|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Highlights of Twelfth Session
Of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Culture, education and health were at the forefront of discussions throughout the twelfth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a panel of experts said today, stressing that those basic human rights must be woven into the post-2015 development agenda to ensure that indigenous peoples’ voices were respected around the world.
Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, Myrna Cunningham Kain, Forum member from Nicaragua, underscored: “This has been a very important year,” as the Forum had placed particular emphasis on the implementation of recommendations in those areas. While there had been “isolated” good practices of Governments respecting indigenous rights, a big gap remained between the well-being of indigenous peoples and the rest of society.
Accompanying Ms. Kain on the panel was Raja Devasish Roy, Forum member from Bangladesh, and Susann Funderud Skogvang, Associate Professor at University of Tronsø, Sami, Norway.
Giving an overview of the twelfth session, which concludes tomorrow, Ms. Kain said that, in the area of health, concerns had been raised over the sexual and reproductive rights of indigenous women, the increasing incidence of both HIV/AIDS in indigenous communities and mental health problems among indigenous youth. Further, changing food patterns meant that diabetes was on the rise in many communities.
In the area of education, she said the loss of indigenous languages was also of great concern, especially as indigenous universities lacked State support for new initiatives. The area of culture, as well, was linked with the lack of recognition for indigenous land rights and the “extractive” model of development.
In the broader area of human rights, she cited increasing violence against indigenous human rights defenders and indigenous journalists, especially those who managed small radio programmes in isolated communities. The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, to be held in September 2014, would offer an avenue for advocating an end to such discrimination. Indigenous representatives would soon participate in the Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference in Alta, Norway, in June of this year.
“We are counting on States to use information coming out of Alta as the basis for an outcome document,” she said, urging Governments to create space for indigenous peoples’ participation. Further, that outcome would pave the way for inclusion of indigenous rights in the post-2015 development framework.
Touching on several “firsts”, Mr. Roy said the Caucus for Indigenous Peoples with Disability had participated in its first Forum session, casting light on how disabled persons’ needs were often unaddressed. Many participants also called for creating a voluntary mechanism that would handle complaints, particularly over land.
The Forum also held, for the first time, a comprehensive dialogue with five international financial institutions, he told correspondents. Those institutions included: the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation. During the ensuing discussion, delegates raised questions over the World Bank’s indigenous peoples’ policy, which was under review, and specifically, its position on free, prior and informed consent. In addition, they pressed the African Development Bank to create an indigenous peoples’ policy, perhaps using the model used by the Asian Development Bank. Generally, there had been “very encouraging” engagement with African countries that were increasingly recognizing indigenous rights.
Rounding out the panel, Ms. Skogvang said “the Arctic is hot” — both in terms of temperature and interest. The Arctic Council — an intergovernmental forum that addressed issues faced by the Arctic Governments and the indigenous peoples — recently agreed to include six new nations, including China, as observer States, as a changing climate had opened the region to more economic and political competition. Melting sea ice had opened new sea routes and had made drilling possible. Mineral resources had been found. It was no coincidence that the best-managed fish stocks in the world were found in the Arctic.
However, the area was also home to the Inuit peoples, she explained. In this changing picture, their rights to free, prior and informed consent were not being respected. Nor were their rights to marine resources. International legal standards developed over the last decade, combined with a greater focus on the environment, must, she emphasized, lead to a new orientation for international law, including the Law of the Sea.
Answering questions, Ms. Kain said indigenous journalists were targeted because they were spreading information about the lack of respect for indigenous rights, especially by the extractive industries. Small radio programmes often did not have Government authorization because they were the voice for indigenous peoples.
To queries about tourism, Ms. Kain told reporters that the Forum would soon have a recommendation on tourism. “We have a lot of knowledge that should be considered in formulating the sustainable development agenda”, she said. “We can share that knowledge”.
Mr. Roy pointed out that indigenous peoples often did not reap the economic benefits of Governments showcasing their cultures for tourism purposes. That was why they were advocating that culture be added as a “fourth pillar” of sustainable development.
Responding to an inquiry about the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, Mr. Roy said a Forum study had been carried out in 2010, with timelines set and focal institutions identified for implementing the unimplemented provisions of the Accord. The Bangladesh Government had focused on what had been accomplished. However, indigenous peoples focused on what had not been done, including among others, demilitarization of area and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons, including those from India. Although the Government had ratified almost every human rights treaty available, the problem was one of implementation. The Forum was seeking ways to assist in putting the Accord fully into practice.
To a final question, Ms. Skogvang said indigenous peoples were concerned about the Arctic’s opening to observer countries, especially to those far from the region. China had agreed to respect indigenous peoples. Still, she said, “we don’t know yet, but we are a little concerned”. There was a good legal framework between the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian Government. Nonetheless, there were many challenges vis-à-vis the reindeer herding area, due to mineral exploitation. Generally, Governments were in a rush to find resources before property rights were identified.
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