PERMANENT FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES AN IMPORTANT STEP TOWARDS PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIGENOUS GROUPS, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD

29 October 2001
GA/SHC/3648

PERMANENT FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES AN IMPORTANT STEP TOWARDS PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIGENOUS GROUPS, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD

29/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SHC/3648

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

24th Meeting (PM)

PERMANENT FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES AN IMPORTANT STEP TOWARDS PARTNERSHIP

WITH INDIGENOUS GROUPS, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD

Committee Concludes Discussions of Children’s Rights Issues

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the first United Nations body consisting of both indigenous and governmental experts would be a unique opportunity for indigenous people to voice their opinions in the drafting of international policies and programmes affecting them, several speakers told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this afternoon.

As the Committee began consideration of the implementation of activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the representative of China praised the establishment of the Forum as a high point in efforts to achieve the objectives of the decade.

He added that the Forum represented an important step towards the partnership the United Nations was building with indigenous groups.  He did warn, however, that the Forum would do well by paying attention to the division of labour and coordination with other United Nations offices and agencies to avoid overlapping work and wasting resources.

Introducing the document before the Committee, Bacre Waly Ndiaye pointed out that during the past year, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) had decided that the first annual session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would be held in New York, 6-17 May 2002. 

He went on to say that the Council had also decided that the eight Government experts participating in that session would be allocated as follows: two seats for the Latin American and Caribbean Region; two seats for the Asian Region; two seats for the Western European and other region; one seat for the African Region and one seat for the Eastern European Region.

Noting that the Forum’s historic first session was a short six months away, the representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said that one of its major tasks would be to harmonize a range of issues, including human rights, development, environmental, cultural and social.  Consolidating a variety of issues under one body was a way to ensure that indigenous matters were addressed in a comprehensive manner through various United Nations fora and in the specialized agencies.

Others participating in the debate included the representatives of New Zealand, Brazil, the Russian Federation and Australia.  The Observer of Switzerland also spoke.

The representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) also addressed the Committee.

Earlier in the meeting, the Committee concluded its consideration of items related to the promotion and protection of the rights of children by hearing the statements from the representatives of Morocco and Cambodia.  Exercising the right of reply on that item were the representatives of Iraq and Kuwait.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m., to continue its consideration of items related to the implementation of the programme of activities of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

Background

Having thus far considered items related to social development, criminal justice and the advancement of women, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural), nearing the mid-way point in its substantive 2001 session, met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of child protection issues and to open its discussion of the implementation of activities for the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1994-2004).

The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s related report (document A/56/206), which contains a summary of the relevant activities undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since the autumn of 2000 until the end of June 2001.  According to the report, during the last year, the sixth session of the Working Group of the Commission on Human Rights discussed a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people.  A workshop on indigenous media, in cooperation with the Commission and the Department of Public Information, in New York last December, underlined the importance of such media as an indispensable tool to promote indigenous identity, culture and human rights, among other things.

The report goes on to highlight the fifty-seventh session of the Commission at which a special rapporteur on the special situation of human rights and indigenous people was appointed for a three-year period.  Further activities during the year include the continued efforts and initiatives of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the Indigenous Fellowship Programme. 

The report notes that the Advisory Group assisting the Coordinator of the Trust Fund for the Indigenous Decade recommended 30 projects amounting to some $252,000, which were approved by the Commission.  The cost plan for 2002 envisages that $400,000 will be needed for project grants to indigenous organizations and communities as well as workshops and seminars on relevant issues.

On developments in relation to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the report notes that the Forum, which was established last year by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), serves as an advisory body with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues relating to economic and social development, culture, environment and education among others.

Statement on Children

AICHA AFIFI (Morocco) said an assessment of the situation of children worldwide showed that they were threatened by armed conflict, illiteracy, disease, poverty and malnutrition.  Approximately 10 million children were malnourished, and 600 million lived in families that earned less than $1 a day.  The situation of children in the world was not good.  Of the 22.3 million refugees or displaced persons in the world, about half were children, who faced daily exploitation.  Morocco deplored the practice of sexually exploiting children, which had spiraled with the new emerging technologies.  The rise of the sex tourism industry was also a problem.

