8 May 2003


Press Release

Background Release



Bringing together more than 1,500 people from some 500 indigenous groups worldwide, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will hold its second session at Headquarters from 12 to 23 May, focusing on the theme “indigenous children and youth”.

Meeting for the first time since its historic inaugural session last year, the Forum has chosen the theme to focus attention on the idea that the survival and prosperity of indigenous peoples is linked to the physical and mental health of indigenous children.  Unless children are educated in indigenous languages, cultures and values, a Forum document points out, indigenous peoples and their unique and precious cultures will not survive in the globalized world.

In what members have called a “rolling up your sleeves” series of meetings, the Forum will draw up concrete recommendations for the United Nations system to improve the quality of life of the world’s indigenous peoples.  Committee Chairman Ole Henrik Magga (Norway) said at a pre-session meeting on 7 May that he has high hopes for the session.  “...I expect this session will establish the Forum as an integral part of the United Nations system, both as a symbol of hope and an instrument of fulfillment for the dreams of indigenous people around the world.”

Supported for the first time by its four-month-old Secretariat, the Forum has planned some traditional ceremonies for its opening.  Roberto Mucaro Borrero (Taino, Puerto Rico) will call the meeting to order on a conch shell, and Tadodaho Chief Sidney Hill, spiritual leader of the six-nation Haudenosaunee group, will give a traditional blessing.  An honour guard of children from the Onondaga Nation, another member of the Haudenosaunee, will accompany Mr. Hill.

Key speakers at the opening meeting will include Nitin Desai,
Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Elizabeth Garret (Cherokee, United States), speaking for youth, and Rodolfo Stavenhagen (Mexico), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.  A high-level panel on indigenous youth and children will be addressed later in the day by Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Nina Pacari Vega; Joap Doek, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; and representatives from various United Nations bodies.

Throughout the session, the Forum will focus on its mandated topics of economic and social development, environment, health, human rights, culture, and education.  It will also discuss its working methods within the United Nations system and its future work; elect officers; and adopt the agenda, organization of

work, its report for the current session and the provisional agenda for the third session.

Also scheduled for the session are several films, presentations, exhibitions and panel discussions, focusing on such topics as youth and support for the second decade, genetic technologies, labour rights, electronic connectivity, indigenous communications and journalism, mining, and traditional knowledge and
peace-building.  In addition, the Exhibition for the Permanent Forum will be opened during the session.

Background of the Forum

The Forum is the first official United Nations body where indigenous voices nominated by indigenous peoples can be heard as members.  In an arena of indigenous leaders, civil society and United Nations bodies, the Forum advises and makes recommendations to the Economic and Social Council on economic and social development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health.

The Forum, which meets once a year for 10 days, has also been asked to raise awareness, promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous issues within the United Nations system, and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.  States, United Nations bodies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and organizations of indigenous people may take part as observers.

The Forum has 16 independent members serving three-year terms in their personal capacities, of whom eight are nominated by indigenous people and eight by governments.

Indigenous-nominated members for the 2003 session are:  Antonio Jacanamijoy (Colombia); Ayitegau Kouevi (Togo); Willie Littlechild (Canada) who is also Rapporteur for the session; Ole Henrik Magga (Norway); Zinaida Strogalschikova (Russian Federation); Parshuram Tamang (Nepal); Mililani Trask (United States); and Fortunato Turpo Choquehuanca (Peru).

Government-nominated members are:  Yuri Boitchenko (Russian Federation); Njuma Ekundanayo (Democratic Republic of the Congo); Yuji Iwasawa (Japan); Wayne Lord (Canada); Otilia Lux de Coti (Guatemala); Marcos Matias Alonso (Mexico); Ida Nicolaisen (Denmark); and Qin Xiaomei (China).


A note by the Secretariat of the Forum on outcomes achieved in response to the first session (document E/C.19/2003/3) reviews Forum developments and recommendations it made to the Economic and Social Council and United Nations bodies at its first session.  Such recommendations focused on economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, as well as information-gathering from the United Nations system, children and youth, and a code of conduct for Forum members.

Since the first session, a Secretariat has been set up for the Forum in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and various United Nations and intergovernmental bodies have responded to recommendations made.  The Secretariat has begun gathering and collating general materials, including policies, to set up a resource base for Forum members, as well as focused reports of the United Nations system in response to Forum recommendations.

Information Received from United Nations System

The Forum will also have before it several documents received from various agencies within the United Nations system, providing information on activities under way to support indigenous peoples.

A joint paper on data collection and disaggregation by ethnicity, based on discussions at the Inter-Agency Support Group meeting in February 2003 in Washington, D.C., highlights key issues of collecting and disaggregating statistics in the United Nations system, relating them to indigenous issues.  It explains how some United Nations bodies collect and disaggregate data, and recommends an in-depth discussion with the Forum to outline why disaggregated statistics are needed.

