Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
9th & 10th Meetings (AM & PM)
DANGERS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEEDS, IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
AMONG ISSUES RAISED IN INDIGENOUS FORUM DEBATE ON ENVIRONMENT
The production of genetically modified food was throwing indigenous farmers out of work and disrupting ecosystems, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was told today, as it concluded its discussion of the environment.
It was now possible to clone copies of organisms, said a representative of the indigenous group Yachay Wasi Quechua. The good news was that producing food in the laboratory would be much cheaper; on the other hand, such food came with no safeguards on long-term losses, or danger to the ecosystems involved.
The representative of the International Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Forests said that the introduction of genetically modified seeds into indigenous peoples’ territories had started to displace traditional seeds, causing the destruction of biodiversity. She called for the establishment of international ethical codes to deal with bioprospecting, in order to lessen the damage waged on indigenous peoples.
Other participants discussed the negative effects of climatic changes on the environment of indigenous peoples. A representative of the African Indigenous Women’s Organization said that climatic changes throughout the world, due to the increase in greenhouse emissions, had caused frequent droughts in the African region that were devastating indigenous communities.
A representative of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference said that, as a result of global climate change, Inuit hunters had difficulty predicting the weather by relying upon formerly reliable traditional and ecological knowledge. For example, Inuit travelled over sea ice, and its thickness and strength were becoming increasingly difficult to predict. Clearly, strong international agreements were needed to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that caused climate change, he said.
Another factor that was harming the indigenous environment was the control of lands by the military, remarked a representative of the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies. In her homeland today, approximately 200,000 acres of Hawaiian land were controlled by the United States military. Land that had once fed thousands of people had been destroyed. Lands were exploited and desecrated and their abuse inflicted a negative impact on the survival of native Hawaiians.
Other speakers urged governments and corporations to show interest in indigenous communities and to respect their lands and resources. They should recognize indigenous peoples by making sure they participated at all levels in the planning and implementation of any environmental activities in their lands.
Addressing the Forum this morning were the representatives of Indonesia and Brazil.
Representatives of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Bank, and Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity also addressed the morning meeting.
Other speakers at the morning meeting were: the Saami Council, Fundacion para la Promocion de Canoc Indigena; Cordillera People’s Alliance; Peace Campaign Group; Frente Indígena Oaxaqueno and Binacional of Mexico and the United States; Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus for Sustainable Development; New Century Public Charter School; Associaciao Awete Kaiwa; Pacific Caucus; Asociacion de Criadores de Camelidos Andinos de las Regiones Puna of Peru (ACRICAR); Asociacion de Mujeres Alpaqueras of Peru; Indigenous Intellectual Property Institute of Brazil; and the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Speaking in the afternoon was a representative by Greenland/Denmark. Also speaking at the afternoon meeting were representatives of OPIAC and AMAAI of Brazil, Habitpro of Peru, Edo indigenous tribe from the Niger Delta of Nigeria (EMIROAF), Faira Aboriginal Corporation of Australia, Wara Instituto Indigena, Indigenous Peoples African Coordinating Committee (IPACC), Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense, Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia, Asamblea Nacional Indígena Plural por la Autonomia, Ashinka-AIDESEP, Kalikolihau Hannahs of Hawaii, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Regional Action Group for the Environment (RAGE), Obaloi Tribe, Philippines, the Assembly of First Nations; and Africa Region.
A representative of the United Nations Development Programme also spoke, as did the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 19 May, to take up its agenda item on health.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met this morning to continue their discussion of the environment. (For background information, see Press Release HR/4658.)
YAYAN MULYANA (Indonesia) said the environment played a vital role as a sacrosanct milieu where indigenous peoples subsisted. The physical ecosystem, which included forests, plains and water, was essential to indigenous peoples. Its obliteration, through such means as deforestation, would result in the societal displacement of indigenous peoples and also their loss of hope for a meaningful existence. To most indigenous peoples, the physical environment had a significance that went far beyond appearances.