She said in the last few years, children's rights had received a lot of attention at the national, regional and international levels.  It was unfortunate that the General Assembly special session on children had to be delayed, but when it was rescheduled, it was hoped that it would produce a document that ensured the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

In Morocco, she said, the Government had consolidated and strengthened national mechanisms and institutions for the protection of children.  It had also established a Children's Parliament, which was a permanent forum that encouraged dialogue between children of all ages from all over the country.  Her Government also had established a national charter of education and training, which required schooling until at least age 15.  Morocco had ratified Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization on the worst forms of child labour, and had submitted its second report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  Her country had further reaffirmed its commitment to the General Assembly special session on children and to implementing in its domestic laws the outcomes of that discussion.

SUN SUON (Cambodia) said since 1990, the World Summit for Children had placed child development at the center of development efforts.  Ten years later, although some progress had been made, children still faced numerous serious problems, including children who were recruited to participate in armed conflicts.  All children should have a good start in life, and had to have an opportunity to complete a good education.  Poverty was the most fundamental obstacle to the well-being of children.  Now that there had almost been universal acceptance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there was an imperative need within the international community to ensure that conditions for the rights of children were improved.

Mindful of the past conflicts and human sufferings his country had experienced, he said it was now taking significant steps to fulfil its commitments towards the World Summit goals, with the generous assistance of the international community.  His Government, with the strong support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), was successfully carrying out its on-going work programme for the period 2001-2005.  It was specifically devoted to the women and children of Cambodia as part of the Second Socio-Economic Development Plan.  His Government also had proposed a "New Social Policy Agenda" to deal with the problems of child poverty, illiteracy and disease, which would pave the way for the creation of a socially-connected, educationally and culturally advanced society.

With international assistance, a series of government-assisted health care and educational programmes for children had been established, he said.  Cambodia had become a polio-free country last year, as it had successfully carried out its National Polio Eradication Programme.  In that context, Cambodia also participated in the Association of South-East Asian Nations' (ASEAN) discussions on child protection, focusing on the issues of child abuse, street children and abandoned children.  High priority had been attached to combating child trafficking and it was understood that one country alone would not be able to shoulder that burden.

Closing Statement on the Rights of Children

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his Office placed great importance on the holding of the Assembly special session on children.  He hoped that the Convention on the Rights of the Child would continue to be considered the foundation for building a world fit for children.  He also reiterated the call of Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, from this morning’s meeting appealing to all governments to ratify the two protocols to the Convention as early as possible -- hopefully before the rescheduled special session.

Rights of Reply

Exercising his right of reply to statements made on child protection issues during the Committee’s morning meeting, the representative of Iraq said Kuwait had made reference to “Kuwaiti prisoners in Iraq”.  Once again, Iraq’s representative said, he would draw attention to the fact that Iraq had returned any Kuwaiti prisoners at the conclusion of conflict in 1991.  The matter now was missing persons.  Iraq was addressing that humanitarian issue in accordance with international humanitarian law, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

He said that Iraq was also cooperating within the framework of the Arab League on the issue.  His country was ready to receive delegations from the League or the ICRC to reach a conclusion.  He added that there were also missing Iraqis as well.  Children were still suffering the effects of the siege.  He hoped that Kuwait would not use that humanitarian issue for political reasons.

In right of reply, the representative of Kuwait said it was puzzling that Iraq had waited six years to bring up the issue of missing Iraqis.  At any rate, if Iraq would like to find a solution, it must work within the framework of the Security Council resolutions and the recommendations of the Tri-Partite Committee.  Kuwait felt that Iraq’s actions thus far had been merely attempts to avoid abiding by the Council resolutions.  He added however that resolutions on the issue did not mention missing Iraqis, only missing Kuwaitis.

Kuwait was prepared to discuss efforts to reach a conclusion, but Iraq had ignored invitations to participate in the Tri-Partite meetings.  The objective of bringing up missing persons now was to obfuscate the issue.  He reiterated his call to attend the Tri-Partite Committee meetings in order to solve this issue.

Responding to the statement of Kuwait, the representative of Iraq said that his country had expressed good intentions and had attended Tri-Partite meetings until 1998, when a Member State of that Committee had launched missiles against Iraq.  The Committee was therefore no longer a neutral body.  He did not understand why Kuwait did not want to seek a solution under the auspices of the ICRC.

Responding, the representative of Kuwait said that although Iraq had attended several Tri-Partite meetings, it had tried to link the issue of missing persons and prisoners to other political issues.  He reiterated that the resolutions of the Security Council on the issue should be enforced.

