Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second Decade of the World's Indigenous People on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People
New York, 9 August 2007

Deputy Secretary-General,
Madame Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,
Distinguished Elders,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the NGO Committee on the UN International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and its Chairperson, Mr. Roberto Múcaro Borrero — our partners in organizing this special ceremony.

Our gratitude goes also to the Deputy Secretary-General. It means very much to all of us here for you to deliver, in person, the inspiring words of the Secretary-General on this International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.

Twenty-five years ago, on this date, 9 August, the UN Working Group of Indigenous Populations first met. Its major goal was to draft the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Adopted last year by the Human Rights Council, the Declaration is now before the General Assembly.

There is no greater service that the United Nations could do today for its friends and partners in the indigenous community than to adopt the Declaration during the current Assembly session. The Declaration is, fundamentally, about respect for the rights of indigenous peoples. Let us make this respect manifest.

With this major goal achieved, we will be able to approach, with new vigour, the challenges that remain. And, indeed, there are many.

Indigenous peoples continue to suffer disproportionately from extreme poverty, marginalization, poor health, and poor access to education. They are more likely to live in poverty than non-indigenous peoples living in the same country. They are more likely to be subjected to discrimination and racism, more likely to be victims of violence, more likely to die younger. Virtually every single indicator of well being and prosperity shows that indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately in comparison to their non-indigenous counterparts.

Our shared framework of internationally agreed development goals, the UN Development Agenda, holds out the promise of development for all. As Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and as Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, I am determined to see that this means practical progress in human rights and development for indigenous peoples, too.

The Second Decade has a comprehensive Program of Action, with five key objectives: to promote non-discrimination; to achieve the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in decisions affecting them; to redefine development policies to respect the cultural and linguistic diversity of indigenous peoples; to adopt targeted policies, programmes, projects and budgets with particular emphasis on indigenous women, children and youth; and to strengthen monitoring mechanisms and accountability.

Meeting these objectives will require action by all stakeholders, including the UN family. I will continue the effort within the UN system to mainstream and integrate indigenous issues at the country level. This will help to ensure not only that the Decade delivers, but also that the UN delivers on its wider work, to which indigenous peoples have much to contribute.

Consider the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and the sustainable development challenges confronting the UN and its Member States today. It is only natural that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has chosen as the theme of its next session, “climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”.

Indigenous peoples live in many of the world’s most biologically diverse areas. As custodians of these lands, they have accumulated deep knowledge of the environment. They have first-hand knowledge about the impacts of environmental degradation, including climate change, and their economic and social consequences. From the warming in the Arctic to rising sea levels in the Pacific and desertification in the Sahel, indigenous peoples have been among the first to experience adverse impacts on their livelihoods and way of life.

With their wealth of knowledge about their environment, indigenous peoples can and should play a role in the global effort to respond to climate change. We should listen to them.

So let me close quickly then by recalling the purpose of this International Day: to celebrate, to remember, to support, and to strengthen partnerships with indigenous peoples everywhere.

Thank you.