Time for Stories of Struggles, Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide to Change, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Forum at Opening

7 May 2012

Time for Stories of Struggles, Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide to Change, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Forum at Opening

7 May 2012
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Time for Stories of Struggles, Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide

To Change, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Forum at Opening

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the opening of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:

I am honoured to join you.  I welcome the indigenous peoples from around the world.  Many of you have travelled far to be with us.  I also welcome the distinguished members of the Permanent Forum.  This Forum is the only body within the United Nations system fully dedicated to addressing indigenous peoples’ issues and advancing the rights and well-being of indigenous communities.  You can help make the United Nations more responsive to the aspirations and needs of indigenous peoples.  I reaffirm our commitment to working closely with you.

For 11 years, different voices and different languages have united in this Forum behind one, single demand:  recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.  Together, we have worked to define priorities and programmes for sustainable and culturally appropriate development.  We agree that there can be no development for indigenous peoples without the involvement of indigenous peoples in every step, and only with their free, prior and informed consent.  These are fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.   

Yet we do not have to search hard to find indigenous peoples facing discrimination, persecution, displacement — even extinction.  There are indigenous communities that lack clean drinking water, whose children go hungry, whose women suffer gross abuses and never see the perpetrators brought to justice.  A great deal remains to be done to see the objectives of the United Nations Declaration become a reality.  The high-level event later this month is an opportunity to take the next steps forward.  The theme of this year’s session, the international legal construct known as the “Doctrine of Discovery”, highlights the roots of many egregious violations of indigenous peoples’ collective and individual rights.

We must acknowledge what has happened and recognize past abuses.  We must remember in order to learn, understand and do better.  These are the foundations that will allow us to build a future based on mutual respect, equity and justice.  I look forward to the Forum’s deliberations on this item.  The preliminary study by the Special Rapporteur should feed into your discussions.  I am pleased that the Forum convened an expert group meeting on violence against indigenous women and girls in January. 

In March, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a resolution on indigenous women.  This is an encouraging example of cooperation between the Forum and other United Nations bodies.  Since the 2013 session of the Commission on the Status of Women will be entirely dedicated to the theme of violence against women, indigenous women themselves should be included in the work of that session.  Their perspective can uniquely enrich this discussion. 

There are now less than 50 days until the opening of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20.  Indigenous peoples have important messages to take to Rio:  about the immense value of indigenous and traditional knowledge; about the importance of community solidarity in protecting resources and habitats; and about protecting indigenous peoples from Governments or businesses that want to improperly extract or exploit their knowledge or resources.  The Secretary-General attaches the highest importance to a solid outcome in Rio, and he and I both urge indigenous peoples to make their voices heard.

This Forum continues to play a dynamic role in assisting indigenous peoples around the world to achieve their goals and to realize their right to self-determination.  Even as we gather here today, our attention is also on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples planned for 2014.  The President of the General Assembly has appointed two facilitators to work on this important process:  Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico and Mr. John Henriksen of the Saami Parliament of Norway.  The Conference can help us to find new and concrete ways to bring the goals of the United Nations Declaration to life.  I urge you to make the most of this opportunity.

We continue to hear stories of struggles and exploitation of indigenous peoples around the world.  It is time for those stories to change.  Let us instead move towards the day when indigenous peoples are heard, listened to and empowered.  I wish you a successful Forum.  Thank you for your kind attention.

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