‘We Ignore Indigenous Peoples at Our Peril’, Says Deputy Secretary-General, as Permanent Forum Opens Eighth Annual Session amid ‘Swarm Of Crises’

18 May 2009
HR/4980

‘We Ignore Indigenous Peoples at Our Peril’, Says Deputy Secretary-General, as Permanent Forum Opens Eighth Annual Session amid ‘Swarm Of Crises’

18 May 2009
Economic and Social Council
HR/4980
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Eighth Session

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

‘WE IGNORE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AT OUR PERIL’, SAYS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL,

AS PERMANENT FORUM OPENS EIGHTH ANNUAL SESSION AMID ‘SWARM OF CRISES’

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this morning opened its eighth annual session aimed at finding ways to further implement the landmark 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which gained momentum last month when the Australian Government officially endorsed the accord after previously voting against it.

The Forum’s two-week session, in which some 2,000 representatives of indigenous groups, as well as representatives of Government, civil society, academia, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations were expected to participate, would also look at the relationship between indigenous peoples and industrial corporations, the need to promote corporation social responsibility, climate change, the Arctic region and land tenure.

In an opening address, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said the Forum was meeting at a crucial time, as the world grappled with a “swarm of crises”, including intensified hunger, poverty, global warming and security threats.  Indigenous peoples had a record of resilience in the face of great adversity, but they still suffered from prejudice and marginalization.  Indigenous women were brutalized by violence.  Powerful forces continued to take land from indigenous peoples, denigrate their cultures and directly attack their lives.  Such acts violated every principle enshrined in the Declaration and offended the conscience of humanity.

The Forum had resulted from a decades-long effort to put indigenous peoples’ concerns on the global agenda, she said.  A Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people was making heard the voices of indigenous survivors of human rights violations and was working with Governments to improve indigenous people’s lives.  United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations had adopted policies on indigenous issues and were doing more to improve action on the ground.  At the same time, indigenous peoples had greatly impacted the United Nations work, contributing to the Forum on Forests and the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Still, delegates must do more than just raise indigenous peoples’ living standards.  They must also heed their warning and seek their counsel in such shared objectives as sustainable development, which had been a priority for the indigenous world long before it became an international buzz word.  Too often that wisdom and traditional knowledge was overlooked or stolen, and that must change.  “We ignore indigenous peoples at our peril.  But if we listen to them, society as a whole will benefit,” she said.  That meant bringing their contributions to the table in international negotiations, notably those leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Newly elected session Chairperson, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines agreed, stressing the need to look at how indigenous people ‑‑ who had consistently criticized the unsustainable policies of deregulation, liberalization and privatization that had caused the global economic recession ‑‑ could in fact help solve those economic woes.  The Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, held in April in Alaska, had recommended that decision-making bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change create formal structures to fully bring indigenous people into discussions and policymaking, as well as organize technical briefings in which indigenous peoples could share their traditional knowledge and its relation to climate change.

Governments, United Nations agencies, international institutions and the private sector must also change their approach by increasingly mainstreaming indigenous peoples’ issues into their work, respecting indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent, and increasing their participation in programme and policy design, implementation and monitoring, she said.  Too often there was a lack of awareness and understanding that current formulas could not be applied to indigenous peoples, who had a right to pursue their own economic, social and cultural development, in accordance with local cultures, identities, traditional knowledge and livelihoods.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz lauded Australia’s Government for endorsing the landmark United Nations Declaration and Colombia’s Government for supporting it during last month’s Durban Review Conference on racism and racial discrimination.  She expressed hope that those pronouncements would lead to better protection of and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights in both countries.  At the same time, she called on the Forum to work in partnership with United Nations agencies and programmes, drawing on each other’s strengths, to ensure that the rights of indigenous people were protected.  “Always keep in mind that we are talking here as partners, and not as protagonists.  The odds we face in getting our rights respected and our self-determined development operationalized are many,” she said.

Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said United Nations agencies were in fact responding well to the Forum’s recommendations on economic and social development.  But follow-up to the recommendations was difficult, due to a lack of information from many Governments, particularly on the state of human development of indigenous peoples.  Indigenous peoples grappled with extreme poverty, high infant and maternal mortality, as well as land rights and land ownership disputes.  Human Development Reports should highlight their plight in order to identify those and other challenges to development.  Future reports, she said, should include a section on the poorest-performing provinces or subregions and present disaggregated data to identify populations that were clear outliers of human progress.  Implementing the Forum’s recommendations required a long-term approach, and good practices should be compiled and disseminated.

General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann also lauded Australia’s recent endorsement of the 2007 Declaration, and expressed optimism about developments in Latin America, where Bolivia had adopted the accord as national law.  Partnerships to fully and effectively implement it were crucial.  He also pointed to the Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution on indigenous issues, which called for a mid-term assessment report of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.  Indigenous peoples continued to face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations that threatened their ways of life and, in some cases, survival.  It was a “bitter irony” that while indigenous people did the most to protect Earth from “rapacious” agro-industrialists, they were most hurt by the global economic crisis.  That injustice underscored the need to urgently implement the Declaration and goals of the Second Decade.

In keeping with tradition, the session was opened by an invocation, from Tododaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation.  Taking the floor next, a representative of the Assembly of First Nations Women’s Council led delegates in a ceremonial song that honoured women as life-givers, providers, mothers, daughters, grandmothers and aunties.

