Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs on the 2009 International Day of the World's Indigenous People
New York, 10 August 2009

Let me begin this celebration by thanking the NGO Committee on the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous People and its Chairperson, Mr. Roberto Múcaro Borrero, along with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – our partners in organizing today’s events.

The main goal of the Second International Decade and of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is to celebrate and strengthen partnerships and to advance international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous peoples.

As Coordinator of the Second Decade, I welcome the General Assembly’s call for a mid-term assessment of progress toward the decade’s goals and objectives. The assessment will be an important instrument in guiding and strengthening our common efforts.

I encourage all relevant Member States, UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations, along with indigenous people’s organizations, to submit their assessment of the achievements made thus far in the implementation of the Second Decade, including difficulties or new challenges encountered.

On this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we highlight one of the areas where we already know that much more effort is needed – combating HIV/AIDS.

Indigenous peoples are more likely than others to suffer from extreme poverty, geographical isolation, political marginalization and lack of access to adequate health care. All of these factors influence the manner in which HIV/AIDS manifests among indigenous peoples. Indigenous women are particularly at risk. In some communities, the HIV notification rate of indigenous women is up to18 times the non-indigenous rate. This is unacceptable.

Our shared commitment to combat HIV/AIDS must be based on inclusion and understanding of the challenges confronting indigenous peoples and their livelihoods. For this, we have, as a foundation, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration clearly underlines the right of indigenous peoples to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, along with the right to maintain their health practices and traditional medicine.

The Declaration wisely contains this reference to indigenous peoples’ own health practices and traditional medicine. For too long, their traditional knowledge and medicine has been overlooked and undervalued. There is a great deal of evidence that shows that indigenous health systems work – and that state-run health care can benefit greatly from developing intercultural models which are based on both traditional and modern health care systems.

On this International Day, as Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and especially as Coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, I would like to pledge my support and full commitment to the implementation of this important article.