|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)
Despite Declaration, Reality for Indigenous Peoples One of Unacceptable Conditions
That Requires Urgent Action by Governments across the Globe, Permanent Forum Told
Speakers Stress Gap between Declaration’s Ideals, Human Rights on the Ground;
Holds Dialogue with Human Rights Council’s Indigenous Rights Special Rapporteur
The need for urgent action by Governments to ensure the protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples was highlighted by speakers today, as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues put its spotlight on the implementation of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In a day devoted to human rights, the Permanent Forum was also addressed by James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of indigenous peoples, who provided an update on his activities in four areas: promoting good practices; country reports; responding to cases of alleged human rights violations; and thematic studies, including on the impact of extractive industries on indigenous communities. He also highlighted his visits to Brazil, Peru, Argentina and a first-ever trip to the United States.
Starting off the morning discussion on the implementation of the Declaration, Forum expert Dalee Sambo Dorough from the United States said that the reality for indigenous peoples was one of stunning and unacceptable conditions that required urgent attention by Governments across the globe. Critically, such attention did not have to be limited to the international level and to the halls of United Nations Headquarters, but rather should be on the ground and within the territories of indigenous peoples and communities.
States needed to take substantive and concrete action to work with indigenous peoples to change that reality and to move towards the full realization and real enjoyment of the indigenous human rights embraced by the Declaration, she said. Further, States needed to think about what they could do to alter the conditions of poverty and economic inequities confronted by indigenous peoples. There needed to be greater understanding and genuine sensitivity towards indigenous peoples, in order to truly embrace each and every article of the Declaration and give full effect to its intent and meaning.
The representative of the Latin American Caucus, emphasising the need for stronger measures to protect indigenous peoples’ lands, said that it was necessary for the World Bank to take into account the human rights impact on indigenous peoples of the projects it supported. Some such projects resulted in forced relocations and hurt indigenous peoples. Now was the right time to address the issue.
Several representatives of Member States described actions that their Governments were taking to ensure the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. The representative of Venezuela said that her Government protected the rights of indigenous peoples. It had established an indigenous peoples’ section, and had promulgated an internal legal document that recognized the existence of the social, political and economic organization of the indigenous peoples, including their language and traditional lands. In addition, indigenous peoples in the country enjoyed their identity which, beyond recognizing them as Venezuelans, also acknowledged that they were native peoples.
Similarly, the representative of Panama told the Forum that the Panamanian Constitution recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to enjoy legally owned territory, which they administered in accordance with their cultures and traditions. There were five such indigenous areas, known as Comarcas, in Panama. They represented approximately 10 per cent of the country’s total population and occupied about 25 per cent of the country’s land area. A recent law, concluded with the support of the United Nations and the Catholic Church, had established a special regime for protecting the resources of those territories and provided that requests for future projects should be approved by regional congresses. In addition, it requires that indigenous peoples be able to enjoy the benefits of any hydroelectric projects taking place in their areas.
The representative of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus, noting that militarization was employed to secure State and corporate interests and to suppress community resistance against “development” aggression and corporate plunder, said that States and corporations must be held accountable for the serious human rights violations they committed. He urged the Permanent Forum to call on Asian States to demilitarize indigenous territories and to reverse their counter-insurgency policies and strategies that were detrimental to indigenous peoples, or which violated international humanitarian law. In addition, Asian States should review their militarist laws and policies to make them consistent with the Declaration.
Opening the afternoon dialogue on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Anaya said that in carrying out his mandate examining the situation of indigenous peoples around the world, he had observed the “persistent and painful” legacies of the Doctrine of Discovery, the issue the Permanent Forum had chosen as the theme of its current session. That Doctrine — used for centuries to expropriate indigenous lands and facilitate their transfer to colonizing or dominating nations — continued to be used to justify ignoring the present needs of native and tribal peoples and to disregard their rights.
“I have observed attitudes associated with this colonial-era doctrine,” which “shamefully persisted” in jurisprudence and national judicial systems and many laws and regulatory regimes that affected indigenous peoples. It was still infecting society in many ways, witnessed in continued discrimination against indigenous peoples and their near invisibility in the political, economic and social spheres of the States in which they lived.
Yet, he said, the international community, especially through the United Nations system, had strongly rejected legal doctrines and social attitudes that perpetuated discrimination and disregard for indigenous peoples and their rights, particularly in the years since the adoption of the Declaration. That instrument provided a new grounding for understanding the status and rights of indigenous peoples, he said, adding: “Our challenge is to enter a new era, one in which the lingering effects of the Doctrine of Discovery do not continue to be felt and indigenous peoples thrive and are valued in the countries they live in.” While much remained to be done in that regard, “looking around the room today”, and considering what had already been achieved, he could not help but be hopeful.
On extractive industries, he said his study would be finalized within the year and indicated divergent views existed with regard to the balance of costs and benefits of extractive development projects. Although there was awareness of the negative impact that extractive activities had on the lives of indigenous peoples in the past, many Governments underscored the key importance of such activities for their economies, while businesses pointed to benefits that indigenous peoples could gain from the activities of extractive industries. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, were sceptical of, and in many cases rejected outright, the supposed benefits of the extractive or development projects in their traditional territories.
He called for a change in the current state of affairs if indigenous rights standards were to have meaningful effect on State and corporate policies and actions as they related to indigenous peoples in the context of extractive industries. That required greater common understanding among indigenous peoples, governmental actors, business enterprises and others about the content of indigenous peoples’ rights and the means of their implementation.
