– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

22 April 2019

Esteemed Anne Nuorgam, President of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,

Esteemed Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Excellencies, Representatives of Indigenous Peoples, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, allow me to express my regrets and solidarity with the Government and People of Sri Lanka and the victims of the heinous terrorist attacks, that took place this Easter. I strongly condemn these events. Terrorism and violence, in any of its forms, are not justified and cannot go unpunished.

I would like to start by acknowledging the ancestral land of the Onondaga Nation and its Peoples, which harbors the headquarters of the United Nations.

I greet the Indigenous Peoples, its organizations and representatives who are here with us today. I also greet the Indigenous Peoples in each of their communities and territories.

When I took over the Presidency of the General Assembly, I set on working tirelessly to bring our Organization closer to the people and the peoples we serve. The space that this Forum opens to meet and dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples is fundamental for that goal.

We are also here to listen and learn from their visions and their wisdom.


We still have a long way to go to ensure the full realization of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples around the world.

Although the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples meant significant progress in the acknowledgement of their rights, there are still challenges for its effective validity.

The Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, in 2014, was a milestone to drive the implementation of the Declaration.

Some of the progress made includes the development of the UN System-Wide Action Plan, which seeks to ensure a comprehensive approach to reach the goals of the Declaration.

However, we have no time to lose. We must do much more to overcome the still significant implementation gap. We still have a historical debt with the Indigenous Peoples, their collective rights, their cultural and identity rights and their rights to health, education and development, according to their aspirations and needs.

15% of the poorest people of the world are indigenous. This demands concerted and urgent actions. We cannot leave the Indigenous Peoples behind. Including them is crucial if we wish to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

That is why their full and effective participation in developing, implementing and monitoring the plans and programs on sustainable development is fundamental at the local, regional and international level.

To do so, I invite the States to cooperate even more with the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, whose work I wish to emphasize.

On the other hand, I must also mention the situation of indigenous women, who often face multiple forms of discrimination and violence for being indigenous, for being women and for being in poverty.

In this Organization we acknowledge Indigenous Women as key agents in the eradication of poverty and hunger. Today, we must ensure that the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals includes visions, goals and indicators that reflect the real situation of indigenous women and girls, and we must support strategies and programs that favor and empower indigenous women, including their political participation.

15% of the poorest people of the world are indigenous. This demands concerted and urgent actions. We cannot leave the Indigenous Peoples behind. Including them is crucial if we wish to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

Dear friends,

I would like to highlight the relevance of the generation, transmission and protection of traditional knowledge, which is the central topic of this Forum.

Many of the solutions that the world needs to fight climate change reside in the Indigenous Peoples: they protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity and they have coexisted in peace with Mother Earth for centuries. Today, we celebrate the International Mother Earth Day.

Let’s not forget that the traditional knowledge of the indigenous peoples has a central role in mitigation and adaptation actions for climate change.

Acknowledging them, by means of the knowledge exchange platform agreed in the Paris Agreement, and that was instrumented at the Conference of the Parties in Bonn, is an important step.

Transmitting them from generation to generation must become a priority. We must recover and improve those knowledges; include their traditional practices in a world that is -sometimes- disconnected from the sense of community.

Including indigenous young people, their scientific and technological tools and their innovation is also crucial to rescue the traditional knowledge of their peoples.

Therefore, we must also facilitate training to create “indigenous innovators”.

Dear friends,

We must make progress in the implementation of the Action Plan for the “International Year of Indigenous Languages”. As a poet and a linguist, I am fully aware of the power of words. Words can create and transform reality. Therefore, languages are much more than communication tools; they are tools to transmit culture and history. The indigenous languages are unique knowledge systems to understand the world.

When a language becomes extinct, it takes so many things with it: its cultural heritage, its world view, its spirituality, its knowledge about agriculture, biology, astronomy, medicine and meteorology, knowledge that has accumulated for thousands of years.

To conclude, I will refer to the challenge that lies ahead of us to improve and strengthen the participation of the Indigenous Peoples in meetings of the United Nations on issues affecting them.

If we broaden the participation of the Indigenous Peoples in the UN, we will also greatly increase their involvement in implementation actions.

The hearings that will be held on next April 25 are a unique opportunity to move forward in the process that was started in the 70th session.

I invite you to participate constructively to collectively reflect on innovative ways to have an Organization that can be enriched with other world views, with innovative alternatives for the challenges we are facing.

I recognize the magnitude of this challenge and I know that both the States and the Indigenous Peoples have made their best efforts in this process.

But I believe that there is space for a better understanding and I am sure that working together, with a spirit of commitment, we will find the most appropriate ways to strengthen the voices of the Indigenous Peoples in this Organization.

Excellencies, friends,

When I took over the Presidency of the Assembly, I explained the Andean principle of the “minga”, which calls us to collective action and shared work for the benefit of the community.

We need a global minga to build societies that are more egalitarian, peaceful, sustainable and resilient, in which all persons have the same opportunities to exercise their right to development, according to their world view and their lifestyles.

Ñukánchik runa kawsaykunáta,

yachaykunáta ñawpákman apáshun

áma chinkáchun

Thank you.