Committing to further advance the rights of indigenous peoples, global leaders today called for actions that would bridge the gap between promises and results at the first-ever international conference on that disadvantaged group.
Unanimously adopting a landmark Outcome Document at the General Assembly gathering, known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, Heads of State and Government, ministers and other representatives highlighted the importance of obtaining “free, prior and informed consent” from indigenous peoples on matters that affected them, including legislative measures and development projects.
The text also underscored the United Nations’ role in promoting and protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, including in the development and implementation of national action plans, strategies or other measures that affect them, in order to achieve the objectives of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Today’s Document also urged intensified efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against the most vulnerable among that population, especially people with disabilities, youth, children, women and older persons.
Further to the text, the Secretary-General was requested to begin the development of a system-wide action plan within existing resources to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the Declaration’s goals and to report to the General Assembly on the matter at its seventieth session. He was also invited, by the end of that session, to appoint a United Nations senior official, with access to the highest levels of decision-making within the system, to coordinate the action plan and raise awareness of indigenous peoples’ rights.
The Secretary-General was also asked, by that session, to report on the Outcome Document’s implementation and to make recommendations on how to use, modify and improve existing United Nations mechanisms to achieve the Declaration’s objectives, as well as ways to enhance a coherent, system-wide approach. The text also asked for specific proposals to enable the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions on issues that affected them.
Addressing the meeting prior to adoption of the text, the Secretary-General said that while meeting recently with Maori leaders in New Zealand, he was impressed by their multimillion dollar horticulture, waste management and energy production companies and how every bit of waste was fed to worms, which, in turn, created very rich organic fertilizer. That was “sustainability in action”, which could be replicated elsewhere. The Outcome Document contained commitments to actions that would bridge the gap between promises and results, he said, welcoming the direct requests made to him.
Also in opening remarks, Sam Kutesa, General Assembly President, said indigenous peoples’ issues had been a preoccupation of the United Nations for more than 30 years. The Assembly’s 2007 adoption of the Declaration represented a “global consensus” on those peoples’ rights, including that of self-determination. But with a deep chasm still separating reality from commitments, policies, and legislative actions, the Outcome Document comprised many action-oriented commitments directed towards addressing the implementation gaps.
Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, described the final document as “a road map to reposition indigenous peoples” in the United Nations agenda.
Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia, noting that the fundamental principles of indigenous peoples were life, Mother Earth and peace, said that those were threatened by the capitalist system. In Bolivia, the indigenous movement was now able, not only to vote, but also govern. Climate change had become one of the most serious problems facing the planet, and the best way to fight it was to base action on the experiences of indigenous peoples, as they knew how to live in harmony with Mother Earth.
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, spotlighted some statistics that suggested that indigenous peoples were more vulnerable to human rights violations. Developed countries had a disproportionately high percentage of indigenous people in prison, he said, noting that, in one country, indigenous children were 25 times more likely to be in detention than children elsewhere.
The Conference held two round-table discussions this afternoon on, respectively, “United Nations system action for the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples” and “implementing the rights of indigenous peoples at the national and local level”.
Also delivering statements in the opening session were Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland (on behalf of the Western European and Other Group); Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia (on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States); Henri Djombo, Minister of Forest Economy and Sustainable Development of the Congo (on behalf of the Group of African States); Oren Lyons, Jr., Chief of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs; Aili Keskitalo, President of the Saami Parliament of Norway; Luis Evelis, Member of the Senate of Colombia; Dalee Sambo Dorough, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Rigoberta Menchú, indigenous leader and Nobel Laureate.
Speaking after adoption of the Outcome Document were an observer for the Holy See and the representative of Canada.
Chief Sidd Hill of the Haudenosaunee opened the meeting with a traditional prayer.
The Conference will meet again tomorrow at 3 p.m. for its conclusion.