During the meeting, the Forum adopted the agenda for the session and elected by acclamation Michael Dodson (Australia) as Rapporteur, and Tonya Gonnella Frichner (United States), Margaret Lokawua (Uganda), Elisa Canqui Mollo (Bolivia) and Pavel Sulyandziga (Russian Federation) as Vice Chairpersons.

Also speaking today were State members represented by observers from Germany, Brazil (also on behalf of the Brazilian National Foundation for Indigenous Issues), Chile, Ecuador, Canada and Colombia.

Speaking on behalf of United Nations specialized agencies and other intergovernmental organizations was a representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and a delegate speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Also delivering statements were members of the following caucuses and umbrella organizations:  Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, African Caucus, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus.

Other statements were made on behalf of the Chief Deskaheh of the Haudenosaunee, and by both a professor at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) and a human rights and administration of justice activist from Spain.

The Chairperson introduced the Report of the international expert group meeting on extractive industries, indigenous peoples’ rights and corporate responsibility (document E/C.19/2009/CRP.8).

The Forum member from Bolivia presented a paper entitled “Impact of Corporations on the Lives and Territories of Indigenous Peoples” (document E/C.19/2009/CRP.11), while the Forum member from the Russian Federation spoke.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 19 May, to continue its eighth annual session.

Background

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opened today its eighth annual two-week session in which some 2,000 representatives of indigenous groups were expected to discuss ways to further implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which gained momentum last month when Australia officially endorsed the accord after previously having voted against it.  Other issues to be taken up included the relationship between indigenous peoples and industrial corporations, climate change, the Arctic region and land tenure.

The Permanent Forum was established by the Economic and Social Council in 2000 to discuss indigenous issues relating to economic and social development, the environment, education, health and human rights.  It is composed of 16 independent experts functioning in their personal capacities; eight are nominated by Governments and eight directly by indigenous organizations in their regions.  (For additional information on the current session, see Press Release HR/4979.)

Documents

Before the Forum were the session’s agenda (document E/C.19/2009/1), proposed organization of work (document E/C.19/2009/L.1), and several documents related to indigenous peoples’ concerns, including a concept note submitted by the Permanent Forum Special Rapporteurs on the extent to which climate change policies and projects adhere to the standards set forth in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (document E/C.19/2009/5); and a number of analyses prepared by the secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:  on economic and social development (document E/C.19/2009/7); indigenous women (document E/C.19/2009/8); and the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (document E/C.19/2009/9).

Also before the Committee was a note by the secretariat of compiled Reports received from the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations (document E/C.19/2009/10), including those of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); International Organization for Migration (IOM); United Nations Department of Public Information; United Nations Department of Political Affairs; World Food Programme (WFP); United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat); United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); International Labour Organization (ILO); and Inter-American Development Bank.

Opening of Session

The opening proceedings of the Forum were presided over by Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

According to tradition, the session opened with expressions of gratitude to nature from TODODAHO SID HILL, Chief of the Onondaga Nation.  He first gave thanks to the Mother Earth.  Duties were also given to berries and trees.  The maple tree was the leader of the trees and he asked all to put their minds together as one to give thanks.  The leader of the berries was the strawberry that helped all to be at peace.  Next, he gave thanks to the deer, leader of the animals that gave themselves for humankind, and then to the eagle, leader of the birds and the “winged ones”.  He gave great and respectful thanks to the fresh water that helped Mother Earth carry out her duties.  Foods replenished thoughts and minds and he asked all to “roll up their thoughts as one” in thanks.  As for the gentle winds that strengthened the roots of all that was planted, he gave thanks to them for helping to “keep our minds straight”.  Thunders replenished the water and he thanked them for carrying out their duties.  Directing his thoughts to the sky, he thanked the sun for warming the Earth, the moon for moistening the Earth and the stars for helping the moon.  He finally gave great thanks to the Creator who intended for humans to love one another in peace.

Taking the floor next, a representative of the Assembly of First Nations Women’s Council led delegates in a ceremonial song that honoured women as life-givers, providers, mothers, daughters, grandmothers and aunties.  (A circle of women formed around the perimeter of the room.)

Introductory Statements

General Assembly President MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN, of Nicaragua, recalled that on 13 September 2007, the General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, saying that the challenge now was to fully and effectively implement that accord.  “Partnerships are crucial to achieve this objective,” he asserted.

In that regard, he welcomed Australia’s recent endorsement of the Declaration.  He also expressed optimism about developments in Latin America, where Bolivia had adopted the Declaration as national law.  The Forum’s emphasis on accountability and its decision to devote the eighth session to the follow-up of its recommendations in three of its mandated areas was highly significant.  He hoped that analysis of those recommendations ‑‑ and the in-depth dialogue with six United Nations agencies ‑‑ would strengthen partnerships.  Indeed, the goals of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People included the promotion of partnerships, and enhancement of monitoring mechanisms and accountability.

He also discussed the Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution on indigenous issues, which called for a midterm assessment report of the Second Decade.  Despite progress, indigenous peoples continued to face marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations that threatened their ways of life and, in some cases, survival.  The global economic crisis would have a further negative impact on them, and it was a “bitter irony” that those doing the most to protect Earth from “rapacious” agro-industrialists were most hurt by the crisis.  That injustice underlined the urgency of action needed to implement the Declaration and goals of the Second Decade.

