As Permanent Forum Opens, Secretary-General Highlights Body’s 10 Years of Pushing for Indigenous Rights, Says: ‘The Road Has Been Tough, but the Rewards Are Real’

16 May 2011
HR/5051

As Permanent Forum Opens, Secretary-General Highlights Body’s 10 Years of Pushing for Indigenous Rights, Says: ‘The Road Has Been Tough, but the Rewards Are Real’

16 May 2011
Economic and Social Council
HR/5051
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Tenth Session

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

As Permanent Forum Opens, Secretary-General Highlights Body’s 10 Years of Pushing

for Indigenous Rights, Says: ‘The Road Has Been Tough, but the Rewards are Real’

Economic, Social Affairs Head Says Indigenous Rights Now ‘On the Global Radar’;

Takes Up Reports on Informed Consent, Indigenous Development Models, Corporations

The annual United Nations forum on indigenous issues kicked off today with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on delegates to make further strides against the marginalization of indigenous communities, which still made up an estimated one third of the world’s rural poor.

“The road has been tough, but the rewards are real,” he said, reminding delegates at the opening of the tenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that, for 10 years, they had worked to fight against marginalization, unite different cultures and push for indigenous rights.  He further stressed that protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples benefited the human community as a whole, saying:  “Raise your voices here at this Forum and beyond.  I will urge the world to listen.”

“This Forum can play a dynamic role in changing this deplorable situation and helping indigenous people around the world achieve the self-determination they deserve,” Mr. Ban continued.  He stressed that, despite some progress made, major challenges still faced indigenous communities around the world.  One indigenous language died every two weeks, he told delegates, and indigenous communities continued to lose their land, their rights and their resources.  “We must end the oppression, and we must ensure that indigenous people are always heard,” he emphasized.

Addressing a crowd made up of representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, United Nations agencies and intergovernmental organizations, Mr. Ban also called on indigenous communities to help shape important events on the international agenda.  The Forum could help to build momentum ahead of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, slated for 2014, he said, and indigenous participants could lend their valuable insight on environmental issues by participating actively in the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), he said.

Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, said that while protecting and guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples had proved to be a significant challenge over the past decade, the issue was now — unlike any other time in history — “on the global radar”.  The fact that the Permanent Forum was better attended each year, he said, reflected the great commitment of all concerned to overcome the challenges of indigenous peoples around the world.

Mr. Sha echoed Mr. Ban’s hope that indigenous people would share their wisdom with the world at the upcoming Rio+20 conference, of which he was also the Secretary-General.  “Indigenous peoples have a unique understanding of Mother Earth as a living entity, where all beings are interconnected and interdependent,” he said.  Urging all indigenous groups gathered today to fully participate in preparations for the conference, Mr. Sha said they should remind Member States that green economy initiatives must integrate all the dimensions of development, including economic, social, political, ecological, cultural and spiritual considerations.

“Indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable, yet are also most severely impacted by climate change and the loss of lands, habitats and resources,” he said.  In that regard, the rights and priorities of indigenous peoples must receive particular attention as the global community further strengthened the three pillars of sustainable development — economics, social justice and the environment.

During its opening session this morning, the Forum elected Mirna Cunningham Kain, from Nicaragua, as Chair of its tenth session by acclimation. Taking her place at the podium, Ms. Cunningham welcomed delegates and highlighted some of the sessions planned activities, including a dialogue with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on indigenous rights and youth and children’s issues; a discussion on the planned 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; dialogues with several high-level experts on indigenous rights; and a half-day discussion on the crucial right of indigenous people to safe water.  “Let’s work together to make this session meaningful and worthwhile in the lives of all indigenous peoples,” she stressed.

As per tradition, the tenth session was opened with an invocation from Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation and a long-time participant of the Permanent Forum.

The Permanent Forum had before it several reports detailing studies and analyses conducted by the Forum’s Secretariat and Special Rapporteurs, which were drafted as follow-ups to recommendations of the Forum’s previous sessions.  Among those were an analysis report prepared by the secretariat of the Permanent Forum on “economic and social development, the environment and free, prior and informed consent” (document E/C.19/2011/13), which was introduced this afternoon by Ms. Cunningham.

That report recalls that, over the years, the Permanent Forum had recommended a paradigm shift to Governments and financial institutions, including on the concept of “informed consent”, as well as the greater participation of indigenous people in decision- and policy-making.  The report also notes that the Permanent Forum was paying particular attention to the representation of indigenous peoples in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which could not be achieved without the full participation of indigenous peoples.

In a joint presentation, Pavel Sulandziga, Special Rapporteur, and Andrey Galaev, Chief Executive Officer of the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company on Russia’s Sakhalin Island, introduced a study by the Special Rapporteurs on “indigenous models of development”.  Mr. Galaev recounted his experiences at the helm of a company working closely with the indigenous communities of Sakhalin Island, which faced challenges including urbanization and exclusion from a globalizing world.  It was impossible to develop effective plans without the input of indigenous communities themselves, he said, asking, “Who knows better the needs of indigenous peoples than indigenous peoples themselves?”

Also before the Forum was a report prepared by the Special Rapporteurs focusing on indigenous peoples and corporations (document E/C.19/2011/12), which was not orally presented today.

In other business, the Forum elected members of the Bureau for its tenth session, by acclimation.  Paul Kanyinke Sena from Kenya, Dalee Sambo from the Arctic, Edward John from Canada and Eva Biaudet from Finland were elected as Vice-Chairs of the session, while Paimaneh Hasteh from Iran was elected to serve as the session’s Rapporteur.  The Forum also adopted the provisional agenda for the tenth session (document E/C.19/2011/Rev.1), which had been orally revised, as well as a revised organization of work (document E/C.19/2011/L.1/Rev.1).

Also speaking during the Permanent Forum’s opening session this morning were

Kimberly Teehee, Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs of the United States Government and a member of the Cherokee Nation, and Rebeca Grynspan, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

During the afternoon session the representatives of Canada, Spain, Australia, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico and Norway also spoke.

Also taking the floor during that discussion were representatives from the Women’s Indigenous Forum, Global Caucus, Inuit Circumpolar Council (on behalf of the Arctic Caucus), Asia Caucus, North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, Global Women’s Indigenous Caucus and the Australian Caucus.

A Permanent Forum Member from Mexico also commented, as did representatives of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Forum, which is currently in a review year of its three-year work cycle, has as its focus this session the implementation of prior recommendations in the areas of economic and social development, the environment and the principle of free, prior and informed consent, as well as a special regional focus on indigenous peoples of the Central and South America and the Caribbean region.

It will reconvene tomorrow, 17 May, at 10:00 a.m. to continue its consideration of follow-ups to the recommendations of its past sessions.

Background

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to begin its tenth session, which was a review year in the Forum’s three-year work cycle.  Almost 1,300 delegates, representing civil society, United Nations and other inter-governmental agencies, and about 60 Governments, were expected to attend.  The two-week session will be held from 16 to 27 May.  For more information, please see Press Release HR/5050.

Opening Statements

Kicking off the session, Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said that the Permanent Forum’s tenth anniversary marked 10 years of fighting against marginalization, uniting different cultures and pushing for indigenous rights.  “The road has been tough, but the rewards are real,” he said.  Referring to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — adopted by the General Assembly in 2007 — he said that the Declaration finally had the consensus that it deserved.  “Now we need to make the Declaration’s principles a reality,” he stressed.

Protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples benefited all of humanity, said Mr. Ban, providing several examples from around the world.  In the words of a traditional indigenous saying, he warned against letting the “light” of indigenous customs burn out.  One indigenous language died every two weeks, he said.  Millions of indigenous peoples — who made up one third of the world’s 1 billion rural poor — continued to lose their land, their rights and their resources.  They suffered high rates of diseases and were less likely to survive and thrive, stressed Mr. Ban.

“This Forum can play a dynamic role in changing this deplorable situation and helping indigenous people around the world achieve the self-determination they deserve,” he said, stressing that the Forum’s success could build momentum toward the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, slated for 2014.  The Forum should identify ways to “bring to life” the principles enshrined in the Declaration and help to shape other important events on the international agenda, he added.  Pointing to the activity of indigenous peoples at the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, he asked delegates to also attend the “Rio+20” Conference in 2010.  “We must end the oppression, and we must ensure that indigenous people are always heard,” he said.  “We need you now even more,” he said.  “Raise your voices here at this Forum and beyond,” he concluded, adding “I will urge the world to listen.”

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, said that while protecting and guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples had proved to be a significant challenge over the past decade, the issue was now — unlike any other time in history — “on the global radar”.  Further, the space of indigenous peoples at the United Nations had only grown over time, largely owing to the mobilization and solidarity of indigenous peoples and the support of Members States and other partners.

The fact that the Permanent Forum was better attended each year, he said, reflected the great commitment of all concerned to overcome the challenges of indigenous peoples around the world.  Such increased participation was especially timely in light of the adoption of the General Assembly resolution to organize the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, to be held in 2014.  He called upon Member States, with the leadership of the President of the General Assembly, to ensure the active participation of indigenous peoples at all stages of that Conference.

Highlighting next year’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, of which he is also the Secretary-General, he said that “Rio+20”, as that meeting is also known, would be a tremendous opportunity for indigenous peoples to share their wisdom with the world.  “Indigenous peoples have a unique understanding of Mother Earth as a living entity, where all beings are interconnected and interdependent,” he said.

Urging all indigenous groups gathered today to fully participate in preparations for Rio+20, he said they must remind Member States that green economy initiatives should integrate all the dimensions of development, including economic, social, political, ecological, cultural and spiritual considerations.  Moreover, Rio+20 afforded Member States, the United Nations system and its partners to renew political commitments and to sharpen the focus on sustainable development.

He stressed that this would require strengthening the three social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development.  In that regard, the rights and priorities of indigenous peoples must receive particular attention.  “Indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable, yet are also most severely impacted by climate change and the loss of lands, habitats and resources,” he said.

Turning to the organization of the Permanent Forum’s current session, he commended the decision to hold in-depth discussions with the United Nations agencies, including, this year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  He also noted the planned dialogue with the Colombian Government on the situation of the Awá people, which was borne of the Forum’s initiative to convene in-depth discussions with Member States based on voluntary reports.

Recognizing the cooperation and support of the Office of the President of the General Assembly in leading the discussion on the World Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he called for an exchange of ideas on how to organize a successful conference with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples.  He also thanked the Governments of Canada and the United States for hosting the Permanent Forum’s pre-sessional meetings in March.  He thanked Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany and Madagascar for their contributions to the Trust Fund of the Permanent Forum in 2010, noting that it was through that Fund that both indigenous peoples and the Forum were directly supported and urging other States to respond to the call for contributions.

Further highlighting the commitment of the United Nations to the rights of indigenous peoples, he said it was evident through many channels, including the Permanent Forum’s establishment, the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the establishment of the Special Rapporteur, as well as the Expert Mechanism, on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Those achievements played an important role in integrating indigenous issues through the United Nations systems and in engaging Member States in that work.

