|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
5th Meeting (PM)
Despite Progress in Recognizing Rights, Indigenous Peoples Continue to Face
Serious Human Rights Violations on Daily Basis, Permanent Forum Told
Speakers Say Acts Include Dispossession, Forced Removal, Military Abuse;
Implementing 2007 Rights Declaration Must Be Political, Moral, Legal Imperative
The full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be regarded as a political, moral and legal imperative without qualification, the Permanent Forum was told today during a half-day discussion on human rights.
While applauding the Declaration’s 2007 adoption by the General Assembly as an unequivocal victory, Forum members — joined by representatives of indigenous organizations, Governments and United Nations agencies — said that document must not be seen as an end in itself, but as the beginning of new stage in the fight for indigenous rights. That fight was still critical, they argued, because indigenous peoples continued to suffer serious human rights abuses on a daily basis, including the pillaging of their national resources, their forced removal or relocation, the denial of their land rights, abuse by military forces and a host of other violations.
“It is safe to say that each and every indigenous person in the room has experienced some form of discrimination,” Dalee Sambo Dorough, Permanent Forum member from the United States, said, noting that reports of brutality had been heard from all corners of the world, most often from indigenous peoples who were defending their territories and resources.
While progress had been made in recognizing indigenous rights at the international level and in many countries at the national level, she stressed that the implementation of the standards contained in the Declaration still remained the biggest challenge. To that end, a number of mechanisms had been established to monitor and promote their implementation, including through the offices of the different Special Rapporteurs.
Still, indigenous peoples should be encouraged to engage domestic remedies, such as local commissions, she said. They should also review and implement international instruments, including those of the various international treaty bodies. At the same time, States should evaluate what steps they could take, in concert with indigenous peoples, to ensure that they were able to exercise their rights.
Agreeing that Member States must be more proactive, Saul Vicente Vasquez, Forum member from Mexico, said that once they had ratified the Declaration, Governments should harmonize its principles with their national legislation and policies. He noted that, in some cases, indigenous peoples had formed national movements that had influenced their countries’ law, citing events in Venezuela and Ecuador, among others.
Echoing the concerns of the Forum members, speakers warned some States were dishonouring their commitments to the Declaration, both at home and abroad, thereby “reneging” on their international obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples. They, too, called for States to review, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, existing laws and policies to ensure compliance with the Declaration. They urged the Forum, through its expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples, to conduct an annual review of the manner in which the Declaration was being implemented at all levels.
While many acknowledged the range of work being done within the United Nations system in that regard, several speakers stressed that States should seek to fulfil their obligations under the United Nations Charter for the promotion and protection of human rights during international negotiations and not simply in domestic policies. Others called on States to pay particular attention to violence committed against indigenous women and girls, noting their heightened vulnerability to rights violations.
Also today, the Forum heard a panel presentation on its mission to Colombia from 5 to 9 July 2010, which aimed to observe the situation of indigenous peoples who were victims of abuse related to armed conflict and in danger of extinction, as well as the situation of the Awá people. Carlos Mamani Condori, former Forum Chair from Bolivia and head of the mission, said that following its visit, the Forum had emphasized the importance of dialogue mechanisms, as well as specific policies aimed at protecting indigenous peoples’ communities. It recommended that Colombia strengthen those mechanisms in all aspects. He also stressed the need to further guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those residing in areas subject to armed conflict.
A representative of Colombia, as well as former members of the Permanent Forum from Spain and Iran, and a representative of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia also commented on the mission to Colombia.
Also participating in the general discussion on human rights were the representatives of Australia, Congo, Finland, Cuba, Brazil and Germany. A member of the Parliament of Mexico also spoke.
Representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Central American Office of OHCHR, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also offered observations.
Also speaking were representatives of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
Speakers from the following indigenous and civil society groups also spoke: Assembly of First Nations; Women’s Caucus, Asian Caucus and Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 19 May, to continue considering recommendations of human rights.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to continue its tenth session, which is a review year in the Forum’s three-year work cycle. It was expected to address follow-up to its recommendations on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and consider the response of Special Rapporteurs to comments contained in the annex to the report of its eighth session (document E/2009/43), as well as the summary report on its mission to Colombia. For more information, please see Press Release HR/5050.
