UN ESTABLISHES PERMANENT FORUM FOR INDIGENOUS ISSUES

ECOSOC/5932
31 July 2000

UN ESTABLISHES PERMANENT FORUM FOR INDIGENOUS ISSUES

31 July 2000


Press Release
ECOSOC/5932


UN ESTABLISHES PERMANENT FORUM FOR INDIGENOUS ISSUES

20000731

The United Nations Economic and Social Council today adopted by consensus a resolution to establish a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues -- an unprecedented event in the international community. Today's action was the latest step in a long process initiated in 1993, when the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights first proposed such a forum.

The Permanent Forum will break new ground. Indigenous representatives, not only representatives of Member States, will, for the first time, participate in a high-level forum in the United Nations system. Indigenous peoples have been seeking representation on the international level since they first approached the League of Nations early in the twentieth century.

When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the programme of activities for the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004), it identified the establishment of the Forum as one of the main objectives of the Decade. The General Assembly also called for the International Day of the World's Indigenous People to be observed annually on 9 August, as part of the Decade. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Coordinator of the International Decade, welcomed the decision as a "historic step forward". "The Permanent Forum", she said, "promises to give indigenous peoples a unique voice within the United Nations system, commensurate with the unique problems which many indigenous people still face, but also with the unique contribution they make to the human rights dialogue, at the local, national and international levels.” The High Commissioner is also the Coordinator of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

The Forum will be a subsidiary organ of the Economic and Social Council and will consist of 16 representatives. Eight members are to be nominated by governments and elected by the Council, and eight are to be appointed by the President of the Council following broad consultations with indigenous organizations and groups. The selection process is to take into account principles of representation and the diversity and geographical distribution of indigenous peoples. Organizations of indigenous people may participate in the Forum as observers, as may States, United Nations bodies and organs, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Historically, indigenous people have struggled to make their concerns heard by governments, the United Nations, and other intergovernmental bodies. Their circumstances and needs went largely unnoticed by the international community until a landmark study was undertaken by the United Nations Subcommission on the

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Protection of Minorities and Prevention of Discrimination in the 1970s. The Subcommission appointed Special Rapporteur José Martinez Cobo of Ecuador to investigate the problem of discrimination against the world's various indigenous populations. His monumental work proved to be a watershed, and led directly to the establishment of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which met for the first time on 9 August 1982.

Over its 18 years of existence, the Working Group has completed several studies -- on the relationship of indigenous peoples to land, on treaties and agreements, and on the protection of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, among others. Throughout all its work, the Working Group has consistently reported that indigenous peoples around the world continue to be among the most marginalized and impoverished, and that their ways of life, cultural heritage and languages continue to be threatened. At the same time, the various world conferences of recent years have repeatedly validated the contribution of indigenous societies, particularly regarding sustainable development and the protection of the planet's biodiversity.

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For information media. Not an official record.