“It is time to take decisive steps to emphasize inclusiveness with respect to indigenous peoples, and to make the Declaration a living document,” he said.  “To all indigenous peoples — your energy, commitment, and support once again renew our hope that there is no limit to what we can accomplish in your countries and your communities and throughout the world.”

MIRNA CUNINGHAM KAIN, Chairperson and Forum Member from Nicaragua, recalled that, in January 2011, an international expert group meeting on the theme “Indigenous peoples and Forests” had been organized by the Forum Secretariat.  The conclusions and recommendations of that group would provide important input for the discussions of the current session, she said.  Highlighting some of the Forum’s upcoming activities, she said that the session would feature a panel discussion on the Forum’s mission to Colombia in 2010, and dialogues with high-level experts on indigenous rights, including James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and José Carlos Morales, the Current Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Forum would also hear a statement by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, she said.

Among the Forum’s other activities during the tenth session would be a dialogue with UNICEF on indigenous rights and youth and children’s issues, a half-day discussion on Central and South America and the Caribbean, a discussion on the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and a half-day discussion on the right to water and indigenous peoples.  On the latter, she stressed, there was a “fundamental link between accessing water and living in dignity”.  Paying tribute to the indigenous people who continued to work for their rights, sometimes sacrificing their own lives in that struggle, she concluded:  “Let’s work together to make this session meaningful and worthwhile in the lives of all indigenous peoples.”

KIMBERLY TEEHEE, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs of the United States and member of the Cherokee Nation, said that in its first 10 years, the Permanent Forum had made many significant contributions by raising the international profile of indigenous issues and by doing important work on specific topics.  Recalling that the United States had chosen last year’s session to announce it would review its position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she said that formal review had included multiple consultations with tribal leaders and other interested individuals.  Indeed, over 3,000 submissions were received and reviewed, and on 16 Dec 2010, United States President Barack Obama announced his Government’s support for the Declaration.

She said that, while that announcement was very important, it was not an end in itself.  As President Obama stated, what mattered far more than the words contained in any declaration were the actions that matched those words.  She urged participants to review the announcement document, which outlined the United States decision, as well as a number of United States initiatives to address the many historical inequities suffered by Native Americans.  In addition, she said the United States had worked closely with tribal leaders on a number of issues on the Forum’s current agenda and her Government hoped its work would aid other nations in their similar efforts.  It also looked forward to hearing the lessons of other countries and tribal communities.

She stressed President Obama’s commitment to strengthening the unique Government-to-Government relationship between the United States and the federally recognized tribes.  Native Americans had often suffered from misguided policies and it was clear that tribal self-determination was critical for successful and prospering communities.  It was in that vein that the United States approached the issues on the Permanent Forum’s agenda this year, she said, adding that the indigenous peoples had been particularly hard hit by the recent global economic downturn.

Saying that the most important long-term investment any country, community or individual could make was in education, she noted how tribal leaders had emphasized the importance of local tribal control over education in tribal lands, leading the United States to introduce more flexibility into its educational policies.  The Government had also accelerated its efforts to rebuild schools on tribal lands.  Last year’s landmark Affordable Care Act also provided permanent authorization for the Indian Health Services and was expected to make a huge difference in the life and health of Native Americans.  Internationally, the United States was focusing on the impact of communicable diseases on indigenous populations.  Similarly, First Lady Michelle Obama was focusing on reducing obesity among indigenous peoples, while another key policy focus aimed at reducing the tragically high rates of suicide seen in indigenous communities.

She said the United States was also strengthening tribal police and judicial systems, and the Tribal Law and Order Act, which, among other things, aimed at reducing high rates of violence against women and increased federal accountably for public safety on tribal lands, was recently signed.  President Obama agreed with native leaders on the need to improve infrastructure, including through programmes to boost electrification on tribal lands.  The United States Government was also working to bring tribal communities into the twenty-first century by equipping them with Internet access.  Those infrastructure investments went hand-in-hand with a wide range of projects to increase the number of jobs available to Native Americans.  However, the United States recognized that much more needed to be done.  “No country and no indigenous peoples have all the answers,” she said, noting that “that includes the United States”.  Clearly, the Permanent Forum could help identify problems in common and, by combining knowledge and by working collaboratively, a better future could be ensured, she said.

Taking the floor, REBECA GRYNSPAN, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that it was important to put the Forum’s past work into the context of broader efforts to promote sustainable human development.  Achieving inclusive development that made communities more just and coherent, and that incorporated the views of diverse groups, including indigenous peoples, was essential to that end.  More than 20 years after the United Nations Human Development Report first stated that people were the “real wealth of nations”, she said, indigenous people still constituted up to one third of the world’s poor.  The twentieth anniversary of the Human Development Report, in 2010, showed that development metrics were lower for indigenous peoples in both high and low-income countries.  Among other measures, they had overall lower rates of educational attainment and income, indicating a gap for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals worldwide.

In order to address those issues, countries needed to take action in three key areas.  First, they needed more inclusive governance systems.  While some progress had been made on that issue — in particular in Latin America — there was still a lack of cultural understanding and discrimination in too many places.  UNDP was working to promote indigenous rights more effectively, including from the perspective of democratic, inclusive governance.  It was also ensuring safeguards for all its activities, in order to ensure that they were in line with the principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Its work also incorporated the principle of free and informed consent, she said.

