Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and United Nations Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People to the Third Committee of the General Assembly
New York, 22 October 2007

Delivered by Mr. Johan Scholvinck, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Mr. Chairman,

Distinguished delegates,

As Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, I am pleased to address this Committee on the theme of indigenous peoples and their issues.

A recent development within the United Nations family has improved the future prospects of the more than 370 million indigenous peoples around the world. As you all know, on 13 September, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is, fundamentally, about respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples and about strengthening States on the basis of justice and equality, respecting indigenous peoples’ right to fully participate in the state and to remain distinct in pursuing their own visions of economic, social and cultural well-being.

The Declaration is also a major achievement of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People and it calls on the entire United Nations system, including the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to “promote respect for and full application of the provisions of this Declaration and follow up the effectiveness of the Declaration”. For the UN system, the Declaration is an extraordinary text that we have to turn into a living document through our work for years to come.

Allow me to highlight a few aspects of the Sixth Session of the Permanent Forum last May. The session enjoyed rich participation, with some 1,500 representatives from indigenous peoples’ organizations, NGOs with ECOSOC status, academia, more than 35 UN-system and other intergovernmental organizations, 3 Special Rapporteurs and more than 70 Member States. For the first time, 30 indigenous parliamentarians from several countries also attended the session. More than 60 side events took place, organized by States, Indigenous Peoples Organizations, NGOs and UN agencies.

On the session’s special theme – “lands, territories and natural resources” – the Forum adopted clear recommendations in a range of areas considered critical for the physical, cultural and spiritual survival, identity and well-being of indigenous peoples. It urged States to review legislation in relation to lands and territories, to ensure that the customary land tenure systems and resource management systems of indigenous peoples are recognized and respected, and that such laws and policies are consistent with international human rights law. The Forum also reaffirmed indigenous peoples’ central role in decision-making processes concerning their lands and resources.

With the session’s regional focus on Asia, the Forum made a number of recommendations regarding capacity-building, health, human rights, education, development and other issues to face major challenges, including in the areas of recognition of the cultural identity of indigenous peoples, exclusion and marginalization, displacement from their traditional territories and dispossession of lands and resources.

The Forum also considered the issue of urban indigenous peoples and migration, urging States to work with indigenous peoples to provide employment and economic development opportunities within their own territories and to provide centres in urban areas to meet the medical, legal and other needs of indigenous peoples.

Additional highlights of the Forum’s activities this year include various meetings of the Forum held in China and the Russian Federation at the invitation of state and local authorities—a welcome development demonstrating increasing support for indigenous issues around the world.

Distinguished delegates,

Let us recall the goal of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005-2015), set by the General Assembly: “the further strengthening of international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous peoples…”.

The Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues related to the Second Decade serves to promote, support and implement its objectives, with the Bureau of the Permanent Forum acting as the Fund’s advisory group. For the period of 2006-2007, the Trust Fund received nearly 100 project proposals from around the world. This year, the Fund will be able to support 20 projects, totaling some $US 190,000.

I wish to express my appreciation to the Governments of Algeria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Ecuador, Estonia, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Peru; and also to IFAD and UNICEF for their generous contributions to the Trust Fund.

Let me turn now to the special theme for the seventh session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which is “Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”. Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the environmental impacts of climate change and as such provide a human face to the climate change crisis. Yet, indigenous and local communities are not passive victims of climate change but can indeed be valuable partners in the global efforts to address this sustainable development challenge. Indigenous peoples have a great deal to contribute in designing and implementing responses to climate change and in exploring ways and means of effective collaboration in pursuit of mutual goals.

I am pleased to note that climate change was the special theme of the annual meeting of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, held in Montreal Canada and hosted by the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Support Group brings together 30 UN and other inter-governmental agencies. . The IASG agreed to prepare a common paper on climate change which will be presented to the seventh session of the UNPFII that should include an overview of the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples, especially the social, cultural, human rights and development impacts. The paper will also include an analysis of mitigation and adaptation issues, focusing on the challenges, threats and opportunities such measures pose for indigenous peoples. The IASG is strongly recommending that the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and the comprehensive consideration of their issues be integrated in all work carried out by IASG agencies, including in their programmes, policies and strategies.

Distinguished delegates,

In closing, I would like us all to reflect on what an exciting, hopeful time this is in our work with and in the service of indigenous peoples. We have the opportunity now, after so many years of efforts, to promote and transform into reality the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, so that indigenous peoples participate fully and without discrimination in the broader societies in which they live – for the benefit not just of themselves but of human kind as a whole. The Declaration belongs to the whole world. I invite all States, Indigenous Peoples, civil society, the UN Permanent Forum and the entire UN system to pursue and propel the implementation of the Declaration.

Thank you.