Good governance – recognizing indigenous peoples for who they are


The thirteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will take place on 12-23 May with principles of good governance at the forefront of discussions. For indigenous peoples, good governance is grounded in the right to self-determination, which is a pre-condition for the enjoyment of all other rights as it means the right to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Good governance is premised on the recognition of indigenous forms of autonomy, self-governance and ancestral authorities, as well as of customary governance systems and land tenure systems over lands, territories and natural resources. It encompasses the right to fully and effectively participate in decision-making that impacts indigenous peoples’ rights, lives, communities, lands, territories and resources.

At the same time, good governance needs to be inclusive and ensure equity and justice for indigenous peoples to achieve  their individual and collective well-being. Good governance must be consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007 and which affirms the distinct status and rights of indigenous peoples.

The UN Declaration clearly states that “indigenous peoples in the exercise of their rights should be free from discrimination of any kind” and  conveys “inalienable ethical messages – the recognition of indigenous peoples for who they are, the imperative to remedy historical wrongs and the acceptance of traditional practices as part of the global culture of mankind,” as H.E. Ambassador Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Vice-President of the UN General Assembly stated in last year’s forum session.

Situation for indigenous peoples in the Asian region

Two thirds of the world’s indigenous peoples live in Asia, which is home to over 2000 civilizations and languages. In Asia, indigenous peoples include many groups that are often referred to as “tribal peoples”, “hill tribes”, “scheduled tribes”, “janajati”, “orang asli”, “masyarakat adat”, “adivasis”, “ethnic minorities” or “nationalities”. Irrespective of their legal status or the terminology used, many indigenous peoples in this region experience non-recognition of their cultural identity, exclusion and marginalization. Their situation will be in focus on Thursday, 15 May, during a half-day discussion on indigenous peoples in the Asian region as part of this year’s forum held at UN Headquarters in New York.

The Permanent Forum will also discuss the preparations for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to be convened on 22-23 September 2014 at UN Headquarters in New York. There will also be a discussion on the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 22 December 2004, and which will come full circle at the end of this year.

Addressing sexual health and reproductive rights

Despite a pervasive lack of dis-aggregated data on the health of indigenous peoples, there is strong evidence around the world that indigenous peoples are still disproportionately affected by high rates of maternal and infant mortality, and lack of access to culturally-appropriate maternal health care services. HIV/AIDS is one of the most urgent challenges faced by indigenous women, with economic, social and sex exploitation as contributing factors.

The Permanent Forum will also discuss indigenous peoples’ sexual health and reproductive rights on Wednesday 14 May,  when it will consider the report of the Expert Group Meeting on “Sexual health and reproductive rights: articles 21, 22 (1), 23 and 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, held in January 2014.

The Permanent Forum will also follow up on the priority themes of indigenous youth and children, on Friday 16 May. A report on the living conditions of indigenous children and adolescents in Mesoamerica and compliance with their rights will be presented. The study shows the gaps between indigenous children and the rest of the population, with the differences starting from birth. Often indigenous children do not speak the language of instruction, and the curricula and teaching methods are culturally inappropriate, leading to poorer educational performance and higher dropout rates for indigenous children compared to their non-indigenous peers.

Active involvement in preparing post-2015 development agenda

Indigenous peoples are actively involved in the work preparing for the post-2015 development agenda, including the designing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensure that their concerns are reflected and their rights protected. A discussion on the post-2015 development agenda will take place at the Forum, with indigenous peoples presenting their vision and priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.

The critical importance of the participation of indigenous peoples in this process was already underscored by UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo at last year’s forum. “The process underway to advance a development agenda that has sustainable development at its core, represents a unique opportunity for a more comprehensive consideration of poverty and well-being that includes the indigenous perspective. It provides us the space to adopt a new partnership for development – built on the human rights-based approach. I believe that working together, we can achieve a real, inclusive and participatory post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Wu stated.

Photo credit: Broddi Sigurdarson, UN DESA

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