A second key area for countries was the need to implement strategies guided by the views and priorities of indigenous peoples, she said.  To that end, it was important to overcome “invisibility”, including the lack of adequate statistics on indigenous communities, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  UNDP was helping countries to gather better data with the participation of indigenous peoples themselves, she said.  It was also rolling out a Millennium Development Goal acceleration framework, which would serve as a tool to help countries identify “real barriers” to achieving the Goals.  Finally, Governments needed to strengthen their institutions and capabilities.  Harmonizing legislation and organizational objectives with indigenous rights was a first step, she said, but they should also translate those rights into policy and practice.  “Our success… will depend on our joint work, and a partnership with all the stakeholders represented in this room today,” she concluded, calling for action in the spirit of a “common purpose”.

Follow-up to Forum Recommendations

DINAH SHELTON, Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, said that indigenous peoples in the 35 member states of the Organization of American States were facing threats to their very existence, including conflict, poverty, violence, structural discrimination and environmental degradation, among others.  They continued to be systematically excluded from the social, economic and political life of their countries, to the determinant of their well-being.  Indigenous peoples suffered from lower levels of access to employment and education, distance from decision-making, racism and other threats.  Generalized patterns of poverty and exclusion had even led to a form of “contemporary slavery”, characterized in some places by labour exploitation and debt bondage.

Ancestral territories were under threat from powerful transnational companies that sought their resources, she said.  Indigenous communities were still progressively deprived of those lands, and were exposed to environmental degradation.  Human rights were limited by the lack of free, prior informed consultation.  Exclusion was also evident in the lack of access by indigenous peoples to justice, and in “prevailing patterns of impunity” for the violation of their human rights.

Some progress had been made, including legal reforms, but those achievements suffered from a lack of enforcement.  The Inter-American Commission had established in the 1970s that indigenous peoples had special rights, and had since dealt with many cases throughout the Americas.  The Rapporteurship of the Commission, in particular, protected rights including by granting precautionary measures, producing special reports where necessary, and conducting specialized in-depth studies.  Those included, most recently, a study on indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights over their ancestral lands and resources.  The Inter-American Commission had also been working on the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she said.

Commenting on the analysis report prepared by Permanent Forum’s secretariat on economic and social development, the environment and free, prior and informed consent (document E/C.19/2011/13), Forum Chair Ms. CUNINGHAM said that approximately 173 recommendations had been formulated on a broad range of economic and social development issues, with the majority addressed to the United Nations system and to Governments.  Over the years, the Permanent Forum had recommended a paradigm shift to Governments and financial institutions, including on the concept of informed consent, as well as the greater participation of indigenous people in decision- and policy-making.  She said some progress had been made, notably by the Agricultural Development Fund and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Other notable efforts were made by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the Asian Bank and the inter-American Development Bank, among others.  There was also a trend to establish indigenous consultations in the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).  She particularly highlighted UNICEF as a “pioneer” in this regard.

Continuing, she said the Permanent Forum was also paying particular attention to the representation of indigenous peoples in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Although some groups had been able to participate in the General Assembly’s high-level 2010 summit on those Goals — and six references to indigenous peoples had ultimately been included in that summit’s final document — very few indigenous groups were able to participate in the variety of initiatives aimed at achieving those Goals.  Yet, it was clear that the Goals would not be achieved without the full participation of indigenous peoples, who could make significant contributions toward reducing maternal and infant death and ending violence against women, among other things.  In that regard, she underlined the need for further data on indigenous communities.

The Permanent Forum had also stressed the central function of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by, among other things, affirming that the rights of indigenous peoples must be respected, including through funding support at the United Nations.  Nevertheless, indigenous peoples continued to be disproportionately represented among the poor and extreme poor.  Further, they were particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  She called on all participants to fully participate in the debate on recommendations for economic and social development.

PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, Special Rapporteur, then presented an oral report on indigenous models of development.  For the first part of the presentation, he gave the floor to ANDREY GALAEV, Chief Executive Officer of the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company in the Russian Federation’s Sakhalin Island.

Mr. GALAEV said the main responsibility of his company was to conduct social welfare projects, including with indigenous peoples on Sakhalin Island.  The first inhabitants of the island had struggled against many threats over their history, including the harsh climate, but today they faced the challenges of urbanization and exclusion from a globalizing community, among others.  Since 1994, his company had been working with indigenous communities on the Island to provide programmes for their education and health, as well as safeguarding their cultures.  “Who knows better the needs of indigenous peoples than indigenous peoples themselves?” he asked, saying that it was impossible to develop effective plans for indigenous communities without their input.  A corporate culture based on social responsibility was critical, he said.

Work by the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company was conducted alongside councils of indigenous people, and provided examples of the successes that could be achieved if work was participatory and sufficient resources were available.  In 2010, the company’s second assistance plan for 2010-2015, has been established, and was now being fully implemented.  It was based, among other things, on the principle of free and informed prior consent.  The company had also been able to create a “solid platform” for living with indigenous peoples, which could serve as a model for others.

Turning to research conducted by the Special Rapporteur in the area of indigenous people and business, Mr. PAVEL said that the study, conducted with the participation of Forum members, had looked at key international documents and standards in the area of indigenous rights, as well as the experiences of countries around the world.  Indigenous peoples today were going through a very difficult time, he said, as broad industrial projects were implemented, including the extraction of resources on indigenous territories.  That work impacted soil, water and other land resources, as well as the well-being and cultural survival of their communities.  Their future would depend on the actions of Governments, especially on environmental issues and policies around indigenous peoples.  In that vein, he said, “paternalistic” policies that had long been in place had led to the assimilation, apathy, loss of values and hopelessness of indigenous communities.  Those policies, therefore, stood in the way of indigenous development, he added.

