Indigenous Peoples Still Face Discrimination, Exploitation, Other Social Ills, Secretary-General Says as Permanent Forum Opens Thirteenth Session

12 May 2014
HR/5177

Indigenous Peoples Still Face Discrimination, Exploitation, Other Social Ills, Secretary-General Says as Permanent Forum Opens Thirteenth Session

12 May 2014
Economic and Social Council
HR/5177
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Thirteenth Session

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Indigenous Peoples Still Face Discrimination, Exploitation, Other Social Ills,

 

Secretary-General Says as Permanent Forum Opens Thirteenth Session

 

General Assembly, Economic and Social Council Presidents Discuss 2014 Plans

While important progress had been made in advancing rights and expanding opportunities for indigenous peoples, many around the world still faced discrimination, exploitation and the disproportionate impacts of societal ills, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“Forging win-win solutions for all is your responsibility and your challenge,” Mr. Ban declared, as he opened the thirteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which will run through 23 May.  He stressed that its success would depend on the extent to which partners — States, United Nations agencies and others — worked together in identifying creative solutions to intractable problems.  The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples were also available to advance such efforts, he said, emphasizing the need for a collective action to make the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a “living document”.  The upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level General Assembly event, offered yet another opportunity to involve indigenous peoples in solutions for a common future.

Broadly agreeing, John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), President of the General Assembly, said the World Conference, to be held in September, would be the first of its kind in the context of the United Nations.  An interactive hearing following the Forum’s current session would provide opportunities for dialogue between indigenous peoples and the United Nations system, he said, adding that its success would depend on how the current session was used.  “At the end of the day, no one knows better than you the challenges you face and the importance of drawing maximum international attention to your situation,” he said.

Martin Sajdik (Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said there was always a need to consider how the relationship between indigenous peoples and States could be adjusted or improved, adding:  “The Council takes this work truly seriously.”  Its 2014 Integration Segment, to be held later this month, would focus on sustainable urbanization, he said, adding that the Permanent Forum was an important member of the United Nations family whose recommendations on such topics would inform all parties.  The Council was committed to its success.

Following her election as Chair, Dalee Sambo Dorough said that issues on the Forum’s agenda included making sure that United Nations agencies responded to the human rights concerns and interests of indigenous peoples.  It must initiate a discussion about the “false dichotomy” of limiting United Nations agencies to helping groups in developing countries while disregarding those equally marginalized in the so-called developed world.  “Ultimately, the objective of the Forum is to ensure that indigenous peoples do have a ‘home’ within the United Nations,” she emphasized.  There was an urgent need, particularly on the part of Member States, to take “bold and effective” actions to address the discrimination, racism, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflict faced by indigenous peoples across the globe.  “Indifference to these urgent realities should not be tolerated,” she stressed.

Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, spoke on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, agreeing that it was vital that the United Nations support the small but significant efforts defined and implemented by indigenous peoples themselves.  Much work remained to be done in safeguarding their rights, and many suffered poor access to health care and education, in addition to suffering high poverty levels.  An estimated 600 indigenous languages had been lost over the last century, an average of one language every two weeks, he noted.

In the afternoon, the Forum held a panel discussion on the special theme of the 2014 session — “Principles of good governance consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:  articles 3 to 6 and 46” — during which indigenous groups, United Nations agencies and Governments raised key concerns, including land rights and self-determination.  They also outlined efforts to bring about effective systems to support good governance and accountability.

Chief Todadaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, delivered the annual ceremonial welcome to participants.  Wharehuia Milroy performed a traditional chant — Waiata/Mōteatea — and the Poutama Maōri Performing Arts Group of Te Ipukarea performed a karakia.

Earlier, the Forum voted for members of its Bureau for the thirteenth session, electing the following by acclamation:  Mohammad Hassani Nejad Pirkouhi, Edward John, Gervais Nzoa and Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe as Vice-Chairs, and Valmaine Toki as Rapporteur.

Also today, the Forum adopted the agenda (document E/C.19/2014/1) and organization of work (document E/C.19/2014/L.1) for the session.

The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 13 May, to continue its thirteenth session.

Background

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opened its thirteenth session at United Nations Headquarters in New York this morning.

Opening Remarks

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that since 2000, the Forum had been recognized as the world’s primary arena for deliberating issues relating to indigenous people.  “Forging win-win solutions is your responsibility and your challenge,” he added, noting that two other tools had been established alongside the Forum — the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Recalling that States had adopted the landmark United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, he said the upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level General Assembly event, would provide an opportunity to build on the commitment to involve indigenous peoples in defining solutions for a common future.  Success would depend on working together while respecting diverse perspectives, he said, emphasizing that he was counting on the Assembly President, States and indigenous peoples’ groups to show the needed political will and leadership.  As with any collaborative process, building trust was essential, he added.

