Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People to the Third Committee of the General Assembly on the Item “Indigenous Issues”
New York, 20 October 2008

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.

After the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year, a number of encouraging developments have taken place at international and at national level.

The Declaration has been recognized as law by one country and has been used in another country by national courts to correct situations faced by indigenous communities. Some States have issued formal apologies to indigenous peoples for historic injustices and another has recognized indigenous peoples. Various constitutional or other legislative changes have proclaimed the multicultural character of some states where indigenous peoples live. And in some cases indigenous persons have been called to occupy high positions in government.

At the international level, an international financial institution has adopted a policy on indigenous peoples inspired by the Declaration. And, working closely with my Department, the UN Development Group has adopted Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues for UN Country Teams that aim to bring the norms of the Declaration to the operational level.

At the same time, the challenges facing indigenous peoples continue. Exclusion, exploitation, discrimination and extreme poverty. Displacement from their traditional territories and deprivation of their means of subsistence. Lack of participation in decisions affecting the lives of the communities. Forced assimilation and negative social statistics among other issues. At times, indigenous communities suffer from direct violence and persecution. And some even face the danger of extinction.

I call for robust cooperation between Member States and the UN system towards the implementation of the Declaration. I call for concerted action by UN Country Teams on the ground to implement the UNDG Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues. And I call on Members States and the UN system to continue displaying constructive political will and providing the resources to make a real difference to the lives of indigenous peoples.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues again expressed concern, at its 2008 session, that country reports on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals still do not adequately address indigenous issues, nor does the preparation of the reports adequately involve their participation. This situation must be rectified, in the partnership spirit of the Second Decade, calling for action for and with indigenous peoples.

The problems created by climate change – as well as the food, financial and other crises facing the world today – are affecting disproportionately the indigenous communities that are among the most marginalized and poorest segments of the world’s population. Governments must ensure adequate social protection for these communities and other vulnerable groups.

Distinguished delegates,

We are soon approaching the middle of the Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, which started in January 2005. The Programme of Action, adopted as a guideline by the General Assembly, suggests, among other things, that the Assembly hold a mid-term and end-term assessment of the Second Decade to review progress.

My Department is keen to hear the views of Governments on your expectations for the mid-Decade review. What type of review would be most useful – in terms of form and focus – for promoting the implementation of the goal and objectives of the Decade?

Allow me on this occasion to express my appreciation to the Governments and UN agencies that generously contributed in the past year to the Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues. I encourage Member States to continue to do so in support of the implementation of the Second Decade’s objectives.

Distinguished delegates,

Through the United Nations, we have by now created a number of normative, policy and other practical tools on indigenous peoples’ issues. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UNDG Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues are the most important of the recent achievements. Let us together work, in partnership, to accelerate progress towards social justice for indigenous peoples and communities around the world.

Thank you.