21/10/2002
Press Release
GA/SHC/3704



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

23rd Meeting (AM)


THIRD COMMITTEE DELEGATES SAY COMPLETION OF DRAFT ON INDIGENOUS RIGHTS


IS CRITICAL BY 2004, AS DISCUSSION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE CONCLUDES


Draft Resolution Introduced on Older Women in Society


As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this morning concluded its consideration of the programme of activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, several delegations expressed the critical necessity of completing a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people before the end of that Decade in 2004.


Also this morning, the representative of Brazil introduced a draft resolution on the situation of older women in society.


The representative of China said that thanks to the concerted efforts of all parties, the Working Group on the Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous People had made certain headway.  However, it had yet to reach consensus on any of the articles in the draft.  The key to a breakthrough lay in whether an appropriate balance could be found between supporting the legitimate demands of the indigenous people, and safeguarding the overall interest of a country where the indigenous people live. 


Australia’s representative also recognized importance of the elaboration of a draft declaration aimed at articulating the human rights of indigenous people.  He urged all parties to participate constructively in the negotiations on that text with a view to completing it by the end of the International Decade.


He also echoed the sentiment of other speakers who supported the establishment of a secretariat within the United Nations to coordinate the Organization’s activities on behalf of indigenous people, but believed relevant mechanisms already operational should be reviewed and their work streamlined.  Australia remained concerned about the clear overlap between various existing mechanisms dealing with indigenous issues.  At a time when the budget was tight, Australia believed those mechanisms should be streamlined.  It supported a review on United Nations indigenous mechanisms as mandated by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). 


The representative of Japan fully understood the need of the Forum to work effectively and looked forward to studying the Secretary-General’s proposal on the


Fifty-seventh General Assembly      - 1a -                  GA/SHC/3704

Third Committee                                             21 October 2002

23rd Meeting (AM)


substance and funding of the Permanent Forum.  At the same time, Japan believed it was very important to rationalize and streamline the overall work of the Organization, in line with reform initiatives.  Therefore, Japan believed that the 2003 ECOSOC review of all the Organization’s mechanisms and procedures currently working on indigenous issues was essential.


Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Guatemala, Belize (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Peru, Russian Federation, Suriname and Venezuela.


The representative of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) also spoke.


The Committee will meet again Wednesday 23 October at 10 a.m., to begin its joint consideration of matters related to the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the right of people to self-determination.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of the programme of activities of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.  For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/3703 of 17 October.


It was also expected to hear the introduction of a draft resolution on matters related to the advancement of women.


That text, on the situation of older women in society (document A/C.3/57/L.18), would have the Assembly urge Governments to take measures to enable all older women to be actively engaged in all aspects of life by assuming a variety of roles in communities, public life and decision-making, and to develop and implement policies and programmes in co-operation with civil society to ensure that older women can achieve their full enjoyment of human rights and quality of life, with a view to contributing to the realization of a society for all ages. 


The Assembly would call upon the international community to fully address the link between older women and development, and invite Governments and the wider international community to consider, in their development planning, the increasing responsibilities of older women in providing care and assistance for victims of HIV/AIDS.


Introduction of Drafts


Before the Committee began its work this morning, the representative of Suriname introduced a draft resolution on the situation of older women in society (document A/C.3/57/L.18).


Statements


MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil) said the unique and innovative features of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would allow its members to offer a decisive contribution to the realization of indigenous rights and to the sustainable development of their communities.  Given the importance of its work and the wide scope of its mandate -- to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues, raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of indigenous activities in the United Nations system, disseminate information on indigenous issues -- it was essential to ensure that a firm and predictable institutional basis be put in place to support the Forum.


Brazil was actively engaged in the drafting of an International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, she said.  Brazil was also involved in the discussions of a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.  Brazilian indigenous land covered 947,011 square kilometers, which corresponded to more than 11 per cent of the national territory.  Brazil was committed to the implementation of education and health programmes tailored to meet the needs of indigenous peoples.  She stressed that the indigenous populations of Brazil were in full demographic recovery, rising faster than the average, due not only to higher birth rates, but also to higher life expectancy.  According to the latest census, the indigenous peoples in Brazil amounted to over 700,000, which represented a growth rate of 138 per cent since 1991.