He encouraged the Forum to promote awareness of sustainable development among indigenous peoples by translating United Nations documents on environment and sustainable development into the languages of indigenous peoples, and to disseminate those documents to indigenous peoples. He also urged the Forum to promote cooperative study on the knowledge of indigenous peoples that was vital to protecting and preserving their environment, and identify modern techniques that complemented that knowledge.
A representative of the Fundación para la Promoción de Canoc Indígena said his people had valuable natural resources, and that living in fellowship was part of how they thought and acted. He was deeply concerned about the current globalizing process, which sidelined indigenous peoples and ran counter to their rights. Globalization and mega-projects were destroying the natural diversity and culture of indigenous peoples.
He recommended that such projects include recognition of the free self-determination of indigenous peoples. A framework should be worked out to ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples in administering ecosystems and natural resources. He also suggested that Central American governments review the protocol for access to natural resources and traditional knowledge, which currently failed to recognize indigenous peoples’ rights. States must urgently adopt measures for sustainable agriculture to avert the threat of desertification and destruction of the territories of indigenous peoples.
A representative of the Saami Council said that the Arctic region, with its vulnerable ecosystem, was the territory of approximately 50 indigenous peoples. New areas in the Arctic were being opened up for extractive industries, such as oil, gas and mining companies. The rough climate and fragile environment in those territories put the people’s very existence at risk. Oil and gas activities in the Barents Sea were escalating and Saami rights were being neglected. The Saami Council welcomed the promising cooperation with the Artic Council framework, where government, indigenous peoples and scientists jointly monitored development in the Arctic. The Saami Council recommended that the Forum cooperate closely with the Artic Council, to ensure that Artic issues were taken into consideration by the Forum in all its work within the mandated area of the environment.
JOAN CARLING, the representative of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, was concerned that the Philippine Government had declared that mining and energy projects were its primary sources for economic regeneration. A national mineral project was under way, for example, that would have a devastating effect on indigenous peoples. Traditional small-scale miners were being deprived of their livelihood, and their lands were being devastated. The Philippine Government remained more interested in opening up the country to devastation from international mining companies than in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. She strongly believed that mining problems were only the tip of the iceberg. Unless the rights of indigenous peoples over their own lands were protected, the problems faced by indigenous communities would continue to multiply.
PRAJNALANKAR BHIKKHU, representative of the Peace Campaign Group, said that many indigenous peoples of the planet lived on forest resources. Their ways of life, culture, traditions and belief system were mostly forest-centric. The indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts gained their livelihood though shifting agriculture. Until the 1970s the Hill Tracts was one of the most ideal tropical rainforests in the world, replete with diverse species of flora and fauna. Today, because of environmental devastation, the indigenous peoples of the region were losing their traditional livelihood patterns and increasingly finding themselves dependent on formal ones, in which they found themselves grossly marginalized.
Forest resources in the Hill Tracts had been a lucrative business to many outsider Bengali Muslims, he said. They were, in association with some corrupt forest department officials, indiscriminately exploiting trees, bamboos and other forest resources for commercial purposes. The evergreen tropical rainforest of the Hill Tracts had been reduced to mere hills and bushes. Some rare species were already extinct and drought, floods and other irregular climatic conditions in the Tracts were devastating indigenous peoples’ populations.
VANDA ALTARELLI, of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said indigenous peoples were among the most vulnerable and marginalized of the rural poor. Living in remote areas that were often outside the mainstream of national economies and development support, they invariably lacked access to roads, schools, health services and other essential infrastructure and services. What little development they had received had, until recently, been displaced by the primary concerns of mainstream societies. Conventional industrial and agrarian sectors rarely flourished in areas where indigenous peoples lived, because of high production costs and other disadvantages.
Securing land rights for indigenous people was perhaps the central focus of most IFAD-funded projects, she said. Some of the investment projects had initiated a dialogue on indigenous rights with governments to exploit treaties that governments might already have signed. Other projects provided funding for establishing legal defence funds for reducing the transaction costs of legal cases. The IFAD had also acquired some experience in initiating culturally sensitive approaches in revitalizing traditional knowledge systems and in blending them with modern technology in such areas as soil and water resources, crop and livestock husbandry, participatory research and traditional medical practices.