The representative of Norway said that governance gaps lay at the core of the human rights and business challenge, and that indigenous peoples were disproportionately negatively affected by business-related activities, such as natural resource extraction and infrastructure development. Although States bore the main responsibility to conduct consultations with indigenous peoples with regard to checking human rights abuses committed by third parties, the third parties, including business enterprises, had the responsibility to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. Corporations also needed to ensure that they did not contribute to violations of those rights.
The representative of the Arctic Caucus said that his region was under increasing pressure from big business, including mining, oil and wind energy companies whose only strategy seemed to be “a race to the Arctic”. The cumulative effect of the activities of those companies and the “empty the Arctic” attitude on Saami and Inuit communities was unimaginable. Those communities were struggling to pursue their traditional lives and livelihoods and there was an urgent need for the States concerned and Inuit and Saami communities to renegotiate laws and polices on land use and the activities of industrial enterprises.
Presentations were also made by the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Chair of the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations.
Participating in the debate and dialogue were representatives of the following groups and organizations: Saami Parliament of Norway; Global Indigenous Youth Caucus; Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus; African Caucus; Pacific Indigenous Caucus; Il’Laramatak Community Concerns; National Human Rights Institution of Australia; New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council; International Indian Treaty Council; National Native Title Council; Grand Council of the Crees; Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indigenas — South America; Te Runanga o Te Rarawa, Te Runanga-a-Iwi o Ngati Kahu; Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust; Maori Caucus; and First Nation’s Summit.
Also speaking were the Government representatives of New Zealand, Ecuador, Spain, Bolivia, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Guyana, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Argentina and Viet Nam. A statement was also made by a representative of Greenland (Denmark).
A representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also spoke, as did representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow to begin consideration of “emerging issues” and matters related to its future work.
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this morning continued its eleventh session by taking up issues related to the human rights of indigenous peoples. In addition to a discussion on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Forum was also expected to hold a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Debate on Declaration
DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Permanent Forum member from the United States, said that although there had been much progress, it was necessary to be mindful of the reality that a majority of the world’s indigenous peoples faced day-in, day-out. That reality was one of stunning and unacceptable conditions that required urgent attention by Governments across the globe. That attention was not necessarily at the international level and in the halls of United Nations Headquarters but at the domestic level, on the ground and within regions and territories of indigenous peoples’ communities and peoples. States needed to take substantive and concrete action to thoroughly read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to begin work with indigenous peoples to change that reality and to move towards the full realization and real enjoyment of the indigenous human rights embraced by United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Five years was far too soon to assess the impact of the Declaration, but it was necessary for all, especially state Government representatives, to think about the centuries of suffering that began with the so-called doctrine of discovery. They should think about its present day manifestations and about what their respective Governments could do to alter the conditions of poverty and economic inequities. There needed to be greater understanding and genuine sensitivity towards indigenous peoples, in order to truly embrace each and every article of the Declaration and give full effect to its intent and meaning.
Chief WILTON LITTLECHILD, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that the Expert Mechanism was established in 2007 by the Human Rights Council with a mandate to provide advice on the rights of indigenous peoples to the Council. The fifth session of the Mechanism would take place from 9 to 13 July 2012. As a specific forum to discuss the rights of indigenous peoples, it was open to all, including organizations without Economic and Social Council status. The Mechanism regularly coordinated with the Permanent Forum and with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It had also begun a practice of liaising with the Permanent Forum and the Special Rapporteur on its studies and reports that were relevant to the other mandates, before finalizing such work.
The Expert Mechanism had completed two studies, he said. One was on lessons learned and challenges to achieve the right of indigenous peoples to education, including advice on key normative content and recommendations. The other was on indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making, which had been undertaken over two years. The Declaration was used as a framework for the work of the Expert Mechanism and was a specific item on its annual agenda. The Expert Mechanism continued to encourage the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples rights, especially in engagement with the Human Rights Council.
LEGBORSI PYAGBARA, Chair of the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, said that the mechanism’s mandate was to assist representatives of indigenous communities and organizations to participate in the deliberations of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations by providing them with financial assistance, and was funded by means of voluntary contributions from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other private or public entities.
He recalled that the General Assembly had expanded the mandate of the Fund in 2001 by deciding that the Fund should also be used to assist representatives of indigenous communities and organizations in attending, as observers, the sessions of the Permanent Forum. Without the Fund, the most vulnerable would be unable to draw the international community’s attention to their situations, he said.
Briefly highlighting the Fund’s work over the past year, he said that the mechanism’s Board of Trustees had witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of applications for grants and a troubling simultaneous 75 per cent drop in voluntary contributions since 2008. It was clear that the Fund faced a “critical situation” and would be unable to carry out its work without a rapid and sustained infusion of resources. “It is clear that our work may be compromised,” he said, adding that the Board was nevertheless appealing to donors for further assistance, so that he Fund could continue to ensure that indigenous voices were heard in international forums.
BERNADETTE CAVANAGH (New Zealand) said that her Government was committed to upholding its obligations under the Declaration. Indeed, the tenets of the Declaration were at the heart of the Government’s ongoing dialogue with the Maori peoples, and also formed the foundation of the country’s wider human rights endeavours. New Zealand continued to support the work of the Special Rapporteur and was pleased to report that some of the issues that mechanism had raised in his most recent visit were being addressed, including the status of the Treaty of Waitangi.
She said that Maori peoples were now involved in many decision-making capacities, including participating in a number of concerns dealing with natural resources. Indeed, Maori leaders had recently been tapped to co-manage several of those concerns. The Government was committed to reviewing Maori electoral participation, as well as participation in Parliament and local Government. She said that her Government had also taken note of the Special Rapporteur’s concerns about customary rights over the marine and coastal area. Since those concerns had been raised, Parliament had enacted the 2011 Marine and Coastal Area Act, repealing the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act. The new legislation provided two routes for the recognition of relevant customary interests: through application to the High Court or through reaching a recognition agreement with the Crown.