CONNIE TARACENA SECAIRA (Guatemala) said holding the first session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues was only the beginning.  In order to ensure the Forum’s continued success, a Secretariat needed to be established, comprising of highly qualified persons, sensitive to the concerns of indigenous peoples.  The issue of indigenous people was on Guatemala’s social agenda, as witnessed by the elaboration on the 1995 Agreement on the Identity on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the legal frame of reference for laws on relevant matters.  Last April, the Government had stepped up its efforts to implement the Policy of Social Development and Populations, which contained strategic objectives to improve the standard of living for all the country’s indigenous communities.


Unfortunately, she continued, the Government’s political will was hampered at times by lack of resources.  That had been a frustrating trend, because the Policy must promote broad efforts not only to alleviate poverty, but to address issues such as the precarious health of many indigenous people and inadequate social service networks.  Another hindrance was a lack of cultural and linguistic diversity.  The Government was convinced that the Policy must reflect an appreciation for all Guatemala’s populations. 


She said the Government realized the need to recognize and respect cultural diversity as an ally in the effort to bring about peace and broad cultural interchange.  With that in mind, education was at the heart of many programmes aimed at addressing indigenous issues.  Implementation of the Guatemala peace agreement had included the creation of an institute in charge of defending indigenous women.  Guatemala was also conscious of the importance of redressing land rights issues.


STUART LESLIE (Belize), speaking for member nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said education was a critical component for the future promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous populations.  CARICOM saw itself playing an important role in the development of the world's indigenous peoples; its members were aware that indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants in the region.  Their traditions, and understanding of the harmony between peoples' lives and the environment, had shown how to better appreciate nature.  This was a small part of the contributions they had made and continued to make towards sustainable development.  CARICOM members therefore realized the importance of strengthening the human and institutional capacities of indigenous people, and of ensuring their better participation in the decision-making process.


He said the CARICOM countries remained committed to ensuring that the countries in the region protected and improved the quality of life of indigenous people, especially of their children.  Efforts were often hindered by natural disasters, which in a matter hours could destroy years of development efforts; one year ago, Hurricane Iris, a “category-four” hurricane, destroyed thousands of homes and left thousands of people homeless within indigenous communities.  However, CARICOM's commitment to the development and integration of indigenous peoples into its development agenda was unquestionable.  Policies had already been instituted, including policies guaranteeing the participation of indigenous people in the decision-making process.


ZHAO XING (China) said the Forum was an important fruit produced by the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People and signified that the indigenous people and governments had started to establish a true partnership within the framework of the United Nations.  Thanks to the concerted efforts of all parties, the Working Group on the Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous People had made progress.  However, it had not yet reached consensus on any of the articles in the draft declaration.  The key to a breakthrough in drafting the declaration lay in whether an appropriate balance could be found between supporting the legitimate demands of the indigenous people and safeguarding the overall interest of a country where indigenous people lived.


Prior to the establishment of the Forum, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations under the SubCommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights had been the main venue of United Nations discussions on indigenous people issues.  Over the years, the Group had done a huge amount of work.  Indeed, the ideas of drafting the Declaration and establishing the Forum had originated from the Working Group.  Universal support from all parties concerned was the best argument for the Working Group to continue to exist.  The Group could play a unique role as a think tank in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous people, he said.


ALFREDO CHUQUIHARA (Peru) said that because of the unique nature of Peruvian culture, history and the socio-economic and political demographic of the peoples of his country, it had always been a priority to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of its indigenous populations.  Indeed one of the greatest values of Peruvian society had always been its multi-ethnic and multicultural character.  With that in mind, Peru, through its National Human Rights Commission had been actively working with the international community toward the elaboration of a convention on indigenous rights.  Peru supported the creation of the Permanent Forum, but stressed that a Secretariat needed to be created to ensure its success, and resources should be allocated from the United Nations regular budget as soon as possible.