JUAN RAMON, of the Frente Indígena Oaxaqueno and Binacional of Mexico and the United States, noted that more that 500,000 agricultural workers in the region he represented were eking out an existence. Threats to the environment in the region were exacerbated due to the use of pesticides, which workers were forced to use with no safeguards or warning about the poison they were using. Workers then jeopardized their families, since they carried contaminants home on their clothing.
He proposed that the term “documented and illegal workers and minorities”, as it referred to practices and humane treatment in the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migratory Workers and Families, be replaced by “those who had been forced to leave their homes and emigrate” due to political or other inescapable reasons. Pressure should be applied to the United States to recognize and sign all conventions that they had not become party to. Several countries that were major recipients of immigration had already signed such conventions.
JOJI CARINO, Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus for Sustainable Development, recommended that the Forum welcomed the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, including references to the vital role indigenous peoples played in sustainable development. The Forum should also welcome the Kimberley Declaration as an important contribution made by indigenous peoples to sustainable development. In addition, it should welcome partnerships involving indigenous peoples’ rights and sustainable development that were launched at the Johannesburg Summit. It should also invite United Nations agencies to identify areas of work for collaboration with indigenous peoples in implementing the Kimberley proposals, in keeping with the outcomes of relevant conferences and summits.
NAVIN RAI, speaking on behalf of the World Bank, made a clarification regarding World Bank grants for indigenous peoples. At the moment, it remained a proposal, as it was yet to be approved by the World Bank’s Board of Directors. He asked that the Permanent Forum take a decision on the proposal, so that its decision could be forwarded to the Bank’s Board. He agreed that the impact on indigenous peoples by international financial institutions should be subject to further research and the World Bank was currently undertaking such research. The findings would be made public in due time. The Bank had completed a review of the impact on indigenous peoples of the Bank’s extractive projects. There were many World Bank projects in the extractive industry sector that had historically involved indigenous peoples, he said. Such projects had, in the past, had adverse impacts on indigenous peoples. However, data showed that, today, most World Bank projects were working in harmony with indigenous peoples.
VANDA ALTARELLI, of IFAD, responded to questions from participants. She said IFAD focused mainly on fieldwork and implementation, so it had no policy yet on indigenous people. Recently, the Fund had realized the importance of policies, and had re-established a policy unit within its Department of Internal Affairs. It would soon be developing a policy on indigenous issues.
Regarding collaboration with the Forum, she said IFAD was holding a workshop in December on gender and realization of the Millennium Goals, which would include papers on indigenous women’s perspective in each region. The IFAD could feed those papers into next year’s Forum session, if it focused on indigenous women.
A representative of the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity said several projects were taking place to prepare for the upcoming meeting of the Conference of the parties. Key areas of focus were intellectual property issues, and further development of a participatory mechanism for meetings on biological diversity. The Secretariat would also be working with the Forum and the United Nations Secretariat concerning the participation of indigenous people in the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
IVO MATHIAS, speaking on behalf of the Associaciao Awete Kaiwa, said that indigenous peoples and the environment were synonymous. Today, the Awete Kaiwa reservation was facing a major social problem. Today, his people were but a sad reminder of what happens when a country embarks upon development at any price. They did not have the plants that they used to use for medicine, or the birds that they used to rely on for food. They were at the very end of their rope, and simply wanted to find a way out of their situation. All the Awete Kaiwa wanted was the right to development and self-sufficiency.
LEI FREED, of the New Century Public Charter School, noted that 20 per cent of the homeless people in Hawaii were native Hawaiians. Of that 20 per cent, 14 per cent were children. As of 20 April 2003, his family had become one of the officially homeless. He questioned what he should do and how he should act. Should he still be seen as a living, breathing person, or just another number on a piece of paper? Such questions went through everyone’s mind when they discovered that they were homeless.
He urged the Forum to call for the immediate adoption of the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and asked that Hawaii be re-inscribed on the United Nations list of decolonizing nations.
The representative of the Pacific Caucus said that there were several bodies that had so far failed to report to the Permanent Forum on environmental issues, and it was a matter of urgency that they do so at the next meeting. Those included the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United Nations Forum on Forests, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Global Environment Facility.