Recalling that 2014 marked the end of the Second Decade of Indigenous Peoples, he said there remained many challenges to realizing their rights.  From language to land, and poverty to participation, indigenous peoples faced discrimination and exploitation, he noted, stressing that their contributions would be critical to the ongoing elaboration of the development agenda beyond 2015, especially on the issue of climate change.  Indigenous peoples must have the right to determine their own priorities and to maintain their traditions, cultures and identities, he said, adding that the Forum could count on his full support for enabling indigenous peoples to live in dignity, peace and well-being.

JOHN ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda), President of the General Assembly, said the Forum’s body of work on thematic issues had enabled an understanding of what might be the most useful approach to stimulating and strengthening dialogue.  The Declaration showed significant common ground between the development concerns of indigenous peoples and the Millennium Development Goals, but the outcomes of those targets had fallen short for the indigenous, with inadequate policies for promoting access to social services revealing a need to consider new approaches.

In the context of the post-2015 development agenda, the core concerns of indigenous peoples must be recognized, he continued, noting that recent discussions on the post-2015 framework highlighted a number of issues, including freedom from discrimination, biodiversity protection and sustainable management of natural resources.  As the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples concluded at the end of 2014, the final report on goals and achievements could serve as input for discussions on the post-2015 agenda.

By General Assembly resolution 66/296, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the first high-level meeting of its kind in the context of the United Nations, would be held in September, he said.  Deeply mindful of the concerns of indigenous peoples, an interactive hearing to be held after the Forum’s current session would provide opportunities for dialogue between indigenous peoples and the United Nations system, he said, adding that its success would depend on how the current session was used.  “At the end of the day, no one knows better than you the challenges you face and the importance of drawing maximum international attention to your situation,” he said.  “This Forum provides you with an opportunity to make the wisest use of the opportunity that begins today.  There is simply no choice but to do so.”

MARTIN SAJDIK (Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said there was always a need to reflect on whether the relationship between indigenous peoples and States must be adjusted or improved.  “This work is important and the Council takes this work truly seriously,” he said.

He went on to note that much had changed in the Council’s work, and the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) had given it a key role in upholding the three pillars — economic, social and environmental — of sustainable development.  The Council would select an annual theme for the Forum, and each subsidiary body was expected to address that theme from its own perspective and provide inputs to the Council.  The 2014 theme was “Addressing ongoing and emerging challenges for meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and for sustaining development gains in the future”, he said.

The Council had established an integration segment to consolidate inputs from various sources, including its subsidiary bodies, he continued.  The 2014 Integration Segment, to be held later this month, would focus on sustainable urbanization.  The Council would also review the activities, reports and recommendations of its subsidiary bodies, in addition to holding coordination and management meetings throughout the year.  Noting that the Forum would report to the Council in July, he said that would provide an opportunity for closer engagement.

Turning to the issue of sustainable urbanization, he said there was no doubt that its impact was keenly felt by indigenous peoples and had serious consequences for their cultures and connection to traditional lands.  In cities, indigenous peoples often lived in poor human settlements, but cities could also provide them with better opportunities, he said, urging urban planners to work with indigenous peoples and help in realizing their potential.  The Forum was an important member of the United Nations family whose recommendations would inform all parties, and the Council was committed to its success, he said.

DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, paid tribute to Billy Frank Jr., who passed away on 5 May in his home in the territory of the Nisqually tribe, describing him as a leader who had affirmed his people’s right to harvest salmon and gained recognition for the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples.

She said that over the past year, members of the Forum had engaged in processes to raise awareness on important issues, from national to the international levels.  However, realizing the fundamental principle of equality and respect for the right of indigenous peoples to participate directly in the proposed World Conference remained elusive, and it was to be hoped that the political milieu would produce favourable results.

Recognizing the need to constantly improve the Forum’s working methods, she highlighted some of the issues on the agenda.  They included ensuring that United Nations agencies responded to human rights concerns and interests of indigenous peoples, as well as the potential for future sessions to include working meetings between indigenous groups and Governments.  The role of expert members was also important and they should be provided with the resources they needed to undertake consultations in their regions and beyond.

Furthermore, she continued, the Forum must initiate a discussion about the “false dichotomy” of limiting United Nations agencies to helping groups in developing countries while disregarding those equally marginalized in the so-called developed world.  “Ultimately, the objective of the Forum is to ensure that indigenous peoples do have a ‘home’ within the United Nations, a ‘home’ that is welcoming and is accorded an equitable and dignified status within this family of nations,” she emphasized.

