21 April 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON SEVENTH SESSION OF PERMANENT FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES


There were an unprecedented 3,300 participants in the seventh session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Chairperson of the Forum, meeting through 4 May, told correspondents today.


At a Headquarters press conference being held in the margins of the opening of the Permanent Forum’s seventh session, convened under the theme “Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods:  the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz was joined by Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and Fiu Elisara, Executive Director, Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (Samoa).


Explaining several issues the Forum would likely emphasize during the session, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said one focus would be the adverse impacts of climate change mitigation measures on indigenous peoples.  Noting that indigenous peoples had observed and felt the impacts of climate change before anybody else, she said mitigation measures had adverse impacts because the demand for biofuels forced the opening of indigenous peoples’ lands for biofuel crops, notably in Indonesia and Malaysia, but also in Brazil, Argentina and some African countries.


The demand for renewable energy sources, most often hydro-electric power, had forced indigenous people from their lands because dams were being built, she said.  Because of “carbon trading”, indigenous peoples feared they would also be forced out of the forests, as the forests would be used as “carbon sinks”.


As for anticipated outcomes of the session, the seventh session was expected to demand that indigenous peoples be able to participate in the processes of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations.  The Forum would recommend the development of a report on traditional and indigenous knowledge of climate change.  Another recommendation would be the expansion of indigenous people’s capacity to participate in development policies.


Claiming that traditional knowledge was part of the solution, Mr. Djoghlaf said that, over the past 50 years, humanity had destroyed its relationship with nature because of, among other things, urbanization.  Biodiversity was life.  A main objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity, now signed by 190 countries, was the need to promote and preserve traditional knowledge.  It was the first international Convention to have a fully fledged programme and a full-time team dedicated to issues of indigenous peoples and the protection of the knowledge that had been accumulated over millennia.


He said that every minute, 20 hectares of forest were destroyed.  That, in turn, destroyed the livelihood and identity of the people living in forests.  The destruction of one hectare of forest in Malaysia also meant the destruction of 748 species.  The unprecedented loss of species was compounded by climate change, and the loss of biodiversity destroyed cultural and spiritual diversity, and even caused languages to disappear.  The Convention had a unique procedure that recognized the indigenous peoples as partners.  There was a need for a report on the cultural and spiritual consequences of species losses.  A preliminary report on the issue would be published shortly, and a final report would be issued in 2010, the International Year on Biodiversity.


Speaking from a Pacific regional perspective, Mr. Elisara noted that 15 small island developing States, sovereign Member States of the United Nations, were slated to be completely wiped out by climate change.  Climate change was a life-and-death issue for the Pacific island States, also known as the “Liquid Continent”.  One cyclone was enough to completely wipe out one island State.  Ninety per cent of the people in the Pacific were indigenous.  Unfortunately, 10 of the Pacific island countries had not signed on to the Declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.  Those Governments were denying their own indigenous peoples their right to their territories and their right to exist.


He agreed that biodiversity was life.  The Biodiversity and Climate Change Conventions should be seen as conservation conventions, and not as business treaties.  Most of the territories owned by indigenous peoples in the Pacific were already targeted for business.  The Bali outcome was generating some flawed solutions, including carbon trading.  A lot of funds from industrialized countries were channelled through the World Bank, which was not one of the most democratic institutions.  It was not just the economic pillar of sustainable development that should be advocated, but also the three other pillars, namely, social, environmental and cultural.  Governments should not use climate change to do what they want at the expense of people’s lives.


Answering correspondents’ questions, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that Indonesia and Malaysia reported increasing conflicts between indigenous peoples and those “grabbing” their land in order to plant palm trees for oil.  Brazil and Mexico were experiencing similar conflicts.  Even in the United States, corn production for fuel was creating problems for indigenous people because of rising food prices.  Because those aforementioned countries had signed on to the Convention on Climate Change, as well as to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, her organization had raised the issue last year and supported Indonesian indigenous groups in bringing the issue before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  After all, traditional livelihoods were being destroyed in favour of palm oil.  The Committee had suggested that Indonesia review the 2003 Plantation Act.


She said it would not be easy to translate the Declaration into a “living document at the national and international level”, but some countries, such as Bolivia and Ecuador, had said that the document would be converted into national law.  She hoped that implementation would be a permanent agenda item of the Forum, where Governments and agencies would report on progress.


Mr. Djoghlaf added that the Convention on Biodiversity was a legally binding instrument that should be translated into national law, and national strategies should be translated into national action.


Addressing another question, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said Canada had just attended a meeting of American States where a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples was being drafted.  It was felt that the United Nations Declaration should not be the basis for a declaration of American States on the issue.   Australia, however, now supported the implementation of the United Nations Declaration.  Canada had objected to it, however, because of the clause of “free prior and informed consent”, as it considered that to be veto power for the indigenous people on land use.


Asked if the Convention on Biological Diversity had a clause protecting the ownership of indigenous people of their traditional knowledge, Mr. Djoghlaf said the Convention both protected and promoted the rights of the indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge. Informed consent by indigenous people for land use was not part of that provision, however.  The Johannesburg outcome, however, included agreement on an international regime on access to and benefit-sharing of traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.


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For information media • not an official record