She also highlighted the New Zealand Government’s failure to continue with the moratorium against genetic modification engineering until Maori concerns and needs were fully addressed. In Rapa Nui, she said, there was a need for a waste management system, in order to curb unregulated business practice. At present, raw sewage was discharged into the ground and that was unacceptable. Those activities showed complete disregard for indigenous peoples’ ongoing relationship with their land and resources.
A representative of the Yachay Wasi (Runa Simi) Quechua noted that people were now producing cutting-edge technology, and that the world was entering a new age of information and life sciences. The fusion of computers and life sciences would change man’s way of thinking. It was now possible to clone exact copies of organisms, which had the same control and engineering standards. The question now was whether the harvesting of genetically modified food would prevail in the world. Such food, however, came with no safeguards on long-term losses, or danger to the ecosystems involved.
The good news was that producing food in the laboratory would be much cheaper; on the other hand, it would throw farmers out of work and disrupt ecosystems. Previously, his people had been taught by their elders to care for the land, and not to exploit it. Now, many plants that produced medicine were being lost. Who would answer for that? He asked that indigenous people be allowed to patent their own resources.
MEHANA KA’IAMA, representative of the Kamakakuokalani Center For Hawaiian Studies, said that in her homeland today approximately 200,000 acres of Hawaiian land were controlled by the United States military. Fifty-six per cent of those lands were “ceded lands”, or lands that had been promised to be used to benefit the Hawaiian people. Instead, those lands were exploited and desecrated and their abuse inflicted a negative impact on the cultural survival of native Hawaiians.
Hawaiian cultural sites and traditions all took a back seat to the development and actions of the military, she continued. For example, the 36 fishponds in Ke ′Awalau o Pu ′uloa that once fed thousand of people had been destroyed and replaced with the Pearl Harbor military facility, which was currently on the national priorities list of most contaminated sites. In taking lands, the military greatly affected the natives of Hawaii, who had a familial link to the land. As more and more land was claimed by the military, more cultural sites were destroyed and more heartaches and hardships were bestowed upon Hawaiians.
The military claimed to take her peoples’ land in order to provide national security, she continued. So, it was ironic that the largest threat to the security of Hawaiians’ beliefs and practices was the United States military and their insatiable desire for Hawaiian lands. Appropriating money for restoration was not enough; no more land should become victim to the military. She called for the immediate adoption of the draft declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples and asked that Hawaii be re-inscribed on the United Nations list of decolonizing nations.
ANTONIO VILCAPAZA, of Asociación de Criadores de Camelidos Andinos de las Regiones Puna of Peru, said that many transnational mining companies were usurping the land in Peru –- land where people bred llamas and other animals of the camel family. In other countries, wells and underground canals were being dug to exploit water systems. As a result, entire areas where animals had once been normally bred were being turned into arid lands.
He then referred to a meeting on the coca plant that had been held in April with more that 1,200 indigenous communities. Coca was used throughout the world as a medicine –- as an anaesthetic, for example. Those who wanted to eradicate coca talked about drug trafficking, but farmer’s crops and livelihoods were being destroyed. One farmer had been imprisoned because he had defended thousands of coca producers. That kind of discrimination was a flagrant disregard of indigenous rights. The members of the Forum should recommend to governments that they respect the rights of indigenous Peruvian peoples.
The representative of the Asociación de Mujeres Indígenas Alpaqueras of Peru said that there was a great deal of contamination in the environment, due to the large mining companies in her country. The indigenous women and children of her country were being contaminated, when all they wanted was peace. That was why she asked that the Forum persuade the Peruvian Government to stop polluting her people’s land. The voice of indigenous women said no to discrimination and no to pollution.
The representative of the Indigenous Intellectual Property Institute of Brazil said that, in his country, indigenous peoples did not have political representation, but they did have the strength to fight for their rights. They had ensured that 12 per cent of Brazilian territory was considered indigenous territory. Biopirates, however, were stealing their knowledge and resources, when what was needed was a sharing of indigenous peoples’ knowledge, on their own terms. Indigenous peoples could not live without building upon the knowledge of their ancestors and could not live in a society that dismissed that knowledge as outmoded.