In that context, he drew attention to the 1-3 June summit, which would bring together leaders from 192 Member States to address the global and economic crisis and its impact on development.  It was deeply relevant to indigenous peoples around the world who were struggling to have their voices heard.  He closed by commending participants for their commitment to indigenous peoples’ rights.  “In this time of broken promises and eroded trust, it is truly significant that you have placed both hope and trust in this United Nations Forum,” he said.

Following her election, by acclamation, as session Chairperson, VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ said the challenge today was to have a more in-depth understanding of the global economic recession and how it was affecting indigenous people worldwide.  It was necessary to explore how indigenous people could help solve the crisis, even though they had not caused it.  It was timely and highly relevant that this year’s Forum would review implementation of its recommendations on economic and social development, indigenous women and the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.  Those recommendations called on Governments, United Nations agencies, international institutions and the private sector to change their approach to the indigenous world by increasingly mainstreaming indigenous peoples’ issues into their work, respecting indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent, recognizing their collective rights, and increasing their participation in programme and policy design, implementation and monitoring.

She said there was often a lack of awareness and understanding that current programme and policy formulas could not be applied to indigenous peoples.  Indeed, they had a right to pursue their own economic, social and cultural development, in accordance with their cultures, identities, traditional knowledge and livelihoods.  That required their effective, meaningful participation in decision-making bodies at all levels, and equal partnerships with the State and private sector.  “Racism and discrimination against indigenous peoples is still very much alive,” she said, stressing that the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should apply to indigenous peoples’ particular historical context and present circumstances to combat racism.  The United Nations was increasing its attention to indigenous women’s issues.  In March 2005, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted its first ever resolution on indigenous women.  Indigenous women should be protected at all times and by all provisions of the Declaration.

Article 22 of the Declaration called for particular attention to the rights and special needs of indigenous peoples, and it called upon States to take steps to ensure that indigenous women enjoyed full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination, she said.  Violence against indigenous women was a daily reality in many countries and its elimination must be an indicator for measuring progress in implementing the Declaration.  She congratulated Australia’s Government for endorsing the Declaration on 3 April and Colombia’s Government for supporting it on 21 April during the Durban Review Conference.  She expressed hope that those pronouncements would lead to better protection of and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights in both countries.

Last year, the Forum had agreed to a new multi-year programme, in which one year would be dedicated to review and the following to policy, she noted.  This year, the Forum would review implementation of recommendations and conduct in-depth dialogues with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Those dialogues would give indigenous people, Forum members and Governments a chance to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by those six United Nations entities and the progress they had made to carry out their respective mandates on indigenous issues.

“I urge you to be critical, but to do this in a very constructive manner so that we can help strengthen each other’s work for the sake of indigenous people,” she said.  “Always keep in mind that we are talking here as partners, not as protagonists.  The odds we face in getting our rights respected and our self-determined development operationalized are many.  So our approach should be geared towards strengthening partnerships so that we can consolidate our strength and gains to confront these odds.”

This year’s Forum would also include a regional focus on indigenous peoples in the Arctic region, with a 21 May discussion on the subject, she continued.  Today, there would be a discussion on corporations and indigenous peoples, and next Wednesday there would be a discussion on the serious impact of the global economic and financial crisis on indigenous peoples.  The crisis was caused by policies of deregulation, liberalization and privatization ‑‑ the main features of the dominant, globalized economic model consistently criticized by indigenous people for breeding further inequalities and being unsustainable.   During the International Expert Group Meeting on Extractive Industries, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, held in March in the Philippines, indigenous representatives from affected communities noted that, although corporations were now more willing to consult with indigenous peoples about their human rights and economic development issues, free, prior and informed consent was still not respected.

She said that the lack of full disclosure of information on environmental, social, cultural and human rights was a major problem.  Corporations, in collusion with Government authorities, often selected indigenous individuals or specific communities as negotiation partners without ensuring that they in fact represented their respective communities or the affected area.  That divided indigenous peoples within their communities.  During the Expert Group Meeting, participants had also expressed frustration that extractive industries often treated benefit-sharing or social programmes as charity, rather than as a human rights issue.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, held in April in Alaska, had made several recommendations, such as calling on the decision-making bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to create formal structures and mechanisms for the full, effective participation of indigenous peoples and to recognize and respect the climate change Declaration in climate change decisions, policies and programmes, she said.  The Summit also recommended that the Convention organize technical briefing sessions by indigenous peoples on traditional knowledge and climate change, hire an indigenous focal point for its secretariat, and appoint an indigenous peoples’ representative in funding mechanisms.  It also recommended that the Convention provide financial and technical support to bolster those efforts.

She noted that, in April, the General Assembly had adopted a unanimous resolution designating 22 April as International Mother Earth Day.  The Forum had conducted a mission from 25 April to 6 May to the Chaco Region of Bolivia and Paraguay to study the situation there of forced labour and semi-slavery of the Guarani and other indigenous peoples.  It had met with the victims of forced labour and servitude, members of the Cattle Ranchers Association, various Government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations and senior United Nations staff.  The Forum’s report and recommendations on how to strengthen the capacities of the Governments of Bolivia and Paraguay to comply with their obligations under international human rights law would be presented next week to the relevant Government and intergovernmental bodies.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO said the Forum’s meeting had arrived at a crucial time:  the world was coping with a “swarm of crises”, including intensified hunger, poverty, global warming and security threats.  But indigenous peoples had a record of resilience, and the Forum had resulted from a decades-long effort to put their concerns on the global agenda.  That drive had culminated in 2007 with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Today, there was a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, and an Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the Human Rights Council, she explained.  The Special Rapporteur was making heard the voices of indigenous survivors of human rights violations and, thanks to that work, more Governments had been engaged in dialogue to help improve indigenous people’s lives.