SAM KUTESA, General Assembly President, said indigenous peoples’ issues had been a preoccupation of the United Nations for more than 30 years. The General Assembly’s 2007 adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples represented a “global consensus” on those peoples’ rights, including that of self-determination.
Nevertheless, he said, a deep chasm still separated reality from commitments, policies, and legislative actions aiming to improve the lives of indigenous peoples. Today’s World Conference should serve as “a turning point” for translating the Declaration into concrete action. The carefully crafted Outcome Document, which includes a system-wide action plan to ensure coherence in efforts towards realizing the Declaration’s provisions, comprises many action-oriented commitments directed towards addressing the implementation gaps, he said, adding that Member States must make greater efforts to translate it into reality.
BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that today’s conference connected so much of the Organization’s critical work this week. Indigenous peoples were concerned about issues that topped the global agenda and were deeply connected to Mother Earth, whose future was at the heart of the Climate Summit opening tomorrow. Indigenous peoples were also central to human rights and global development discourse. In talks with indigenous leaders in Costa Rica, he had found that they were worried about land, resources and rights. He pledged to address the exclusion and marginalization facing indigenous peoples worldwide.
Also, while meeting with Maori leaders in New Zealand earlier in the month, he had been impressed by their multi-million dollar horticulture, waste-management and energy-production companies and how every bit of waste was fed to worms, which, in turn, created very rich organic fertilizer. That was “sustainability in action”, he said, adding that it showed what could be learned from indigenous peoples. The General Assembly had adopted the Declaration during his first year in office. That text had set minimum standards for the survival, well-being and dignity of indigenous peoples; it had also led more countries to reflect those principles in their laws and constitutions and increasingly encouraged United Nations agencies to develop specific policies.
The Outcome Document before the Assembly today contained commitments to actions that would bridge the gap between promises and results, he said, welcoming its direct requests to him, including the development of concrete proposals to enable indigenous peoples and their institutions to participate more directly in United Nations activities. He said he would also give serious consideration to a request to appoint a high-level official on indigenous peoples. Quoting a long-time indigenous activist, he said that indigenous peoples, despite many different languages spoken among their communities, were speaking one language, and their relationship to Mother Earth was identical.
EVO MORALES AYMA, President of Bolivia, said that the fundamental principles of indigenous peoples were life, Mother Earth, and peace. Those tenets, however, were being threatened by the capitalist system, he said, adding that he was here today at the first official summit of the United Nations on indigenous peoples to share some experiences from his tenure in Bolivia.
In Bolivia, he said, the indigenous movement was now able not only to vote but also govern. Natural resources from Mother Earth should benefit everyone, he said, adding that in Bolivia, revenue from oil sales had doubled after the industry was nationalized. With nationalization, Bolivia had freed itself from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which had determined the country’s economic policies. Climate change had become one of the most serious problems facing the planet, he said, asserting that the best way to fight it was to base action on the experiences of indigenous peoples, who knew how to live in harmony with Mother Earth. They had learned to live in harmony and balance with the earth and believed today’s Conference should be a starting point in the process of transformation and change based on indigenous knowledge.
SAULI NIINISTÖ, President of Finland, speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other Group, said the conference marked an important step in fulfilling a key recommendation made in Alta a year ago. Indigenous peoples should have the right to participate in the United Nations in matters that concerned them. In that regard, the international community must express concern over reported attempts to prevent the representatives of indigenous people from the Russian Federation to join today’s conference. Also vital was indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making at the national level. In Finland, authorities were obliged by law to negotiate with the Saami Parliament, the legislative body representing the indigenous Saami. Recently, the Finnish Government had worked together with the Saami Parliament to expand the scope of the obligation to consult, with the proposed reform spelling out the concept of free, prior and informed consent.
He said it was also critical that indigenous youth had the rights, means and support to participate in their societies. To that end, access to education, information and means of communication were essential. In his country, Saami youth had taken significant steps to increase their participation in cultural and political activities through the establishment of a youth council. Measures to revive indigenous languages were an efficient way to strengthen the youth’s identity.