The representative of Brazil said the current challenge was the need to translate laws into the enjoyment of rights in the daily lives of indigenous people. The obligation to demarcate, protect and respect indigenous property stemmed from the fact that those lands and ecosystems were vital to the environment. He noted that the world’s largest area of rainforest lay on indigenous lands of the Amazon.
Access to traditional knowledge must respect benefit sharing and informed consent, he continued. A major development of the Johannesburg Summit was its decision that benefits arising from biological diversity must be shared. Such a negotiation meant granting protection to the rights of indigenous peoples. What was needed now was a different and more open approach to property rights –- not an individual approach, as traditionally used in some societies, but one satisfying the collective rights of indigenous communities.
MANUEL PINO, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, recommended that the Forum request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize a follow-up workshop on resource extraction, and carry further the issue of land rights and sustainable development. He reaffirmed the relationship of indigenous peoples to Mother Earth, and their right to manage, own and control their ancestral territories. Indigenous peoples had a distinct spiritual relationship to their lands and territories, which were directly linked to their survival.
Western development projects had left many indigenous peoples in poverty, upset their ecological landscapes, destroyed their food systems, and taken away culturally important lands. Development of indigenous lands must be determined by indigenous peoples themselves, according to their own needs, aspiration and cultures. Under those conditions, indigenous peoples would become empowered to make their contribution and play a vital role in sustainable development.
The representative of the International Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Forests said that traditional knowledge was of great importance to indigenous populations. The introduction of genetically modified seeds in indigenous peoples’ territories had started to displace the traditional seeds, causing the destruction of biodiversity. Indigenous peoples and territories must be seen as strategic assets in promoting biodiversity and ancestral knowledge. She called for the establishment of international ethical codes to deal with bioprospecting, in order to lessen the damage waged on indigenous peoples. All policies and projects dealing with forests and restricted zones should take into account the rights and needs of indigenous peoples.
LUCY MULENKEI, a representative of the African Indigenous Women’s Organization and the Indigenous Women’s Organization, said that environmental problems in Africa ranged from deforestation, to land degradation, to climate change. The indigenous peoples of Africa were mainly nomadic pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and other small groups. They were marginalized and discriminated against in most development activities.
Socio-economic factors and political considerations played a very significant role in land degradation, she continued. Climatic changes throughout the world, due to the increase in greenhouse emissions, had caused frequent droughts in the region and were devastating to the indigenous peoples of Africa. Indigenous women were the hardest hit, as they now had to walk more miles in search of firewood and water. She urged African governments to show interest in the indigenous peoples of the region and to respect their rights, cultures, lands and resources. They should recognize them by making sure they participated at all levels in the planning and implementation of any environmental and other development activities in their lands.
The representative of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference said that the Inuit continued to live close to the land and depended on the land for much of their traditional environment. The Inuit remained a hunting-based culture, dependent on seals, whales, walruses and other marine animals. Their cultural identity and spiritual well-being put them on the front lines of global environmental degradation. Global climate change and long-range transport to the Arctic of contaminants continued to threaten Inuit culture and economies.
As a result of global climate change, Inuit hunters had difficulty predicting the weather through formerly reliable traditional and ecological knowledge, he said. Clearly, strong international agreements were needed to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that caused climate change. With regard to the long-range transport of persistent organic pollutants and mercury to the Arctic, he stressed the importance of the 2001 Stockholm Convention, which greatly restricted the emission of 12 key pollutants. He called upon nations to ratify the Convention. He did so because preliminary evidence suggested that the levels of contaminants Inuit children were exposed to before birth was affecting their neurological and cognitive capabilities, and their immune systems.
A representative, speaking on behalf of Greenland/Denmark, said the Government of Denmark and the Home Rule Government of Greenland, together with representatives of indigenous organizations, like-minded countries, institutions and organizations, had started a “Partnership on indigenous people and sustainable development capacity-building for dialogue in connection with the Johannesburg Summit”. To get the partnership off the ground, a workshop was held in Copenhagen in March of this year. Some 53 participants worked for two days exchanging views and suggesting activities in lessons learned on implementing development policies on indigenous peoples; training and awareness raising by indigenous peoples; and support to indigenous peoples’ organizations in influencing key policy processes globally.
