27 May 2009
Press Conference

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

press conference to discuss eighth session of permanent forum on indigenous issues


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would support a framework which stressed the State’s duty to protect citizens, through regulation and adjudication, against human rights abuses by third parties, Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said this afternoon.


Drawn up by John Ruggie, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises, the framework also emphasized due diligence to avoid infringing upon the rights of others, and touched on the importance of both judicial and non-judicial remedies for victims, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said at a Headquarters press conference as the Forum’s two-week eighth session wound down towards its conclusion on 29 May.  Those three pillars would become increasingly important as the world grappled with the global economic crisis.


She said the session had centred largely on the relationship between indigenous peoples and companies in the extractive industries, such as oil and mining, whose activities had been a frequent source of complaint for indigenous communities since the Forum’s inaugural session in 2002.  In a panel discussion this morning to address the impact of the global economic crisis, representatives of indigenous communities had raised concerns about weakening safeguards as Governments rushed to prime their economies with infrastructure projects.  The World Bank alone had plans to increase investment in infrastructure from $15 billion in the previous three years to $45 billion for the three-year period beginning in 2009.


The Kahnawake Mohawks were currently protesting plans by the Canadian Government to build highways that would cut across indigenous territories and facilitate the entry of extractive industries into those lands, she said.  However, according to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, States had agreed that corporations must obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples for infrastructure projects happening on their land.


Participants in the Forum had addressed similar occurrences in other parts of the world, including India, where 158 hydroelectric dams were planned in the state of Arunachal Pradesh she said.  “These are issues that are very hard to reconcile because, of course, we do understand the need for our market economies to survive the crisis.  But on the other hand, this should not be done at the expense of indigenous people’s lives, which means either displacement or destruction of their territories.”


Asked to name a concrete proposal by the Forum to solve the problem, she said indigenous peoples should play a part in designing infrastructure projects, adding that the Forum would seek the active participation of the Special Representative on business and human rights in examining some of the complaints.


Statements delivered at the Forum, especially by citizens in exile, required counter-checking with the home country, she said, citing complaints of abuse made by a group representing the Hmong people which had later been refuted by the Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations.  Confirming the complaint would require coordination between human rights reporting mechanisms ‑‑ which, at the United Nations, were Special Rapporteurs reporting to the Human Rights Council ‑‑ and the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives, such as the Representative on business and human rights.  Ms. Tauli-Corpuz suggested that the Forum could act as a coordinator.


The Forum itself played a direct role in supporting indigenous causes, she said, noting that a group of Ogoni people had been absent from the session in order to attend hearings in a New York court in which the Shell oil company was accused of involvement in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian activist executed 1995.  The Forum had been instrumental in drawing Ogoni attention to the case through a group called the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).


She explained that one of the Forum’s recommendations in 2009 entailed encouraging indigenous peoples to bring more cases before the United States Alien Tort Claims Act.  That statute would allow courts in the United States to hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens against United States entities located outside the country.  There was no a global network to help indigenous peoples track key court cases and train activists abroad on how to invoke that law.


The Forum would also seek technical support from United Nations funds and programmes, she said.  Following the adoption of the Declaration on Indigenous Rights in 2007, the Forum had agreed that United Nations agencies, funds and programmes should revisit their strategies to ensure they were aligned with that “indigenous bill of rights”.  Last week, senior management from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had appeared voluntarily before the Forum to conduct an in-depth dialogue with participants.


“We look at the history of technical assistance that some United Nations bodies have provided,” she explained.  “For instance, they help in shaping mineral acts and laws in some countries.  These were mineral laws that were liberalizing the lease of indigenous lands for transnational corporations.  We cited that as an example of what we don’t like to see.”  However, some States were known to manipulate the consent of indigenous peoples by ignored governing bodies legitimately recognized by indigenous communities and creating new administrative bodies in their place.  A complaint had already been filed in Mindanao, where the Philippine Government had created a tribal council which ignored the one legitimately recognized by indigenous authorities.


In one case, indigenous peoples had complained about not being adequately consulted on an innovative plan to protect the oil-rich land of Yasuni, Ecuador, she continued.  The Government had agreed to forego drilling for oil in the Ishpingo, Tampococha and Tiputini portions of Yasuni National Park in exchange for millions of dollars in monetary compensation.


Throughout the session, the Forum had doled out advice to Governments wanting to know how to integrate the concerns of indigenous peoples into public policy, she said.  Learning that Norway was organizing an initiative to increase transparency among extractive industries, it had urged the Norwegian Government to seek involvement by as many companies as possible, so as to provide an effective forum for raising the concerns of indigenous peoples.


In Latin America, the Forum was pushing for more dialogue with some Governments which it viewed as “hotspots”, including that of Mexico, where the extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests of indigenous peoples had occurred, and where many members of indigenous communities had been victims of the drug trade.  Members of the Forum had also conducted a fact-finding missionto Bolivia and Paraguay, seeking information on slave labour among the Guarani people from the Chappo region.


At the moment, three countries were formally opposed to the Declaration on Indigenous Rights, including the United States, which had been conciliatory so far, she said.  While Canada had not yet issued a declaration of support, New Zealand had given some indication that it might follow the example of Australia, which had said in April that it would endorse the Declaration.  Colombia, which had abstained from voting on the document in 2007, had also sent a letter stating its support of the Declaration.


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For information media • not an official record