Dialogue with the Committee

The representative of Australia asked about the permanent forum on indigenous issues.  The delegation noted that Mr. Ndiaye spoke about the need for adequate resources.  What sort of support could other bodies and agencies provide?

Mr. Ndiaye said there was a proposal on the biennium budget for 2002-2003 for $214,000, for travel of the permanent forum based on a calculation for meeting in New York.  The major expense would be the travel costs of getting the secretariat staff from Geneva to New York.  There was also a hope of raising $205,000 through voluntary contributions.

Statements on Indigenous People

MARJATTA RASI (Finland), on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said the historical first session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to be held in New York, was only six months away.  Work was well under way, but there were still some outstanding matters to be considered, including the questions of ensuring proper administration and adequate resources and funding.  The countries believed it was crucially important that the Permanent Forum be funded by the regular United Nations budget.  One of the Forum's major tasks was to harmonize a range of issues, including human rights, development, environmental, cultural and social issues, in order to bring benefits to indigenous peoples.  Bringing a variety of issues under one body would ensure coherence on indigenous issues dealt with by various United Nations bodies and specialized agencies.  At the end, it would be for the Forum itself to decide on the scope and content of its own mandate.

She said that although human rights violations and discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples could be similar to those experienced by minorities, indigenous peoples could not be entirely equated with minorities.  Indigenous peoples were the original inhabitants of the region in which they lived, and were in some regions the majority population.  The rights of indigenous peoples were based in their special relationship with the land and natural resources of the area in which they lived.  It was a primary concern for the Nordic countries to develop the living conditions of indigenous peoples in such a way as to allow the survival of their communities and cultures, and in this regard, it was important to strengthen their human and institutional capacity.

SARAH PATERSON (New Zealand) said an historic milestone had been achieved last year with the establishment of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  The Forum would discuss indigenous matters within the purview of the Economic and Social Council, namely economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.  It would also be key to coordinating United Nations activities for indigenous people.  She added that the Forum would provide an important outlet for indigenous peoples to make their own unique contributions to the work of the Organization.

She went on to say that in order to be effective, it would be essential for the Forum to receive full support from both States and the relevant specialized agencies, including provision of the necessary technical and financial support.  She urged States to demonstrate commitment to the Forum by ensuring that it received adequate funding from the regular budget.  That issue was currently being discussed by the Fifth Committee.  With the end of the Decade fast approaching, she urged States as well as indigenous people to redouble their efforts to elaborate a draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On domestic activities during the Decade, she said the New Zealand Government remained firmly committed to reducing inequalities between the Maori and non-Maori.  Strength among the Maori people made New Zealand a stronger nation over all.  This year, the Government had, among other initiatives, enacted a capacity-building programme aimed at empowering and enabling Maori to have greater control over their own development.  Also the Maori Business Facilitation Service had been recently established to help guide local Maori business interests.

TIAN LIXIAO (China) said his Government supported the international community in carrying out the activities of the International Decade for the World's Indigenous Peoples.  The Permanent Forum was the first United Nations body consisting of both indigenous and governmental experts, enabling indigenous experts to exchange views with their governmental counterparts and to voice their opinions regarding the formulation of international policies relating to indigenous people.  That represented an important step towards the partnership the United Nations was building with indigenous people.  It was also a specific achievement of the decade.

China, he said, offered understanding and support to the reasonable demands and positions of indigenous people.  On the occasion of the inauguration of the Permanent Forum, China wished to offer some observations.  First, in carrying out its work, the Permanent Forum had to bear in mind the special features of the issue of indigenous peoples.  It was not a question that existed in all countries or regions.  It differed from the issue of minority people, which all countries faced due to national, racial, linguistic and religious differences.  Failure to make such a distinction would result in the weakening of the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Also, the Permanent Forum had to strictly follow the mandate given by the Economic and Social Council resolution 2000/22 in its activities, he said.  As an expert and advisory body, it was well positioned to focus attention on issues related to indigenous people, such as culture, environment, education, health and human rights.  It also would put forward policy recommendations to ECOSOC and other United Nations agencies.  Lastly, the Permanent Forum would do well by paying attention to the division of labour and coordination with other competent agencies of the United Nations system, so as to avoid overlapping or wasting resources.  To that end, it was necessary for the Forum to gain knowledge of the work done by these agencies first, and on the basis of such knowledge, determine its own priority areas and work methods.