Since the 1980s, some progress had been made in indigenous self-governance, as illustrated in cases, such as the Sami people in Norway.  However, it was essential to do away with all paternalistic policies, which would allow the growth and diversification of indigenous peoples.  Without a “thorough, detailed elaboration of State policies” in each country, he concluded, that development would not be possible. 

JEAN-FRANÇOIS TREMBLAY, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Indian and Northern Affairs of Canada, expressed support for all the mechanisms of the United Nations and pledged that his country would continue to provide extensive information to the Permanent Forum, Special Procedures and treat monitoring bodies and other institutions on its successes and approaches on indigenous issues.  He said that with regard to economic development, the Government was continuing to move forward on its economic framework for indigenous peoples.  That comprehensive, modern approach sought to help the people of the first nations take advantage of Canada’s prosperity.  A national panel had been set up to consider solutions, including legislative measures, to bolster the provision of education services for first nations.  The Government was also using targeted investment and a skills-training strategy to support its first peoples during the current economic climate.  It was also providing a range of health services, including an announcement in 2010 of a five-year funding commitment of $730 million to renew key aboriginal health programmes.

The Government was also working to support urban aboriginal communities, he said, noting that its efforts in that regard extended to its provincial governments.  It was aware that, to address the socio-economic problems of aboriginal people required steps in a number of sectors.  As a result, it had established partnerships to work toward measures and mechanisms aimed at boosting economic development with local governments, including tribal ones.  Further, negotiations had recently been concluded which provided a legal framework for first nations in health matters.

OTILIA LUX DE COTI, Parliamentarian of Guatemala, speaking also for the Women’s Indigenous Forum, stressed that indigenous women contributed to national economies by producing food, transmitting traditional knowledge and caring for children and the elderly.  Despite often being referred to as among the most vulnerable, indigenous women were not vulnerable.  Indeed, they enjoyed reproductive, cultural and social rights.  At the same time, however, any analysis of the obstacles standing in their way must pay close attention to the problem of violence against women.

She commended those States and international financial organizations, as well as United Nations organizations, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which recognized indigenous women as independent actors within society.  She encouraged them to boost the economic empowerment of those women and to promote the establishment of an observatory to study violence against them.  Links should also be established between relevant bodies to allocate resources and other support for the eradication of such violence, and to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality.  Appropriate programmes, such as those recommended by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, were also needed.

RODNEY COOKE, Director of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that IFAD’s new Strategic Framework 2011-2015 had as its goals to enable poor rural people to improve their food security and nutrition, raise their incomes and strengthen their resilience.  The Framework underscored that the lack of effective political representation of indigenous peoples often led to policies that did not respond to their needs.  In order to address that issue, IFAD would expand its policy engagement with its developing member states by working with Governments, farmers’ organizations, indigenous peoples’ organizations and other partners to develop comprehensive and coherent rural development policies.

IFAD would strive to increase the decision-making and organizational capacity of rural people living in poverty — especially women, indigenous people and youth.  Emphasis would also be given to increased communication and advocacy in eradicating poverty, he said.  IFAD’s Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples, announced at the Forum’s ninth session last year, contained nine principles for enhancing development assistance, including the principle of free, prior and informed consent.  On 18 February 2011, he said IFAD had established its Indigenous People’s Forum, with objectives that included the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of IFAD’s Policy of Engagement and the building and strengthening of partnerships between IFAD and indigenous peoples.  Additionally, IFAD had a dedicated fund, the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility, which was a demand-driven fund financing small projects based on needs, priorities and identity.

JUAN PABLO DE LAIGLESIA ( Spain) said the concerns of indigenous peoples were on the global agenda because of the efforts of indigenous communities to put them there.  He noted that Spain had submitted its country report, which described its numerous efforts to support indigenous peoples, particularly in Latin America.  Spain’s strategy of cooperation was based on its recognition that indigenous peoples had the right to develop their own policies and to control their own lands.  It also included the principles of the relevant international treaties to which Spain was a party, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention, among others.  He said Spain was working to include the Permanent Forum’s recommendations it is policies in a number of ways, including by bearing in mind the specific concerns of indigenous peoples.  In Spain, indigenous peoples had the right to self-development and Spanish cooperation aimed at helping indigenous organizations around the world.

Underlining the close link of indigenous peoples with their lands, as well as their low consumption levels and small ecological footprint, he noted that tensions between the world-view of indigenous peoples and the more man-centred approach of modern cultures must be better balanced, through the formulation of policies related to climate change.  As for prior, free and informed consent, he said that, while indigenous peoples were not sufficiently linked with the decision-making processes that affected them, Spain was doing its part to consult with indigenous peoples in such decision-making processes.

GHAZALI OHORELLA, of Global Caucus, said it was time to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Capacities must be devoted to building an economic and social base that was decolonized and that protected access to environmental resources.  He stressed that indigenous peoples were equal to all other peoples.  Education and awareness of their rights under the Declaration was needed.  Indigenous peoples must be included in decision-making processes.  He expressed concern that indigenous peoples were not currently allowed to participate in bodies deliberating environmental matters.  He stressed that free, prior and informed consent was not negotiable.  Indigenous peoples had an intrinsic relationship with their lands, but were frequently witnessing the crime of “terracide”.

He expressed deep concerns about the United Nations Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, including its proposed policies and initiatives to utilize the carbon market as part of the green economy initiative.  He further stressed that water was a right, not a commodity.  Stressing that the rights of indigenous women must be particularly protected, he called for the overall implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  It was a crime, he said, when indigenous peoples were prevented from interacting with other indigenous communities, including through armed protection of borders.  He recommended an international expert group meeting to be convened in January 2012 to discuss the “doctrine of discovery.”

