Indigenous groups end UN forum with call for steps to protect lands, resources

25 May 2007 –

Indigenous leaders today wrapped up the annual session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues with a series of recommendations calling on Member States to take steps to protect their rights to lands, territories and natural resources.

Participants at the two-week Forum in New York urged countries to adopt measures to halt ‘land alienation’ in indigenous territories – such as by imposing a moratorium on the sale and registration of land in areas that are occupied by indigenous peoples.

They also called for the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous peoples to be given a central role in dispute-solving arrangements over the lands, territories and natural resources they occupy and use, as well as the right to receive information about these issues in a language they can understand.

Other recommendations included a call for financial and technical assistance so that indigenous peoples can map the boundaries of their communal lands, the imposition of penalties on those who carry out harmful activities on indigenous lands, and the payment of compensation to indigenous peoples as a result of such activities.

The recommendations are contained in the Forum’s report, to be forwarded to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which stresses that territories, lands and natural resources are the sources of indigenous peoples’ spiritual, cultural and social identity.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, said yesterday that indigenous people worldwide have long suffered discrimination over their entitlements to occupying and using lands and natural resources.

“One of the key reason why indigenous peoples are being disenfranchised from their lands and territories is the existence of discriminatory laws, policies and programmes that do not recognize indigenous peoples’ land tenure systems and give more priority to claims being put by corporations – both State and private,” she said.

More than 1,500 indigenous representatives attended the Forum’s session, which also made recommendations on other issues affecting indigenous peoples, including health, education, and economic and social development.

Next year’s Forum will focus on the theme of climate change and there will also be sessions devoted to the Pacific region and to the protection of the thousands of threatened indigenous languages.

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