She said the United Nations itself was increasing efforts to be more engaged on indigenous issues.  United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations had adopted policies on indigenous issues and were doing more to improve their action on the ground.  She looked forward to seeing the vision of a “One UN” become a reality in that work.  At the same time, indigenous peoples had used their voices to greatly impact the United Nations work, having contributed to the Forum on Forests and the Commission on Sustainable Development, and States had taken the step of endorsing the Declaration.

She said that, while those were important achievements, they were not enough, as indigenous peoples around the world still suffered from prejudice and marginalization.  Indigenous women were brutalized by violence.  Powerful forces continued to take land from indigenous peoples, denigrate their cultures and directly attack their lives.  Such acts violated every principle enshrined in the Declaration and offended the conscience of humanity.

In that context, she urged delegates to do more than just raise living standards for indigenous peoples.  “We must listen to their voices, heed their warnings and seek their contributions to achieving our shared objectives,” she stressed.  They had been living up to the principle of sustainable development long before it had become an international buzz word.  But too often, their wisdom and traditional knowledge was overlooked or ‑‑ worse ‑‑ stolen.  That must change.

“We ignore indigenous peoples at our peril.  But if we listen to them, society as a whole will benefit,” she said.  That meant bringing their contributions to the table in international negotiations, notably those leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.

Looking across the room, she saw a beautiful tapestry of diversity stitched together with a common purpose:  protecting our planet and its most vulnerable cultures and peoples.  By uniting different strengths to reach common goals, delegates could help address the many threats facing humanity for the sake of present and future generations.

RACHEL MAYANJA, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said significant inputs received for the eighth session included information from 12 Governments ‑‑ a record number ‑‑ as well as 24 documents from United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, 12 indigenous peoples’ organizations and papers by Forum experts.

Highlighting various conclusions and recommendations from those reports, she said that, in the area of economic and social development, United Nations agencies had responded well to the Forum’s recommendations.  The Forum should explore a methodology to encourage United Nations country teams to participate in the follow-up process.  In terms of Governments, the follow-up process was more difficult due to a lack of information from many States, and indigenous peoples’ groups should be encouraged to participate more actively in that process at local, national and international levels.  Implementation of the recommendations required a long-term approach, and she recommended that good practices be compiled and disseminated.

Pointing to another insight, she said desk reviews of one regional and nine Human Development Reports conducted this year had shown that, except for one country, there was very little information on the state of human development of indigenous peoples.  None of the reports provided disaggregated data in the context of the Millennium Development Goals.  In the case of the African countries and one Asian nation, indigenous peoples were not explicitly mentioned, except as part of the collective poor.  Extreme poverty and high incidence of infant and maternal mortality were among the most pressing problems, while land rights and land ownership disputes were also a major concern.

She said Human Development Reports should highlight the plight of indigenous peoples, as their inclusion was imperative to, among other reasons, identify development challenges and their role in achieving the Goals.  Future reports should include a section on the poorest-performing provinces or subregions and present disaggregated data to identify populations that were clear outliers of human progress.

Turning to the Forum’s recommendations on indigenous women, she said various programmes had been undertaken, but implementation of 46 per cent of relevant recommendations had not been initiated. Since most information received by the Forum addressed situations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, the Forum should encourage reporting regarding other regions to better assess the state of implementation.  Indigenous women’s organizations should be invited to engage in their own monitoring of the Forum’s recommendations.

As for the Second International Decade, she said the secretariat had not received enough responses to ascertain all progress made, and she welcomed the General Assembly’s adoption of resolution A/Resolution/61 in December 2008 that requested the Secretary-General to submit a mid-Decade review in 2010.  While that review would provide a chance to renew commitment to the Decade, two clear broad outcomes had been catalysed during its first years:  an increased awareness of indigenous issues and adoption of the indigenous peoples Declaration.

At this important juncture, she recommended that States, indigenous peoples and the United Nations, among other actors, undertake initiatives inspired by the Decade’s goal, objectives and Programme of Action, particularly in support of the Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues.  She also recommended enhanced reporting by all concerned on progress in the Decade’s implementation, including by indigenous peoples and their organizations.  It would be through continuous commitment that the progress on indigenous issues would be made.

KIM MORF, great granddaughter of Levi General, Chief Deskaheh of the Haudenosaunee, said that in 1923 her great grandfather had left Canada to seek support from the League of Nations for the aboriginal rights of his people.  The Haudenosaunee had refrained from engaging in war because they wanted to rely on peaceful policies, such as those echoed in the League of Nations and United Nations covenants.  Chief Deskaheh was determined to preserve the treaty rights of the Haudenosaunee and he believed that the League of Nations was the venue to give voice to the world’s smaller nations.  She thanked Estonia, Ireland, Panama, Iran and the Netherlands for supporting her great grandfather’s quest for peace and recognition of indigenous political independence.  During his lifetime, Chief Deskaheh had encouraged all indigenous communities to be heard and to teach their sons and daughters to do the same.  He believed that Mother Earth had no borders and that everyone was here to protect and respect the land and all its occupants.

Ms. Morf said she wanted to continue her great grandfather’s work by promoting indigenous rights through the United Nations.  There were more than 360 million indigenous people worldwide.  She expressed hope that indigenous peoples’ groups would continue to respect each other’s differences and unite for the greatest cause on Earth, which was peace.  Indigenous people once had no voice.  Now they did have a voice.  She implored all, as they gathered at the United Nations to discuss such important issues as economic and social development, indigenous women, the Artic, the Declaration, and human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, to echo their elders’ call and hope for peace.

Presentation, Discussion of Reports

ELISA CANQUI MOLLO, Forum member from Bolivia, presented a paper entitled “Impact of Corporations on the Lives and Territories of Indigenous Peoples” (document E/C.19/2009/CRP.11).  She described various policies ‑‑ notably in Chile and the Russian Federation ‑‑ that discriminated against the entrenched rights of indigenous peoples.  Mining operations destroyed cultural sites.  Petroleum operations, including well drilling, led to the construction of camps, access roads and railways that cut off natural river courses and interfered with natural animal habitats.  They changed cultural aspects and negatively impacted food security.  In the Russian Federation, indigenous peoples had only two options:  join the companies at the bottom rung or leave their territories.

She said the use and exploitation of traditional knowledge was seen by pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies that dared to patent products as if they were their own.  Most worrisome was that Governments said indigenous peoples were being recognized in public policies ‑‑ but for indigenous peoples, such relationships meant an end to their working life; presence of disease, including cancer; lack of a fair wage; and loss of hunting and fishing corridors.  Those were only some of the consequences.  Indigenous peoples were victims of development, more so than beneficiaries, and the Forum must be a space for finding long-term solutions.  Many negotiations had taken place behind the backs of indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge was exploited, which was why international cooperation was so needed.  “Never again” should a corporation start operations in indigenous territories without the consent of indigenous peoples.

CARLOS MAMANI CONDORI, an Aymara activist and historian from Bolivia and a Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) in La Paz, Bolivia, said indigenous peoples in the Andean region were grappling with the presence of extractive industries on their land.  Multinational companies were working within the framework of a long-standing colonial relationship with Governments.  Many States in the region were signatories to International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 and supported the Declaration.  But States were ill-informed about the rights of indigenous people enshrined in that Declaration.  In the Andes, there was no Government presence to protect indigenous peoples.  The impact of international corporations operating in the extractive industries was a new form of genocide.  It had led to a deterioration of indigenous peoples’ living conditions because it limited their economic livelihood without providing any alternative.

He said that international companies competed with indigenous people for natural resources.  Mining companies either interfered with or simply cut off indigenous peoples’ access to grazing land, drinking water and irrigation supply.  They used such tactics as intimidation, torture, kidnapping, forced disappearances and even murder.  Anti-activism laws existed to silence indigenous peoples.  All of that led to the deterioration of indigenous peoples’ traditions, values, culture and language.  The corporations’ activities had resulted in the removal of sacred lands, religious sites and cemeteries, leading to violence, alcoholism, and destruction of the family.  Corporations also exploited internal divisions among indigenous communities and organizations to further their own interests.  With some exceptions, corporate social responsibility was merely a public relations exercise.  Corporations set up funds that were managed by so-called corporate social responsibility foundations.  Those foundations were set up by the corporations; they were never managed by indigenous peoples’ organizations.  There was a lack of standards for protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, or the standards were not truly applied or applied across the board.  He called for a regulatory overhaul, in order to monitor transnational corporations’ activities.

PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, Forum member from the Russian Federation, underscored the interrelationship between indigenous peoples and natural resource companies, particularly in oil and gas, gold and diamonds.  The Russian Federation was working on standards between indigenous peoples and corporations.  Some companies had even signed agreements to respect indigenous peoples’ rights, in line with national and international standards.  Also, global financial corporations had pushed companies to work with indigenous peoples.  For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s policy included a provision on free, prior and informed consent whose language was lifted from the indigenous peoples’ Declaration.  Natural resource companies that came to the Russian Federation had Western management, allowing indigenous peoples to hold negotiations in a dignified manner.

At the same time, he said, many corporations that acknowledged indigenous rights in one region behaved differently in others.  Without pressure, they would not move towards protecting indigenous peoples’ rights.  Private fishing and hunting companies were edging indigenous peoples off their traditional areas.  In Kamchatka, for example, a village’s river had been given over to a fishing entity, and its community was being asked to fish in another river.  Clearly, people would not move away from their lands, but they were being compelled to act against the law.  He hoped the Forum would develop recommendations that addressed such issues.

Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ then introduced the Report of the international expert group meeting on extractive industries, indigenous peoples’ rights and corporate responsibility (document E/C.19/2009/CRP.8), highlighting its major themes, findings, contributors and recommendations.  The report noted that, according to the Declaration, extractive industries must not operate on indigenous lands or territories without obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of relevant and indigenous communities.  That consent was a right, and not an obligation.  It was, therefore, up to indigenous communities themselves to determine whether they would engage in discussions or not.  Participants of that meeting had expressed concern that although corporations were now more flexible in terms of benefit-sharing, they had not shown any increased interest in acknowledging the sovereignty or traditional decision-making of indigenous peoples, their rights to their territories or redressing past human rights abuses.

