Press Conference on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

21 October 2013

Press Conference on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

21 October 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on rights of indigenous peoples


Governments must seriously address issues concerning land, natural resources and extractive industries in territories populated by indigenous peoples worldwide to ensure those peoples’ rights and privileges were not trampled upon, said Paul Kanyinke Sena, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Mr. Sena said those issues would form a major part of the discussions at the high-level World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, scheduled for next September at Headquarters.

Indigenous peoples all over the world lived in territories rich in natural resources, as well as biological, cultural and linguistic diversity, he said.  But this diversity was under a great deal of stress, and the ownership of their lands and resources had been threatened.

For example, in Africa, Governments had taken possession of indigenous lands where oil and gas had been found and either given the indigenous inhabitants alternate land in another location, or money for relocation, the Chair said.  That had disrupted whole communities, as well as their historical background.

The high-level conference aimed to help transform the relationship between indigenous peoples and Governments, he said, stressing the need for the United Nations and Governments to summon the necessary political will to adequately protect and advance the rights of indigenous peoples.

Mr. Sena also called for concerted efforts to ensure the well-being of indigenous peoples, noting that in some countries the life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples was as high as 20 years.  In Nepal, the difference was 20 years, in Australia it was about 17; in Canada, 7.  In New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, the Maoris indigenous people were 10 times more likely to contract tuberculosis than non-indigenous people living in the country.

Also speaking at the press conference, James Anaya, the Special Rapportuer on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that he had presented his final report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).  The report addressed factors that had weakened the commitment of States and other actors to meet the human rights standards embodied in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Adoption of the Declaration in September 2007 marked a historical moment for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, who were characterized by distinct cultural identities, Mr. Anaya said.  Advocacy to advance commitment to the Declaration and put it into practice had been central to his work.  While encouraged by positive developments towards that end, he remained concerned that indigenous people continued to suffer widespread and systematic rights’ violations.

For her part, Myrna Cunningham, a member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, expressed concern over poverty and the lack of women rights among indigenous communities, calling for more efforts to urgently address them.

She said that, in January, the Permanent Forum would hold an Expert Group Meeting on sexual Health and Reproductive Rights of Indigenous People in New York, to find a lasting solution to these problems, which she noted hindered indigenous women’s access to health-care services.  She also called for inputs into the post-2015 development agenda to ensure the sustainable development of women and to address gender issues.

In response to reporters’ questions on land and natural resources, the three speakers said that they were key issues for indigenous people’s well-being and the Forum was working to address them.  They called on Governments around the world to discuss land ownership rights in indigenous peoples’ territories.

They said that, although some Latin American countries, such as Nicaragua and Brazil, had made progress in recognizing the land control and ownership rights of indigenous people and had adopted legislation to that effect, Governments must ensure those rights were respected and protected.

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