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief, Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the rights of indigenous peoples were a priority for the Office, and in pursuing that priority, the Declaration was its key point of reference and framework for action. The role of the Declaration was central in all OHCHR’s work dealing with indigenous issues, from the support it provided to the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Group Mechanism to the assistance to its fellowship programme and other capacity building efforts.
Highlighting a few key initiatives, he said OHCHR worked hard to ensure that the aims and potential of the Declaration were raised far outside the halls of United Nations bodies. To that end, OHCHR tried to ensure that national human rights organizations were up-to-date on all matters regarding that instrument, and also provided technical assistance to national authorities trying to harmonize their legislation with the tenets of the Declaration. OHCHR did not work in isolation. Along with collaborating with indigenous peoples’ organizations and groups, it worked with other United Nations bodies and specialized agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Labour Organization. The Geneva-based Office, and the High Commissioner herself, would continue to endeavour to ensure that the United Nations goals for indigenous peoples “travel from paper to practice.”
LEONARDO CRIPPA, of the Latin American Caucus, focusing on the work of the World Bank, said that it was necessary for the Bank to consider the human rights impact on indigenous peoples of the projects it supported. There was need for stronger measures to protect indigenous peoples’ land, as some projects that resulted in such things as forced relocation and hurt indigenous peoples must be halted. Now was the right time to address the issue. The Bank was initiating a process to review its indigenous peoples’ policy. In that regard, the Latin American Caucus proposed that a half-day discussion on role of the Bank be held by the Permanent Forum during the next session. Such discussions had played a key role in highlighting particular issues of importance to the regions. The Forum should request the Bank to inform it about measures it was taking to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and also ask it to ensure that human rights impact assessments were conducted in connection with any work it was undertaking that could affect indigenous peoples.
NOELI POCATERRA (Venezuela) said that elimination of indigenous peoples continued, but in Venezuela the country was moving towards a model that was humanist, under which the rights of indigenous peoples were protected. Venezuela had established an indigenous peoples’ section, which served as the legal basis for a democratic and multi-ethnic society. The country recognized the existence of social, political and economic organization of the indigenous peoples, recognizing their language, traditional lands, and so forth. Those developments were embodied in an internal legal document, which included the organic laws of the indigenous peoples. Venezuela guaranteed the human rights of indigenous peoples and was working to implement those rights.
There continued to be problems with the 1911 Constitution, which was racist and exclusionary with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples. Under the present Government, about 1 million hectares of indigenous peoples’ land had been returned to them and given collective title. Indigenous peoples in the country enjoyed their identity which, beyond recognizing them as Venezuelans, also recognized that they were native peoples. A housing programme had also been introduced to provide dignified housing to indigenous peoples, including for old people, for women and for the handicapped. Those were managed by indigenous peoples. Further, indigenous peoples had been elected to national and municipal level offices.
ROCHELLE ROCA-HACHEM, representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would be invited as an observer to the thirty-sixth session of the World Heritage Committee in Saint Petersburg from 24 June to 5 July 2012. UNESCO recognized and advocated the key role of culture in sustainable development and sustainable tourism, as well as the nexus between biological diversity and cultural diversity. As a follow-up to the conference co-organised by UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity in June 2010, which focused on integrating biological and cultural diversity into development cooperation strategies and programmers, staff from the UNESCO New York Office were closely cooperating with the Convention Secretariat to implement the draft Joint Programme. That draft had been welcomed by the World Heritage Committee at its thirty-fourth session in Brasilia in July 2010.
A follow-up meeting was organized between the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat and UNESCO at the UNESCO Office in New York in April 2012, with invitation made to representatives of other organizations, she said. Also, the World Heritage Centre had published a number of issues of the World Heritage Review that were relevant to indigenous peoples. Those included a specific issue on World heritage and indigenous peoples, published to draw the attention of the international community to that important topic.
EGIL OLLI, President of the Sami Parliament of Norway, said the Declaration represented the world’s commitment to redressing the historic injustices perpetrated against indigenous peoples. It was the framework that bound all Governments to meet their relevant commitments as regarding the historic and cultural circumstances of those peoples, while not diminishing their rights under any other international treaties. Seven years after it had adopted the Declaration, the international community faced serious challenges regarding implementation. All peoples must have the same rights to develop, according to their cultures and traditions.
Welcoming the Norwegian Government’s acknowledgement that Norway was founded on the lands of two peoples, Norwegians and Saami, he agreed that such a declaration implied that both peoples, therefore, had the same rights to develop their culture and languages. Yet, the equality of both Saami and Norwegian peoples could not be limited to linguistic and cultural rights. “True equality needs to be respected in all aspects, including the resource dimensions of the right to self-determination,” he said, noting that, currently, there was an ongoing process to revise the Norwegian Constitution and the Sami Parliament was confident that equality, “a fundamental international legal principle”, would be fully outlined in the constitutional amendments.
GERMÁN MUENALA (Ecuador) began his statement by stressing that certain speakers had not obtained the requisite credentials to represent the Government of Ecuador at this session of the Permanent Forum. On the matter at hand, he said the Ecuadorian Government had taken significant measures to build on the Declaration to improve its Constitution and legislation to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples. The preamble to the Constitution recognized the diversity of all Ecuadorian people, including Amazonian and other indigenous peoples.