She said participants had also stressed the need for transparency on the part of extractive industries.  The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative focused on financial transparency, but it did not focus on environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts of extractive industries on indigenous peoples.  The report also found that extractive industries generally failed to comply with national laws that protected indigenous peoples’ rights and were often seen as complicit in formulating policies and laws that diminished indigenous peoples’ rights.  There was a misconception that indigenous peoples in developed States shared in the wealth of those States.  Further, United Nations agencies generally offered technical assistance to Governments and rarely to indigenous communities and organizations.  The report recommended that United Nations agencies expand their technical aid to indigenous groups and that the United Nations set up a mechanism to support indigenous communities in their negotiations.

Noting that indigenous peoples often lacked access to domestic courts, participants also called for a new formal process, such as an ombudsman or an international court system specifically focused on that issue, she said.  Further, the report recommended that extractive industries’ corporations set insurance levels and establish insurance funds in agreement with indigenous peoples and at a level appropriate for the risks involved.  It also called on corporations to be accountable to indigenous peoples for damages resulting from past extractive industries that affected indigenous lands and livelihoods and to provide compensation and restitution.  It called on corporations to ensure respect for free, prior and informed consent, including full transparency in all aspects of their operations, and to stop dividing communities to obtain that consent.

MIKI’ALA CATALFANO, Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, discussing the follow-up to the Forum’s recommendations on economic and social development, said she supported reducing the number of recommendations.  Regarding agenda item 3, on the Second International Decade of World’s Indigenous Peoples, she urged the Forum to support the Global Indigenous STOP TB Strategic Plan.  The rights affirmed in the Declaration should be applied as the operative framework for carrying out the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade.  She also urged the Forum to call on the General Assembly to declare 2010 the Year of Food Sovereignty.

In the area of human rights, she urged the Forum to call on States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to apply that instrument’s general comment 11 (2009).  The Human Rights Council should authorize and request the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to conduct a study on indigenous peoples’ right to health.  Also, she called on the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples to investigate the human rights impacts of development projects.  Strongly endorsing recommendations made to the fifteenth conference of States parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), she also asked the Forum to urge States to present their plans of action for the Declaration’s full implementation, its monitoring and evaluation.

MARCIO AUGUSTO FREITAS DE MEIRA, President of the Brazilian National Foundation for Indigenous Issues, recalled that, in 2003, Brazil’s President had announced that the goal of the Foundation was to strengthen dialogue between the State and indigenous peoples concerning matters related to ILO Convention No. 169 and the Declaration.  The March 2009 decision of the Brazilian Supreme Court concluded that the issue of compatibility of sovereign responsibility and indigenous peoples’ right to land was a priority.  Two years earlier, Brazil’s President had set up a National Commission on Indigenous Issues.  Brazil’s Constitution stated that indigenous people had the right to go to court to create associations for indigenous people, to set up their own business relationships and to run for public office.  Protection of indigenous people was a duty of the State because indigenous people were culturally different.  Their rights must be protected, but that did not mean that the State should guide indigenous peoples in an authoritative manner.

He said that Brazil’s Constitution also gave indigenous people the right to education in their native tongue.  The question now was how to define criteria for distributing social benefits to indigenous people to ensure that they received social allowances.  Indigenous people by nature were not poor.  Rather, outside factors had put them in economically difficult circumstances.  It was also necessary to promote social inclusion of indigenous people.  But it was also important to remember that indigenous people had their own way of socially organizing themselves, in accordance with nature.  The important thing was to make sure that the new social forms were based on indigenous peoples’ customs, which were different from those of non-indigenous peoples.  Also, citizenship programmes for indigenous peoples must be expanded.

DOUGLAS NAKASHIMA, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), discussed the annual meeting of the United Nations Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, held at UNESCO headquarters in September 2008.  Some 23 agencies and programmes had participated in the event.  Pairing the support group meeting with an official visit of the Forum to the host agency reinforced ties between the agencies in their pursuit of joint work.

Noting that the theme “Indigenous Peoples:  Development with Culture and Identity” would be the focus at the Forum’s ninth session, he said the support group recognized that the concept of “development with culture and identity” called for a major rethinking of mainstream development paradigms.  There was a need for a deeper understanding of local realities by all stakeholders, and indigenous peoples needed to assume an active role that moved beyond participation to direct representation in decision-making mechanisms.  The group had also agreed to work on a joint reflection paper to be presented at the ninth Forum in 2010.

He said the support group reaffirmed its commitment to implement the general plan of action for the rollout of United Nations development guidelines on indigenous peoples’ issues, and agreed to reinforce capacity-building measures at the country level.  It also agreed to explore establishing support groups at the regional level to enhance coordination of United Nations agencies in their promotion of indigenous issues.  Regarding the Second International Decade, the support group suggested using the Declaration’s adoption as an opportunity to rejuvenate the Decade, take stock of United Nations agencies’ progress and examine institutional change at the country level.

BARTOLOME CLAVERO SALVADOR, a human rights and administration of justice activist from Spain, said in the case of the presence of extractive industries in Brazil, indigenous people there did not have the right to own their property.  Rather, they had the right to the land as a resource.  The current status of the rights for indigenous people in Brazil was at loggerheads with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and ILO Convention No. 169.   All indigenous peoples, not just certain representatives, should be consulted.  There was a perception that Brazil’s Government had changed laws in order to defend major industry landholdings.  Peru’s Government was subjecting indigenous areas to military occupation in order to silence indigenous community opponents of extractive industries.  There were some areas in the region that raised serious concern.