LUZ ANGELA MELO, Human Rights Adviser for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that UNFPA was continuing its efforts to mainstream indigenous issues throughout its strategies and programmes, and announced that it had elaborated and finished its Corporate Strategy on Indigenous Issues.  That strategy, among other things, provided guidance for UNFPA country offices on how to promote the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how to support Governments and indigenous organizations to advance the sexual and reproductive health of indigenous peoples.  Last year, UNFPA included in its report to the Permanent Forum information on some of its programmes supporting indigenous peoples in 19 countries from around Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Africa.  In line with the recommendations of the Forum, UNFPA had continued to intensify its efforts to promote and mainstream a culturally sensitive approach to its programmes at the global, regional and national levels.

In the area of health, UNFPA was aware that there were aspects that were particularly relevant to indigenous peoples, she said.  Indigenous people, and women in particular, had the worst socio-demographic indicators and the largest inequalities in terms of access to social services in many parts of the world.  Indicators of poverty, as well as maternal and infant mortality, were systematically higher among indigenous populations.  The situation had begun to change in some places, such as Latin America, as indigenous women leaders were empowered.  Policies to address the conditions of poverty and discrimination must nonetheless be scaled up, and reproductive health services, among others, must be made more accessible, financially and geographically available and culturally acceptable.  Such work would require concerted negotiations to find a “true common understanding” between Western health principles and practices and the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.

CATH HALBERT, Deputy Secretary, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs of Australia, said her Government was committed to stronger engagement with indigenous communities, in line with its support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  With support from the Government, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples would provide a central mechanism for Governments and the corporate and community sectors to engage and partner on reform initiatives.  It would also be an informed and strong national voice for the goals, aspirations and values of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.  The National Congress, which would hold its inaugural session in June 2011, exemplified the goal of full and effective participation of indigenous women in decision-making processes.

In other areas, Australia was committed to pursuing recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in its constitution, she said.  An Expert Panel had been appointed to gather views on how on that might be achieved and would report to the Government by December 2011 on possible options of constitutional change.  Australia remained committed to closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and it was driven by three important imperatives:  overcoming decades of under-investment in services and infrastructure; encouraging personal responsibility as the foundation for healthy, functional families and communities; and building new understanding and respect between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  To that end, significant reforms had been undertaken and, among other things, the gap in mortality rates between indigenous children under five and other groups was closing.  A draft Indigenous Economic Development Strategy had also been developed and would be finalized later this year.

AQQALUK LYNGE, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and speaking on behalf of the Arctic Caucus, said that the Arctic was a centre of attention due to global climate change and the race to extract natural resources.  The people of the Arctic saw changes on a daily basis, and worried about the impact of climate change.  Last week, the inter-governmental organization Arctic Council held its seventh Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, he said, and for the first time had developed a legally binding agreement among the foreign ministers of the United States, Canada, Russian Federation, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.  That “Nuuk Declaration” was signed on 12 May, just a few days ago, and created a standing secretariat of the Arctic Council.

There was a growing recognition that the Arctic should be governed by the people in the Arctic, he said.  As the Arctic Council expanded and more legally binding instruments were negotiated, members of the Inuit Circumpolar Council believed that they should be allowed to be part of negotiations on an equal footing with States, he said.  He also drew the attention of the Forum to the “Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Resource Development Principles in Inuit Nunaat”, presented in Nuuk on 11 May.  That declaration, which had been developed at an Inuit Leaders’ Summit in Canada, called for the responsible development of the Arctic, prioritization of Inuit involvement in decision-making and greater Inuit economic and cultural self-sufficiency and self-determination.

FERNANDEZ DE LARRINOA, of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recalled that, at the end of 2010 FAO had adopted its Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, saying it was the response to the specific calls of indigenous peoples, as well as the recommendations of the Permanent Forum.  It was also made as part of FAO’s own commitments under its strategic framework.  However, he said the policy should not be seen as the beginning of the organization’s work with indigenous peoples, since it had had a long-standing collaboration with some indigenous organizations and Forum members.  Among other things, the policy brought the Organization’s expertise in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, livestock, natural resource and food security closer to the indigenous peoples, by recognizing their needs and acknowledging their rights and knowledge.

He said three main areas of work were evolving from the policy.  The first area — norm-setting and policy dialogue — maximized FAO’s potential as a neutral forum to discuss instruments and treaties that set standards on food security.  The second area addressed field programme activities’ in which FAO supported the small business of rural indigenous communities, allowing them to sell their cultural products in tourist markets.  In the third area, FAO was working to generate advocacy and knowledge networks drawing from its own internal experts.  Concluding, he stressed that FAO’s work to achieve food security for all included every indigenous woman, child or man.

LIDA BEATRIZ ACUÑA ( Paraguay) said that her delegation had been making efforts to implement recommendations from previous sessions of the Permanent Forum. With regard to land title, Paraguay had received the requests of various indigenous communities and had committed to returning thousands of hectares under various claims.  Paraguay was also paying more attention to the rights of people in “voluntary isolation”, working in cooperation with UNDP to create a specific unit for isolated people, including such elements as an emergency protocol.  Bolivia and Paraguay had also signed a Memorandum of Understanding, in that respect.

She addressed several particular cases, including relations between Paraguay and the Yakye Axa, Ayoreo and other communities.  The Government was providing food, shelter, mattresses and other resources to various communities.  In addition, a national policy for indigenous health, approved in March 2008, provided for the shared management of health, respect for fundamental human rights and full health coverage.  The Paraguayan Indigenous Institute and other groups had proposed the creation of a public ministry for indigenous issues.  With regard to the vulnerability of indigenous children, a national strategy for the eradication of child labour had been created, with a focus on the improvement of compliance with fundamental labour laws.  The participation of indigenous peoples was being strengthened day by day, she said, adding that the principle of free, informed prior consent was also being integrated into national policies.