Highlighting other agenda items as well as some 60 side and cultural events, she said Forum members would introduce studies throughout the session with a view to addressing global themes.  “There is an urgent need for all of us, and in particular Member States, to take collaborative and coordinated actions that are bold and effective to address the continuing discrimination, racism, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflict faced by indigenous peoples across the globe,” she said.  “Indifference to these urgent realities should not be tolerated because, as we well know, indifference is the breeding ground for intolerance.”

Appealing to Member States and other donors to help efforts to overcome the financial barriers preventing many from participating in the indigenous-related work of the United Nations, she paid tribute to those indigenous people who continued to struggle for recognition of and respect for their distinct human rights, sometimes sacrificing their own lives in the process.  “I call upon all of us to work together to make meaningful and worthwhile changes through this Forum for the survival, dignity, security and well-being of all indigenous peoples,” she said.

THOMAS GASS, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, spoke on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, outlining the Forum’s role in providing policy and programmatic leadership on the priorities of indigenous peoples to the United Nations in the areas of culture, education, environment, health, human rights and socioeconomic development.  While major achievements had been made, much work remained in order to safeguard their rights because indigenous peoples faced poor access to health care and education, in addition to suffering high poverty levels.  An estimated 600 indigenous languages had been lost over the last century, an average of one language every two weeks, he noted.

The theme of the thirteenth session must focus on how governance was advancing — or failing to advance — the rights of indigenous peoples towards full implementation of the Declaration, he said, adding that the Forum’s recommendations on that issue would help define the post-2015 development agenda.  Indeed, as stewards of their territories, indigenous peoples contributed to sustainable development through their traditional practices.  The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples should build on the gains made towards strengthening their rights.  Noting that the Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues provided support for implementation of the Forum’s mandate, allowing it to participate in various events, he thanked countries that had made contributions, saying it was vital that the United Nations support the small but significant efforts defined and implemented by indigenous peoples themselves.

NUVIA MAGDALENA MAYORGA DELGADO, Director General of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, said the her country’s strategies included improving access to justice, bolstering social development infrastructure in areas like health and education, and broadening participation in the planning and management of development efforts.  Other efforts focused on economic development, including implementation of sustainable projects.  Indigenous peoples must play a key role in the World Conference in September, she emphasized, voicing confidence that the Forum’s conclusions would be fundamental in continuing the momentum of the principle themes on the global indigenous agenda for Governments, indigenous peoples and the United Nations system.

JERRY MATEPARAE, Governor-General of New Zealand, said participation in the Forum was fundamental to the ability of the United Nations to represent the peoples of the world.  New Zealand supported the Declaration, which acknowledged their distinctive and important status while encapsulating the aspirations underpinning the Government’s relationship with the Māori people.  While New Zealand continued to make progress towards improving outcomes for the Māori, more could be done, as they were overrepresented in the criminal justice system, had the poorest health status of any ethnic group and faced high unemployment.  “I encourage all indigenous peoples, their advocates and all nation States to maintain an open dialogue, to continue seeking enduring solutions to the many challenges we all face, and to take opportunities to realize indigenous peoples’ potential and aspirations for the future.”

Discussion

Participants met to discuss the special theme for the year, “Principles of good governance consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, covering articles 3 to 6 and 46, as well as the report of the international group meeting on sexual health and reproductive rights, covering articles 21, 22 (1), 23 and 24.  Good governance was defined as a set of interrelated and mutually reinforcing principles, including transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of Governments with respect to the rights, interests and needs of indigenous peoples.

With Forum Chair Dorough as Moderator, the panel comprised Jaime Martinez Veloz, National Commissioner for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, Mexico; Robert Joseph, Professor, University of Waikato, New Zealand; and Pedro Garcia, a lawyer from Peru.

Mr. VELOZ said that his country had, through its 2013-2018 sectoral programme, committed to supporting the harmonization of national legislation with the Declaration and was working to include all citizens in the Government’s efforts for economic growth.  “Development and progress must go hand-in-hand with progress for the indigenous peoples,” he said, adding that harmonized legislation would eventually become a reality in Mexico.  He called for the World Conference to be held in the best possible conditions, a space in which to share challenging experiences as well as opportunities for building paradigms for understanding among all groups.  It was also to be hoped that the post-2015 development agenda would encompass the relationship between Governments and indigenous peoples, he said, emphasizing that despite the long and arduous road ahead, progress had and could continue to be made.

