Statement to the Third Committee on Indigenous Issues and the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People
New York, 16 October 2006

As Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, I am delighted to address you today on the subject of indigenous peoples and their issues.

The United Nations agenda on indigenous issues has been revitalized by a number of recent developments. The 2005 World Summit underlined the importance of indigenous peoples in development as well as the urgency of promoting their human rights, while setting out a bold vision of inclusive and equitable societies, where all people participate fully in economic, social, political, and cultural life.

The UN’s comprehensive understanding of “development” as progress of all societies, rich or poor, and as encompassing economic, social, environmental, and human rights dimensions, echoes many of the indigenous voices that reach the halls of our Organization. As the UN system and governments work together towards the Millennium Development Goals and broader UN Development Agenda, we should cooperate and build partnerships with indigenous peoples. We should pay attention to their visions, for they stem, fundamentally, from an approach that integrates economic, social, environmental, and human rights aspects.

Whether through the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Human Rights Council, or the International Decade, indigenous peoples continue their efforts to be full participants in development debates, human rights debates, and all other significant debates that concern their lives. We welcome their active participation in UN debates. It therefore gives me great pleasure to recognize among us today the presence of many indigenous leaders from different parts of the world, who have come to attend the discussions of this Committee.

As you know, in 2004, the General Assembly adopted resolution 57/174, launching the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People on 1 January 2005 with the goal to “…further strengthen the international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment and social and economic development”.

The report submitted at the end of the first Decade by its Coordinator, The High Commissioner for Human Rights, found that indigenous peoples in many countries remain among the poorest and most marginalized. Too often we see indigenous people experiencing violations of their basic human rights. Too often we learn that indigenous peoples have been excluded from national development processes—or their benefits. These harsh realities oblige the United Nations to continue to promote respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples and to advocate strongly and systematically for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in development processes at all levels.

There have certainly been some positive developments in this regard. In some parts of the world, democratic participation of indigenous peoples has led indigenous leaders to important positions in government. Elsewhere, after long armed conflicts, reconciliation and support for indigenous peoples are emerging. The UN has continued to show leadership through the establishment of institutions in this area, including the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

During the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the UN was unable to adopt the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in a deep disappointment to indigenous peoples. As Coordinator of the Second Decade, I am most pleased to welcome the Declaration’s adoption at the first-ever session of the Human Rights Council in June. And I look forward to its final endorsement by the General Assembly this fall. The Declaration provides the international community with a comprehensive international standard that we should all strive together to achieve.

Allow me to apprise you of some developments in our work on indigenous issues since your last session and since the adoption of the Decade’s Programme of Action.

Let me begin with the work of the Permanent Forum. In May, the Forum’s fifth session hosted the launch of the Decade’s Programme of Action in a special event in the General Assembly Hall. The session enjoyed rich participation, with some 1,200 representatives from indigenous peoples’ organizations, NGOs, and academia, more than 30 UN-system and other intergovernmental organizations, and more than 60 Member States. Indeed, participation in the Forum has grown each year, indicating increased engagement of states, indigenous organizations, the UN system, and civil society in the multi-stakeholder effort to construct concrete solutions to the problems faced by indigenous peoples and their communities.

I welcome the participation for the first time of the African Union, the Asian Development Bank, and the Organization of American States, which, along with the other regional organizations present—the European Union and the Inter-American Development Bank—demonstrated the increasing focus on indigenous issues closer to the ground.

I would like to highlight a few aspects of the session’s commendable output. With its special theme—the Millennium Development Goals and indigenous peoples—the session made valuable recommendations on how to interpret and apply the MDGs so that, in all countries, indigenous peoples, as others, can be included and benefit from MDG processes. The Forum also made strategic recommendations on how to improve indigenous peoples’ inclusion in MDG country reports, poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs), and the UN Common Country Assessment and Development Assistance Framework prepared by UN Country Teams. This dovetailed nicely with the session’s emphasis throughout on indigenous traditional knowledge and the need to promote and protect its contribution to development.