Making introductory comments on the situation of the human rights of indigenous peoples, DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Permanent Forum member from the United States, underlined the importance of the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As was made clear in the resolution passed by the Human Rights Council on 18 June 2007 (document A/HRC/RES/5/1), all human rights must be promoted and protected. Regardless of what issues may arise in any given situation, the rights of indigenous peoples were relevant in all situations involving them. Indeed, it was difficult to remove or segregate indigenous rights from any situation.
She said progress had been made in recognizing indigenous rights at the international level and in many countries at the national level. But, despite the existence of domestic legislation, the implementation of the standards contained in the Declaration remained the biggest challenge. A number of mechanisms had been established to monitor and promote their implementation, including the offices of the different Special Rapporteurs. Further, the work of the United Nations system in preparing the Declaration reinforced the need for special mechanisms and processes to achieve indigenous rights. That had, in fact, been the very purpose of the Declaration.
Nonetheless, indigenous people continued to face serious human rights abuses on a daily basis, she said. Those included their dispossession of land, forced removal or relocation, denial of land rights, abuses by military forces and a host of other abuses. Reports of brutality had been heard from all corners of the world, most often from indigenous peoples who were defending their territories and lands. The principal human rights effect of many different large-scale development projects related to the loss and depletion of resources necessary of physical and cultural survival, social and community disorganization and long-term humanitarian and health effects, as well as violence. Moreover, discrimination from authorities manifested itself in a number of ways, she said. “It is safe to say that each and every indigenous person in the room has experienced some form of discrimination,” she added.
The gross violations of their human rights were often difficult to quantify and verify, or were simply not investigated by the authorities, she continued. The situation of women and children remained particularly delicate. Meanwhile, many indigenous communities had been compromised. It was clear that the dire situation of indigenous rights must be better addressed through genuine political will and the further allocation of resources. The Member States of the United Nations must play a more substantive and proactive role in the campaign to respect and recognize those rights. It was equally imperative that Member States take their obligations seriously. She encouraged States to review their domestic policies and legislation to ensure minimum consistency with the responsibilities of the United Nations.
She stressed that indigenous peoples should be encouraged to engage domestic remedies, such as local commissions, and should also review and implement international instruments, including those of the various international treaty bodies, since most, if not all, of those bodies were aware of the rights embraced by the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In some instances, indigenous peoples might have the opportunity to have dialogue with States on how to implement the Declaration. In other instances, they may need to engage in formal complaint procedures at all levels. She urged States to evaluate what steps they could take, in concert with indigenous peoples, to ensure that they were able to exercise their rights.
As the General Assembly stated in its resolution containing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that document was “a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”. It was her hope that the world’s indigenous peoples would not have to wait generations more for the realization of that respect.
BARTOLOMÉ CLAVERO, a former member of the Permanent Forum from Spain, then orally presented a summary of the Responses of Special Rapporteurs to comments contained in the annex to the report of the Permanent Forum on its eighth session (document E/2009/43). That annex concerns Article 42 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
He said that general comment one of the Special Rapporteurs had emphasized the place of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an instrument of international law for human rights, while Article 42 provided for new functions and responsibilities for the Permanent Forum. The comment also stated that the Declaration was not a treaty, and was, therefore, not binding. However, comments were added to the effect that, while the Declaration was not a binding treaty, that did not mean that it did not have a “legally binding effect”. The Forum must not only promote the respect for, but also the full implementation of, the Declaration. The Forum must adopt measures that were necessary to “reduce the deficiencies in the implementation of the Declaration”, he said. That comment had been adopted unanimously by the Forum.
He said that, according to a comment made by Canada, the Forum should not act as if it were a supervisory body for treaties, as that could contravene the mandate entrusted to it by the Economic and Social Council. The United States also said that it regretted that the Forum, in 2009, had published a general comment drafted “like an organ or a committee” of the United Nations. It had argued that the Forum was not such an organ and, therefore, did not have the authority to issue interpretations or to create mechanisms to review follow-up to the Declaration. Members of the Forum had made comments on those and other criticisms, and had prepared a document in response. According to that document, the Forum must be able to express its opinion on the scope of its functions, he said. The Forum felt that the format of its comments was an organizational matter, and did not believe that the formal aspects raised were important. The authors of the report had explored the scope of the binding nature of the Declaration.
Given that the Forum had been entrusted with ensuring the efficiency of its implementation, he said, the Forum must also be able to evaluate which implementation methods were most effective. The authors were also in agreement that the Forum must continue with its “indispensable” mandate under Article 42. They stated that whether that was in the form of a comment or not was of secondary importance.