Mr. JOSEPH said his country’s Māori people did not enjoy self-determination, but they did have political influence and had pursued rights, including the right to development.  They comprised some 15 per cent of New Zealand’s population and 20 per cent of its 110 parliamentarians.  A growing Māori economy contributed $36 billion to gross domestic product, and they governed their own education systems.  Yet the picture was not that “rosy”, he cautioned, saying that a “disconnect” between transactional and transformational governance had resulted in lagging statistics in terms of health, education and crime rates.  Unlike the “corporate” tribes of Alaska and the Band-Council-led indigenous groups of Canada, New Zealand’s land councils existed without full self-determination.  Māori governance needed more political space to allow tribes to resolve issues themselves, for example.  Legal structures were also a challenge, many focusing on economic development, he said, recommending legislative structures similar to those in the United States, where indigenous peoples enjoyed political immunity.

Mr. GARCIA said that, during recent workshops involving peoples of the Amazon, they had been asked what legacies from their ancestors could guide good territorial governance today.  They had respect for territorial boundaries, control over decisions, sovereignty, food security, control over education and collective rights recognized by current treaties.  Self-determination meant indigenous peoples could govern themselves by their own norms and manage their resources without foreign or external meddling.  However, a stable legal order was needed in the twenty-first century, he emphasized.  At a parallel event, groups from Asia, Africa and Latin America had agreed that the resources of indigenous peoples were coveted by international companies, which made governance in their territories difficult.  In dealing with the planet’s current health, the world was looking to indigenous governance as a model, yet comments by States were almost always pejorative.  For instance, they had begun to use the tool of poverty as a means of political and ideological domination in relation to water and food supply.  They also forced indigenous peoples to abandon the ways in which they had administered their heritage.  For instance, many young people who had left their communities to “escape” that “poverty” had, in fact, lost their way, he pointed out.  Aggressive policies had affected indigenous self-esteem, with some Governments seeing tribes in the context of charity rather than through the lens of rights, he said, adding that the State often regarded self-determination in a restrictive manner.

Ms. DOROUGH said very few countries had mastered the principles of good governance.  “We all know what bad governance looks like,” she said, emphasizing that failure to achieve good governance could have devastating consequences.  It applied not only to Governments, but also to corporations and institutions, including those for indigenous peoples.  Respect for and protection of human rights was essential, and thus, good governance must be in line with the Declaration, which affirmed the distinct status and human rights of indigenous peoples, she said.

For good governance to be achieved, she said, the human right to an effective remedy must also be realized, as must public awareness and legal reforms.  In that context, she urged States to create impartial, incorruptible police forces and independent judiciaries.  Further, self-determination was a prerequisite to the exercise and enjoyment of all other human rights, she said, one that must be recognized for indigenous peoples in order to promote all their individual and collective human rights.

Delivering general statements following the panel presentations, speakers highlighted concerns and ongoing efforts to address a range of issues.  Self-determination was a common theme, with Brazil’s speaker saying that a fine balance must be reached between indigenous peoples and the States in which they lived.  While the Declaration’s Article 46 provided indigenous peoples with the right to self-determination, it should not be “interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations…which would dismember or impair…the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States”.

Speakers for some indigenous caucuses expressed different views.  A representative of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus said Article 46 should not be interpreted as an obstacle to ongoing efforts to attain goals set forth in other articles and in the Declaration as a whole.  A representative of the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus agreed, adding that treaties and agreements must be upheld in order for indigenous peoples to fulfil their right to self-determination under the Charter.  States must repudiate colonial doctrines, he said.  Indigenous peoples must take control of their treaties and climate change issues must be addressed in terms of good governance, he added.

Given the critical importance of self-determination, a representative of the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus recommended that the Forum call for a study to identify remedies that would protect the right of indigenous peoples to exercise freely their right to defend their lands and peoples.

On a similar note, some speakers emphasized that the environment played a crucial role in good governance.  A speaker from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity said governance was crucial for attaining protected-area objectives and determined the sharing of relevant cost and benefits.  It was also the key to preventing or resolving social conflicts.

Some Member States, attending as observers, described their national policies on subjects ranging from education to land rights.  Mexico’s representative said his country had taken important steps to build a rights-based society, focusing on programmes and actions aimed at eradicating hunger and improving health, education and sanitation.  Canada’s speaker recognized her country’s past failures and highlighted its current efforts, including self-determination agreements for First Nations communities.

Also speaking were representatives of the following organizations:  the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee.

A representative of Australia addressed the Forum as an observer.

An official of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also delivered a statement.

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