Widespread abuse against indigenous peoples persists, warns Migiro

A participant at the 7th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (file photo)

18 May 2009 – Indigenous peoples around the world continue to suffer from prejudice and marginalization, Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose-Migiro told the opening session today of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“Powerful forces continue to take land from indigenous peoples, denigrate their cultures, suppress their languages and even directly attack their very lives,” warned Ms. Migiro.

“These acts violate every principle enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” she added.

Some 2,000 participants from around the world converged on UN Headquarters in New York to discuss furthering the implementation of the landmark 2007 Declaration, which gained momentum last month when Australia officially endorsed the document after being one of four countries to vote against it along with Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

The non-binding text sets out the individual and collective rights of the world’s almost 400 million indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

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 General Assembly solemnly proclaimed that the Declaration is a standard of achievement to be pursued in spirit of partnership and mutual respect,” said Ms. Migiro.

The Deputy Secretary-General stressed that just raising living standards for indigenous peoples is not enough. “Protecting indigenous communities and their wealth of wisdom will not only enhance their lives, it will serve the interest of all people concerned about a healthy future for our planet.”

She warned that the world ignores “indigenous peoples at our peril but if we listen to them society as a whole will benefit.”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chair of the Permanent Forum, told reporters in New York that most of the remaining oil, gas and mineral resources “are now found in indigenous peoples’ territories because we have been struggling against these kinds of [mining] operations.”

She said that this was fortunate as the resources are still in the ground but also a “curse” because “it brings all these unaccountable corporations to come and exploit it without the permission of indigenous people.”

Discussions at the two-week gathering will focus on the relationship between indigenous peoples and industrial corporations and the need to promote corporate social responsibility, in particular a report noting that mining for minerals, oil and gas disproportionately impacts indigenous peoples.

Other issues on the Forum’s agenda, which concludes on 29 May, include climate change, the Arctic region and land tenure.


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