ENIO CORDEIRO (Brazil) said his delegation had repeatedly reaffirmed Brazil’s commitment to the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples, which in his country amounted to about 350,000 people.  Over 210 ethnic groups, and 170 different languages comprised the extremely rich mosaic of indigenous cultures in Brazil.  Contrary to what was predicted in the 1950s, Brazil's indigenous population had not decreased over the years.  In fact, there had been a steady increase in the indigenous population, whose demographic recovery was due to not only higher birth rates, but also longer life expectancy.  Such a trend would not have been possible had the mainstream society remained attached to the ethnocentric view that had prevailed in the past.  Brazil attached great importance to the implementation of the Programme of Activities for the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

He said that despite the important paragraphs adopted during the Durban conference, to which Brazil fully subscribed, the international community still lagged behind when it came to the adoption of international instruments on indigenous rights.  Thorny issues had prevented the international community from making strides in the negotiation of a much-awaited Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.  It was about time to ensure that the working group of the Commission on Human Rights that was drafting the Declaration adopt a fresh approach to the negotiations.  The completion of the drafting work would depend upon a great deal of flexibility on the part of all participants.

JOELLE JENNY, the Observer of Switzerland, said the celebration of the International Decade of Indigenous People had highlighted the vulnerability of nearly 300 million of the world’s people.  She hoped that efforts to implement the Vienna Declaration (1993) would be compatible with other human rights instruments. States as well as indigenous people and non-governmental organizations should cooperate to that end.  It was most important, however not to reverse any objectives that had already been agreed in Vienna.

She said the Permanent Forum would be called upon to play an important role in the work of the United Nations.  Therefore, on the issue of choosing a Headquarters for the Forum, two issues should be taken into account.  First, Members should be able to attend its meetings with as much ease as possible, and second, the Forum should benefit from broad synergy with other United Nations agencies.  For that reason, she felt that the Forum should be based in Geneva, where a synergistic support network, particularly in the area of human rights, already existed.

DMITRY KNYAZHINSKIY (Russian Federation) said the year 2001 would be recalled as a milestone for the world's indigenous peoples.  The Economic and Social Council had agreed to nominate eight governmental experts to the Permanent Forum, which had been established by the ECOSOC last year.  Russia had one of the largest indigenous populations in the world.  The adoption by the Commission on Human Rights of a resolution appointing a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples was a recognition of progress.

It was clear, he said, that the international community was showing interest in indigenous peoples, and now that interest had to be translated into action in national law.  Russia had adopted laws guaranteeing their rights.  Their ancient habitats, cultures and practices had been protected.  His Government also had adopted a number of federal programmes which, among other things, aimed at stabilizing the economic and social development of indigenous people.  Another plan was helping to create favourable economic conditions for minority indigenous peoples in the northern part of the country, using the natural resources of the region.  There was a partnership between his Government and the country’s indigenous peoples.

RHITU SIDDHARTH (International Labour Organization (ILO)) said that since its establishment in 1919, the ILO initially investigated forced labour conditions among rural workers, among which there were substantial numbers of indigenous and tribal peoples.  The ILO had promulgated the only two international instruments dealing exclusively with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples -- Convention 107 and Convention 169.  International Labour Convention 169 was a comprehensive instrument covering a range of issues, including land rights, access to natural resources, health, education, vocational training and conditions of employment.  An important aim of the Convention was to set up conditions for self-management so that indigenous and tribal peoples could gain greater recognition of their distinct cultures, traditions and customs, as well as gain more control over their

own economic, social and cultural development.  The Convention urged dialogue between national governments and indigenous and tribal peoples.

Ms. Siddharth said there were several technical assistance projects between the ILO and indigenous and tribal peoples.  One was the Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.  At the working level, the project aimed to increase dialogue, cooperation and understanding between indigenous peoples and governments, and to enhance the capacity of indigenous and tribal peoples to participate and take responsibility in the processes that affected them.  Another programme was the INDISCO Programme, which aimed to strengthen the capacities of indigenous and tribal peoples.  It helped them to design and implement development plans and initiatives through their own organizations, ensuring that their traditional values and cultures were safeguarded.  Those programmes were implemented across the world -- in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America.  Cultural values, social organization, spiritual values, political struggles and economic activity all had to be taken into account when addressing the aspirations of indigenous and tribal peoples.

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For information media. Not an official record.