Opening the discussion on the Forum’s mission to Colombia, PAIMANEH HASTEH, former Forum member from Iran, said that the purpose of that visit was to observe the situation of indigenous peoples that were victims of abuse related to the armed conflict and in danger of extinction, as well as the situation of the Awá people. The mission visited Bogotá, Risaralda, Valledupar in Cesar Department and Tumaco and El Diviso in Nariño Department. The subsequent report was based on interviews and information received from Governmental and civil society, documentation from the United Nations system, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, indigenous organizations and academic institutions, among others.
CARLOS MAMANI CONDORI, former Forum Chair from Bolivia and head of the mission to Colombia, said Colombia’s Constitutional Court was today carrying out important work in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. Sixty-eight per cent of Colombia’s indigenous peoples were living in their ancestral territories. Growing numbers were living in urban areas, owing to a lack of land and forced displacement caused by gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. A large portion of the land relegated to indigenous peoples was not suitable, he added.
He further stressed that the exercise of self-determination of the indigenous peoples was limited by a number of factors, including the ongoing armed conflict, drug trafficking and the presence of large corporations. In various cases indigenous peoples were marginalized, discriminated against and even murdered for merely pointing out their rights. Women and children were particularly vulnerable to the discrimination faced by the indigenous.
Against that backdrop, the State had tried to tackle the problem of the rights of indigenous peoples in various ways, he said, underlining the importance of dialogue mechanisms, as well as specific policies aimed at protecting indigenous peoples’ communities. The Forum believed that all of those mechanisms must be strengthened in all aspects. Further, it would be important to further guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples, especially those residing in areas subject to armed conflict.
He particularly underscored the difficult situation of the Awa people in the Narino Department, who were subject to drug trafficking and the actions of armed groups. Among other things, they were the victims of three massacres in recent years. While the Colombian authorities intended to clarify the facts surrounding those events, there was a clear lack of the human resources required to do so.
NÉSTOR OSORIO ( Colombia) said that the Colombian experience with the Permanent Forum had been “successful and enriching”. Colombia believed fully in the importance of collaborating with multilateral companies, international and other actors on indigenous issues, as well as maintaining a “permanent dialogue” on that matter.
He then turned the floor over to GABRIEL MUYUY JACANAMEJOY, who specifically addressed the Forum’s 2010 mission to Colombia and outlined “important progress” that had been made by Colombia since the Forum’s visit. President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón had said, in a 2010 speech, that the country was a unique and harmonious mix of cultures. Those words had then been reaffirmed at the National Congress of Indigenous Peoples. As far as human rights were concerned, the State had designed a national policy of human rights. Colombia would hold a related conference in December 2011, jointly organized with the international community and other partners, as well as a national conference of women of Colombia in March 2012, which was designed to create institutional mechanisms for implementing indigenous and other rights. He said the Government was also working on a programme of guarantees in implementing, jointly with indigenous peoples, a National Cooperation Bureau, and was trying to establish safeguards for indigenous rights in Colombian courts. It was increasingly clear that it was necessary to have legal procedures in place. Consultations were taking place on a draft law for the compensation of victims of human rights violations and infringements of international humanitarian law. The effective implementation of systems for indigenous education and health also continued.
JAVIER SANCHEZ REYES, National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), said the true situation of indigenous peoples had been heard, including the particular circumstances of the Awá people who were victims of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other armed groups. He noted that 74,000 indigenous people had been displaced and several thousand lacked legal security on indigenous territories. After eight years without dialogue, the new Government of Colombia had tried to turn that situation around and progress had been made. Indeed, certain important political changes had resulted from the change in Government, including the adoption of an economic development plan.
However, the Constitutional Court had been unable to implement the Government’s development plan, he said, meaning that concrete positive changes had not yet resulted from the legislative effort. Further, while the Court had put together a new monitoring system to ensure that legal decisions were respected, the situation had not yet changed. Specific recommendations had been made by the Special Rapporteur regarding, among other things, land issues, but no legal proposals had been put forward regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. That meant, among other things, that indigenous peoples did not have recourse with respect to the Court’s decisions.
Other case law and jurisprudence also restricted the rights of indigenous peoples, he said. For example, mining licenses had been granted to certain multinational companies, while only 300 consultations regarding those licenses had been registered. That meant that, in reality, free, prior and informed consent was not fully implemented in Colombia. Further, the Court had decided that it would be impossible to ensure certain rights and principles of indigenous peoples “with respect to Western Powers.” That was an urgent situation, he stressed, because a great number of those communities faced a great number of difficulties in that context and there was no focused mechanism to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples were respected.
