16 September 2007 Welcoming the General Assembly's adoption of a declaration outlining the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has called for greater policies and programmes to tackle the poverty, discrimination and exclusion faced by indigenous children.
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman issued a statement praising UN Member States after they voted in the Assembly on Thursday – after more than 20 years of debate – to approve the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A non-binding text, the Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.
The Declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.
It also prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.
The majority of the 370 million indigenous people worldwide are children or adolescents, Ms. Veneman said, noting that they are often among the most marginalized and vulnerable members of their societies.
“In particular, UNICEF welcomes the recognition in the Declaration that indigenous children sometimes need special assistance to realize the rights – to an education and to protection from exploitation, discrimination and harm – that all children possess,” she said.
Ms. Veneman said it was vital that the Declaration is followed by the introduction and implementation of policies and programmes to increase the opportunities available to indigenous children.
She added that she hoped the adoption of the Declaration would also build greater momentum towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global agreed set of targets for reducing economic and social ills, all by 2015.
Ms. Veneman's remarks join similar statements from General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour welcoming the Declaration's adoption.