The new constitutional reforms had been enacted to undo colonial structures and bolster the plurinational nature of the country. The Government was also seeking to implement public policy programmes to assist indigenous peoples in overcoming many of the challenges they faced. All such measures were necessary to ensure the dignity of all individuals and peoples. Every measure was taken to ensure there was no discrimination and that indigenous peoples and communities could develop their own laws over lands that had traditionally been theirs.
ALBERT K. BARUME, Senior Specialist on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Issues of the International Labour Organization, drew attention to the growing synergies between the Declaration and ILO Convention No.169. The five-year-old instrument had opened political spaces and had created a better conducive environment for implementation of the ILO Convention at the country level. At the same time, Convention-related jurisprudence, State reports, court cases and comments by ILO supervisory bodies on indigenous peoples’ issues had increased the understanding and implementation of the Declaration.
“The implementation of the Declaration and Convention No.169 inevitably requires a continual building of capacities of States and social partners,” he continued, adding that the ILO’s technical cooperation programme on Convention No.169 had scaled up its capacity-building activities, through which the training on indigenous peoples’ issues was now provided to some 2,000 civil servants each year in more than 25 countries across Latin America, Asia and Africa. Turning to update the Forum on the inter-agency United Nations Indigenous Peoples Partnership initiative, set up in line with Articles 41 and 42 of the Declaration, he said that all the joint institutions and organs had now been established. Those included a Policy Board that was made up of four indigenous experts representing all regions, as well as a multiparty Trust Fund. He also said that seven pilot projects were under way in Nicaragua, Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo and Nepal. A regional project was being carried out in South-East Asia. All those projects were being implemented with the active participation of the relevant Governments and indigenous groups.
INTREABUD RICKY TRAN, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, recommended that the Permanent Forum enhance youth participation in United Nations bodies throughout the Organization. He also urged the United Nations to provide more assistance to youth-based non-governmental organization, so that their representatives could fully participate in the work of the follow-up mechanisms of human rights bodies. He urged the Human Rights Council to ensure that the universal periodic review was made available through a wider array of social media and that the Government presentations include a specific focus on their efforts to uphold the rights of indigenous youth.
PABLO ANTONIO THALASSINÓS (Panama) said that the Panamanian Constitution recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to enjoy legally-owned territory. Such territories were ruled in accordance with the culture of the people who lived there. There were five such indigenous areas, called Comarcas, in Panama, with a population constituting approximately 10 per cent of the country’s total population. The Comarcas represented about 25 per cent of the land area of the country and were rich in resources, in addition to being suited for tourism. Recently, negotiations had been concluded, with the support of the United Nations and the Catholic Church, resulting in Law 11 of 26 March 2012. That law established a special regime for protecting the resources of the Comarcas and provided for requests for future projects to be approved by regional congresses. In addition, it provided that indigenous peoples should enjoy the benefits of any hydroelectric projects taking place in their areas. The law also provided for fines of $100,000 for any violations.
INTREABUD RICKY TRAN, of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus, recommended that the Permanent Forum implement a process to document the efforts of indigenous peoples in implementing the United Nations Declaration.
MARIA VICTORIA WULFF BARREIRO (Spain) said that her country was trying to promote the contents of the United Nations Indigenous Rights Declaration. Within the United Nations human rights system, her country was working in various areas that promoted the rights of indigenous peoples and had submitted contributions to relevant reports. Its policy on indigenous peoples was based on the idea that indigenous peoples should define their own models. In that regard, it had set up a special technical team for international development with its own budget. Spain promoted and recognized the right of indigenous peoples to prior, free and informed consent. It also supported, financially and materially, the indigenous peoples of the Andean and the Amazon basin, in order to promote their representation in international forums.
SAOUDATA ABOUBACRINE (African Caucus) said that the African continent was comprised of rich cultures, languages and traditions. Yet, because of the remnants of colonial domination, African Governments saw Africans as “one peoples” and, as such, indigenous peoples and cultures were under serious threat. The Masai, San, Azwad and other indigenous people were marginalized and stripped of their lands. In the Sahel region, there had been some 50 years of massive human rights violations, ethnic discrimination and denial of cultural heritage.
Repression against the Tuaregs and other groups had left thousands of people on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. With that in mind, she urged the Permanent Forum, the wider United Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to press African Governments to adhere to the tenets of the Declaration on Indigenous Rights. Those Governments must be made to immediately stop annexing the traditional lands of Tuaregs and other groups. The Permanent Forum must also ensure that African indigenous peoples were able to exercise their right to self-determination.
FELIX CARDENAS, Vice-Minister for Decolonization of Bolivia, said that since his country had been created, the citizens had been told that they were one people with one language and one cultural vision. But, that had begun to change, as the new Government had emphasized that Bolivia was comprised of 36 different cultures, a democracy of religions and countless world views. The new Constitution was only two years old, but changers, including decolonization of the justice system, were continuing apace. “We feel that Bolivia is a political laboratory,” he said, adding that new provisions aimed to establish links between the Government and indigenous groups. They would also integrate gender into all structures and mechanisms. “No one will be able to stop these changes because the vanguard of this movement is the indigenous peoples themselves,” he declared.
SHELEIGH SOLIS, of the Pacific Caucus, urged the Permanent Forum and the Special Rapporteur to investigate human rights violations against indigenous peoples of the Pacific region. All States were called on to work with indigenous peoples of the region to ensure implementation of the Declaration, including the rights to self-governance and self-determination. She also called for all States to ensure the rights of indigenous Pacific peoples to their traditional lands. In addition, the Economic and Social Council was called on to investigate territories in the Pacific region to assess which might be considered candidates for the United Nations decolonization process. The aim of such an exercise should be to develop processes and timeframes to address issues of autonomy.