Thanking Colombia for its invitation to the Forum to undertake its mission, Forum Chair MIRNA CUNNINGHAM noted that the Colombian Government had taken a number of positive steps following the mission’s visit. Moreover, progress had been made furthering dialogue by today’s panel presentation.
CATH HALBERT ( Australia) said that the endorsement of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the Australian Government demonstrated its commitment to addressing the rights of indigenous peoples in a spirit of “good will and mutual respect”. Australia’s indigenous policies were consistent with the spirit of the Declaration, she said, providing for partnership initiatives between communities and corporations, among others. The commitment was further enshrined in such policies as the Service Inclusion Principles, which contained a specific component on indigenous peoples. The Government employed “indigenous engagement officers” across rural Australia, she said, and was generally changing the way in which it worked with indigenous communities in a number of states. Further, integrated service delivery involved extensive consultations with indigenous communities throughout the country.
Taking the floor to add to that statement, WAYNE SEE KEE, youth representative, agreed that a key challenge for many Government agencies was the delivery of services. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explicitly encouraged the harmonious collaboration between the State and indigenous communities, he said. In Australia, the Torres Strait Regional Authority was a leading example of an integrated service delivery programme, which was established in 2008 and involved the development of a regional plan led by the goals and aspirations of indigenous communities, and drafted in close consultation with indigenous peoples. Among other things, that programme had mapped the service delivery area, and identified and eliminated gaps and overlaps. The Government was taking a holistic approach to making it easier for indigenous communities to engage with it, he said, including through significant face-to-face consultations.
ANTII KORKEAKIVI, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the work of his Office was largely carried out by its field presence, although a special session had recently been conducted in Geneva on the rights of indigenous peoples. Engagement with national human rights institutions had also been expanded. The Office had recently organized a regional consultation with support from Australia. It was also drafting a practical guide for national human rights institutions and had given specific support for the Expert Mechanism of the Permanent Forum through a regional technical expert workshop on the right to decision-making. Further, it had jointly organized a meeting on using data and indicators to assess implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Continuing, he said the Office was, with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), launching the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Partnership to ensure that the Declaration and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 resulted in positive changes. For the Declaration to yield concrete results, capacity must be built at the national and local levels, he stressed, noting that a fellowship programme for senior indigenous persons had been established. The mandate of the voluntary fund on indigenous populations had also recently been expanded in order to support representatives of indigenous peoples to attend sessions of the Human Rights Council and the human rights treaty bodies.
SHAWN ATLEO, of the Assembly of First Nations – National Indian Brotherhood, said that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was essential to the survival and dignity of indigenous peoples worldwide. Its implementation should be regarded as a “political, moral and legal imperative without qualification”, he said. Its full and effective implementation was urgently needed. Use of the Declaration was now being made by specialized agencies, independent experts, the Human Rights Council and other mechanisms, he noted, but meanwhile some States, including Canada and the United States, were “dishonouring” their commitments to the Declaration, both at home and abroad. Moreover, they were “reneging” on their international obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples.
He made a series of recommendations to the Forum, including among other recommendations: authorizing the expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples to conduct an annual review of the manner in which the Declaration was being implemented at all levels; urging States, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to review existing laws and policies to ensure compliance with the Declaration; and urging, at all levels of Government and within all multilateral organizations, that all staff be familiar with the Declaration.
BIENVENU KIEMY ( Congo) said many initiatives in his country were aimed at protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. An inter-ministerial committee had been set up and included indigenous peoples among its membership. Representatives of civil society would soon be invited to sit on that committee. Other State measures aimed at facilitating access by indigenous peoples to citizenship, education, health centres and the job market. A law adopted on 25 February 2011 promoted the land rights of indigenous peoples. In that law, the State had favoured the creation of indigenous villages and recognized the right of indigenous peoples to administer their own internal affairs. A national action plan, launched in 2009, aimed to ensure that by 2013, 50 per cent of indigenous children of school age would benefit from primary education. That plan also sought to ensure that nearly two thirds of indigenous persons had access to treatment services for HIV/AIDS. His country had also hosted the first international forum for indigenous peoples in 2007, followed by a second forum in March 2011. Further, the Congo had hosted a visit from James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in 2010.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA, of the Central American Office of OHCHR, said the Office was strengthening work being done on the ground to implement the principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She pointed out, in particular, that what was most important was to work with the indigenous peoples themselves while designing projects. Such consultations provided “enriching” knowledge and ensured a positive impact on the lives of indigenous peoples. Together with the regional office of UNICEF, her office had promoted an inter-agency group for indigenous peoples, in which 10 United Nations agencies were currently participating and which was headed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office for Project Services.