The Forum also focused on specific MDGs, recommending special, culturally-sensitive measures and targeted action for preventing maternal and infant mortality in indigenous communities; increased ODA, along with special measures to help free indigenous peoples out of marginalization; and urgent measures to confront the extraordinary threat posed by HIV/AIDS to indigenous communities. The Forum urged a commitment to gender equality in the implementation of the MDGs for indigenous peoples. And on all these fronts, the Forum again stressed the crucial role of data collection and disaggregation, with a special emphasis on involving indigenous peoples in reaching understandings of what poverty and well-being is for indigenous peoples and in setting benchmarks for progress.

The session also included a half-day discussion on Africa spotlighting the situation and contributions of indigenous peoples in Africa and stimulating constructive dialogue on how to tackle the challenges, with African governments, the UN system, and indigenous organizations working together.

All this shows how the Permanent Forum has been providing fertile ground for the growth of a tripartite partnership among indigenous peoples, states, and the UN and other intergovernmental organizations. This partnership has a vitality that extends beyond the Forum’s sessions into ongoing follow-up by all partners. I take this opportunity to commend the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, now bringing together 30 UN and other intergovernmental agencies, for its good work. I would also like to thank the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for chairing the Group this year.

Let me now turn to the Trust Fund established by the Assembly for granting financial support to Decade-related projects benefiting indigenous peoples, with the Bureau of the Permanent Forum serving as its advisory group. The Trust Fund’s initial call for proposals resulted in more than 200 project proposals from around the world. This year, the Fund will be able to support 23 projects, totalling some $400,000. I wish to express my appreciation to the Governments of Algeria, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, and Germany, and to the Comision Nacional para el desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, for their generous contributions to the Fund. And I appeal to all states, intergovernmental organizations, foundations, and others to contribute in the near future to the Fund, whose resources continue to be very limited. I also appeal to states to contribute to the part of the Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues that supports the Permanent Forum in its challenging efforts.

In April this year, I sent a letter to Member States, UN agencies, other intergovernmental organization, and NGOs transmitting the Decade’s Programme of Action and asking for constructive and decisive measures to pursue its objectives. I appreciate very much the 22 responses that I have received, mainly from UN agencies, with some promising plans. I welcome the substantive responses from Governments—namely, Greece, Panama, and Spain. And I am encouraged by the responses from various intergovernmental organizations outside the UN system that are increasingly engaged in indigenous issues, including the Asian Development Bank, the Council of Europe, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization of American States.

Let me also refer to my own Department for Economic and Social Affairs, which has produced a DESA Plan of Action for the Second Decade. The Plan seeks to mainstream the Decades’ objectives in the Department’s work across multiple areas: statistics and population censuses, public administration, youth, women, sustainable development, and sustainable forest management.

At the same time, the Second Decade has catalyzed collective action by UN organizations through the United Nations Development Group. This past summer, the UNDG responded positively to my proposal to transmit the Decade’s Programme of Action to UN Country Teams so that they can integrate it in their work. A letter to that effect was sent to Resident Coordinators by the Chairperson of the Group, the UNDP Administrator. And the Group has decided to launch a comprehensive effort for the systematic integration of indigenous issues in UN operational activities for development. The Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, as a Task Force for UN Country Teams, is exploring how to enhance the Teams’ understanding of indigenous issues through the development of training tools and materials and other activities. In line with the Permanent Forum’s recent recommendations, the Group is also investigating how to empower indigenous peoples to participate fully and effectively in the various development monitoring processes at the country level.

The analysis of the responses received regarding the Decade’s Programme of Action has also pointed up significant challenges ahead. One of the main concerns is limited resources, both human and financial. Along with sustained political commitment, adequate financial support will be critical. And it is clear that more Member States and international organizations, and more indigenous organizations and civil society actors should be engaged in pursuing the goal and the objectives of the Second Decade. We can bring this about by taking leadership in planning awareness-raising activities at the national level, by adopting specific policies on indigenous issues, by organizing capacity-building activities, and by carrying out other important work outlined in the Programme of Action.

To bridge the huge equity gap that now exists, and to make a significant, positive, and enduring difference in indigenous peoples’ lives over the course of this Second Decade, we need to act now to include indigenous issues among policy and budgetary priorities at the national and international levels. As Coordinator of the Decade, I will keep this Committee informed of developments in this area and will also submit a written report to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as the Forum has requested. I am confident that this Committee will continue to contribute significantly in this same direction. And I look forward to the outcome of your deliberations on the Decade and on indigenous issues during this session