HENRI DJOMBO, Minister of Forest Economy and Sustainable Development of the Congo, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, stressed the importance of inclusive processes on matters affecting indigenous peoples. “They are the participants and the subject,” he said, noting that they had participated actively in the preparatory processes leading up to today’s conference and made invaluable contributions to the Outcome Document. The history of indigenous peoples in Africa varied from one country to another, and the marginalized among them required special protection. African States had also participated in the preparatory processes and offered many ideas.
He said that the Declaration, upon its adoption in 2007, had received strong support from African States, and marked a victory after more than two decades of battle for indigenous peoples. More African States now recognized indigenous peoples as “first citizens”. In February 2011, his Government had also enacted a law that set standards to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples. The impact had been ground-breaking and tangible. That had been followed by a new action plan in 2013, which aimed to improve the lives of indigenous peoples and ensure that they enjoyed the dividends of development. The plan also ensured free, prior and informed consent on matters that affected them. “The path to equality is a long one,” he said, expressing commitment to work with the United Nations to address issues affecting marginalized indigenous peoples.
TOOMAS HENDRIK ILVES, President of Estonia, speaking on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States, said that Estonians had stood on both sides, as both an oppressed indigenous people and as members of the United Nations. It was bizarre and shameful that some States had attempted to hinder indigenous peoples from participating in the Organization’s conferences. The rights of indigenous peoples must be respected, he said, noting that the majority of States did so, but in many countries, material gains were prioritized over indigenous rights. In other words, profit was pursued at the expense of culture.
He spoke of the situation of indigenous peoples in his region, and thanked various nations for their concern, as they always sought to include indigenous peoples in their delegations. He associated himself with the statement by the President of Finland regarding the inability of the Kola Saami to participate in the meeting. The international community was obliged to do everything it could to support indigenous peoples, he said, adding, “Wherever they live, they must all be acknowledged. We must learn to listen to the voices which have been silenced too long.”
ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO, President of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States, pledged a permanent commitment to support indigenous peoples worldwide, applauding the 2010 General Assembly resolution that mandated the convening of today’s meeting. With a population of 45 million indigenous peoples, the Latin American and Caribbean region was linguistically diverse. His Government had actively contributed to the preparatory process and negotiations on the Outcome Document for today’s conference, and the result was a product of open, inclusive and constructive dialogue that had included the participation of indigenous peoples. Participants had made sure that the Outcome was in line with the Declaration, he said, describing the final document as “a road map to reposition indigenous peoples” in the United Nations agenda. The post-2015 development agenda must also promote indigenous peoples’ rights.
There were 5,000 distinct indigenous communities in the world, he said, urging each country to strengthen efforts to promote and protect their rights. Mexico, with a population of 15 million indigenous peoples, recognized their right to self-determination and ensured non-discrimination against them. A national policy was in place for the creation of better opportunities for them, ensuring access to education, health services, and justice. Their products and handcrafts were also promoted, and his Government had established direct dialogue with indigenous communities to define public policy.
OREN LYONS, JR., Chief of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, greeted participants with a question about how to instruct 7 billion people on indigenous people’s relationship with the Earth. The question was fundamental to humanity’s existence, and today’s generation would make the decision as to whether the species would survive. Indigenous peoples were keepers of tradition. One from Greenland had come with a message: “The ice is melting”; thousands of feet had been lost at a pace that was accelerating.
There must be reconciliation between all groups, he said, between nations and between corporations and nature. Indigenous peoples believed in the order of the universe and the laws of creation, and that all life was bound by those tenets. Indigenous peoples had suffered for generations, but were here today to include their voices in a plea for sanity. There could be no peace as long as war was waged against the Earth, he said, urging that this crisis be addressed now, while there was still time. “And as we speak, the ice continues to melt in the north.” In conclusion, he told delegates that his speech today was the same one he had given 14 years ago, yet with the passage of time little had been done.