The regional office had conducted three regional seminars designed to promote wide knowledge of the Declaration, she continued. Since the establishment of the regional office, it had promoted various important rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to be consulted and the right to free, prior and informed consent. Among other actions taken, it had established, in November 2010, a regional advisory body to ensure the right to such consent. That body allowed its 15 members — who were selected by their own organizations or communities — to express themselves freely and to discuss their concerns. The office was also translating the Declaration, initially, into the seven indigenous languages of Panama, and other languages would follow.
HEIDI SALMI, of the Women’s Caucus, emphasized that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be fully applied without respect to gender. She suggested that the Forum’s future recommendations include lowering rates of HIV/AIDS as indicators of the full implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She further stressed the need to implement Articles 21, 23 and 24, as well as the mutually reinforcing ILO Convention No. 169. She also urged States, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to pay particular attention to violence committed against indigenous women and girls. She said the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women must work with States to ensure that indigenous women were protected from all forms of discrimination and violence. She called on the Forum to urge States to implement Article 33 of the Declaration as the principle, if not the only criterion, for establishing exactly who were classified as “indigenous peoples” in their territories.
MIRJA KURKINEN, Minister-Counsellor, Ministry of Justice of Finland, reiterating support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, advocated a renewed focus on awareness-raising about the Declaration in indigenous languages. She announced that it had been translated into Finnish and two Sami languages, with a version in the third almost completed. She said that legislation on the Sami Parliament guaranteed the cultural autonomy of the group and the obligation of all levels of administration to negotiate with the Sami Parliament in all far-reaching and important measures that might directly and specifically affect the status of the group and matters in their homeland, as referred to in the legislation.
Recent amendments had further improved consideration of the Sami’s status and decision-making opportunities, she said, with the Finnish Parliament accepting proposals for a new Mining Act and a new Water Act in that regard in March 2011. Social welfare and health services provided in the Sami language had been developed over the past decade, and representatives of the Finnish Sami Parliament were included in the country’s delegation to the Forum. She said that the Special Rapporteur’s report on the situation of the Sami people had been translated into Finnish and North Sami, and announced that negotiations on a Nordic Sami Convention had been started between Norway, Finland and Sweden, with equitable representation of the States and the Sami peoples. The aim of the Convention, with negotiations expected to be completed within five years, would be to strengthen Sami rights to help preserve and develop their language, culture, livelihoods and social life without the interference of State borders.
DAVID LAWSON, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to the Republic of the Congo and Director, UNFPA Country office in Gabon, said the last 2007 General Housing and Population Census in the Republic of the Congo had found that the 43,500 indigenous peoples there represented less than 2 per cent of the population, down from the previous estimate of 10 per cent. That country’s indigenous population was, therefore, decreasing significantly today, with dire consequences on their very existence in the long term. One major factor was lack of access to health, including reproductive health and rights. Indigenous peoples in the Congo were discriminated against due to cultural prejudices, an ancestral dependency to Bantu populations, and their shy and peaceful demeanour, he said. Caught in fragile economic condition, underrepresented in national policy decision-making, and ill-informed on the functioning of public administration, indigenous peoples lived largely unaware of the main institutions, including health structures.
He noted, however, that the Republic of the Congo benefited from a constitutional and legislative framework that guaranteed equal rights for all its citizens. Further, a new Law on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had even been adopted earlier this year. On maternal health, Congolese women were particularly vulnerable and indigenous women even more, mostly for cultural reasons. Accordingly, indigenous women rarely visited health centres, where they were often not well received or sometimes discriminated against, he explained, noting that only 18 per cent of them attended antenatal care consultations, and only 23 per cent of them gave birth in hospitals.
He said Congolese indigenous people were also vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, due to the lack of information about the issue. In 2007, for example, only 11 per cent of indigenous adolescents had heard about AIDS, and 60 per cent of them had never seen a condom. Concluding, he said UNFPA’s Strategic Action Plan for Indigenous People in Congo was built around a seven-point plan that included strengthening indigenous people’s capacity and participation in national and local governance processes; strengthening indigenous women’s economic autonomy; support to culturally sensitive HIV prevention programmes for indigenous peoples; and training of indigenous peer and community leaders to sensitize pregnant women so they visit health centres.