JOSE KAXINAWA, of OPIAC and AMAAI of Brazil, spoke about a project in Brazil to monitor indigenous land. Young indigenous people and indigenous teachers in schools were being taught how to use natural resources in a sustainable way. Problems had occurred on indigenous lands, due to the arrival of lumber companies. The people would like to maintain their water, forests and other resources for future generations. Lumber companies were removing wood from border areas of Peru and Brazil.
He recommended that the Forum promote such projects aimed at sustainable development and coordinate with United Nations agencies to help other indigenous groups. He also recommended that the Forum ask the Peruvian and Brazilian Governments to stop lumber companies from invading indigenous land.
MIGUEL IBANEZ, representative of Habitpro of Peru, said that the degradation of the environment and natural resources was the most important problems facing indigenous peoples today. Fruit and plants were hard to find, fish were polluted with mercury, and forests were being burned down. The acid soils were becoming more and more infertile, and could seldom be harvested by indigenous peoples. The Forum must fight to adopt a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and fight to hold a World Summit on Indigenous Peoples to provide more concrete ways to stop global warming.
ALFRED ILENRE, Secretary-General of the Edo indigenous tribe from the Niger Delta of Nigeria, said that case studies conducted among indigenous peoples all over Africa showed a common trend of pervading economic neglect and environmental degradation. The Niger Delta produced more than 90 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. The environment of the region had been degraded, as a consequence of vast oil exploration and extraction. The ecology of the entire Delta was today burdened, because the centralized administration of Nigeria was incapable of providing basic services that could ameliorate the environmental problems.
The indigenous peoples complained of the impact of oil exploration in their environment that had left in its wake pollution and inadequate farmlands. The environmentally induced conflict had also created ethnic divides, and intra- and intercommunity violence. In an attempt to lessen tension, the Nigerian federal Government set up the Niger Delta Development Commission two years ago. In spite of this initiative, agitation and violence had increased in scope, since the Commission did not focus on issues that could integrate economic, social and environmental components of sustainable development in the Niger Delta region.
LES MALEZER, of the Faira Aboriginal Corporation of Australia, referred to a legal case known as the “De Rose Hill” case, where the Federal Court of Australia had ruled that the Yunkunytjatjara/Pitjantjatjara peoples of western Australia had lost ownership of land because they lost customary connection with it over a period of 25 years. The judge disregarded the fact that the Yunkunytjatjara were intimidated by threats of violence from returning to the land; discounted their connection with land based upon his value of what customary association should represent; questioned the Yunkunytjatjara association with his own romantic notions gleaned from historical ethnographic records on tradition and law; and refused to accept the validity of contemporary economic and social changes to the community’s structure.
After recounting two other such cases, Mr. Malezer said the Government had failed to follow the principles of free, prior and informed consent or acknowledge the traditional ownership of the lands. The Government said it was bound to “just compensation” terms under the national constitution, but that provision had never, in 102 years of the constitution, resulted in any compensation to aboriginal peoples for loss of land.
AZELENE KAINGANG, of the Wara Instituto Indígena, said indigenous land was where indigenous people practiced rituals, built societies and asserted the right to be different. Guaranteeing them land was the only way to guarantee a people’s survival. He recommended that the Forum: ensure that governmental and non-governmental organizations had indigenous representation; set up a conflict resolution mechanism; offer technical incentives to indigenous people to carry out sustainable development on their lands; implement environmentally protective policies; ensure that biodiversity be preserved; and recognize and guarantee indigenous knowledge and intellectual property, as they related to biodiversity.
HASSAN ID BALKASSM, representative of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, said that the destruction of the relationship between indigenous peoples and their environment led to an increased cultural chasm, which prevented them from participating more fully in the affairs of the world. He suggested that the Forum make a recommendation to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which should insist upon the concrete implementation of the programmes of action adopted at the major United Nations Conferences at Rio, Johannesburg and Durban. He also wished to see the members of the Forum acting to draw up recommendations concerning the participation of indigenous peoples in the political and cultural life of their countries.