JACQUELINE BERNADETTE K. CARINO of the Asia Caucus affirmed and reiterated the Permanent Forum’s prior recommendations regarding social, economic and cultural rights.  She particularly recommended that Asian States enact better laws in line with international human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, including regulating the activities of investors and corporations and mitigating the negative impact of economic liberalization of their territories.  Asian States must also take effective measures to halt land alienation in indigenous territories and to ensure the implementation of free, prior and informed consent regarding development projects.  United Nations agencies, financial institutions and Member States must take a series of measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change on indigenous communities, as well as protect and nurture their traditional natural resource management practices, biodiversity and cultural diversity.

She further stressed the need for Asian States to fully recognize and respect indigenous peoples and cultures and give proportionate attention to reducing the number of indigenous peoples in poverty through implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  International and financial institutions, translational corporations and other businesses must adopt and bide by at least the minimum human rights and environmental standards consistent with the International Labour Organization Convention 169, as well as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Those same States must, along with the United Nations system, support the revitalization and strengthening of indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage, while also recognizing their rights to own, control, use and have access to their forests.  Finally, they should also support the efforts of indigenous peoples to consolidate their own development models and concepts, and strengthen their capacities in that regard.

LAETITIA ZOBEL, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the Programme had been working over the last 10 years to develop relevant guidelines to allow its staff to address indigenous issues and to engage indigenous peoples as partners in it work.  UNEP was also using the development of its fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO 5), which provided a tool for countries’ informed decision-making, by accounting for the views of indigenous peoples through inviting them to participate in ongoing preparatory consultations.  GEO 5 would be launched in the run-up to Rio+20, and UNEP was intensively involved in preparing for that conference, which would provide a historic opportunity to take ambitious steps that set the stage for transforming the sustainable development paradigm.

Continuing, she said UNEP had launched a report at the Fourth Conference on Least Developed Countries entitled “Why a green economy matters for the least developed countries”, where many indigenous peoples lived.  Among other things, it recognized that activities practised by indigenous peoples would be central elements in any green economy strategy.  Among other efforts, UNEP was also working to involve indigenous peoples in a dialogue with all the major groups on the green economy.

MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSÔA ( Brazil) said that Brazil, as the host of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20), believed that indigenous peoples had the right to be part of the results of development, with full respect for their identity.  The Constitution of 1988 affirmed the right of indigenous peoples to learn in their native languages and according to their own methods of learning.  To that end, the Government started, in 1991, a programme of indigenous education as a new model for intercultural and bilingual education, with cross-cultural curricula.  Some 2,500 indigenous schools existed in Brazil, attended by 177,000 students.  The challenge was now to expand indigenous schools and the number of enrolled students, she said.

Brazil remained fully committed to tackling the challenge of poverty and ensuring the right to adequate nutrition.  The “Bolsa Familia” Stipend and the “Carteira Indigena” (“Indigenous Portfolio”) projects were also dedicated to indigenous peoples.  Regarding indigenous health, the Government had established a new federal agency specifically dedicated to health care in indigenous lands, which combined all means made available by Western science with indigenous traditional medicine.  Further, all the relevant policies concerning indigenous peoples in Brazil were subject to the debate of the National Commission of Indigenous Policy, she said, which was composed of an equal number of Government officials and indigenous representatives.  In that vein, the Brazilian Government was opening space for “indigenous protagonism” in the formulation of policies that affected them, she said.

KENNETH DEER, of the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, said there were serious concerns that the members of the North American region continued to ignore the imperative to recognize and implement the inherent rights of indigenous peoples.  Although they resided in two of the richest countries in the developed world, indigenous peoples in those countries ranked lowest on the quality of life indicators, such as income, housing and health, and had the highest rates of suicide and incarceration.  Thus, he called on the Permanent Forum and the United Nations agencies to immediately reform their mandates, mission and work statements to include within their programmes all indigenous peoples, including those in developed countries.  He also expressed concern about national policies, programmes and practices based on racial and ethnic classification systems, as well as laws that maintained assimilative and discriminatory social categories, which obstructed and violated the rights indigenous nations to exercise economic and social development, along with their right to self-determination.

He objected to States deciding who was indigenous and who was not, and recommended that the Permanent Forum create a task force on unrepresented and unrecognized indigenous peoples.  Saying the division of indigenous peoples by borders was a violation of Article 36 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he also recommended that an expert panel be set up to analyse the impact and consequences of such borders and other walls, as well as the militarization of the lands of indigenous peoples.  Indeed, there were concerns that national security was being used as an excuse to continually reduce the rights of indigenous peoples, who, he said, were not terrorists.  He also asked the Permanent Forum to recommend to Canada and the United States to eliminate all assimilation policies that exacerbated economic, social and other disparities between indigenous peoples and the non-indigenous population.

RAFAEL ARCHONDO ( Bolivia) said that, following the promulgation of the country’s new Constitution in 2009, the Government of Bolivia had been implementing policies for the benefit of indigenous peoples.  In that context, the new Plurinational Assembly had adopted five key laws.  Those policies had made it possible for indigenous peoples in Bolivia to further consolidate their rights, she said, and included the principle of free, prior and informed consent, as well as those enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The overall Government policy on indigenous issues was part of the national plan for development in the social and economic fields, and was aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals, she said — in particular the eradication of poverty and hunger.

