collective rights.
ROYAL JOHAN KXAO UI/O/OO (Namibia) said national efforts included passing laws addressing the socioeconomic situation of marginalized populations, including the San, Ovatue and Ovatjimba communities. Despite those and other education, housing and settlement initiatives, more must be done with greater financial support to more broadly implement programmes. In that regard, he urged the United Nations and its agencies to strengthen support for Member States and to continue their implementation efforts with a view to include indigenous peoples in decision-making.
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief, Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said action plans would vary from country to country, but they should contain some common features and reflect all of the Declaration’s articles. He also emphasized the need for true participation by indigenous peoples at all stages.
TUENJAI DEETES, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, said that in her country, there was no clear definition of indigenous peoples. Instead, the Government referred to hill tribes and ethnic groups, which was a problem, as was the lack of title to ancestral lands.
JEFF MOORE (Canada) said his country unequivocally supported indigenous peoples’ participation in the United Nations. The Declaration was a powerful instrument that Canada was using to build a new relationship with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. Strongly urging Member States to support a broad range of participation opportunities at various fora, he said the selection mechanism must take into account gender balance and transparency.
ALBERT BARUME, Chair of the Expert Mechanism of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said African countries had been active in the outcome document, with the African Commission on Indigenous Rights holding a regional workshop that had called upon Governments to establish development indicators that aligned with the 2030 Agenda. While policy reforms had been the focus, other programmes and partnerships were being forged to link the outcome document with related legislation. Citing examples, he said efforts had been rolled out in the United Republic of Tanzania to initiate dialogue with indigenous peoples, which was one way the outcome document should be implemented.
FETHI KURTHY, Crimean Tatar Mejlis, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Crimean Tatar People of Crimea, Ukraine, said 13 Declaration principles were being ignored by the Russian Federation and its armed forces. He called on the Russian Federation to ratify international conventions, stop the persecution of the Crimean Tatars, revive the work of the true representative body of his people, release political prisoners and recognize his people as indigenous.
ELIZABETH AMARILLAS (Mexico) said her country had increased the recognition of indigenous peoples and believed that strengthening their agenda was one way to prioritize respect for their rights. Stressing that the outcome document was a road map to guide the Organization, she said Mexico had supported studies on the drafting of laws.
BELKACEM LOUNÈS, Congrès Mondial Amazigh, said violence and human rights violations engendered the worst crimes. Human rights must be respected and implemented, she said, recommending the establishment of an action plan to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in national processes and in competent United Nations bodies.
KRISTINA SUKACHEVA (Russian Federation) said effective procedures, clear definitions and other processes must be drafted with a view to ensuring indigenous peoples’ participation in relevant fora. Without information on the current level of participation, it was difficult to create an effective model. To the statement made on behalf of the Mejlis, she said the Russian Federation was always ready to cooperate.
ANDREA CARMEN, International Indian Treaty Council, said progress had been made during a “fruitful” dialogue among the Expert Mechanism, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and indigenous peoples, but the international repatriation of ceremonial objects remained challenging and slow. Citing examples, she said dialogues with Sweden and the Yaqui cultural leaders remained unresolved, calling on the Permanent Forum to lend its support.
JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE (Guatemala) cited the interaction between institutions and the training of public civil servants on human rights standards among efforts being made. Strengthening cooperation among national institutions would bolster efforts to ensure the full integration of indigenous peoples. Guatemala was also working with the United Nations on ending violence against indigenous women.
ALEXEY TSYKAREV, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said an expert seminar would be held in mid-October in Finland on the restitution and repatriation of indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage. He also summarized the Expert Mechanism’s discussions with UNESCO on that issue.
GWENDOLYN PIMENTEL-GANA, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, said the Commission would establish an Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Observatory that would gather data on indigenous peoples, document the application and practice of customary laws and identify the impact of Government policies, programmes and projects on indigenous peoples’ rights.
RACHEL O’CONNOR (Australia) said her Government strongly supported the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations bodies and fora, which would help achieve the 2030 Agenda, she said, emphasizing the need for a geographic and gender balance and for disadvantaged voices to be included.
RAWIRI TAONUI, Massey University Global Centre for Indigenous Leadership, said the draft text of the United Nations action plan did not include the word “rights” in its references to decision-making and processes. Removing that word would suggest a marginalization or watering down or those rights. He recommended that the United Nations hire more indigenous people and raise awareness among its staff on how to engage with indigenous people.
JULIO CESAR ARRIOLA (Paraguay) expressed the Government’s intention to develop more plans and programmes for indigenous peoples, with the participation of their organizations.
ELZARA TOPALOVA, International Public Organisation Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea, said the Declaration had become a turning point for indigenous peoples. However, an impasse in Eastern Europe was stymying efforts, including Government action that had jeopardized the rights of her people, she said, stressing that neither legislation from Ukraine nor the Russian Federation legislation had recognized their full rights.
JACLYN WILLIAMS (New Zealand) said the Government had addressed indigenous peoples’ concerns through dialogue on fresh water, climate change and the Declaration’s implementation. Current efforts were exploring options for a work programme to implement the Declaration.
SAOUTDATA ABOUBACRINE, Association Tin-Hanane Burkina Faso, on behalf of several organizations, said indigenous peoples in Africa, including the Tuareg, must have their rights upheld. Their survival depended on upholding the Declaration and relevant human rights commitments, she said, emphasizing that vulnerable populations could not wait further and calling on the Permanent Forum to support the urgency of the situation.
TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, Permanent Forum member from Peru, said that, in contrast to previous years, more Member States were discussing how they were dealing with racism and discrimination. Going forward, there were several areas that called for attention, including the need for disaggregated data on indigenous peoples, empowerment of indigenous women and the restitution of indigenous cultural objects.
LES MALEZER, Permanent Forum member from Australia, said there were several issues that the Permanent Forum sought to pursue with Member States, such as partnerships, recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights, dispute resolution mechanisms, recognition of indigenous institutions and self-determination. The proposal being considered by the President of the General Assembly and his advisers was an important one, and though complex, the result should be compatible to both indigenous peoples and Member States.
CELERINA SANCHEZ SANTIAGO, Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas Centroamerica y Mexico, noting that 2019 would be the International Year of Indigenous Languages, said it was a cruel reality that such languages were disappearing. Many were no longer written, while many communities were illiterate, she said, recommending that the Declaration be made more widely available in non-written form.
ELIFURAHA LALTAIKA, Permanent Forum member from the United Republic of Tanzania, called for international support in helping countries implement the Declaration. He also highlighted a need to focus on land rights, encouraging South Africa to continue discussions and take a leadership role in advancing progress.
LOURDES TIBÁN GUALA, Permanent Forum member from Ecuador, called on States to promote and include indigenous peoples in the fight for their rights. States must exert more effort to promote agreements, while other work was needed to empower women and end the tragic violence against them.
Mr. JIMÉNEZ replied that while the Declaration was not binding, Member States had adopted it as a minimum standard. Noting that only four of 193 Member States had submitted reports to the Permanent Forum, he expressed hope that more countries would report on their efforts next year.
Mr. SAUER said he was encouraged by the support expressed to increase indigenous peoples’ participation at the United Nations on issues of concern.
Ms. DUNCAN thanked South Africa and Namibia for placing the issue of indigenous peoples in Africa high on the agenda, also taking note of remarks about the number of indigenous peoples employed as United Nations staff and emphasizing that domestic action plans on indigenous peoples must be tied to national development planning processes.