The paper notes that reliable data are currently available from most developed and some developing countries with indigenous populations.  Reliable national-level data on all topics is lacking in many developing countries due to weak national statistical capacity, differences over the term "indigenous", or inadequate attention to indigenous issues.  The paper concludes that a detailed review of current data availability is needed, followed by strategies for further work, to collect complete, reliable data on indigenous issues.

A paper from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) (document A/C.19/2003/5) focuses on information gathering, support for Forum members, communications and interactions within the United Nations system, training and capacity-building, conflict resolution and peace-building, data collection and human rights.

The paper highlights a programme the Institute has developed in advanced conflict analysis and negotiation for key representatives of minority and indigenous people, which held its first international segment in August 2000 in Geneva and its first regional programme in Mexico City in December 2001.  The Institute has also given the Forum data on the gender of indigenous participants to date in UNITAR training programmes and seminars.

Forum members serving as resource persons for UNITAR international and regional training programmes for indigenous peoples will be invited to engage participants in a dialogue on the situation of indigenous children and youth, and to recommend action at the local, regional and international levels.  In addition, regional organization members are invited to serve as resource persons in UNITAR training programmes for indigenous peoples’ representatives, so that they can examine mechanisms for promoting and protecting human rights and promoting dialogue between States and indigenous peoples.

Information from the International Labour Organization (ILO) (document E/C.19/2003/6) notes that the ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, 1989, has been ratified by 17 countries, and is internationally recognized as the foremost instrument on the subject.

The document explains that ILO work for indigenous and tribal peoples falls into two categories –- supervision of relevant ILO conventions, and technical cooperation.  It summarizes key developments in those areas within the past year, including ILO observations on the ILO Convention on the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries, 1957.  It also details recent developments in ILO projects and programmes addressing indigenous and tribal peoples.

A paper from the World Health Organization (WHO) (document E/C.19/2003/7) covers key features of the Global Strategy on the health of marginalized ethnic populations, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2002, and reviews activities by WHO Regional Offices.  The paper also focuses on health data issues and highlights a new multi-stakeholder initiative on children’s environmental health, envisaging a place for indigenous children.

The document notes that information on demographics and health statistics on indigenous peoples or ethnic populations is scarce -– too meager to inform policy.  However, a general pattern indicates that indigenous peoples and marginalized ethnic populations in many countries have lower life expectancy and health status than other population groups.

The paper also highlights the Healthy Environments for Children Alliance, which WHO introduced during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002).  The WHO envisages a focus on indigenous children within a worldwide multi-stakeholder action the Alliance will be carrying out on environmental risks to children’s health in settings where they live, learn, play and sometimes work.

A document from the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) (document E/C.19/2003/8) reviews activities regarding indigenous peoples in three initiatives -- the Global Campaign on Urban Governance, the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and the United Nations Housing Rights Programme.

The paper highlights research it is carrying out with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on indigenous people's right to housing, which is exploring practical solutions for protecting and promoting housing rights of indigenous peoples.  Specific attention will be paid to such rights as security of tenure, accessibility, affordability and cultural adequacy, which will be analyzed in the context of indigenous peoples, and linked to the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

The study, according to the paper, should give a forward-looking perspective on actions to help improve the lives of indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous women.  It will examine how existing instruments on adequate housing and indigenous peoples could be linked, and assess whether new interpretations of relevant rights are needed.

Information from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) observes that the Fund supports country programmes in all priority areas defined by the Forum in its first report.  The paper (document E/C.19/2003/13) points out that Fund offices assist governments in monitoring social indicators on children's rights, identifying the most vulnerable and excluded groups and analyzing why they are excluded.

The UNICEF, the paper states, supports programmes aimed at promoting culturally sensitive health care, preventing diseases and building indigenous

capacities through training and information.  It also promotes government compliance with standards and norms in international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, commitments made at international conferences, and communication programmes informing indigenous communities of their rights and how to claim them.

In addition, UNICEF promotes economic and social development through such activities as advising national and local authorities on planning, and supporting social services delivery projects.  The Fund’s educational and cultural work focuses on access to education, school attendance and schools adapted to indigenous children, especially through bilingual and multicultural education.  The Fund also works with indigenous communities to ensure children grow up in a safe and healthy environment, with access to clean water and sanitation.

A paper from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) (document E/C.19/2003/14) reviews recent progress made in intellectual property and access to genetic resources, benefit sharing and protecting biodiversity-related traditional knowledge, as well as traditional cultural expressions.  The paper also gives information on the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in WIPO work, and discussions under way to enhance it.

In 2000, WIPO set up the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, the report says.  The Committee has made substantial progress in addressing both policy and practical links between the intellectual property system and the concerns of traditional knowledge holders, as well as custodians of traditional cultures.  Currently, it is preparing a practical guide on legal protection for traditional cultural expressions and studying the relationship between intellectual property rights and customary and indigenous protection systems.

The Forum also received information from the Governments of Ecuador (document E/C.19/2003/12), Mexico (document E.C.19/2003/ and Finland (document E/C.19/2003/10).

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For information media. Not an official record.