|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE ON PERMANENT FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES
Lands, territories and natural resources had been chosen as the focus of the sixth annual session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, so as to address fundamental violations of indigenous peoples’ rights under laws put into effect by colonizers, the Chairperson of the Forum, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference to mark the opening of the two-week session.
Joining Ms. Tauli-Corpuz were Ida Nicolaisen of Denmark, a Forum member with a background of work in central Borneo and South-East Asia, and Hassan Id Balkassm of Morocco, a Forum member with expertise in North African indigenous issues.
The Forum, established by the Economic and Social Council in July 2000, provides advice, raises awareness and disseminates information on indigenous issues. The Forum’s 16 independent experts function in their personal capacity and are appointed by the Council, eight upon nomination by Governments and eight by indigenous organizations in their regions.
Ensuring indigenous rights over lands and natural resources was a prerequisite to the very survival of indigenous peoples and their cultures, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz stressed. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples set out the basis for negotiating international protection of those rights, which were now being dramatically impacted by the phenomenon of global climate change. In addition, the effects of oil exploration, timber use and expansion of plantations for sugar and palm-oil production were all causing displacements of indigenous populations. It was crucial to find solutions to negative effects of industrialization by relying on the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, she said.
The Declaration, the result of over two decades of work and adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2006, was still stalled in the General Assembly due to issues that would hopefully be resolved before the end of the present Assembly session in September, she added.
Elaborating on that, Mr. Balkassm said the Declaration was a statement of political will for developing international standards to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples. The outstanding issues concerned a definition of indigenous peoples and principles concerning self-determination, land rights, the right to consent, customary law and indigenous institutions.
He said the primary hold-up was the difficulty of some countries, particularly in North Africa, to honour obligations the Declaration would place on them. The adoption of the Declaration was critical as an expression of political will to protect the rights of the indigenous. Without that concrete affirmation of their rights, the indigenous and their cultures could not survive.
Ms. Nicolaisen emphasized the importance of addressing questions relating to lands, territories and natural resources as a prerequisite for indigenous survival. She said a record number of 2,500 people were taking part in the current session, mainly for two reasons. The first was to work out the issues still stalling the adoption of the Declaration in the Assembly, and the second was to work out questions related to ownership of land as a core issue of survival.
The present session, she stressed, was a key time for indigenous groups and Governments to come together on how Governments could honour their responsibilities in safeguarding indigenous rights. Among the discussions expected to take place was the one on the millions of urban indigenous worldwide who were moving to cities either voluntarily or because violations of their rights no longer enabled them to survive in their indigenous environments.
In response to a question, Ms. Nicolaisen said specific issues to be taken up during the session were the need to promote measures for economic development and to provide access to human services such as health care and education.
Asked about reports that some indigenous groups seemed bent on evicting non-indigenous people from their territories in an effort to secure “cultural purity”, she said the reality of those situations was the reverse of the perception. In the case of groups such as Canada’s First Nations Peoples in British Columbia, it was a matter of the peoples’ lands being encroached upon, with the indigenous groups merely taking steps to safeguard their right against eviction from their own land in a situation were economic stakes were very high. That was the situation with Botswana’s Bushmen and the question of palm oil. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) had been asked to address issues related to the social dimensions of biofuel exploration and their impact on traditional agricultural lands.
She added that the session would push for concrete proposals on addressing climate change as it affected indigenous peoples. Studies on specific groups would be called for, with some groups pushing for a world summit next year on how to increase the decision-making role of the indigenous in resolving problems whose solutions depended on them. Starting points for such measures were already in place. Funds had been set up, but they had not helped. International banks had also developed policies to prevent funding of corporations that violated indigenous rights, but the problem was that policies were not being implemented. The Forum could be given a monitoring role in policy implementation.
Asked about the situation regarding the Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said the African Group had wanted a working group to be established on amendments to be added to the current version of the Declaration that the Human Rights Council had adopted. Indigenous groups had rejected that proposal, since they did not want another 20 years to pass before action was taken. There was every reason to believe that the version already approved by the Human Rights Council would be adopted without any need for amendments. The only issue on which there could be no compromise was that of the rights of indigenous peoples relating to their lands.
The amendments, added Mr. Balkassm, had been forwarded to the Assembly President, who was committed to solving the outstanding issues during the current session.
* *** *For information media • not an official record