AILI KESKITALO, President of the Saami Parliament of Norway, said that indigenous peoples had historically been marginalized, discriminated against and ignored, but they had not lost heart. The Declaration’s adoption had been historic. Despite that milestone, the gap remained to be closed between theory and practice. The small city of Alta in the traditional Saami territory in Norway had hosted the Global Indigenous Preparatory Meeting, which had been the culmination of a process begun at the local level.
She welcomed the Outcome Document that resulted from today’s World Conference and its recognition of the need to ensure indigenous peoples’ participation at United Nations meetings on issues that affected them. Paraphrasing a Saami proverb, she said that all bad things eventually would come to an end. Adoption of the Outcome text was a “small, yet important step” towards “the dawn of the day” for indigenous peoples. The international community must persevere towards a realization of the common aspiration for human rights, justice, dignity, integrity and cultural identity.
LUIS EVELIS, Member of the Senate of Colombia, representing the Latin American and the Caribbean region on behalf of the Global Indigenous Coordinating Group, acknowledged the Alta Outcome Document in the process leading up to today’s Outcome Document, particularly the fundamental principles and aspirations of indigenous peoples. He was pleased to see many of its important provisions in the Outcome text. Those tenets conformed to the Declaration and ensured the exercise of the fundamental collective rights of indigenous peoples, especially to land, territories and resources, which underpinned their well-being, and the right to freely determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.
He stressed the need to work with Member States to establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation of the right and principle of free, prior and informed consent, particularly in the context of extractive industries and other major development projects affecting indigenous lands and territories. He requested that Member States develop national processes to harmonize policies, laws and regulations with global instruments and commitments, in the framework of the Outcome Document, and with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples.
ZEID RA’AD AL-HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in developed countries, the percentage of indigenous people in prison was highly disproportionate to their numbers. In one country, indigenous children were 25 times more likely to be in detention than children elsewhere. In Latin America and the Caribbean, indigenous children were three times more likely to not have access to education, safe drinking water or housing. In Africa and Asia, indigenous young adults were more likely to be deprived of their right to education, especially if they were female. In the Arctic, the Pacific and South-East Asia, indigenous women were at greater risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth than women from other communities, and their newborn and young children were also more likely to die. Such stark statistics translated into thousands of human tragedies and thousands of human rights violations.
He said that the World Conference and its Outcome Document were the stepping stones that would bring the work of the international community on indigenous peoples’ rights to a new level. He called for a pledge from the world community to ensure that the human rights and dignity of all indigenous peoples were acknowledged and fully protected, in line with the Declaration. The concerns and recommendations of indigenous peoples were essential to the Climate Summit and to the upcoming World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015. Natural disasters and the effects of climate change were often borne disproportionately by indigenous peoples, whose traditional knowledge could help mitigate the consequences.
DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said it was highly important to underscore not only the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, but also the need for all parties to be mindful of the pertinent international legal obligations of Member States in relation to all peoples, including indigenous peoples. She specifically emphasized the peremptory norms of international law and, in particular, the principle and right to self-determination, as affirmed by the Charter, and, among others, the international covenants and the Indigenous Peoples Declaration.
She said that consensus lost its validity if it was used to undermine the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination and good faith. Good governance became a casualty if a few States or even one State was allowed to undermine such essential rights and principles at the global level. In that regard, it was critical to recognize that indigenous peoples were among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the world. Their human rights must not be politicized or otherwise undermined by local, regional and national State interests and agendas. Rather, they must be respected and recognized. The high-level meeting should be remembered for its contribution through a principled Outcome Document, and she called upon Member States to provide support for its effective implementation and mutually agreed upon terms of cooperation within the framework of the United Nations Declaration.
RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ, indigenous leader and Nobel Laureate, said that 23 years ago, she had participated in the inaugural meeting of the working group on indigenous peoples. Thanks to that group, progress had been made in discussions on the rights of indigenous peoples. Since then, the United Nations had seen thousands of delegates come and go on the lead-up to the creation of the Permanent Forum. Progress was being made in the area of indigenous peoples’ rights, she said, expressing her full support for the adoption of today’s Outcome Document. The text would strengthen the action plans as well relationships among nations and nation-States.
She said that many young people and children were suffering daily from the effects of violence in their communities, in attempts to protect their land and seas. For indigenous people, peace was listening to various opinions, because “we are all part of one diversity.” Over the course of the 34 years she had been linked to the United Nations, she said she had seen progress, but also frustration. Indigenous people still lack basic services and rights, and if they were to achieve their freedom and self-determination, then all international standards must lead to dignified policies at the national level. She paid tribute to other speakers and to all the young people participating in today’s meeting.
Following the opening statements, the Assembly adopted without a vote the draft resolution titled, “Outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples”.
Speaking in explanation of position, the representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Holy See expressed his delegation’s reservation on language regarding reproductive rights in operative paragraph 13.
The representative of Canada said her delegation would table a short statement to explain its position and record some concerns.
Round Table Discussion I
Ghazali Ohorella, Representative of the Pacific Indigenous Region and Edita Hrda, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic co-chaired the panel discussion, titled “United Nations system action for the implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. Panellists were Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Atencio Lopez, Representative of the Central and South America and the Caribbean Indigenous Region.
Ms. HRDA commended efforts by Member States and representatives of indigenous peoples for having reached agreement on an outcome document. The text represented a further step in the United Nations system in implementing its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said.
Mr. OHORELLA emphasized the important contribution to that text made by the preparatory meeting held in July 2013 in Alta, Norway. The conference had found a realistic approach to be implemented at the national level. Indigenous people had come a long way to see the Outcome text, which they had once thought impossible. But there existed the gap between commitments and results.
Dr. NWANZE said his agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), took indigenous peoples seriously. They made up 5 per cent, or 370 million, of the world’s population. They had struggled to preserve their identities, cultures and lands and had been neglected in the development process. Their social and economic empowerment was vital to sustainable development and the creation of thriving communities. Any global development agenda that ignored indigenous peoples was a “hollow exercise”.
Policy did not mean anything unless it was matched with financial resources, he said, adding, “Let’s put money where the mouth is”. His agency was providing $1.8 billion in loans to benefit indigenous peoples, and had set up the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility and created an indigenous peoples’ forum within the agency, which kept IFAD accountable, relevant and effective. IFAD also had an internal fund to enable indigenous peoples to participate in this Conference. Moreover, it supported the mainstreaming of indigenous peoples in sustainable development goals. They had much to teach about ways to not jeopardize future generations.
Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ said that indigenous concerns had become a cross-cutting issue in the United Nations system, acknowledging the role of the Permanent Forum. Indigenous peoples’ interests were multifaceted, ranging from peace and security to human rights and the environment. Indigenous peoples suffered equally from global problems, he said, urging the United Nations to take a more coherent approach to addressing the issues that affected them, including human rights violations so as to avoid marginalization in the development agenda. Millennium Development Goals did not include indigenous peoples. Unless United Nations actions were better coordinated, indigenous issues would always fall in the cracks.
She was happy to see paragraphs in the Outcome Document that requested the Secretary-General to take specific actions, including the development of a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the goals of the Declaration. Also welcome had been the call to appoint a senior official for coordinating the action plan and raising awareness of the rights of indigenous peoples. The Secretary-General also had been asked to submit recommendations on how to use, modify and improve existing United Nations mechanisms to achieve the Declaration’s objectives, as well as ways to enhance a coherent, system-wide approach. Regarding the monitoring implementation, she proposed that the United Nations hire more staff dedicated to implementing policy, and performance indicators should measure the number of those staff. The senior official to be appointed should consult with indigenous peoples, she said, calling for an increase in dedicated resources to support the implementation of indigenous policy.