WILLIAM JONAS, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, said the denial of the right to self-determination and informed consent was evident in the way in which the Native Title Act dealt with indigenous participation in the environmental management of traditional lands. First, the Native Title Act did not explicitly protect indigenous rights in relation to land currently dedicated to the preservation of nature and wildlife. In at least one state in Australia, native title was completely extinguished by the creation of nature reserves, which is contrary to international law principles. Second, in relation to lands in which traditional ownership was recognized by Australian law, the Native Title Act did not give indigenous owners the right to negotiate on the environmental management of that land.
In light of the domestic situation in Australia, and no doubt in other countries, it was important that the Forum articulated elements of the right of prior and informed consent and its application to indigenous peoples. Without that, there was little pressure on States, such as Australia, to respect that right or incorporate it into their domestic-policy positions on land rights and environmental management. He recommended that the Forum prepare a document summarizing elements of the right of indigenous people to free prior and informed consent as established under various international instruments, and its application to indigenous peoples.
JADDER MENDOZA-LEWIS, representative of the Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense, said that it was easy to see how the so-called protected environmental areas were impacting negatively on indigenous peoples. In local communities, indigenous peoples found themselves compelled to abandon their lands, cutting off the essential link between people and nature. Member States and intergovernmental agencies needed to work shoulder-to-shoulder with indigenous peoples in protecting their ancestral lands and knowledge. Indigenous peoples must be given technical and financial backup, so that access to traditional lands would become a reality for all indigenous peoples. Attention must be paid to achieving real results on the ground.
AMANDO VALBUENO, of the Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, urged all United Nations agencies and the World Bank request the Colombian Government to phase out certain crops gradually and carefully, ensuring adequate resources for alternative crops. The Government should also recognize traditional authorities that had been set up, and develop environmental policies that would work in concert with indigenous peoples, consulting those directly concerned before resources were extracted. In addition, it should ask the Bolivian and Colombian Governments to set up procedures for indigenous peoples to become involved in monitoring their land, and ensure that extraction companies set aside adequate resources to compensate for any damage done.
HERNANDEZ CHAPA, of the Asamblea Nacional Indígena Plural por la Autonomia, stressed that all natural wealth deserved profound respect. The relationship of indigenous peoples to water and other resources had grown out of the need to survive. He referred to indigenous peoples in Baja, Mexico, whose lands had been disrupted by military forces and fishing, and only a pittance had been offered in compensation. Treating indigenous people like criminals was not the right path to follow. The Forum should issue a recommendation to ensure that indigenous peoples’ organizations were heard by federal governments, and United Nations agencies should open up a real dialogue with indigenous representatives.
CHARLES MCNEIL, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the greatest strides forward since the Rio “Earth Summit” had been at the community level, yet indigenous peoples were often given the smallest opportunity to make contributions to international summits. The UNDP had recommitted itself to work at the local level with indigenous peoples. It had also restructured its environment and energy policies. The Community Water Initiative, for example, was deigned to help indigenous peoples mange their water. Other focus areas of UNDP’s work included environmental governance, climate change, and community approaches to sustainable development.
Indigenous peoples were natural partners in work on biodiversity, he continued. The small grants programme was operating in 60 countries. Thirty of those projects had particular reference to indigenous peoples. The Millennium Development Goals were a robust framework for the development of indigenous communities.
MIQUEAS MISHARI, representative of Ashaninka-AIDESEP, asked the Peruvian Government to make sure that oil and mining companies respected the autonomy of indigenous peoples. The Inter-American Development Bank must consult indigenous peoples before embarking upon development projects. Projects to be implemented by the Bank would bring grinding poverty for years to come for the indigenous peoples of Peru. There must be no authorization for lumbering or the building of highways cutting through the forests of indigenous peoples.
KA LAHUI, of the Kalikolihau Hannahs of Hawaii, said native Hawaiian’s were losing their land titles and traditional knowledge, which had led to a decline in the quality of life for the people. They had lost control over their lands and had no say in economic decisions that affected those lands. Control had been taken over by foreigners, who did not practise the effective resource techniques of indigenous ancestors. Their philosophy was to take what they could from the land, not give what they could.
