“The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed. As we prepare for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples on 22-23 September, I urge all Member States to work in full partnership with indigenous peoples and their representatives to improve their lives and opportunities. Together, let us recognize and celebrate the valuable and distinctive identities of indigenous peoples around the world. Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the 2014 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The UN is working in many different ways to ensure that the voices of indigenous are heard. As part of these efforts, the UN General Assembly is organizing the first ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a High Level Meeting on 22-23 September 2014. Today, there are some 370 million indigenous peoples in the world. They represent remarkable diversity — more than 5,000 distinct peoples in some 90 countries. They are still among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, with many of them struggling to remain on their lands and retain the right to their natural resources, while others have long since been removed from their lands, denied their languages and traditional ways.
“Existing mechanisms for consultation with indigenous peoples should be strengthened, and new mechanisms established where they are needed”
Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary General of UN DESA
Bridging the gap: Implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples
The United Nations and indigenous peoples have made significant progress in their collaboration with the establishment of the three pillars of engagement — the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — the United Nations has undertaken important steps towards greater recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples. What is required now is more decisive action at international and national levels to bridge the gap between the promise of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (adopted by the General Assembly in 2007 to set out minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world) and the reality of its implementation.
“Greater efforts are needed to bridge this implementation gap. Coordination among Governments, UN Agencies and others when dealing with indigenous peoples’ issues should be improved. Existing mechanisms for consultation with indigenous peoples should be strengthened, and new mechanisms established where they are needed,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo at this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The World Conference will focus on how to ensure that regional, constitutional, federal/national, provincial and local laws, policies and procedures comply with Declaration and other international human rights standards that uphold the rights of indigenous peoples. It will consider potential actions under the UN system for the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples.
Addressing Indigenous Peoples’ lands, territories and resources
A centrepiece of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is article 3, which affirms: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” During the more than two-decade debate that preceded the adoption of the Declaration, it was increasingly understood that self-determination is a foundational principle that anchors the constellation of indigenous peoples’ rights.
Lands, territories and resources have particular cultural and spiritual significance and value for indigenous peoples; they constitute the basis for the continued existence of their societies. For centuries, indigenous peoples have faced and continue to face colonization of their lands, territories, resources, air, ice, oceans and waters, and mountains and forests. This has resulted in patterns of domination, exploitation and subjugation of their peoples. The provisions of the Declaration affirm their inherent rights to participate fully in decision-making that affects them.
This year, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recognized that good governance – including transparency; responsiveness; consensus-building; equity and inclusiveness; effectiveness and efficiency; accountability; participation; consultation and consent; human rights; and the rule of law – must be achieved at the international, national, regional and local levels and applied to governments and institutions of indigenous peoples. Good governance is about who has access to decision-making and authority with regard to lands, territories and resources that result in revenue and services to peoples.
“We are all committed to ensuring that the priorities of indigenous peoples are duly recognized and reflected in our global development efforts, specifically in the crafting of the upcoming post-2015 development agenda”
H.E. John W. Ashe, President of the General Assembly
The Forum also noted that there are examples of indigenous laws, traditions and customs that represent good governance. There are instances where States have worked with indigenous peoples to develop governance structures that improve conditions in indigenous communities and where indigenous peoples are involved in every stage of project design.
The World Conference will examine indigenous people’s right of self-determination and permanent sovereignty over lands, territories, resources, oceans and waters. It will consider how to establish effective mechanisms through agreements reached between states and indigenous peoples to effectively implement these rights.
Indigenous priorities for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda
“We are all committed to ensuring that the priorities of indigenous peoples are duly recognized and reflected in our global development efforts, specifically in the crafting of the upcoming post-2015 development agenda“, said H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe, President of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in his remarks at the Informal interactive hearings for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 17 June 2014.
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. The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples at this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. A discussion on the post-2015 development agenda will take place at the World Conference, with indigenous peoples presenting their priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the connection between customs, belief systems, values, languages, cultures and traditional knowledge.
The World Conference will be an opportunity to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Conference will also result in a concise, action-oriented outcome document prepared on the basis of inclusive and open informal consultations with Member States and indigenous peoples.
World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) 22 and 23 September 2014
As the Conference kicks off on 22 September, between 1,000 and 1,200 indigenous representatives from all regions are expected to be in attendance. Following a welcome prayer from Chief Sidd Hill of the Haudenosaunee, the event will open with a plenary meeting comprising of remarks from the President of the GA, the Secretary-General and the Presidents of Bolivia, Mexico, Finland and the Republic of Congo. The Chief of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs and the President of the Sami Parliament of Norway as well as the Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will also address the opening.
Following the adoption of the Conference outcome document, a round-table will follow on (i) the ‘UN System action for the Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and (ii) ‘Implementing the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the National and Local Level’. On the second day of the Conference, a round-table will take place in the afternoon on ‘Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources,’ which will be held in parallel with a panel discussion on ‘Indigenous priorities for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda’ with UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other high level representatives. A closing plenary meeting will ensue with a statement by the President of the GA and a closing prayer from H.E. Dr. Pita Sharples, Minister of Maori Affairs, New Zealand.
More than 25 events, including workshops, discussions, a play, prize award and book launch, are taking place on the margins of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The events will cover a plethora of issues, including on affirming the rights of indigenous peoples, development and accountability to indigenous peoples, business’ respect and support to indigenous peoples, funding mechanisms for indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples and women’s issues, health, youth, lands, territories and resources, extractive industries, participation in parliaments, and justice.