Turning to national programmes and policies, he said Peru had established the National Commission of Andean and Amazonic People of Peru.  That Commission, made up of Government representatives as well as representatives of indigenous communities and academics, worked for the promotion, recognition and protection of individual and collective rights of Peru’s indigenous communities.  It also aimed to promote sustainable development, along with a healthy respect for the unique identity of indigenous communities.


All the country’s initiatives were carried out with respect and recognition of the rights of indigenous people and aimed, at all levels, to enhance their organizations and networks to ensure their participation in the country's social and economic development, he said.  It had always been Peru’s intention to define, design and implement an inclusive development model incorporating the quality of solidarity and a sense of community.  Indeed, all activities on behalf of indigenous people must be community-based.  Peru was aware that much remained to be done, and its Government would reiterate its firm desire to contribute to all international efforts.


YURI BOICHENKO (Russian Federation) said the International Decade had contributed greatly to the raising of awareness on issues concerning indigenous peoples  Those issues had gained more and more attention in international fora, partly as a result of the participation of indigenous people themselves.  The contribution of indigenous people at the first session of the Permanent Forum could not be overestimated.  Indigenous people, as well as the Permanent Forum, needed the full support of the Secretariat.  He welcomed the fact that increasing numbers of indigenous people from different countries could now attend these international meetings thanks to the important contribution of the Voluntary Fund.  

He stressed, however, that the problems encountered by indigenous issues could not be solved on the international level alone.  Implementation on the national level was necessary for there to be any improvement in the daily lives of indigenous people.  The Russian Government had given priority attention in its legislation to indigenous issues.  However, more remained to be done to ensure the implementation on the local and regional level.  The Government had undertaken initiatives for the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples in the fields of health, education, housing and sustainable development.  One of the priorities in the North was the gradual decline from direct economic support to the creation of an enabling economic environment.


MASAHIRO TOMOSHIGE (Japan) said his Government welcomed the success of the historic first session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last May.  As the highest organ within the United Nations dealing with such matters, broad cooperation between governments, indigenous people and other international organizations was necessary in order to continue its success. 


He said the Forum had a broad mandate to deal with economic development, culture, education, health and human rights issues.  Japan hoped that the wide range of issues would be discussed in a comprehensive manner so the situation of indigenous people around the world could be enhanced.  On establishing a secretariat unit for the Forum, Japan fully understood the need of the Forum to work effectively and looked forward to studying the Secretary-General’s proposal on the substance and funding of the Forum.  At the same time, Japan believed it was very important to rationalize and streamline the overall work of the Organization, in line with reform initiatives.  Therefore, Japan believed that the 2003 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) review of all the Organization’s mechanisms and procedures currently working on indigenous issues was essential.


JEANELLE VAN GLAANEN WEYGEL (Suriname) said her country had one of the most ethnically varied populations in the world, with various religions where people lived peacefully together.  The indigenous people in Suriname consisted of the various Amerindian tribes and the Maroons -- descendants of runaway slaves.  The Government of Suriname acknowledged the rights of all indigenous people; in fact, the Constitution stated that all who were within the territory of Suriname had an equal claim to protection of person and property, and that no one must be discriminated against on ground of birth, sex, race, language, religion, education, political opinion, economic position or any other status. 


She said the Government respected the habitat of the indigenous people, and had a positive relationship with them.  With respect to the issue of land-rights, the Government was currently working on a mutually beneficial solution to all parties involved, by holding national consultation with all relevant stakeholders and on establishing a committee to draft the necessary legislation.  The Government and civil society recognized and utilized the traditional knowledge of indigenous people in order to benefit their sustainable development.  As such, indigenous people were involved with, and had leading positions in, nature conservation and research activities.  The Government of Suriname had signed, on 18 October 2002, a letter of commitment to take action by developing the infrastructure, education system, health, supply of drinking water, electricity, and transportation and telecommunication, and the Government was working on immediate poverty eradication and thus sustainable human development of, among others, indigenous people. 


