Press Conference on Fifth Anniversary of Indigenous Rights Declaration

17 May 2012

Press Conference on Fifth Anniversary of Indigenous Rights Declaration

17 May 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Fifth Anniversary of Indigenous Rights Declaration


At a Headquarters press conference today Members of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, both past and present, called on indigenous peoples everywhere to persevere, remain optimistic and remember that, while they have made much progress in the five years since the Indigenous Rights Declaration had been adopted, a lot of work still lay ahead.

The press conference was held to coincide with the Permanent Forum’s high-level event marking the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a landmark resolution adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007 that was a major milestone in the struggle for the protection and promotion of Indigenous Peoples rights. 

It brought together Grand Chief Edward John of Canada, who is this year’s Chair of the Permanent Forum; Luis Chavez of Peru, former Chair of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations; Robert Leslie Malezer of Australia’s First Peoples, and former Chair of the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus; and Eleanor Goroh from Malaysia, a youth representative, to discuss the significance of the Declaration, the impact it has had and the challenges for the future.

Chief John told reporters that, from the moment the Declaration was adopted, it became a unique international instrument on a range of issues and set standards that would be the foundation for the continued survival of indigenous peoples and protection of their dignity and well-being.  Yet, even as indigenous peoples commemorated that historic moment, they must remember that there was still a lot of work to be done.

Mr. Chavez said that the adoption of the Declaration was a success story, no matter how hard the work had been leading up to its adoption:  “Where we are now is a place where we barely dreamed of even ten years ago,” he said.  “So, it is very rewarding coming back after five years and see that still a lot of progress has been made.”  He recalled that, when the Declaration was adopted, a number of countries were not in a position to accept it and, therefore, voted against it. 

But, it was important to underline that those very countries that not long ago voted against the Declaration can now accept it, which he believed meant that the Indigenous Peoples were on the right path and that what they were doing was what needed to be done.  He urged Indigenous Peoples to continue and persevere on that path, adding that he looked to the future with optimism and was hopeful that in five years’ time “we will be gathering again with still better news to celebrate”.

Mr. Malezer said that when the Declaration was adopted five years ago, it was the end of “a long hard journey” by Indigenous Peoples that had lasted for at least 70 years, as they tried to find recognition as peoples and to regain control of their lives, their territories and their future.  He declared:  “That’s behind us.  The Declaration was adopted in 2007; we can’t go back; we can’t go backwards.  We can only go forwards from here.”

Noting that there are some 350 million Indigenous Peoples in 80 countries around the world, Mr. Malezer pointed out that all of them were talking about the rights that they have in the Declaration:  the right of self-determination; the exercise of free, prior and informed consent; and the idea of partnerships and working with States in decision-making.  “So, while it might be difficult now putting the Declaration into effective force, the fact is it has to happen,” he asserted, pointing out, in that regard, that States were being encouraged to exercise leadership on that, and make the Declaration a new beginning in the search for equality for all peoples. 

But, the onus also fell back on the Indigenous Peoples themselves, he added, because if States were reluctant or slow to join in seeking partnership and equality, then it was again up to the indigenous peoples to push for it.  That “unpleasant situation” was not the way the indigenous peoples wanted to go.  “It is much easier; it’s much quicker and beneficial for all if we do this together,” he stated.

In her remarks, youth representative Eleanor Goroh said to be a youth from the other side of the world — Asia — and to come and attend the Permanent Forum in New York was an overwhelming experience for her.  Listening to her “elders” recount how difficult and long a process and struggle it had been to get to where it is today made her, as the representative of the younger generation, want to know more and to figure out how we can continue to move forward.  

Asked how the Forum planned to go about reconciling the desire for autonomy by indigenous peoples on the one hand, and the desire of States to keep territorial integrity and harmony on the other, Mr. Malezer responded that the Declaration itself required that reconciliation.  It had been written with the knowledge that indigenous peoples had been dispossessed of their lands and territories; they had been dispossessed of their economic development and political powers and so on, he said.  Therefore, it was a challenge in an existing State, particularly a developed State, to ensure that injustices of the past, particularly over territories and resources, were remedied in the future.  For that reason, the Forum underscored the importance of partnership between the States and the indigenous peoples, in the knowledge that neither one could do that alone.

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