She said that indigenous people were intrinsically connected to their lands and, if such lands were violated, so to were the rights of native peoples living on them. Highlighting one such example of violation of indigenous land rights in the Pacific, and calling for action to address it, she decried the recent decision of the United States to move some 9,000 troops from Japan to Hawaii, turning islands there into “floating military garrisons”.
GABRIELA GARDUZA ESTRADA, National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, said that availability of disaggregated data was essential to helping the Government design relevant policies and programmes that could improve the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples. The collection of such data had led to vast improvements in household conditions in indigenous communities and had also helped close education and literacy gaps between the indigenous and general populations.
Human rights-based reforms to the Constitution aimed to ensure that all legislation was in line with the treaties and instruments to which the Mexican Government was a party, including ILO Convention No.169. Among other endeavours, the Government was also strengthening state-level human rights bodies, and building the capacity of indigenous interpreters, specifically those working in the health sector to ensure that indigenous peoples received adequate and culturally appropriate medical care. She encouraged the Permanent Forum to do more to raise awareness about the situation of indigenous women, as well as indigenous peoples with disabilities.
WINDEL BOLINGET, Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus, said that “militarization” was employed to secure state and corporate interests and to suppress community resistance against “development”, aggression and corporate plunder, such as mining and extractive industries, hydrodams, energy projects, plantations and other big businesses. Both States and corporations needed to be held accountable for the serious human rights violations they committed. The Permanent Forum should call on Asian States to demilitarize indigenous territories and to take appropriate steps to review and reverse their counter-insurgency policies and strategies, which were detrimental to indigenous peoples and violated international humanitarian law. The Asian States should also review their oppressive and militarist laws and policies, to make them consistent with the United Nations Indigenous Rights Declaration and should seriously abide by their international human rights obligations. The Forum should also push for recognition of the indigenous peoples in order to ensure the full protection of their human rights, especially in Asian countries like Thailand, which still had no legal recognition of indigenous peoples.
The Forum should urge Asian countries to stop forming and using paramilitary forces and dismantle them, he went on. Concrete steps should be taken to address the human rights impact of militarization and extractive industries. In that regard, it should be ensured that the collective rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent were recognized and respected and that immediate actions were taken to stop forcible evacuations and military displacements.
The Asia Caucus also recommended the Forum: establish a speedy and effective mechanism for prosecuting and convicting state and corporate perpetrators of human rights violations against indigenous peoples; support peace negotiations between Asian Governments and revolutionary and armed resistance forces; request Asian States to remove foreign military bases from indigenous territories; and conduct investigative missions to look at the problem of militarization and serious human rights violations committed against Asian indigenous peoples.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous Peoples
JAMES ANAYA, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, kicking off a dialogue with the Forum, said that in carrying out his mandate from the Human Rights Council, he undertook activities in four areas: promoting good practices; country reports; responding to cases of alleged human rights violations; and thematic studies. Throughout the year, he continued to join in efforts to strengthen the protections for the rights of indigenous peoples at both the international and domestic levels, participating in relevant discussions with the Governments of both Peru and Brazil on the development of mechanisms for consultations with indigenous propels, and to attempt to clarify the practical dimensions of the principle of free, prior and informed consent.
With respect to his examination of cases of human rights violations, he said that he received allegations of such abuses “on a daily basis”, and often, in response, he communicated his concerns about the charges to the Governments concerned. In some cases, he had conducted site visits to examine the situations and had subsequently issued reports with observations and recommendations.
Recalling that in March, he had visited Costa Rica to follow-up on a visit and report completed last year examining the situation of indigenous communities that could be affected by the possible construction of a hydroelectric project, he said that the Joint Communications report of Special Procedures Mandate Holders, issued periodically, contained the full text of all his communications with Governments concerning cases of alleged rights violations.
As for reporting on overall conditions of indigenous peoples in particular countries, since his last presentation to the Permanent Forum he had carried out two visits, to Argentina and the United States, a visit he just completed last week. His reports on those countries would be presented to the Human Rights Council in September and would likely be made public before then. Looking ahead, he announced that he would go to El Salvador. He had also made requests to Namibia and Canada to carry out visits to those countries later this year or in early 2013. He hoped those requests would be considered favourable. He was also very interested in examining, during the remaining two years of his mandate, conditions in several Asian countries, which he had requested to visit.
Last year, he devoted part of his annual report to the Human Rights Council to providing preliminary observations on the issue of extractive industries operating in or near indigenous peoples’ territories. In preparing that report, he had distributed a questionnaire to indigenous peoples, Governments, businesses and other relevant stakeholders. The responses revealed a clear understanding of the negative, even catastrophic, impacts on indigenous peoples caused by irresponsible or negligent projects that had been or were being implemented in indigenous territories without proper guarantees or the involvement of the affected people.
There were divergent responses, however, with regard to the balance of costs and benefits of extractive development projects, he continued. Although respondents were aware of the negative impact that extractive activities had on the lives of indigenous peoples in the past, many Governments underscored the key importance of such activities for their economies. Many businesses also shared the view that indigenous peoples could benefit from the activities of extractive industries. On their part, indigenous peoples, in general, expressed considerable scepticism and, in many cases, outright rejection of the supposed benefits of the extractive or development projects in their traditional territories.
