2 May 2008


2 May 2008
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Seventh Session

15th & 16th Meetings (AM & PM)



On Special Theme, Says Indigenous Ways of Life Threatened by Climate Change,

Calls for Indigenous Participation in All Aspects of International Debate on Issue

Hailing the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly in September 2007 as the beginning of a “new era of renewed partnerships”, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today pledged its commitment to making the Declaration a “living document” throughout its work.

Noting that it, too, had a new responsibility under the Declaration, the Permanent Forum invited the international community as a whole to apply the Declaration in their policies and programmes for the improvement of indigenous peoples’ well-being, in one of six sets of draft recommendations and three draft decisions approved by consensus at the close of its seventh session.

The Permanent Forum, a 16-member subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, is mandated chiefly to provide expert advice on indigenous issues to the Council and the United Nations system; raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous issues within the United Nations system; and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.

Permanent Forum Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, from the Philippines, said the Declaration had been fought for by many indigenous people since the 1970s and was the result of the work of indigenous people from the ground up.  As the main framework that the Permanent Forum would use -- and one that indigenous peoples had designed and shaped themselves -- it “addressed all the pain and cries indigenous peoples had brought to the United Nations”.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz added that, coming after adoption of the Declaration, it had been a most remarkable session.  Climate change had been a timely theme for this session, as indigenous peoples had largely been kept out of the international dialogue on that issue despite their historical role in resisting oil, gas and coal exploitation and their practice of using their lands, air and forests in sustainable ways, not in pursuit of “giant profits”.  Moving forward, corporations, in addition to States, must be guided by the standards set out in the Declaration.

Working through Governments from Ecuador, Guatemala and other Latin American countries, she said the Forum should promote the tabling of a General Assembly resolution to create a world conference on indigenous peoples, as suggested by President Morales of Bolivia.  It should also push for a regular report from the Secretary-General on the situation of indigenous peoples.

In a text relating to its special theme, “Climate change, biocultural diversity and livelihoods” (E/C.19/2008/L.2), that was approved as orally amended, the Permanent Forum recommended that the international community take serious measures to mitigate climate change, as the survival of the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples depended in large part on the success of those efforts.

Asserting that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should serve as a “key and binding framework” in the formation of plans for development and should be considered fundamental in efforts to curb climate change at all levels, the Forum also called in that text for “urgent, serious and unprecedented action” by the Economic and Social Council, General Assembly and all United Nations bodies and agencies to prevent environmental degradation.

Stressing that indigenous peoples’ traditional livelihoods and ecological knowledge can significantly contribute to designing and implementing appropriate and sustainable mitigation and adaptation measures, the text also recommended that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and relevant parties develop mechanisms for indigenous peoples’ participation in all aspects of the international climate change dialogue, particularly the forthcoming negotiations for the next Kyoto Protocol commitment period.  Specifically, a working group on local adaptation measures and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples should be established.

In the same vein, the text requested the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to undertake a specific assessment of the opportunities and threats for indigenous peoples arising from current and future strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emission.

The Forum noted that some mitigation measures seen as solutions to climate change also had had negative impacts on indigenous peoples and reaffirmed that all actors should respect indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and to decide on mitigation and adaptation measures in their lands and territories.  It also called on States to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to call on transnational corporations to respect those standards. 

In a text that emerged from its half-day discussion on the Pacific region (E/C.19/2008/L.3), which was approved as orally amended,the Permanent Forum recommended that Pacific States endorse and implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In a related measure, the Forum further recommended that an expert seminar be held to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonization process on indigenous peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and invited the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples to examine and report on the situation of the human rights of indigenous peoples in those Territories.  It also called on the World Bank to activate its 2005 Extractive Industries Review in order to address the impact and legacy of extractive industries on indigenous lands, territories and resources in the region.

By an orally amended text on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and on targets for economic and social development, environment, health, education, culture and human rights (E/C.19/2008/L.4), the Forum reconfirmed the right to water as a part of fundamental human rights and called for the development of international standards for water’s use, management and regulation. 

That text also urged the private sector and its regulators to incorporate the rights recognized in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into their plans for economic development in indigenous territories.  To that end, Governments and business should, in preparing for new ventures, take account of the stakeholder rights of indigenous peoples -– particularly their land rights and broader human rights -– by observing the principle of free, prior and informed consent.

The Forum also urged the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to strengthen its institutional capacity on indigenous peoples’ issues by establishing a task force to serve as a liaison mechanism between Headquarters and focal points on indigenous issues at the country level.  It also urged all parts of the United Nations system, with the support of Member States and donor agencies, to implement a platform for indigenous local-local cooperation and establish a network of indigenous local governments for information exchange and capacity-building before the convening of its next session.

Expressing profound concern about the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education regarding the extensive child-labour practices in many States involving indigenous children, the Forum said this was a “grave violation of their human rights, including their right to education”.

Noting that, if current trends continue, an estimated 90 per cent of the world’s languages would become extinct within the next 100 years, the Permanent Forum said, in a text that emerged from its half-day discussion on indigenous languages and was approved as orally amended (E/C.19/2008/L.5), immediate and effective measures were necessary to prevent the “impending irretrievable loss” of linguistic and cultural diversity and traditional indigenous knowledge caused by such language extinction. 