Mr. LOPEZ commended the Outcome Document as something that indigenous peoples had dreamed about for a long time. But he regretted that it had taken too long; many of his predecessors had already passed away without seeing the outcome. After the Second World War, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly, but the rights of indigenous peoples had not been respected. They had to remain vocal about their problems because they were not the ones that implemented policies. A great deal remained to be done. Indigenous issues, now cross-cutting, required the engagement of many United Nations agencies.
The Outcome Document, he said, reaffirmed the solemn commitment to respect, promote and advance indigenous peoples’ rights and uphold the principles of the Declaration. But regrettably, the text had received a “frosty” reception in some parts of Latin America. United Nations agencies should assume responsibility to implement the outcome by setting up funds to enable the participation of indigenous peoples in processes that affected them. The United Nations should be a facilitator with full participation of indigenous representatives. He recommended the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Within the United Nations system, he liked to see an “Indigenous Ambassador”.
When the floor opened for discussion, LUIS ALMAGRO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, said his country was homogenous but respected all ethnic minorities. To that end, a census had been conducted to recognize minorities and reaffirm their rights.
The representative of the Asia Caucus said that the Secretary-General should appoint an indigenous individual as a senior official on indigenous peoples, at a level not lower than that of Under-Secretary-General.
The representative of the European Union Delegation hailed the Outcome Document as being inclusive and thus having broad ownership. Coherent United Nations actions were vital and the Union, for its part, was reviewing its policies accordingly.
ISABEL SAINT MALO DE ALVARADO, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Panama, said the country had five preservation areas for indigenous peoples, which encompassed 28 per cent of national territory. Her Government had not ratified International Labour Organization Convention No. 169, but it recognized indigenous peoples in that context.
The representative of National Indigenous Women’s Federation of Nepal urged each United Nations agency to develop or revise its indigenous peoples policy and develop implementation guidelines and performance indicators to make those fully compatible with the Declaration.
The representative of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples Issues said that in addition to its work at the international level, country-specific dialogue between United Nations country teams, Governments and indigenous peoples was essential. The United Nations Development Group Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues was a tool to mainstream and integrate their issues in operational activities and programmes at the country level.
Also delivering statements were speakers representing Pakistan, Spain, Hungary, France, United States, Viet Nam and Argentina.
The representatives of the following United Nations entities and observers also spoke: the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).
Also taking the floor were speakers representing the Arctic Caucus, Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, Cherokee Nation, Chief of the Chakma Circle, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People, the Chickasaw Nation, Pacific Caucus, National Native Title Council, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Navajo Nation, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation in Canada (COTTFN), International Indian Treaty Council, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Pacific Disability Forum (Nepal Indigenous Disabled Association), Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Assyrian Universal Alliance, Americas Chapter, and Kalipunan ng Mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas.
Round Table Discussion II
David Choquehuanca, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bolivia and Joseph Ole Simmel, representative of the African Indigenous Region, co-chaired the panel on “Implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples at the national and local level”. Panellists were James Anaya, former Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Soyata Maiga, Commissioner, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.
Mr. ANAYA said the most formidable obstacle to fully implementing the indigenous peoples’ rights was ignorance — ignorance among the broader societies and political elites in the countries in which indigenous people lived. That ignorance was manifested and perpetuated by mainstream media and popular stereotypes, which depicted indigenous peoples as relics of the past amid images of savagery or subjects of curiosity and romanticism. As an example, he pointed to the pejorative use of the name “Redskins”, which is a United States-based professional football team. Perhaps the greatest contributor to the widespread ignorance were mainstream educational systems, wherein the study of history regarded colonial and settler patterns as triumphant precursors to modern States, with little attention to the devastating consequences of those patterns for indigenous peoples in both the past and the present. Instead, indigenous peoples had been cast into the roles of the savage or backward foe, of an obstacle to be overcome, or, alternatively, as the unwitting noble savage destined to succumb to modernity.