Mr. Anaya said that, from his examination, change was needed if indigenous rights standards were to have meaningful effect on State and corporate policies and actions concerning indigenous peoples and extractive industries. An initial step towards such change would be to have greater common understanding among indigenous peoples, governmental actors, business enterprises and others about the content of indigenous peoples’ rights and the means of their implementation. Without such understanding, the application of indigenous rights standards would continue to be contested or ignored, and indigenous peoples would continue to be vulnerable to serious abuses of their individual and collective human rights.
Towards that end, he said, for the remainder of his mandate, he planned to carry out a series of meetings with Governments, indigenous peoples and representatives of business enterprises to listen and to draw views and experiences on the issue. He also planned to launch an online consultation forum around specific questions or issues related to extractive industries. Through that forum, indigenous peoples and others would be able to submit information on their experiences with extractive industries and to respond to specific questions.
He said that it was clear that the colonial era doctrine of discovery, when coupled with the related doctrines of conquest and European racial superiority, was a driving force for atrocities committed against indigenous peoples on a global scale. That situation had ongoing consequences today. That doctrine shamefully persisted in the jurisprudence of national judicial systems and in many of the domestic laws and regulatory regimes that affected indigenous peoples. Further, the doctrine of discovery and the disregard of indigenous rights that it promoted had influenced the perception and outlook of societies concerning indigenous peoples. That doctrinal infection of society resulted in continued discrimination against indigenous peoples and made them nearly invisible in the political, economic and social spheres of the States in which they lived.
Following the Special Rapporteur’s presentation, representatives of indigenous groups and Government delegations took the floor.
NIKO-MIHKAL VALKEAPAA, Arctic Caucus, said that his delegation’s region was under increasing pressure from big business, including mining, oil and wind energy companies. It seemed as if there was only one strategy: “a race to the Arctic.” The cumulative effect of the activities of those companies and the “empty the Arctic” attitude on Saami and Inuit communities was unimaginable. Those communities were struggling to pursue their traditional lives and livelihoods and there was an urgent need for the States concerned and Inuit and Saami communities to renegotiate laws and polices on land use and the activities of industrial enterprises. The concerned States must also ensure that corporations adhere to ethical cods of conduct committing private industries to respecting indigenous Arctic lands and cultures.
OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba) said that indigenous peoples were traditionally the most vulnerable to pillage and robbery of their lands and heritage. The international community must redouble its efforts to ensure the self-determination of nearly 400 million such peoples worldwide. On the fifth anniversary of the Declaration on Indigenous Rights, States must do more to implement that instrument and to carry out the aims of the Second Decade. Further, he urged States to contribute to the Funds set up to support activities within the framework of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Looking ahead to the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, he hoped that delegations would participate in the coming negotiations on the holding of that event in a spirit of openness and compromise. Cuba would continue to support the just demands of the indigenous peoples to live according to their traditions.
AGNES LEINA, Il’Laramatak Community Concerns, speaking on behalf of peoples affected by the selection of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites, said that during the Permanent Forum’s tenth session, a large number of groups had raised concerns about the need to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples regarding the choosing of World Heritage Sites on traditional lands and territories. The three sites under consideration by UNESCO at that time had been Western Ghats (India), Tri-national de la Sangha (Congo/Cameroon/Central African Republic) and the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley (Kenya).
She said that all three of those locations had been selected without the meaningful involvement or participation of indigenous peoples concerned. Her group had urged the World Heritage Committee to set aside its decision until those peoples were consulted. Regrettably, one year later, the points of contention remained “unresolved, unaddressed or ignored altogether”. That had raised very serious and pressing issues, specifically because the Kenya Lake System included waters that had recently been given landmark status by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Western Ghats and Tri-national de la Sangha cases had been deferred, but the indigenous peoples concerned had not yet been consulted. Indeed, the Governments had contacted no one, and the paperwork regarding the amended site procedures “are being kept secret by UNESCO”.
In light of all that, she urged that UNESCO defer all World Heritage nominations of sites in indigenous peoples’ territories, if it could not be ensured that those peoples had been adequately consulted and involved and that their free, prior and informed consent had been obtained. She also called for the establishment of an indigenous advisory body, which should be involved in the evaluation of all nominated properties that were situated in the territories of indigenous peoples and in monitoring the conservation and management of such World Heritage properties.
REGINA MARIA CORDEIRO DUNLOP (Brazil) said that while much had been achieved at the domestic level, some work remained in order to achieve the rights of indigenous peoples. Brazil would remain committed to its path towards the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. It had initiated a process of dialogue with indigenous peoples in respect of the right to prior consultation. Representatives of indigenous peoples would be consulted at the national level in good faith and in a comprehensive manner. The Special Rapporteur had been consulted in that process. With regard to indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, Brazil recognised that their rights attached particular obligations to States. Those obligations were particularly necessary whenever consultations were not possible. In that regard, Brazil took note of the guidelines on the protection of such peoples released by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Brazil no longer had a policy of forced contacts and it now protected social and cultural diversity as core values of indigenous peoples. Brazil believed that the effective implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples depended on coordinated efforts at all levels and branches of the State.
MICK GOODA, of the National Human Rights Institution of Australia, said that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be used as a yardstick for assessing how well States were protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples. His organization welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the impact of extractive industries. That report covered the situation of indigenous peoples in Australia. Noting that the Special Rapporteur had visited Australia for his report, he said that all States should extend an invitation to him to also visit them. States should, as a demonstration of good faith, submit country reports to the Special Rapporteur on their implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia should provide a formal response on the report of the Special Rapporteur. In addition, the Permanent Forum should encourage States to take note of the observations and recommendations contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur and request them to take steps to incorporate them.