To that end, the text called on States to immediately support indigenous peoples’ language revitalization efforts, highlighting the processes developed by the Nordic Saami Convention as an example of “good practice” and encouraging Nordic States to adopt those processes.  It also invited the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to call jointly for a world conference on linguistic diversity, indigenous languages, identity and education.

The Permanent Forum welcomed the recent adoption of the United Nations Development Group Guidelines for Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, which would bring the United Nations normative framework on indigenous peoples to the field level and contribute to the implementation of the goals and objectives of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, in a text addressing its ongoing priorities(E/C.19/2008/L.6) that was approved as orally amended. 

By that text, it also appointed three of its members to conduct a study on indigenous peoples and corporations and submit a report to the Forum at its eighth session.  It decided to hold a half-day region-specific discussion on North America and a half-day discussion on indigenous peoples and forests at its ninth session in 2010.

The Forum expressed profound appreciation to Bolivian President Evo Morales as the first Head of State to address a session of the Permanent Forum, and expressed support for Bolivia’s national laws that would lead towards the restitution of lands and territories to the indigenous peoples of eastern Bolivia, in its recommendations on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (E/C.19/2008/L.7).

In that text, which was approved as orally amended, the Forum said it strongly supported efforts by the Bolivian Government and the commitment of the incoming Government of Paraguay to help end the enslavement of the Guaraní, from the Chaco region, after learning about the practice from indigenous communications.  Those reports had been corroborated by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the document said.

Also in that document, the Forum requested the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples to present a report on actions of transnational corporations that might breach the rights of indigenous peoples, as detailed in the Declaration. 

The Forum welcomed, in the document, the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Saramaka People vs. Suriname (28 November 2007), in which the Declaration had been invoked to settle a logging case.

Also, the Forum recommended that the Declaration be included as a normative basis for the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review.  States were recommended to include representatives of indigenous peoples in the national consultation process for the preparation of national reports to be submitted to the Human Rights Council for universal periodic review.  The Permanent Forum further recommended that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and other relevant United Nations agencies and offices provide necessary training on the universal periodic review process for and with indigenous peoples.

By one of three draft decisions it approved and forwarded to the Economic and Social Council, the Permanent Forum would have the Economic and Social Council decide to authorize a three-day international expert group meeting on the implementation of article 42 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The other draft decisions would also have the Economic and Social Council decide that the eighth session of the Permanent Forum shall be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 18 to 29 May 2009.  It also adopted the draft report of its current session in the text containing the draft decisions (E/C.19/2008/L.8).

As the Forum moved to take up this last text in the afternoon, protesters disrupted the start of the meeting, demanding to take the floor and saying “we are the real people of Mother Earth” and “we are your business”.

After briefly suspending the meeting (and security coming into the room), the Chair gave the floor to the Caucus Indigenas de Abya Yala, represented by Florina Lopez.

Ms. Lopez said that, despite the oral amendments to document E/C.19/2008/L.2 as read by the Forum Rapporteur, the text did not reflect her organization’s concerns about emissions and deforestation.  The list of recommendations it contained would bring about new challenges to indigenous peoples and reflected the opinions of experts and not the positions of indigenous peoples.  Clean development initiatives should be examples of good practice, but none of the Caucus’s members supported those so-called “good practices”. 

She reaffirmed her organization’s call for the elimination of paragraphs 5 and 37 of document E/C.19/2008/L.2, saying that Caucus’ recommendations had generally not been reflected in any of the Forum’s final documents.  The Forum should have based its recommendations on principles of the Declaration supporting the right of indigenous peoples to live in a healthy environment. 

After a second brief suspension, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz explained that the Forum had spent several hours negotiating this controversial text, which had to do with climate change, to reflect the reservations of indigenous peoples. 

The Rapporteur then reread the oral amendments, including the last sentence of paragraph 37 and full paragraphs 41 and 42, which the Forum believed responded to the concerns of the dissenting participants.

These oral amendments said the choice of those who opted not to participate in reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation or in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and other carbon funds should be respected and noted that the current framework for the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) was not supported by most indigenous peoples.  As such, the Forum said new proposals for avoiding deforestation or reducing emissions from deforestation must be guided by the Declaration.

“I think we stated very clearly that this kind of mechanism is not acceptable to most indigenous peoples, and there was a need to redesign the whole mechanism with the participation of indigenous peoples, so that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the deciding principle,” Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said.

The Forum’s reports and recommendations, including oral amendments, were presented by Rapporteur Michael Dodson of Australia.

Reflecting on the accomplishments of this year’s session, Johan Schölvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the Forum provided fertile ground for a tripartite partnership between indigenous peoples, Member States and the United Nations system.  Indeed, 1,700 people from 30 United Nations agencies and intergovernmental organizations, 70 States and indigenous peoples from seven social regions had participated.  Due to its robust debates, recommendations had been made on climate change which strongly promoted participation of indigenous peoples in all negotiations on mitigation measures and urged the consideration of alternative systems beyond the usual.

In closing the session, Keali’i’olu’olu Gora, from the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, delivered a chant, and Mary Simat, from the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, sang an indigenous African prayer.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.