While the Outcome Document adopted by consensus in the morning renewed Member States’ affirmation of the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration, he stressed that the commitment to implementing those rights must be accompanied by programmes in education and awareness-raising geared towards all of society. Indigenous issues and realities must be mainstreamed into primary and secondary educational systems, he stressed. Additionally, the media should be encouraged, and should itself adopt specific programmes, to become educated about indigenous peoples in relation to contemporary events. Government authorities should be made aware of how their functions impacted and should impact on indigenous peoples. Finally, indigenous peoples should be invited to contribute to such educational and awareness-raising efforts in the spirit of reconciliation, partnership and commitment to the human rights of all, as represented in the Declaration.
Ms. MAIGA said that stereotypes of indigenous peoples’ behaviour had unfortunately contributed to discrimination against them. Their resources were taken from them, they suffered from inadequate access to social services, among many other injustices. The international community and the United Nations had alerted the world to that situation. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights had been working tirelessly to undertake missions to enable Governments to interact with indigenous communities. Their mandate was to receive complaints of human rights violations, and these efforts had begun to yield fruit.
There were now policies and good practices in several countries, she said, adding that the Commission had cultural initiatives covering indigenous peoples throughout Africa. Niger, for example, had recognized the rights of pastoral communities. The Commission also referred to past injustices, she said, noting the importance of the Conference. The assembled delegates, she said, were now the ones called upon to make the Outcome Document a living document, to show how the United Nations could be used to identify the requisite resources, to enable indigenous peoples to enjoy the fruits of their own labour.
In the discussion that followed, the representative of the Indigenous Caucus of the Arctic highlighted a prophecy in her country, which said that a spider’s web would eventually cover the Earth. “Think of the Internet today,” she explained. Using the situation of her own group, she said that Inuit rights were being recognized in Canada, but that aboriginal treaty signatories were often left with no choice but to turn to the courts. Indigenous peoples in Canada tried to get the Government to implement a modern treaty, which met their goals. Self-determination, she said, was a process of incremental change.
The representative of Denmark said his country had advanced indigenous rights and a long-term strategy for the Arctic. He then ceded the speaker’s seat to the representative of Greenland, who listed important ways in which Greenland exercised its self-determination. Her country, however, still had serious social problems, including erosion of traditional values, she added.
The representative of the Caucus of Latin America and the Caribbean, noting that States still had reservations with respect to interpretation of laws and reforms, said legislation should apply uniformly to all inhabitants of a country and not favour one sector only. Further, she proposed that legal systems of indigenous people be recognized by Member States.
New Zealand’s representative said his country had developed its own unique approaches to support Maori to achieve their full potential. Central to its approach and relationship with Maori was respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, underpinned by the principle of partnership. The Waitangi Tribunal was a mechanism for inquiry into historical grievances, as well as contemporary issues relating to the Crown’s treaty relationship with iwi and Maori communities. Significant progress had been made and completion of treaty settlements was more than halfway through, which typically included a Crown apology for historical wrongs and restitution of traditionally held lands and resources, thereby strengthening the partnerships between iwi and the Government.
The representative of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance said that in his nation, collective rights to ancestral lands, territories and resources continued to be violated as State military forces were deployed in their communities to protect “destructive projects and corporate plunder”. He called for a resumption of peace talks between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to “address the root causes of the armed conflict towards a just and lasting peace”.
Guyana’s representative said that her country was firmly committed to the advancement of indigenous peoples. Guyana was among the few countries to have enacted legislation to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples, including land rights. Indigenous leaders held leadership positions at national and local levels of Government in her country, she said, adding that those achievements could only have been accomplished through a strong partnership with indigenous peoples.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Ecuador, South Africa, Nigeria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Brazil, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Namibia, Suriname, Indonesia and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as well as representatives of major civil society organizations.