TINE MORCH SMITH (Norway) said that governance gaps lay at the core of the human rights and business challenge, a situation that was a particular concern for persons and groups living in vulnerable situations. Indigenous peoples were disproportionately negatively affected by business-related activities, such as natural resource extraction and infrastructure development. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights played a key role in current attempts to close the governance gaps with respect to business and human rights. States had an obligation to check human rights abuses committed by third parties. Although the States bore the main responsibility to conduct consultations with indigenous peoples, third parties, including business enterprises, had the responsibility to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. Corporations also needed to ensure that they did not contribute to violations of those rights.
Referring to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the Saami region of Finland, Sweden and Norway, she announced that the concerned ministers in her country would prepare a paper summarizing relevant information regarding each of the recommendations contained in the report.
LES MALZER, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, presenting his group’s recommendations, urged the Permanent Forum to report to the Economic and Social Council that, five years after the adoption of the Declaration, implementation was lagging and most States had not entered into any meaningful agreements to put that instrument into effective action. The General Assembly was also urged to make it known to Member States that the Declaration was more than aspirational and that it contained binding human rights obligations.
He announced that his groups had invited the Special Rapporteur to participate in a round table discussion later this year on the activities of extractive industries. He wondered if the Special Rapporteur would consider a follow-up visit to Australia to assess the implementation of the recommendations he had included in the report of his 2010 visit.
Responding briefly, Mr ANAYA said that he would consider following up on his recommendations. But, in the meantime, all communications of special procedures and mandate holders to Governments and the relevant responses were made available on the Web Site of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
PAULINE SUKHAI, Minister of Amerindian Affairs of Guyana, said that her country’s Constitution, laws and policies underscored the “equality of all peoples”. Further, discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender and religion were explicitly forbidden. To give effect to those and other provisions, the Government had set up human rights commissions, respectively on ethnic relations, gender and equality, indigenous peoples, and child rights. The Government also fully respected the principle of collective rights and the revised 2006 Amerindian Act had created the legal regime for the protection and enforcement of the collective right to land and internal self-government.
She went on to say that Amerindian land titles were exceptional in that they were “collective, absolute, unconditional and forever”. Such titles were applicable to lands traditionally occupied and used by indigenous peoples and, importantly, took into account Amerindian’s spiritual, cultural and traditional attachment to those lands. Continuing, she said that the Mining and Forest Acts also respected Amerindian’s traditional land rights, and the Environmental Protection Act ensured that traditional activities were not constrained. Overall, the Government ensured inclusion, integration and representation of indigenous peoples at all levels and had established constitutional mechanisms that allowed decisions to be made in line with the principle of free, prior and informed consent.
TINA WILLIAMS, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, recommended, among other things, that the Permanent Forum take urgent action to ensure that all laws in Australia that managed indigenous culture and heritage integrated the principles of the Declaration. The Permanent Forum was also urged to encourage the Australian Government to sign the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, as a way to bring Australian legislation, particularly the country’s 1999 Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, in line with international standards requiring indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent.
“In Australia, we do not have comprehensive legislation for indigenous culture and heritage,” she said, explaining that various states and territory governments had the main responsibility for the protection and management of such culture. The various regimes had been criticized for the lack of control and ownership they provided indigenous peoples in that regard. As for the indigenous peoples of New South Wales, such culture and heritage was managed by a law that was actually created for the protection of animals and plants — the National Parks and Wildlife Act. “This regime is not only outdated, it is offensive that in today’s society, indigenous culture and heritage is considered in the context of flora and fauna,” she said, adding that under that law, indigenous culture was considered the “property” of the Queen of England.
For 20 years, civil society had been calling for reform of indigenous and cultural heritage laws for New South Wales, and it was high time that the Government act. “We are tired of being lumped with the environment. We are tired of being relegated to the role of only one stakeholder. Indigenous peoples must be recognized as the rightful owners of the culture and heritage,” she declared.
EDUARDO ULIBARRI (Costa Rica) welcomed the holding this Thursday of a special high-level meeting to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Declaration. He also welcomed the ongoing work of the Special Rapporteur and looked forward to his upcoming follow-up visit to the country. Costa Rica was, meanwhile, continuing to elaborate a process of consultation with indigenous communities. He thanked the United Nations for the assistance it had provided in the setting up of a national inter-agency mechanism to promote dialogue on issues of shared concern. He also noted that a commission had been set up to address concerns about the education of indigenous communities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was preparing a response to some of the concerns that had been raised by the Special Rapporteur.
ANDREA CARMEN, International Indian Treaty Council, said that the visit by the Special Rapporteur to the United States had been very useful for indigenous peoples in the country. During that visit, he had held hearings on indigenous issues across the United States and the indigenous peoples had come away with the confidence that their messages were being heard.
MARIANNE LYKKE THOMSEN of Greenland (Denmark) wanted to know what measures and mechanisms would be feasible for eliminating the barriers to the realization of indigenous peoples’ rights represented by a lack of understanding of key issues among all actors, coupled with the numerous grey and conceptual legal areas.
MR. ANAYA, the Special Rapporteur, responding to the question, said that the answer lay in practical experience in ensuring compliance with the Declaration. Rather than just talking about what the standards in the Declaration meant in the abstract, the United Nations should move beyond the abstract and see what it meant to put them into practice. The approach would be to learn from the experiences of the various actors concerned. In that way, steps could be taken toward achieving greater consensus.