JORGE GONZALEZ ILESCA, a Member of Parliament of Mexico, said that the state of Oaxaca had the highest percentage of indigenous inhabitants in Mexico, with 33 per cent of its population being indigenous. He was concerned at events that were unfortunately taking place there, he said, which involved indigenous peoples. While indigenous communities had the right to self-determination, they were not authorized by the state government to be represented in the legislature, which had led to violence. Additionally, land conflicts had led the state government to send in police troops, who had used “excessive force” and had attacked indigenous women and children, among others. Another problem was the lack of budget assigned to states for work specifically relating to indigenous peoples. Among recommendations, he urged the Forum to receive a document reflecting what he had recounted today, and to publish that document in the general report of its tenth session. Action should also be taken to intervene and avoid the continuation of those regrettable events.
RODOLFO BENÍTEZ VERSÓN ( Cuba) said the voice of the indigenous peoples was long silenced at the international level by the darkness of intolerance and oblivion. His Government rejected all doctrines, practices and policies based on the superiority of certain peoples. They were racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust. Cuba upheld the right of the indigenous to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such. While they were diverse, indigenous peoples all shared something important — namely, a terrible record of injustice.
He stressed that the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 constituted a historical victory in the fight of indigenous peoples for the recognition of their rights. However, the Declaration was not an end in itself, but merely marked a new stage in efforts to achieve the effective recognition of, and respect for, the rights of more than 370 million natives around the world. He stressed that the international community must meet the five objectives constituting the framework for the activities of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, in line with guidelines established by the ILO Convention No. 169 and the Declaration. To that end, the United Nations must play an important role in fostering practical actions aimed at remedying the discriminatory practices and treatment suffered by indigenous peoples for over five centuries. In that regard, he welcomed the adoption of General Assembly resolution 65/198 (2010), which called for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014.
ANDA FILIP, of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that the political participation of indigenous peoples was critical. The IPU had, therefore, carried out, over the last few years, an investigation into the representation of indigenous peoples in parliaments. It had presented its findings in 2010 at a conference in Mexico. Only half of the world’s parliaments had responded to the investigation’s survey, she said. Self-identification, which must be the norm for those types of surveys, necessarily made it more complicated for Governments to provide data on indigenous communities, but that challenge “should not be insurmountable”. There were also political reasons why some countries did not respond, she said.
Among the results of the study, she said it had found that the representation of indigenous people in parliaments was challenging in many countries and few countries had taken that step. The responsibility ultimately rested with parliaments themselves, which needed to recognize the diversity of their societies and the need to reflect them in parliament. Additionally, political parties should establish dialogues with indigenous communities and work to prepare indigenous candidates for office. They could also help to push through legislation supporting stronger indigenous representation. Other findings of the investigation related to the need for adequate resources for parliaments to undertake those measures and the need for further means of accountability when indigenous rights were not protected, among others.
FAMARK HLAWNCHING, of the Asian Caucus, recalling General Comment No. 1 (annex of document E/2009/43), said the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, together with resolution 2000/22 of the Economic and Social Council, provided the legal framework of the Forum. Moreover, Article 42 of the Declaration said, “The United Nations, its bodies, including the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and specialized agencies, including at the country level, and States shall promote respect for and full application of the provisions of this Declaration and follow up the effectiveness of this Declaration.” The Forum was, thus, mandated to follow-up on the Declaration’s effective implementation.
He requested all Member States to fulfil their obligations under the United Nations Charter to promote and respect human rights, including those of indigenous peoples. Those obligations must hold true for international negotiations being conducted under the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as in the review of safeguard policies by international financial institutions. For example, the Forum had been informed that, at the nineteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, Member States, led by Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, deleted the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent with respect to mining on ancestral lands, and he called on those countries to refrain from undermining respect for free, prior and informed consent. He further urged the Asian States to respond to the Forum’s Questionnaire to Governments. He also urged all Member States to recognize the status of indigenous peoples in their respective countries through constitutional or other legal means.
SAUL VICENTE VAZQUEZ, a Permanent Forum member from Mexico, said that the theme of human rights was of great importance to the Forum. The adoption of the Declaration was an important step, and United Nations agencies, as well as some countries, had also taken important steps in adopting related policies. However, indigenous peoples continued to suffer violations, including the pillaging of their national resources, the denial of their land rights, and others. After ratifying the Declaration, he said, States should harmonize its principles with their national legislation and policies.