With regard to land, policies targeted indigenous peasant farmers through the distribution and redistribution of land, he said.  The Government was also conducting rehabilitation of land and was working to increase distribution of land to women.  The Ministry of Land and Agricultural Reform had legally rehabilitated thousands of hectares of land, and, between 2006 and 2010, it had legalized more than 45 million hectares of land.  Oil revenue was providing millions of dollars in social programmes, including the “dignity pension” and vouchers for mothers and children, among others.

SUSANA GELIGA, of the Global Women’s Indigenous Caucus, said indigenous women had a central role to play in advancing the human rights and well-being of all indigenous peoples.  Among other recommendations, she said the Permanent Forum should support the development of a strong, global and legally binding agreement to eliminate the introduction of mercury into the environment.  That process, which was currently underway through UNEP, must include the participation of indigenous women, she stressed.  The Permanent Forum should also follow-up on its multiple recommendations over the years by making the health of indigenous peoples a particular theme for a future session.  Among other things, that session should address maternal mortality, addiction and suicide, and must be addressed in concert with all relevant environmental issues.

She said the Forum should also state the importance of recognizing the unique contributions of indigenous women in their families and their communities, including the transmission of traditional knowledge among generations.  Further, it should seek to maintain the principle of differentiated responsibilities during negotiations on climate change.  The human rights and lifecycle approach to development should guide the design of policies at all levels, she said.  Finally, she said it was imperative that emissions from forest degradation be reduced and endorsed the “Positions on Women and REDD+” by the Indigenous Environmental Network.

GABRIELA GARDUZA ESTRADA ( Mexico) said her Government’s national development plan stated that indigenous peoples and communities would be fully included in the country’s economic, social and cultural development.  Specific strategies aimed at indigenous peoples were based on the Government’s recognition of its responsibilities, she said, adding that Mexico was working to promote territorial development, while coordinating coordinated long-term sustainable development.  In 2010, a planning and management strategy that linked planning with identity was launched.  The Communities Development Programme for Indigenous Peoples 2000-2012 used strategic plans established by the peoples and communities themselves and aimed to broaden coverage of programmes across various sectors.  To that end, the federal Government had made a significant public investment.

She said on a programme aimed specifically at addressing the living conditions of indigenous women living in highly marginalized communities, including by raising their income and economic activities.  A basic infrastructure programme also sought to provide basic infrastructure to indigenous populations.  Although significant efforts were being deployed to reduce marginalization levels and poverty among the indigenous population, the Mexican Government still recognized that gaps remained between its indigenous and non-indigenous populations, including in the areas of health and schooling.

TINE MØRCH SMITH ( Norway) said that, in 2005, the Norwegian Government and the Sami Parliament had agreed on Procedures for Consultations between the State Authorities and the Sami Parliament.  That agreement had been recently referred to as an example of good practice by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  A proposal to adopt specific rules governing the consultation process in national legislation was under consideration.  Each year the Sami Council was consulted on a significant number of cases, she said, resulting in agreement in all but a few.  The most recent example was a case regarding coastal and fjord fishing, in which the Government and the Sami Council had agreed on measures to strengthen local fisheries and management in the northernmost areas of Norway.

Norway was a strong supporter of the work of the United Nations concerning human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.  Norway welcomed the study of the Permanent Forum members on that matter.  In particular, by introducing the United Nations Framework for Business and Human Rights Protection, Respect and Remedy, Professor John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights, had contributed to defining with greater clarity the roles and responsibilities that States and companies had in protecting human rights.  States were obliged to protect against human rights abuses committed by third parties, she said, and bore the main responsibility for conducting consultations with indigenous peoples.  However, third parties also had a responsibility to protect the rights of indigenous peoples by ensuring that they did not contribute to violations of those rights.  Norway expected all companies to respect human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, in all their activities.

SAUL VICENTE VAZQUEZ, Permanent Forum Member from Mexico, thanked participants for their statements, particularly those Member States that had taken the floor to report on progress on indigenous issues.  He was struck by the various points of view that had been put forward, he said. Noting that there were often differences between the approaches of United Nations agencies and Member States and indigenous peoples, he suggested that close attention be paid to recommendations by the various indigenous caucuses.  He further noted FAO’s statement regarding its approval of a policy on indigenous peoples, adding that a consultative process had been convened today by that organization on a number of issues.  He suggested the Permanent Forum recommend that FAO’s guidelines not be called “voluntary” since they were based on the rights of indigenous peoples, and were, therefore, not voluntary.  He also noted that, in the revised guidelines on land ownership, the indigenous peoples had not been referred to in the language used in the relevant treaties, as well as the Declaration in Indigenous Rights, and he suggested a recommendation be made to revise that, as well.

HANNAH DONNELLY, of the Australian Caucus and speaking on behalf of several non-governmental organizations said that the Forum needed to “remain vigilant” in ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples, with the end goal of ensuring parity.  It was, nonetheless, necessary to take into account the limiting effects of mainstream ideology.  She stressed that the United Nations system and States needed to adopt strategies that would support indigenous peoples in their efforts to create their own policies.

Indigenous peoples were the most disadvantaged people in Australia by all measures, she said.  There was an urgent need to move beyond models in which Governments continued to control the lives of indigenous peoples, she said, and instead work to build the capacity of individuals and communities.  She further urged all States to provide technical and financial assistance to indigenous communities, and to consult and cooperate effectively “in good faith” with affected indigenous communities before adopting or implementing laws or policies that affected them.  Among other things, she recommended that the Economic and Social Council work closely with the Human Rights Council’s expert mechanism to provide detailed, practical guidance for States in implementing policies that assured respect for the rights of indigenous peoples at the national and community levels.

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