In the last week of September, high-level government representatives descended on New York to attend the UN General Assembly to address a number of issues vital for the well-being of our planet. Putting people at the centre of development, meeting new population challenges and ensuring the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples – these were some of the topics on a busy agenda, where UN DESA played a crucial role providing support.
“This is a historic occasion – the UN’s first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo as the department was gearing up for back-to-back high-level events at UN Headquarters in New York. ”The adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 was a milestone. Now is the time for concrete actions to translate the principles and objectives of the UN Declaration into reality. The UN will make every effort to ensure the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples of the world,” Mr. Wu added.
Prior to the kick-off of a busy UN week, Mr. Wu launched the MDG Gap Task Force Report 2014 “The State of the Global Partnership for Development” at a press briefing together with Thomas Gass, UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Pingfan Hong, the Director of UN DESA’s Division for Development Policy and Analysis and Magdy Martínez-Solimán, UNDP’s Deputy Assistant Administrator. “With only one year ahead, we definitely need a strong sense of urgency and action,” Mr. Wu said, as targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to the global partnership to improve people’s lives and end poverty, showed mixed results on providing the poorest developing countries with greater access to aid, trade, debt relief, essential medicines and technologies.
Ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples now and beyond 2015
“I am pleased that in the World Conference outcome document Member States commit to give due consideration to all the rights of indigenous peoples in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda”
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General
As UN General Assembly events got underway, UN DESA provided support to two high-level events taking place back-to-back, and in parallel on 22 September. First off was the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), convened as the first high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly’s 69h session, bringing together over a thousand indigenous and non-indigenous delegates to discuss the realization of their rights and the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous peoples represent remarkable diversity – more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. These peoples continue to self-identify as distinct peoples with strong links to traditional territories with their own social, economic and political systems as well as unique languages, cultures and beliefs.
“I am pleased that in the World Conference outcome document Member States commit to give due consideration to all the rights of indigenous peoples in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Wu said as he addressed a panel event focusing on indigenous peoples’ priorities for the post-2015 development agenda and as he commented on the approval of the Conference Outcome Document on 22 September.
“We must intensify our work to ensure that policy commitments translate into programs and projects that directly benefit indigenous peoples, with their direct participation,” Mr. Wu added. “With just one year remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, in many ways, we have been unable to address the development gaps indigenous peoples face. Nearly all available data shows that indigenous peoples fare worse in socio-economic terms than non-indigenous peoples. We must draw upon the lessons learned from the MDGs and we must do better this time around,” Mr. Wu said.
Putting people at the centre of development
Taking place on the same day as the WCIP on 22 September, the General Assembly held its special session on the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development beyond 2014, marking 20 years since the landmark conference in Cairo that reinforced the principle that development should centre on people.
“This is an important opportunity for the international community to focus on the unfinished agenda of the ICPD Programme of Action and to reaffirm their commitment to placing people at the centre of development,” Mr. Gass said, as he briefed journalists ahead of this major event. “Let us recall that in 1994, Cairo achieved a remarkable consensus that the rights and well-being of individuals should be the central focus of efforts to promote social and economic development,” he added.
“Let us recall that in 1994, Cairo achieved a remarkable consensus that the rights and well-being of individuals should be the central focus of efforts to promote social and economic development”
UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General
Mr. Gass highlighted that progress since 1994 has been remarkable in many areas including gains in gender equality, advances in educational attainment, health, survival, human rights protection, poverty reduction and access to sexual and reproductive health services. “But many of the promises of the ICPD remains unfulfilled,” Mr. Gass explained. “Progress has been unequal and is often hampered by persistent discrimination and inequality,” he added. “New challenges have emerged including those linked to rapid urbanization, environmental change, economic transformation and increasingly complex migration trends”.
Moving the world forward into the future we want
The special General Assembly session brought together 73 representatives of Member States, including 18 Heads of State, who took the floor to reaffirm their commitments to the ICPD agenda. It also marked the beginning of the final year of negotiations on a new long-term post-2015 development agenda. “We must renew our pledge to protect people – especially women and girls – as we strive to eradicate extreme poverty, protect the rights and dignity of all people and secure the future of our planet for generations to come,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
In addition to high-level events during UN week, there are many major conferences, commissions, expert groups and other forums that meet throughout the year to address issues related to social, economic and sustainable development. UN DESA is there to assist, providing expertise and experience and thereby enabling nations across the globe to make decisions that will move the world forward into the future we want.
As the first week of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly is about to conclude, Mr. Wu reflects on the major events that have just taken place. “I am impressed by the big turnout at these events. It is a privilege and a great responsibility to be a part of this international process. I am also very proud of the hard work of my DESA staff. They are one of the most critical components in the global effort to eradicate poverty and create a better future for everyone,” Mr. Wu said.
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