In some cases, he noted, indigenous peoples had formed national movements that had influenced their counties’ laws. He cited Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico in that respect, while at the same time drawing attention to a violent situation in Mexico’s Oaxaca state that had resulted from both agrarian conflicts and the negative effects of an electoral process. He regretted that the media in Mexico had not dealt with that situation adequately, which demonstrated the “manipulation of public information”. Mexico had also seen the assassination of an “inclusionist brother”, as well as several others, in related incidents. He called on the Mexican Government to address that situation, and made several recommendations to the Forum itself, among them: that it ratify the general comment on Article 42 made by a previous session; that it conduct a study on the political representation of indigenous peoples; and that it conduct a study on the implementation of the Declaration in various regions.
ALAN COELHO DE SÉLLOS (Brazil) referring to the dramatic decrease in the indigenous population in his country following the arrival of Europeans, said the brutal practice of colonialism had led to a loss of identity, the total expropriation of ancestral land and the enslavement of indigenous populations. Those changes underscored the close link between the right to cultural identity and the right to land. Brazil’s most recent census indicated significant population growth among the country’s indigenous peoples, with growth rates reaching 6 per cent among some populations. That growth was due in some ways to a change in land distribution. Indeed, 12 per cent of the territory of Brazil had been dedicated for the permanent and exclusive use of indigenous peoples. Brazil’s federal Constitution also prohibited the removal of the indigenous population from their lands except in the most extreme cases, which, he noted, had never occurred.
Among its other recent achievements, Brazil had completed demarcation and registration of lands, he said. Nevertheless, the Government recognized the numerous ongoing pressures on those lands, and its social policies sought to reduce the medium- and long-term effects of that pressure. Further, relevant agencies were shouldering their responsibilities to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples.
REIDAR KVAM, of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which was part of the World Bank, said that the IFC had approved a new Sustainability Framework on 12 May. The framework, which had been drafted in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, was a “milestone” document providing global benchmarks for environmental and social performance. It was used as a reference point for financial institutions worldwide and, increasingly, by Governments in their financial matters. The framework listed eight performance standards on environmental and social issues. The seventh of those standards dealt with indigenous peoples’ rights, ensuring that the development process fostered the full respect for and support of the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples. The updated framework had strengthened and made more explicit guidance for community consultation, calling for “robust grievance mechanisms” where needed. It also specifically required free, prior and informed consent, in some cases, as well as “good faith negotiations” between parties.
JEBRA RAM MUCHAHARY and MEENAKSI MUNDA, delivering a joint statement on behalf of the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, presented the outcome of the All India indigenous Peoples’ Grand Assembly, which took place on 28 to 30 March in New Delhi, saying that that event had drawn more than 2,500 participants and representatives from 500 tribes for inclusive, open-ended consultations on various issues affecting their lives, including, among others, land, water, health, traditional knowledge, human rights and implementation of the Declaration.
They submitted the resolutions adopted by the Grand Assembly on, among others: land, laws and land alienation; displacement and rehabilitation policy; forest and eviction; globalization and tribal economy; poverty, migration and domestic workers; and culture, folklore, genetic resources and traditional knowledge. They also noted that the Confederation had begun to translate the Declaration into tribal languages and disseminate it, with very little support from the Indian Government. Moreover, the Indian Government had made no moves to adopt or implement the tenets of the Convention, and had evinced no political will to recognize the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in the country. “We, therefore, urge this august Forum to impress upon the Government of India to urgently take up the issues in the forthcoming monsoon parliament session to be held in July,” the speakers said.
MIGUEL BERGER ( Germany) said that, in Germany’s development cooperation, and in particular through human rights projects, the country’s goal was to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples, to improve their living conditions and strengthen regional networks of indigenous organizations. Its strategy, which was binding for all official implementing organizations operating in Latin America, aimed to support peoples in articulating and exercising their right to self-determined development in all matters concerning their lives and their land. Germany was pursuing a two-sided approach to that strategy: actively engaging in strengthening organizations, particularly umbrella organizations representing the Amazon Basin, the Andean highlands and Guatemala; and mainstreaming support for indigenous peoples and their organizations into all German development projects in Latin America. It was also working to apply its strategy to other regions, such as Asia and Africa.
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