|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Preparations for 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
A new milestone for the rights of indigenous peoples — their first ever World Conference, slated for 2014 — was on the horizon, said leaders and activists at a Headquarters press conference today, noting that the meeting would offer a unique opportunity to create a framework for addressing the most pressing challenges facing indigenous peoples today.
Five years since the General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and two years since the body unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a related World Conference, States and indigenous representatives were now mobilizing to clarify the modalities of that landmark meeting, said Rafael Archondo, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations. Bolivia — as one of the main sponsors of the General Assembly resolution — was active in the preparatory processes now beginning in regions around the world, he said, adding that the next step would be adoption of a resolution on the Conference’s modalities. Those would include the date and duration of the meeting, its structure and ways to ensure the active participation of indigenous peoples.
Joining Mr. Archondo today were John Henriksen, co-facilitator of the preparatory process for the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and a member of Norway’s Saami people; Joseph Ole Simel, a member of the Conference’s Global Coordinating Committee and of Kenya’s Mainyoit Pastoralist Integrated Development Organization; and Myrna Cunningham Kain, a Nicaraguan member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
“Indigenous peoples will really be playing an important role throughout the [preparatory] process”, said Ms. Cunningham Kain, stressing that, as key actors, indigenous leaders would need to work closely with Member States to ensure the full and meaningful participation of indigenous groups. Besides the structural details of the Conference, she said, its major themes would also be decided during the preparatory process. In that vein, she welcomed the idea to appoint an indigenous facilitator to work alongside a Government facilitator during the process. The Conference would have, as its ultimate basis, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she said, adding that that framework “should be used to discuss important and challenging issues that indigenous peoples are facing in different parts of the world”.
The 2014 meeting was an opportunity for Governments and indigenous peoples to reflect on progress made in confronting such major challenges as poverty and climate change, agreed Mr. Simel. Indeed, it presented an unprecedented chance to take stock of the Declaration’s implementation, and for indigenous groups, Governments, United Nations agencies and other partners to come together in developing a “true framework” for that implementation. African regional representatives were already planning to attend the Conference, he said; earlier on, there would be strong participation in regional preparatory meetings. “We need to agree on a number of issues”, he stressed, calling for the “effective, efficient participation” of indigenous peoples in the process as a whole.
Among the key objectives of the Conference was the sharing of perspectives and best practices on indigenous rights, said Mr. Henriksen. He stressed that the Declaration had been the result of more than 20 years of negotiations and dialogue between Member States, and that its content was extremely comprehensive. He hoped that the Conference would be as inclusive as the negotiation process for the Declaration. “Unless [indigenous peoples] are able to fully participate in all stages of this process, the success of the Conference will be in jeopardy”, he warned.
Indeed, the challenge now was to create a preparatory process and Conference that were truly inclusive, he said. One way to achieve that aim was to employ thematic seminars, round tables and other interactive dialogues, while another was to combine both formal and informal meetings. The issue of a Conference outcome document “is of course of great importance”, he added, noting that a concise, action-oriented result was critical. Moreover, while good standards for the implementation of indigenous rights existed, there was a gap between those standards and what was really happening on the ground. The Conference could go a long way towards addressing that implementation gap, he emphasized.
During a brief question-and-answer session, one correspondent wondered what the panellists thought about the loss of indigenous languages, and asked what was being done to reverse that process.
Ms. Cunningham Kain recalled that, last year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had noted that every 15 days an indigenous language was lost. An expert group meeting on language was now part of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, she said. Additionally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had agreed to initiate a process to draft policy associated with the preservation of indigenous languages. In terms of the World Conference, a preparatory process that began at the local and national levels would provide a good chance to address the issue of language loss.
Mr. Henriksen added that several major studies existed on indigenous education and language. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples contained an article that stated that indigenous peoples had a right to education that was appropriate to their culture and ways of teaching, he said, and the Human Rights Council had also stressed the need to take such matters into account.
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