4 May 2004


Press Release

Background Release                                         



Theme of Session:  ‘Indigenous Women’

NEW YORK, 4 May (UN Department of Public Information) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan will open the third session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, scheduled to meet from 10 to 21 May at United Nations Headquarters in New York.  This year’s session will focus on indigenous women, who, together with indigenous girls, represent the some of the most vulnerable and victimized peoples in the world.  Some 1,500 people representing more than 500 indigenous groups worldwide are expected to attend the session, which is scheduled to open on 10 May at 12 noon in Conference Room 2.

“Indigenous Women” has been chosen as the theme of the third session because of the central importance of women to indigenous cultures and in recognition of their special needs and vulnerabilities.  As keepers of gender-specific traditional knowledge and culture, it is mainly through the indigenous woman that traditional language and culture is transmitted from one generation to the next.  Her vulnerability has been amply demonstrated, and her well-being is critical to the survival and prosperity of indigenous peoples and their unique and precious cultures in a globalizing world.  This year’s session is an opportunity to exchange good practices in protecting and supporting indigenous women.

Throughout the past year, as a lead-up to this session, and following recommendations made by the second session, governments have hosted several international meetings on the subject of indigenous women such as the Second Conference of Asian Indigenous Women, held in Baguio City, the Philippines, in March; the Second Continental Conference of Indigenous Women of Africa, held in Nairobi in March; and theFourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Women of the Americas, held in Lima in April.

The afternoon of the first day, a High-Level Panel and Dialogue on Women will be addressed by Noeli Pocaterra, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, and Mary Robinson, Chairperson of the Council of Women World Leaders, Executive Director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former President of Ireland.  Also participating will be Njuma Ekundanayo, Permanent Forum Member and Vice-Chairperson; Kyung-Wha Kang, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women; and Stella Tamang, Chairperson of the International Indigenous Women’s Caucus.  Ole Henrik Magga, Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, will chair the Panel.  Observers representing Member States, United Nations bodies, indigenous peoples’ organizations and non-governmental organizations are invited to participate.

To assist with the gender perspective in the specific agenda items throughout the two weeks of the Forum, additional special guests have been invited:  among others, Feride Acar, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Yakin Erturk, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women; and Erica Irene Daes, Special Rapporteur of the Subcommission on Human Rights and Honorary Permanent Member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

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 address working methods within the United Nations system and future work.

Also scheduled throughout the session are numerous films, presentations, exhibitions and panel discussions, focusing on a variety of topics such as biological diversity, genetic technologies, labour rights, indigenous connectivity, and traditional knowledge and peace-building.  An exhibition mounted by the Department of Public Information and the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations will be opened at a cultural event and reception on Tuesday, 11 May, at 6:30 p.m. in the Public Lobby of the Visitor’s Entrance.

To improve the lives of the world’s indigenous peoples, the Permanent Forum at its second session issued specific requests to various components of the United Nations system.  United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, as well as governments and observers, have submitted written contributions in which they respond to the requests and outline their field activities.  As of this writing, 16 United Nations bodies had made submissions —- an increase of 60 per cent over the 10 submissions at the second session.

Contributions to the third session, as well as reports and documentation, can be found on the Web site of the Permanent Forum at  Taken together, the reports contain a very broad cross-section of recommendations aimed at improving the lives of the world’s more than 370 million indigenous peoples.

Global Forum of Indigenous Peoples and Information Society

The second session of the Permanent Forum recommended that a “world conference on indigenous peoples in the information society” be organized in parallel to the World Summit on the Information Society that took place in Geneva in December 2003.  The Global Forum of Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society, organized by the Permanent Forum Secretariat, took place from 8 to 11 December as an official side event of the Summit.

The Global Forum’s Declaration and Programme of Action acknowledges that, in order to be able to take advantage of information and communication technologies, indigenous peoples first need access to infrastructure such as electricity and energy sources.  It expresses the desire of “indigenous peoples, nations and tribes” that the necessary energy and infrastructure be achieved in sustainable ways, and that alternative technologies be investigated.

The document points out that to meet the need of the majority of indigenous peoples, nations and tribes who need culturally appropriate capacity-building programmes, techniques already used by some indigenous communities to successfully bridge the digital divide can be transmitted to other communities through indigenous-to-indigenous training projects.

Workshop on Data Collection and Disaggregation for Indigenous Peoples

Following a decision of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), made in response to a recommendation of the Permanent Forum at its second session, 36 experts from the United Nations system, other intergovernmental organizations, governments and indigenous organizations met in January 2004 at United Nations Headquarters to consider case studies and challenges and to make recommendations on the collection and disaggregation of data on indigenous peoples.

The Workshop recommended, among other things, that the Permanent Forum identify an appropriate institution to conduct a “literature watch” to capture the abundance of already-existing data on indigenous peoples; and, if feasible, an institution to serve as a clearing-house for all existing data on indigenous issues.  These and other recommendations will be considered at the third session.  The Workshop’s report can be accessed at

‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’

The “free, prior and informed consent” of indigenous peoples to developments projects and plans that may affect them has emerged as the standard to be applied in protecting and promoting indigenous peoples’ rights in the development process.  To help clarify the subject and determine how it is currently practiced within the United Nations system, and in response to recommendations of the Permanent Forum’s second session, a questionnaire on the subject was distributed to the relevant agencies, funds and programmes.

The report (accessible on the above Web site) on the results reveals that free, prior and informed consent is largely practiced on an ad hoc basis depending on a wide variety of circumstances, and that there are few ways of measuring such consent without official mandates.  At the same time, United Nations bodies are becoming increasingly sensitive to cultural needs, and many are working to empower indigenous community participation in identifying, designing and implementing their own projects.  It is also being recognized that attention must be given to who is speaking on behalf of whom, and to the dissemination of data pertaining to intellectual and cultural property rights.

Background of 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 organizations, 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.  This session is the last year of the term for the 16 members currently serving.  They were eligible to be nominated for one additional term when nominations were solicited earlier this year.

The indigenous-nominated members completing their first term in the 2004 session are:  Antonio Jacanamijoy (Colombia); Ayitegau Kouevi (Togo); Willie Littlechild (Canada); 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).

For further information, please contact:  Ellen McGuffie, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.: (212) 963-0499, e-mail:

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For information media. Not an official record.