MARTIN NEY ( Germany) said respect for indigenous peoples’ rights ranked among his country’s major goals.  The German Development Corporation reinforced indigenous peoples’ networks at national and cross-border levels.  Moreover, Germany would contribute $50,000 to the Indigenous Trust Fund.  In 2006, the Government had adopted a strategy paper on cooperation with indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean, adopting a two-pronged approach to strengthening rights of peoples in Guatemala, for example.  Respect for the rights and needs of indigenous peoples was mainstreamed into all development activities in Latin America.

Turning to climate change, he said traditional territories were vital for all indigenous peoples, and those were threatened by climate change.  Germany strongly supported Latin American indigenous peoples’ participation in 2008 in the Convention on Biodiversity meeting and in the Framework Convention on Climate Change.  On the preservation and revival of indigenous languages, Germany supported the Development Fund for Indigenous Peoples.  He described one programme involving the creation of indigenous intercultural universities, the goal of which was to train Governments on intercultural issues.  On indigenous women’s rights, he said gender equality and women’s empowerment were among Germany’s goals.

Mr. FREITAS ( Brazil) said his Government was working to address the demarcation of indigenous peoples’ territories in Brazil.  He was open to discussing the points that had been raised in today’s discussion.  The Brazilian Government was concerned about issues of indigenous people in the Amazon and it had made efforts to cooperate with the Government of Peru in that regard.  Indigenous peoples’ territories incorporated 25 per cent of the Amazon.  Protecting their rights was very important.

MARY SIMAT of the African Caucus described human rights abuses in the United Republic of Tanzania, Gabon and the Congo, much of which resulted in the loss of livestock by peoples evicted from their lands.  Land and resources were recurring themes in indigenous peoples’ marginalization, including for the Batwa peoples.  Exploration of uranium in some countries had resulted in conflicts.  In Gabon, indigenous groups had been moved to villages where they lacked access to jobs and health care.  As such, she urged African Governments to adopt domestic laws in line with the Declaration, and the Forum to study the effects of conflict on African indigenous peoples.  Climate change endangered the natural environment and adaptation strategies were not being prioritized.  She urged United Nations agencies to prioritize adaptation over mitigation.

ALVARO MARIFIN ( Chile) said that Chile passed an indigenous rights law in 1993.  It had also ratified ILO Convention No. 169, and since its publication, the Government had taken the necessary measures to adapt national legislation accordingly.  Since June 2008, it had created an indigenous affairs unit in each Government Ministry.  It had also created strategies to include indigenous peoples’ issues into programme planning and policies, earmarked budgetary allowances for those plans, and set up an informational and consulting mechanism to address legislative and administrative concerns of indigenous peoples.  Regional indigenous round tables had been set up, as well as a Parliament for Indigenous Peoples’ Participation and a National Council for Indigenous Communities.

In terms of socio-economic development for indigenous peoples, the Government was creating a rural connectivity programme; a programme for housing, potable water and rural electrification infrastructure development; and a programme for innovative rural development, he said.  All those programmes involved the participation of indigenous peoples’ organizations.  Under the 1993 indigenous rights law, the Government had created a precise mechanism to address land and water reclamation rights.  By March, it had allowed indigenous communities to acquire and reclaim 588,483 hectares of land.

RACHEL DAVIS, who spoke on behalf of John Ruggie, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said that in 2008, the Special Representative had proposed a policy framework to advance the business and human rights agenda.  It rested on three pillars, the first of which was the State duty to protect ‑‑ a principle grounded in international human rights law.  While most States had adopted human rights standards, there was still considerable legal and policy incoherence at the domestic and international levels.  The Special Representative had urged Governments to drive the business and human rights agenda into those areas.

She said the second pillar ‑‑ the corporate responsibility to respect rights ‑‑ was based on the near-universal recognition that companies should not infringe on the rights of others.  Companies should put in place a process of ongoing “human rights due diligence” to prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts.  The third pillar ‑‑ the rights of affected individuals and communities ‑‑ would be meaningless without access to effective remedy.  For States, that meant enforcing corporate compliance with laws and standards.  For companies, that meant enacting operational-level grievance mechanisms.

To operationalize the framework, the Special Representative urged a better understanding of indigenous peoples’ experiences, she said.  States had duties to protect indigenous rights under regional and international human rights treaties, and he had noted guidance provided by relevant human rights bodies on how State duties could operate in the context of corporate-related abuse.  Regarding the corporate responsibility to respect, he had consistently said that in projects affecting indigenous peoples, companies should consider additional standards specific to those communities.  Throughout his mandate, he had sought to adopt an evidence-based consultative approach.  The global community was in the early phases of adapting the human rights regime to provide more effective protection to people against corporate-related harm.  The proposed framework provided a common platform for advancing the business and human rights agenda.

MARIA FERNANDA ESPINOSA ( Ecuador ) said Ecuador was committed to recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples through various policies.  The September 2008 Constitution was a step forward in that regard, promoting the creation of a fair, democratic and multicultural society.  Constitutionally, Ecuador was a pluri-national State.  It recognized the rights of indigenous peoples in line with the Declaration and ILO Convention No. 169.  National policies had recognized indigenous peoples’ territories in order to protect their ancestral homelands and biodiversity of those lands.  The Government had also established 21 collective sacred rights in its new Charter.  The Government was promoting the rights of indigenous peoples in the National Development Plan with the aim of strengthening equality, social cohesion and integration, as well as diverse cultural practices.

