1 May 2008
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE on indigenous forum

 


Indigenous peoples intended to seek more active participation in the work on climate change issues, leading to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next year and beyond, the Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.


Outlining that body’s recommendations on the stewardship role of indigenous peoples in relation to climate change, biocultural diversity and traditional livelihoods -- the special theme of the Forum’s seventh session, which is scheduled to conclude tomorrow -- she said indigenous peoples could provide an important contribution to the negotiations on climate change, which had a negative impact on them, owing to their dependence upon, and close relationship with, the environment and its resources.  The Forum intended to present to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change a report on indigenous adaptation and mitigation measures and traditional knowledge.  The solutions pursued by indigenous peoples could contribute to meeting the objectives of the Climate Change Convention.


She said that, while having the smallest ecological footprints themselves, indigenous peoples suffered not only from the effects of climate change, but also from some of the “solutions” imposed on them, such as biofuel plantations and large renewable energy projects, including hydroelectric dams.  Emission trading schemes also did not bring direct benefits to many indigenous peoples.


The current session was the first one since the adoption of the landmark United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, she continued, and this morning, the President of the General Assembly and the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs had attended the Forum, reaffirming the Declaration’s role as a framework through which many problems of indigenous peoples could be addressed.  They supported the Forum’s recommendation that the Declaration should be implemented by the international community, Governments and indigenous peoples themselves.


Among other recommendations of the Forum, she mentioned proposals to hold expert workshops on the indigenous peoples and extractive industries, and the implementation of the Declaration.  The latter was to be held in celebration of that instrument’s anniversary on 13 September to determine the best practices and challenges for implementation.  With many of the world’s 4,000 indigenous languages disappearing, that issue had also been discussed, as well as the situation of indigenous peoples of the Pacific.


Also speaking about the outcome of the current session of the Forum were two of its members:  Simeon Adewale Adekanye from Nigeria and Lars Anders Baer from Sweden.


Mr. Adewale Adekanye emphasized the issue of respect for indigenous people’s human rights, which had also been discussed during the session.  He also commented on the high level of attendance at the session, which testified to the need for the engagement of the Governments with indigenous peoples in pursuit of the goals spelled out in the Declaration.  Several countries had expressed their interest in contributing to the Trust Fund, which would facilitate indigenous delegations’ participation in the Forum.


Mr. Baer said that the establishment of the Permanent Forum and adoption of the Declaration had truly been a breakthrough for indigenous movements, which showed that it was possible to reshape the United Nations.  An even bigger task now was to “reshape the Members” of the Organization, so that indigenous peoples had “more space” at the national level.  Some changes were already taking place, as demonstrated by the participation of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Ayma in the Forum.  Another example was a statement by the Government of Australia, which had changed its policy “quite dramatically”.  He hoped that other countries would do that in due time, as well.


Speaking about the effect of climate change on indigenous peoples, he said that being among the first to feel its impact, they were like a canary in a mine.  He came from the Arctic area, where the permafrost was literally melting underneath one’s feet.  The Forum had also addressed the situation of the peoples of the Pacific, many of whom would be affected by rising sea levels.  He believed that indigenous peoples could, and should, contribute to the search for solutions for the challenges facing the world.


Responding to several questions about the position of the Government of Canada, one of the four countries that had voted against the Declaration, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that, at the present session, it had once again been stated that the Declaration did not necessarily apply to Canada.  However, the Declaration had been adopted by the General Assembly.  Whether one had voted for or against it, since it was part of international human rights law, it did apply to everybody.  She hoped that Canada would one day recover its reputation in terms of the support it provided to indigenous peoples.  In fairness to Canada, however, it must be said that it had supported the Permanent Forum very strongly.


She also said that Canada was now blocking implementation of the Declaration.  About two weeks ago, for example, it had stated at a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) that the Declaration could not be the framework upon which the OAS declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples could be shaped.


Mr. Baer said that, in fact, Canada had two faces.  It had been at the forefront of international efforts, when the negotiations on the Declaration had first started, but had changed its position with the change of Government.   Canada also had very advanced land-management and self-government regimes, as far as indigenous peoples were concerned, yet it was now working against the Declaration.  Nevertheless, he hoped that its position would change.


Mr. Adewale Adekanye also called for change, hoping for engagement between the Canadian Government and the Forum.  It was important to address common problems together.


In response to a question about the Forum’s objections to the clean development mechanism and carbon trading, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that, under the clean development mechanism, polluting developed countries could earn credits through a range of measures, for example helping to build renewable energy projects in developing countries.  Some of such projects would destroy the forests that were traditionally owned by the indigenous peoples, exclude them and impinge on their rights.  Indigenous peoples would also be excluded under the carbon trading schemes.  Therefore, those schemes needed to be revisited and redesigned, taking into account the interests of indigenous peoples, who kept the forests intact.


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