The rate of native Hawaiians living below the poverty line was 14 per cent, much below the statewide level, she continued. Young indigenous people were forced into poverty, and continued to suffer from the lack of social and economic development. Native Hawaiians were treated like orphan children, and denied participation in development programmes. Without land or an economic base, providing for a nation’s livelihood became nearly impossible, and a nation must struggle to live.
LIDIA VELLO, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, said the indigenous peoples of the north had maintained a rich culture, based on age-old traditions. The local authorities had a legislative base, and had been able to preserve the reindeer herds and provide employment for nomadic people, thereby preserving their indigenous culture. In the past decade, however, there had been a reduction in the number of reindeer, which was threatening indigenous culture and livelihood. She urged national governments to determine appropriate legislation for the use of resources.
The representative of the Regional Action Group for the Environment (RAGE) said that the Tuscarora people were facing constant violation, including limited access to potable water, adequate housing, electricity and freedom from fear of retribution. Those violations came directly from the actions of the United States and Canadian Governments. Those purported leaders had allowed the dumping of nuclear waste on Tuscarora land and gasoline in the schools’ drinking water. When colonists came to their land, the nation numbered 350,000 people. That number had been dramatically reduced to only 650 Tuscarora people, the majority of whom had health problems as a direct result of the genocidal actions of the United States and Canada.
FRANKLIN ALMOZA, representative of the Obaloi Tribe, Philippines, said farming, fishing and mining were the main livelihoods for his people. The Philippine Government had given large mining companies the right to mine in tribal lands. Small-scale miners had been put out of work, rivers had been polluted, and mountains had been destroyed. The construction of hydroelectric dams was also negatively affecting the lives of indigenous peoples in the Philippines. Indigenous peoples did not dislike development; however, they wanted to be part of the development process.
ARTHUR MANUEL, of the Assembly of First Nations, said he was deeply concerned about the current state of the environment. The outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development could offer a great deal to the global community. He noted that many traditional laws addressed a relationship with the earth, and with other people. He firmly believed that many of the fundamental principles and values of the past were as valid today as ever before.
Indigenous peoples could advise others on achieving effective sustainable development, he continued. He applauded environmental agreements that had been negotiated at the international level. He was concerned, however, about the lack of involvement of indigenous peoples in drawing up those agreements. He urged the Forum to establish a clearinghouse of international agreements that had a bearing on indigenous people.
The representative of the Africa Region said that in most African States, human rights bodies and ministries had been put in place, not as a way of ensuring the enjoyment of human rights, but as political avenues of watering down the efforts to advocate for indigenous peoples’ rights. African indigenous peoples continued to face the multiple problems of desertification, deforestation, and the unregulated dumping of toxic waste. Oil and gas companies operating in indigenous territories refused to embark upon full scale bio-remediation or cleanup in the case of oil spillages and gas leakages, as was the case with Shell in South Africa and Nigeria.
He recommended that African States both ratify and domesticate charters, declarations, treaties and statements made in all past, present and future forums that were destined to ensure the security of indigenous peoples. He urged the Permanent Forum, in league with the Commission on Human Rights, to design and develop a new set of legal standards, which would take into account the perspectives of indigenous peoples to guide the activities of transnational corporations. The Forum should also establish a study to look into the issues of ecological debt and its impact on indigenous peoples. The lungs of Africa would soon be dry, he said, and the world would become uglier, thirstier and hungrier.
Comments from Forum
During the ensuing discussion, Forum members stressed the importance of conventions in the environmental field, especially on biodiversity, as well as to indigenous knowledge and experience, as well as traditional law. The World Summit on Sustainable Development, they noted, was a milestone conference in international development, and governments should make all effort to implement the principles agreed to there.
Others emphasized the need for governments to address the urgent needs of indigenous people in certain areas of Africa, and to develop legislation on collective property rights for indigenous people. Governments and United Nations bodies should promote the adoption of a development model that would be economically feasible and just. They should also adopt environmental norms and act on them, which would be in their own best interests, as well as those of indigenous peoples.
* *** *