JAMES CHOI (Australia) said the inaugural meeting of the Permanent Forum had been a significant and important event.  That body would play an invaluable role in coordinating activities on indigenous issues throughout the Organization.  He said that through various resolutions adopted by the Assembly, ECOSOC and the Commission on Human Rights, Member States had confirmed their support for the Forum.  In that regard, States should all support appropriate measures that would allow the Forum to continue functioning effectively and take forward its mandate.


He said Australia considered it essential to provide it with an operational secretariat for its 2003 meeting.  He added that Australia recognized the critical importance of the elaboration of a draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous people aimed at articulating their human rights.  He urged all parties to participate constructively in those negotiations with a view to completing it by the end of the International Decade (2004).


Australia believed that all United Nations mechanisms, including those dealing with indigenous issues, should be efficient and effective.  In that context, his delegation remained concerned about the clear overlap between various existing mechanisms dealing with indigenous issues.  At a time when the budget was tight, Australia believed those mechanisms should be streamlined.  It supported a review on United Nations indigenous mechanisms as mandated by ECOSOC.  An impartial body should initiate such a review in an expeditious manner.


He went on to say that Australia’s commitment to indigenous issues at the international level was matched by its domestic efforts.  The Government recognized that the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were still among the most disadvantaged in the world, and it was determined to rectify that problem.  It was aiming for a future in which indigenous Australians shared equally in social and economic opportunities the country had to offer.  It was also committed to addressing the specific priority issues as health, housing and education as well as building the capacity of individuals, families and communities to take advantage of improved economic, social and cultural participation.  With that in mind, indigenous-specific spending would rise to

$2.5 billion in 2002-2003.  The national commitment to reducing disadvantage was based on partnership with indigenous communities to provide an effective voice in decision-making on matters which effected them. 


ADRIANA P. PULIDO SANTANA (Venezuela) said the Government recognized the natural and cultural diversity represented in Venezuela, both legally and practically.  Venezuelan jurisprudence had established points of reference concerning the human rights of indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, the Constitution recognized all rights of the indigenous population, their practices and customs, their habitat and the right to their ancestral lands.  Indigenous people also had a constitutional right that ensured that natural resources were developed without harming their historic rights.  This constitutional right in itself represented a profound change in the political and legal attitude of the country. 


She stressed the importance of respecting indigenous languages throughout the country.  The Government was now planning municipal legislation for towns where there was an indigenous population.  This municipal legislation would aim to ensure that their capacities were recognized and that their rights were respected.  International progress could be seen in the establishment of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  However, to ensure the strength and effectiveness of the Forum, ongoing support from the Secretariat was needed.  She stressed the

importance of the international draft on the rights of indigenous peoples and the recognition of the collective rights of indigenous people. 


S. RAMA RAO, of the World Intellectual Property Organization, said that in the era of globalization and a knowledge-based world economy, and amid concerns for the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity, traditional knowledge, innovations and creativity had assumed increasing commercial, cultural and social value.  As a result, increased attention was rightly being paid to the role of intellectual property in the conservation, management, and sustainable utilization and benefit derived from traditional knowledge.  For example, traditional designs, songs and dances had been used by the entertainment and fashion industries to create works that were protected by intellectual property. 


He told the Committee about the Intergovernmental Committee -- a forum in which discussions proceeded among Member States on intellectual property issues that arose in the context of access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing; the protection of traditional knowledge; and the protection of expressions of folklore.  The Committee's programme on genetic resources responded to a widely-felt need for more information about current practices concerning the intellectual property aspects of agreements on access to genetic resources and the sharing of consequential benefits.  The Committee was therefore in the process of carrying out an examination of intellectual property clauses in existing contractual agreements on access to genetic resources and associated benefit-sharing, with the specific aim of establishing a public, electronic database about this kind of contract. 


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