23 May 2002
HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING BY FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES
The opening of dialogue between indigenous peoples, and between those peoples and governments, was among the most important accomplishment thus far of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, members of that body from the Russian Federation told correspondents at a Headquarters briefing this morning.
"Representatives of indigenous peoples must be heard by their Governments," said Yuri Boitchenko, a government nominated expert of the Forum. "The lack of direct dialogue has led to conflict situations in varying degrees." At the forum, such dialogue had encompassed economic development, the environment, culture, education, health and human rights, common concerns of all the indigenous peoples of the world, he said.
Joining Mr. Boitchenko at this morning's briefing to address the progress of the Forum's first historic session, which ends tomorrow, were Zinaida Strogalschikova, an indigenous nominated expert of the Forum, and Oleg Zaporotski, a representative of the Itelmen of Kamchatka. Edoardo Bellando of the United Nations Department of Public Information introduced the speakers.
Dialogue between the representatives of various peoples at the Forum was invaluable, according to Mr. Zaporotski. Peoples of the Kamchatka Peninsula, for example, had much in common with those in attendance from Canada, and the shared experience of both was useful in dealing with numerous problems.
The worst problem facing his people, he said, was unemployment. After perestroika, State-run endeavours had been replaced by large enterprises that imposed certain fishing practices, for example. Gradually, villages had taken control of some of that activity, but the future was unclear because there was no defined policy.
Ms. Strogalschikova said that a great deal could be learned from developments at the regional level in the Russian Federation since perestroika. The 21 republics now include regional languages as official languages along with Russian. In Dagestan, the 14 languages of autochthonous peoples now had such status; the languages are used in publications, schools and institutions. Much work had to be done in that area, however, since knowledge and use of many of those languages had decreased drastically in the twentieth century.
Participation in governance, she said, was also clearer at the regional level for the 95 groups with a right to claim a place on the official List of Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation, though it was still problematic. At the federal level, not one of the political parties mentioned indigenous issues as an interest. At the Forum, it was important to agree on a mechanism to facilitate representation at the national, regional and local levels, which was essential to resolve tensions.
Responding to a correspondent's question, Ms. Strogalschikova said a parallel situation existed regarding access to mass media. At the local level, and in some cases regional, there were media in indigenous languages that
Indigenous Issues Press Conference - 2 - 23 May 2002
discussed indigenous issues. National media, especially national television, was uninterested in those topics, and when indigenous peoples were depicted it was often in a less-than-flattering manner.
An important part of the Permanent Forum's mandate was to disseminate information about indigenous issues, but no specific proposals had yet been adopted, she said. Mr. Boitchenko added that a Web site had been proposed, but that involved approval of funding, which was a stumbling block to many activities being discussed.
Asked whether the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would be adopted within the Decade for Indigenous Peoples, ending in 2004, Mr. Boitchenko said it would be a miracle if it happened. Only two out of around 150 articles had been agreed on.
But the work on the Declaration was possibly as useful as its adoption because of the all-important dialogue between States, peoples and experts that it involved. Gradually, for example, the notion of collective rights was gaining respect in the international community, rather than simply the individual rights that already had status in State constitutions.
Indigenous communities, Ms. Strogalschikova added, had survived over time through collective efforts. The Forum was therefore extremely important in calling for collective rights. If communities with collective interests could not continue, the peoples would disappear.
As the briefing ended, Mr. Bellando announced that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would conclude tomorrow at 10 with an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the adoption of its report. For further information,
Mr. Bellando can be reached at 963-8275.
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