|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Preparations for 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples
The landmark World Conference on Indigenous Peoples ‑ to be held in 2014 ‑ should bring critical indigenous voices to discussions leading up to the post-2015 development agenda, indigenous leaders and other experts said at a Headquarters press conference today.
“This conference is the first of its kind on indigenous peoples,” said Edward John, a member of the Permanent Forum, stressing that best practices discussed during the current session should be a major focus of the World Conference, not least because “we are inundated with worst practices” with regard to protecting and promoting indigenous peoples’ rights.
Indeed, the Permanent Forum, currently midway through its twelfth annual session in New York, and a number of preparatory meetings, was playing an important role in the lead-up to the World Conference, he said. It was time to take stock of what had happened for indigenous peoples over the last two decades, and to review commitments made and commitments honoured ‑ or not honoured.
Accompanying Mr. John were Luis-Alfonso de Alba, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations; Joan Carling, Secretary-General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact; and John Henriksen, International Representative of the Saami Council of Norway. Each underlined the importance of the World Conference, particularly in the context of the post-2015 development agenda and the yet-to-be-elaborated sustainable development goals.
Ms. Carling said that bringing indigenous voices to those processes should be an important focus of current efforts, adding that the World Conference could help to provide an appropriate framework in that regard. It should also feed into the elaboration of the sustainable development goals themselves. “There should be an interface and a parallel movement between the two processes.” Pointing out that many Governments in Asia still did not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, she said the World Conference opened a new avenue to advocate for that recognition at the national level.
Mr. de Alba also highlighted the importance of the World Conference, describing it as unique in a number of ways. It was the first United Nations conference to be facilitated by both a representative of Government ‑ Mexico ‑ and an indigenous representative. The facilitators had been identified in an unprecedented move by the President of the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly, he said, adding that “we are very honoured” by the decision. “It doesn’t make any sense for the United Nations to discuss issues relating to indigenous peoples without the full participation of their representatives,” he stressed, citing the motto frequently used by the persons with disabilities movement: “Nothing about us, without us”. The outcome document of the World Conference should fully reflect the views of indigenous peoples, he added.
Mr. Henriksen said he had been serving as the indigenous facilitator in lead-up to the World Conference. Generally speaking, indigenous peoples had welcomed the process and saw the World Conference as a good opportunity to share their perspectives. In particular, both the preparatory process and the draft declaration should focus on ways “to make this milestone document [the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples]” a reality, he said. As part of the preparations, indigenous groups were meeting in Alta, Norway, from 10‑12 June in a session hosted by that country’s Saami Parliament.
The panellists responded to a number of questions, including one about whether the issue of “REDD+” (initiatives going beyond reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation ‑ REDD ‑ to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) would be addressed at the World Conference, and what position indigenous groups would take on the matter.
Ms. Carling replied that she had been involved in REDD+ negotiations and they included both social and environmental safeguards. While aware of the controversies surrounding the programme, she respected opinions on both sides of the issue. The most important position was that of forest-dependent indigenous groups, who should themselves clarify it. “What matters is that their rights […] their dignity […] and their livelihoods are respected.”
Mr. John said that in the larger context, the ability of indigenous peoples to make decisions on the basis of free, prior and informed consent was important, underscoring the difficulties arising when States granted land concessions without the consent of indigenous groups. In many cases, there was strong opposition to mining and other extractive industries, and to the creation of oil pipelines, he said. Indeed, many indigenous peoples were still “out there with their nets”, fishing and hunting, and they needed a say in decisions about their lands.
Asked about last week’s meeting of the Permanent Forum that had focused on the World Bank, and whether the safeguards of international financial institutions were “moving in the right direction”, Ms. Carling said the World Bank was currently reviewing its safeguard policies, including a 2005 policy on indigenous peoples. That policy had been drafted before the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and was therefore not yet aligned with that critical document.
Mr. John added that the World Bank’s policy cited the need for “free, prior and informed consultation” with indigenous peoples before any project affecting them could be undertaken. However, the standard was now “free, prior and informed consent” ‑ an important distinction ‑ and the Bank’s policy should therefore be amended accordingly, he emphasized.
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