In terms of indigenous peoples’ voluntary exclusion as they related to the Yasuni-ITT project, the Sate had decided not to exploit the 920 million barrels of oil reserves in Yasuni National Park, which was one of the richest and most biologically diverse regions in the world, she said.  By not exploiting that oil reserve, it was protecting the habitat and territory of the area’s indigenous people.  The Government had also created a national policy and plan to protect people in voluntary isolation, investing more than $500,000 in 2008 and approximately $700,000 in 2009 to protect their lives, rights, territories and biodiversity.  Efforts to ensure the well-being of indigenous people must be combated by measures to erase social exclusion.  In 2007-2008, Ecuador’s social spending, including funds for indigenous communities, was higher than external debt for the first time in history.

PATRICIA LAURIE, of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, said Governments had not followed the leadership of United Nations agencies.  Past and current employment and enterprise development strategies did not engage indigenous Australians.  They were based around mainstream ideologies for Australians, and the assumption that employment strategies were transferable to the indigenous context was misleading.  It compounded indigenous peoples’ right to access parity with the rest of Australia.

She said Government policy must recognize indigenous peoples’ primary roles, particularly in wealth creation.  Australian governments continued to disregard people-driven approaches to addressing indigenous disadvantage.  The push for practical outcomes disrupted and undermined the exercise and enjoyment of human rights by indigenous Australians.  Government policy must address social justice and reconciliation.  Many States such as Australia had a history of “assimilationist” policies.  She urged the Forum to encourage the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues to develop a research agenda that examined the economic and health impacts of assimilation policies.  The Forum also should encourage States to recognize the need for health investment.

FRED CARON, Assistant Deputy Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs of Canada, said Canada was committed to an integrated, strategic and targeted approach to address the unacceptable socio-economic gaps of indigenous peoples there.  That approach was founded on the protection and promotion of aboriginal and treaty rights in an atmosphere of reconciliation and renewed relationship.  It focused on economic development; education; empowering First Nations citizens and protecting the vulnerable; resolution of land claims; and reconciliation, governance and self-government.  In January, the Government had launched the Economic Action Plan of Canada, which included strategies to provide indigenous people with employment and training assistance, as well as $1.4 billion over the next two years for aboriginal-specific projects in housing, educational facilities, skills and training, health, water and wastewater systems, and child and family services.

He said Canada was helping to create conditions for responsible and sustainable developing affecting indigenous peoples in other countries.  In March, the Government had announced its Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Canadian extractive sector operating abroad.  Economic and social development required that indigenous people had the land, resources and tools for effective governance and self-determination.  The Tsawwassen First Nation treaty, the first urban treaty in British Columbia’s history, took effect on 3 April.  On 18 June, the Specific Claims Tribunal Act created an independent tribunal with binding power to resolve specific land claims.  Since the Government launched the Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nation Communities in 2006, the number of First Nation communities with high-risk water systems had been reduced by two thirds.  In June 2008, Canada’s efforts to address the socio-economic needs of aboriginal Canadians had been reinforced when the Prime Minister issued an apology to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools.

CLAUDIA BLOOM ( Colombia) said her country was proud of its ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, and there was an institutional framework that developed policies for ethnic groups.  Among various strategies, her Government continued to advance recognition of land property titles for indigenous communities, which were inalienable and not subjected to embargo.  They comprised 710 indigenous reservations that covered about 32 million hectares, or almost 29 per cent of national territory.

In other areas, she said several affirmative actions had contributed to indigenous peoples’ enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.  Indigenous communities had been integrated into programmes led by the Presidential Agency for Social Action.  The integrated plan to support indigenous communities living under high-risk conditions had been implemented in 12 departments.  The Ministry of Education continued to promote ethnic-education policy, while the Ministry of Culture’s efforts included indigenous radio stations and cultural broadcasting on a public television channel.  She reiterated Colombia’s unilateral support for the indigenous peoples Declaration and adherence to the concepts of equality, respect and diversity.  She reaffirmed its commitment to deepen dialogue between State institutions and indigenous communities.

FLORINA LOPEZ, a representative of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, said women were the human embodiment of Mother Earth.  She reiterated women’s fundamental role in seed conservation, food production and preservation, and expressed alarm over the ongoing expropriations by seed and pharmaceutical corporations, with Government complicity, to patent seeds, genetic materials and processes to genetically manipulate plants.  Indigenous women were deeply concerned that the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity had not recognized indigenous peoples’ rights to their traditional territories, lands and waters during negotiations of an international regime of access and benefit-sharing, due to be completed by 2010.  She also expressed concern over the parties’ assertion of their national sovereignty over genetic resources.  Genetic modification and the potential contamination of land by genetically engineered technology was a continuation of genocide of indigenous peoples.

She recommended that all United Nations bodies and Member States report on implementation of articles 26 and 31 of the Declaration related to the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their land and territories.  She supported the Anchorage Declaration (agreed at the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change) on 24 April, which called for phasing out fossil fuel development and a moratorium on new development on or near indigenous lands and territories.  She called on all relevant United Nations bodies and agencies to end the mining and marketing of water and to recognize free access to water as a basic human right in order to preserve indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage, way of life and self-development.  She requested an investigation by January on the negative impacts and effects of water appropriation on indigenous communities by multinational corporations.  She strongly recommended the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in planning and implementing all strategies and agreements related to climate change.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.