GEOFF SCOTT, of the National Native Title Council, submitting a set of recommendations, said that the New South Wales Land Council supported the Declaration as it concerned indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making and representative institutions. That Declaration affirmed that indigenous peoples had a right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they should be able to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. In Australia, aboriginal peoples did not enjoy the same opportunities to sustainable economic and social development as other Australians. The absence of consistent indigenous representative bodies in Australia had, for several decades, deprived them of their right to participate in decision-making and the development of policies that affected them, he said. The Australian Government, with the agreement of all the major political parties, had in 2004 abolished the representative body of Australia’s indigenous peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission. To this day, that action remained a fundamental strain on the relationship between the Government and the indigenous peoples. Aboriginal representative structures needed to be independently and equally recognized for their capacity to contribute to the direction of policies and programmes.
JENNIFER PRESTON, in a joint statement on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees, Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), Amnesty International, International Indian Treaty Council, Africa Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Network, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Chiefs of Ontario, Treaty 4 First Nations, Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development Organization, and First Peoples Human Rights Coalition, recommended that a study be undertaken of the existing rules of procedure in diverse international organizations which had real or potential impact on indigenous peoples human rights and related interests. Such a study should identify serious inadequacies affecting indigenous peoples and propose effective remedies and possible compliance mechanisms, with a view to ensuring fair and balanced procedural rules. States, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, should also fully respect the rule of law at the international and national levels consistent with international human rights standards.
CONNIE TARACENA SECAIRA (Guatemala) said that her country considered that all human rights, including the right to development, were indivisible. Guatemala, therefore, promoted a vision of collective security; a right to life, social inclusion and rural development. Legislation promoting those aims was solidly in place, and the Government had, among others, acceded to the Rome Statue as a symbol of the rejection of impunity for human rights violations, and had created a Ministry for Social Development to combat poverty and hunger.
She said that Guatemala was committed to the protection and promotion of human rights at national and regional levels. The Government realized that much remained to be done, including improving the social situation of women, children and indigenous peoples. She reiterated her delegation’s invitation to the Permanent Forum and the Expert Group Mechanism to hold a preparatory meeting in Guatemala during the run-up to the 2014 World Conference.
SONIA HENRIQUEZ LEDAD, Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indigenas — South America, said her delegation believed that indigenous cultures were connected to their lands in unique ways. Therefore, they required special protection, including from the activities of large corporations encroaching on their lands. She said that the invasion of indigenous lands had not ended after colonialism; indeed, in many South American countries it continued today with countless mining and hydroelectric projects being approved by heedless Governments.
Quite often, indigenous peoples of the Amazon were violently repressed and forced at gunpoint to make way for big business and mining concerns. She encouraged the Permanent Forum to urgently request the Governments of South America and Canada to adhere to the aims of the Convention regarding the protection of indigenous lands and territories. It was also requested to urge States to ensure that the safety and well-being of women and children were of special concern.
CATHERINE DAVIS, speaking on behalf of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa, Te Runanga-a-Iwi o Ngati Kahu, Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust and Maori Caucus, said the group called on the Permanent Forum to encourage the New Zealand Government to carry out a comprehensive review of constitutional arrangements regarding indigenous peoples rights. New Zealand should also be urged to enhance legislation to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of Maori and indigenous peoples.
She called on the Permanent Forum to “urgently request” the New Zealand Government to stand by its stated commitment to the protection and promotion of the human rights of Maori peoples. She noted that a recent massive demonstration against infringement on the rights of indigenous people had urged the New Zealand Government to address serious social concerns, including the impact of such practices as mining and “hydro-fracking”.
GUSTAVO A. RUTILO ( Argentina) said the Special Rapporteur’s recent 11-day visit to his country had been helpful to the Government and had been effective in raising awareness about the situation of indigenous peoples there. The Government had taken note of his recommendations and looked forward to the special procedure’s final report.
Chief DOUGLAS WHITE, First Nation’s Summit, said that, for many decades, the indigenous peoples of Canada had been seeking legal remedy in domestic courts regarding Aboriginal title and land rights. Despite limited progress, indigenous peoples continued to face “intractable Government policy rooted in extinguishment and denial of our rights. Canada and industry continue to seek benefit from our territories and make decisions that have the effect of dispossessing us of the very substance we are negotiating.” He pointed to significant changes in Canada’s environmental assessment processes that were actually making the situation worse. Moreover, the federal Government had also announced amendments to fisheries legislation removing legal protection for fish habitats.
First Nations had expressed concern that such changes were clearly aimed at fast-tracking approval of major processes, such as Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.’s proposed $5 billion oil-sands pipeline to the British Columbia Coast, at the expense of indigenous title and rights. Those and other such decisions were direct examples of the “broken” state of the engagement between the Canadian Government and indigenous peoples, whereby non-indigenous economic development trumped and devalued Aboriginal title and rights. “The ugly reality is that we can expect many more decisions [like this],” he said, calling for assistance in finding ways to ensure that the Canadian Government shifted its laws and polices and brought them closer to international standards regarding indigenous land and title rights.
NGUYEN CAM LINH (Viet Nam) said her Government carried out a policy of solidarity, equality and mutual respect among all peoples. Projects that might affect the lives and livelihoods of ethnic minorities must be carried out with their input and consultation. Viet Nam also included ethnic minority languages, such as Hmong, in school programmes and provided training for teachers. The Ministry of Education and Training was also elaborating programmes and attendant targets for literacy among ethnic minorities. National Target programmes had also been enacted to assist 2.3 million peoples in communes.
She said that over the years, several groups had been providing negative information about a number of countries, including Viet Nam. Those that had provided negative information about Viet Nam, many of whom had been living in exile for years, did not know or understand the current situation in the country. Viet Nam was committed to the protection and promotion of human rights of all ethnic minorities and believed that the Permanent Forum was a space for constructive dialogue.
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