25 May 2006
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY un indigenous forum

With the fifth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues drawing to a close tomorrow, its participants highlighted its key recommendations at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

The Forum is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, environment, education, health and human rights.  This year, its two-week session was devoted to considering indigenous peoples’ key developmental concerns through the special theme “Millennium Development Goals and indigenous peoples:  redefining the Goals”.  The session was attended by some 1,200 indigenous peoples’ representatives, as well as some 55 governments, 31 international agencies, members of non-governmental organizations and academia.

Addressing the press were the Forum’s Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines with fellow Forum member Wilton Littlechild of Canada and a youth representative, Jennifer Awingan of the Philippines.

Highlighting the recommendations of the Forum, the speakers urged Member States to rapidly adopt a long-negotiated draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples as the surest way to promote the human rights of 370 million indigenous people worldwide and to protect the fragile traditional lands and resources on which they depended for survival.  With the draft representing the most comprehensive statement of indigenous peoples’ collective fundamental rights to date, they hoped it would be endorsed by the newly-created Human Rights Council, to be adopted by the Assembly at the end of this year.

Mr. Littlechild said that with the reform of the United Nations system, human rights issues had been elevated, particularly with the creation of the Human Rights Council.  He had personal confidence that the new body would promote the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.  Ms. Tauli-Corpuz added that the Forum had recommended that the role of the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues needed to be strengthened.  It was also necessary to reshape the approach to the Millennium Development Goals, so that indigenous peoples could actively participate in their achievement.

At the opening of its session, the Forum had launched the Programme of Action of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, she said.  The Forum had recommended, among other things, that Governments and agencies develop elaborate strategies in the areas of information, education and awareness-raising.  In this connection, Mr. Littlechild stressed tbe need to promote partnerships, saying that the Decade needed to produce tangible results from the concerted efforts of all players.

The Decade -- whose close will coincide with the 2015 benchmark for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals -- seeks to further strengthen global cooperation for the attainment of indigenous peoples’ goals, by means of action-oriented programmes and specific projects, increased technical assistance and relevant standard-setting activities.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said HIV/AIDS among indigenous peoples, the problem of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and illegal encroachment on their lands had also been discussed during the session.  Half a day’s session had been devoted to the situation of indigenous peoples in Africa, and concrete proposals had been made in the area of education, which included creation of mobile schools.  Regarding the Forum’s future work, the Forum had agreed that the main theme would be lands, territories and resources as they related to indigenous peoples.

Ms. Awingan said that the Youth Caucus had met for the second time during the Forum’s current session.  She welcomed the Forum’s “breakthrough efforts” for the promotion of youth issues and its support for the participation of indigenous youth.  She requested all stakeholders to support indigenous youth in their initiatives and concretely implement the Forum’s initiatives at all levels in the areas of capacity-building, education and raising awareness.  States needed to allocate substantial resources to the construction of schools and other facilities, make them accessible to indigenous youth, promote the use of indigenous languages, provide training for teachers and assist in the compilation of data on indigenous youth.

Responding to several questions about the draft declaration, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that, while there was a related International Labour Organization (ILO) text, there had never been a United Nations instrument on indigenous peoples.  The idea of the draft had been formulated 25 years ago and negotiated for the last 11 years.  Finally agreed upon in February, the draft promoted respect for indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands and resources, the right to self-determination, and the right to free, prior and informed consent to the development of their land.

Mr. Littlechild added that an important part of the draft declaration dealt with existing treaties and future agreements, calling on parties to respect and honour them.  One would think that was a given, but history, unfortunately, showed that it was not always so.

Asked if they foresaw any opposition to the draft, participants of the press conference said that actually, Australia, United States and New Zealand had made a statement during the session, saying that they could not support the text.  Among other controversial issues, they listed the article on indigenous-peoples’ right to self-determination, expressing concern that it could create instability within States.  However, most governments had expressed support for the draft.  For example, Scandinavian countries and members of the European Union, as well as some countries of Asia and almost all Governments of Latin America had expressed support for the adoption of the declaration.  Should the text be adopted, the next step would be to push for its implementation in recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Asked about the efforts to preserve the 5,000 languages spoken by indigenous peoples, Mr. Littlechild said that language was part of indigenous people’s identity.  In particular, the issue had been addressed at an international expert meeting in Japan earlier this year.  In fact, in his country, there were 57 indigenous languages, 12 of which were expected to survive, should measures be taken to preserve them.

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For information media • not an official record