Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People to the Fifth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
New York, 15 May 2006

Madame Chairperson,
Distinguished Members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,
Indigenous Elders and representatives
Distinguished Delegates
Colleagues of the UN system,

On behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General, I welcome you all to this fifth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

We meet at a time when the 2005 World Summit has injected new energy and momentum into the work of this Forum. World leaders committed to the sustainable development of indigenous peoples and their communities as “crucial in our fight against hunger and poverty”. They underscored the need “to adequately and urgently address food security and rural and agricultural development”, not least by enhancing the contributions of indigenous and local communities. And they decided on a range of specific policy and institutional measures to strengthen integrated and effective implementation of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

These goals, generated by the major UN conferences and summits since the early 1990s, together represent a wealth of global policy consensus and concrete commitments, in the form of a broad and compelling United Nations Development Agenda. Human rights and participatory governance are two of the essential elements that cut across that agenda. And from this angle, too, the Summit has provided critical momentum for positive change on indigenous issues. Its Outcome Document commits all Member States to make “progress in the advancements of the human rights of the world’s indigenous peoples at local, national, regional and international levels, including through consultation and collaboration with them, and to present for adoption a final draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples”.

The adoption of the Declaration, this long held aspiration of the world’s indigenous peoples, will be one of the top priorities of the newly created Human Rights Council. The history and current realities of indigenous peoples clearly require that the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ human rights continue to be high on the international agenda, including that of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which includes human rights in its mandate. And indeed, the whole UN system’s human rights-based approach to development will also have to include indigenous peoples’ concerns and visions of development.

All this bodes well for our launching today of the Program of Action of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, adopted by the General Assembly last December. As Coordinator of this Second Decade, I welcome the Forum’s new joint emphasis on implementing the Program of Action and achieving the MDGs for the world’s indigenous peoples. They are both bold initiatives that have the same target date for completion. And I am committed to encouraging and facilitating the efforts of all stakeholders to make optimal use of the synergies between pursuing the Millennium Development Goals and the overarching goal of the Second Decade: to further strengthen international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous peoples in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development by means of action-oriented programs and specific projects, increased technical assistance, and standard-setting activities.

I have focused considerable energy on inviting each part of the UN system to adopt its own plan of action for the Decade and have promoted concerted action by UN country teams through the UN Development Group (UNDG).

Clear guidance for all these efforts is being provided by the five objectives set for the Decade, which reflect the core messages projected by the Permanent Forum since its inception:

  • First, to promote non-discrimination and inclusion of indigenous peoples in all phases of the policy process, from design through implementation and evaluation;
  • Second, to promote full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in the decisions that affect their lives, based on the principle of free, prior and informed consent;
  • Third, to promote development policies respectful of the culture and identity of indigenous peoples;
  • Fourth, to adopt targeted programmes and budgets for the development of indigenous peoples, with special emphasis on indigenous women, children and youth; and
  • Fifth, to strengthen monitoring of and accountability for commitments regarding the protection of indigenous peoples and the improvement of their lives.

Over the last four years, the Permanent Forum has served to provide policy and programmatic direction on indigenous issues to the UN system. It has made a substantial contribution to the goal of eradicating poverty as an ethical, social, political, economic and cultural imperative—central to the UN development agenda. The Forum’s outcome this year will take that contribution further still, by “re-defining” the MDGs with special emphasis on the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples. Its recommendations, along with those from its past sessions, should thus assist Member States in meeting the commitments on indigenous peoples set out in the World Summit Outcome.

At a time when significant reform processes are underway within the United Nations, and when a high-level panel has been appointed to study UN system-wide coherence, the Permanent Forum can play a critical role as a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council—in terms of demonstrating clear and productive linkages between the normative work of the Forum and the operational work across countries. Members of the Permanent Forum have undertaken an analysis on the status of implementation of recommendations over the last sessions, as well as a review of the Forum’s working methods. The analysis shows increased and effective participation of indigenous peoples in various global, regional and national processes and mechanisms, as well as shifts in paradigms, discourse and ways of doing development. We can see this in the formulation of conceptual frameworks, institutional policies and guidelines on indigenous peoples, and in the setting up of global and national projects that reflect these shifts.

Indeed, Member States are reporting to the Forum on activities undertaken at the national and sub-national level in consonance with some of its recommendations. And an increasing number of UN agencies, Funds and Programmes are reporting on implementation of the Forum’s recommendations within their country programs and projects. The Permanent Forum continues to engage substantively in developing further mechanisms for linking recommendations with operational programs on the ground, in partnership with the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues (IASG). I would like to extend my appreciation to UNICEF for hosting the last session of the Inter-Agency Group and to all its members for promoting engagement on indigenous issues at the regional and international levels.

Distinguished Members of the Permanent Forum,

We are making progress. Nonetheless, to reach the goal of the Second International Decade and the MDGs by 2015, we must intensify our work to ensure that policy commitments translate into programs and projects that directly benefit indigenous peoples with their direct participation.

I encourage Member States, the UN system and other stakeholders to adopt and implement specific plans of action for the Decade, as part of these efforts and to enhance our partnership for development, by contributing to the Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues. I would like to express my appreciation for the contributions of Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, and Germany, which were received since the last session of the Permanent Forum.

As Coordinator of the Decade, I look forward to working with everyone gathered here to build a genuine and meaningful partnership, enabling this truly to become, as the General Assembly has urged, “a Decade for action and dignity”.