Protecting the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples

UNFFThe fourteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will be held at UN Headquarters in New York from 20 April to 1 May.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meets for 10 days each year in accordance to the ECOSOC resolution that established the Forum. It is a high-level advisory body that deals with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, environment, education, health and human rights.

In addition to these six areas, each session has thematically focused on a specific issue. During the Forum’s first six sessions, a specific theme was discussed each year. Since 2008, the Forum has adopted a bi-annual working method of one year with a specific theme and the next year focusing on review of implementation.

Some of the topics on this year’s agenda include the outcome of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the post-2015 development agenda, and youth, self-harm and suicide.

At the September 2010 UN Summit on Millennium Development Goals, Member States initiated steps towards advancing the development agenda beyond 2015. Indigenous peoples have consistently called for the recognition of their distinct cultural identities and political status of indigenous peoples – as rights holders and agents of change – in the post-2015 development agenda.

The indigenous peoples’ major group has clustered its concerns in six main areas: the need for disaggregation of data; rights to lands, territories and resources; free prior and informed consent; special measures that include health, education, etc.; access to justice and redress mechanisms; and participation and representation in decision-making in relevant bodies. They have also specifically recommended that the negotiations and related processes of post-2015 development agenda ensure indigenous peoples meaningful participation and access to the mechanisms tasked with the development of indicators, national policies, monitoring and evaluation.

There are over 70 million indigenous youth globally and available data suggests that indigenous peoples experience disproportionately high rates of youth suicide. Indigenous youth today face the challenge of striking a balance between their place within their indigenous community, and within the mainstream society of the country in which they live. They may feel marginalized from both, resulting in a sense of socio-cultural isolation. This isolation, compounded by contemporary manifestations of discrimination, such as disproportionately high levels of poverty and unemployment, may contribute to the high rates of suicide experienced by certain indigenous peoples.

There will also be a regional focus on the Pacific region, which is home to a diverse range of indigenous peoples speaking 19 per cent of the world’s estimated 5,000 languages. Indigenous peoples in the Pacific are still linked to their communal lands, belief systems, spirituality and customary laws which forms the basis of their social, economic and political systems.

Due to the diversity of Pacific countries and territories, there are significant variations in the social, political and economic situation of indigenous peoples in the region. The small developing States of the Pacific face specific environmental, social and economic challenges that have significant impacts on indigenous peoples exercising their human rights.

For more information: Fourteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues