19 October 2015
Seventieth, 18th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Call for Further Advances in Broadening Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Equal Participation at United Nations, Third Committee Hears

A year after the first ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, Member States were called upon today to give them a greater voice, particularly in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its consideration of their rights.

Several delegations underscored the critical need to include indigenous peoples when implementing the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Some speakers, including those representing the Holy See, noted the unique contribution indigenous peoples could make with regard to environmental and disaster response issues.

While many agreed that the World Conference’s outcome document, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was a cornerstone for action.  Some called for further advances.  Nicaragua’s delegate stated that indigenous peoples should be recognized within the United Nations with their own status, and not the same accorded to non-governmental organizations. The representative of South Africa expressed support for the elaboration of a convention on the rights of indigenous peoples that would carry more weight than a declaration.

Expressing a different view, Venezuela’s speaker raised the issue of reparations to indigenous peoples following the colonial era.  The delegate from China said indigenous groups should enjoy their fair share of the economic benefits of international investment and free trade.

Presenting the report of the Secretary-General on progress since the World Conference, Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, stressed the role that Member States, the United Nations and indigenous peoples themselves had to play in raising awareness of the Conference and the goals it set out.  Mr. Montiel encouraged Member States to come forth with proposals for enhancing the participation of representatives and institutions of indigenous peoples.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Ecuador (for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Trinidad and Tobago (for the Caribbean Community), Mexico (also for the Group of Friends of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples), Sweden, Peru, United States, Philippines, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Ukraine, New Zealand, Malaysia, Fiji, Bolivia, Guatemala, Argentina, El Salvador and Nepal, as well as the European Union.  A representative of the International Labour Organization also spoke.

The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, 20 October, to continue its discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin its consideration of its agenda item on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Before it was a report of the Secretary-General on the progress made in the implementation of the outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (document A/70/84-E/2015/76).  Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary General on the rights of indigenous peoples (document A/70/301).


Committee Vice-Chair GREGORY KEITH DEMPSEY (Canada) informed delegates that, due to travel issues, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples would be unable to present her report today.  It would be presented later in the morning by the Assistant Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  The meeting would therefore begin with the general discussion.

DIEGO ALONSO TITUAÑA MATANGO (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the World Conference’s outcome document and the adoption by the Human Rights Council of resolution A/HRC/30/L.9 on the review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Recognizing that indigenous peoples played a significant role in sustainable development, he noted the importance of protecting their traditional agricultural practices, biodiversity, access to resources and water and their traditional systems of land tenure.  He then underlined the importance of collective action of indigenous peoples and of the protection of patents on traditional and ancestral knowledge.

The Community supported the empowerment and capacity-building of indigenous women and youth, including their participation in decision-making processes on matters that affected them, in particular in the areas on health, education, employment, protection of their territories and the transmission of traditional knowledge.  Measures to promote awareness and understanding of their rights were also important.  Finally, while recognizing that it was a duty of States to promote and protect all human rights, he recognized the positive contributions of indigenous peoples.

MELISSA ANN MARIE BOISSIERE (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and aligning with CELAC, said the adoption of the 2030 Agenda was crucial to ensure that issues concerning indigenous peoples were adequately addressed.  It was particularly relevant in reducing inequalities, fostering social inclusion and combating violence and discrimination.  She noted the good practices cited by the Special Rapporteur with regard to the participation of indigenous people at United Nations meetings on issues affecting them.  Meaningful dialogue between Member States and indigenous peoples would be fostered, she said, welcoming the appointment of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs as the senior United Nations official responsible for the coordination actions to the follow-up of the World Conference.

Noting the vulnerability of small island development and low-lying coastal States to climate change, rising and warming seas, super typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, she said it would be a mistake to ignore the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, who continued to live in harmony with nature.  Indigenous peoples had been identified as important agents in that regard in the Samoa Pathway, the outcome document of the International Small Island Developing States Conference in 2014.  They had also been identified as stakeholders in the Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, in which their contribution to the development and implementation of plans and mechanisms, including early warning, was highlighted.  In addition, Governments had identified their simple and harmonious approach to ecosystems management as an area of cooperation.

GABRIELA COLÍN ORTEGA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, encouraged the Inter-Agency Support Group, Member States and indigenous peoples to continue consultations on the further elaboration of a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  She commended the fact that the outcome of the World Conference had invited the Human Rights Council to review the Expert Mechanism and welcomed the recent procedural resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in that regard.  She underlined the importance of the inclusion and participation of indigenous peoples throughout deliberations on the review of the Expert Mechanism and welcomed proposals by the Secretary-General.

CHARLES WHITELEY, of the European Union Delegation, reaffirmed the Union’s support to the Declaration and welcomed efforts made for the implementation of the World Conference’s outcome document.  He also welcomed progress achieved to review the Expert Mechanisms and, in particular, steps taken by the Human Rights Council in that regard.  The European Union would focus on strengthening complementarity between indigenous issue-related mechanisms and other mandates of the Human Rights Council.  It was important to apply good practices to ensure their effective participation, at United Nations-level debates and discussions on issues affecting them.

For many years, the European Union had paid particular attention to the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples across the globe and had launched a review aimed at strengthening relevant policies to ensure their coherence with the Declaration and the World Conference’s outcome document.  The Union had held consultations with indigenous peoples’ representatives, leading to them making recommendations and encouraging the European Union to pursue its efforts on the matter.  Many of European Union support programmes had addressed the legal institutional frameworks on access to justice, land and environmental issues and indigenous human rights defenders.

PER THÖRESSON (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, recalled the agreement by consensus of Member States at the World Conference a year ago.  Highlighting some issues, he said the enhanced participation of indigenous people’s representatives in relevant United Nations fora was important as they had an important role to play in the follow-up to the Conference.  It was hoped that due consideration be given to the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report with regard to the enhanced participation.

With regard to the three United Nations mechanisms for the rights of indigenous peoples, further efforts were needed to strengthen coordination between them and to avoid duplication, he said.  Safeguarding the rights of indigenous women and girls required special emphasis, as they faced complex violations of their human rights.  It was considered vital by the Nordic countries that such violations, including their causes and consequences, were thoroughly addressed.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA VELĀSQUEZ (Peru) said that many indigenous peoples in her country had made valuable contributions to its culture and identity.  Intercultural dialogue was the best way to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.  As such, Peru had undertaken a number of measures that included consultations on environmental and land title issues in relation to oil extraction.  A social fund had been established that would be overseen by indigenous peoples.  The Government was also working with Amazonian peoples, who had been living in extreme poverty, in an effort to improve their communities and the many people living in them.

Ms. HERNANDEZ (Mexico), speaking in her national capacity, said the rights of indigenous peoples were linked with the achievement and implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Mexico had adopted laws to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and communities, in accordance with its Constitution.  Yet much remained to be done, and Mexico would continue to pay attention to vulnerable groups, including indigenous migrants, indigenous women and older persons.  Intercultural dialogue and promoting a culture of peace were important for protecting the cultural identity and traditions of indigenous peoples.  Incorporating an indigenous perspective and strengthening their representation at the United Nations level was important, she said, calling for the establishment of the best possible mechanism on their rights.  Mexico would continue its efforts at the international level to protect indigenous peoples, she concluded.

LAURIE PHIPPS (United States) encouraged further progress on enhancing indigenous peoples’ participation at the United Nations level, which would allow a greater range of relevant views to be heard.  She also recommended that discussions on indigenous peoples took part within the Economic and Social Council rather than the General Assembly, which would allow the participation of other stakeholders rather than just Member States.  She welcomed steps taken to review the Expert Mechanism and noted the importance of ensuring that the reviewed mandate avoided duplication with other measures.  In closing, she encouraged the United Nations to build on the momentum built from the World Conference and to continue its work on the rights of indigenous peoples both in New York and in Geneva.

IRENE SUSAN B. NATIVIDAD (Philippines) reiterated her country’s fully support for the outcome document of the World Conference as it strengthened the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The protection of indigenous peoples and their rights was guaranteed by the Constitution.  Since 1997, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act had recognized their rights to self‑determination and ancestral domains and the applicability of customary laws governing property rights.  The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law was the outcome of the Government’s successful conclusion of peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  The law was envisioned to end the decades-long strife in Mindanao by establishing a political entity for the Bangsamoro peoples.

JUANA SANDOVAL (Nicaragua), associating with CELAC and the Group of Friends, said her country was proud of its indigenous and Afro-descendant roots, and the Government had been taking steps to ensure justice for the historic exclusion of those two groups.  The concept of “living well” was promoted and diversity respected.  Commitments to ensure the titling of land of indigenous and Afro‑descendant communities were being fulfilled.  It was essential to promote their rights and to review their participation in the work of the United Nations.  They should be recognized under a status different from that of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), she said.

FEDERICO ALBERTO GONZÁLEZ FRANCO (Paraguay), associating with CELAC, said as a landlocked developing country, it had a population of 117,000 indigenous people who belonged to 19 ethnic groups.  The language of its original inhabitants had been recognized as an official language, and the Constitution rejected the “discovery doctrine”, as the presence of indigenous peoples prior to the foundation of the Paraguayan State had been recognized.  A law had recently been promulgated to establish an indigenous health care system that was based on respect for cultural diversity.  There was a commitment to national policies and programmes that would ensure the welfare of indigenous peoples, he concluded.

TATYANA SHLYCHKOVA (Russian Federation) said it continued to support the rights of indigenous peoples and underlined the importance of implementing the outcome document and focus on the achievement of the development goals with a view to protecting their traditional culture and identity.  Noting the important number of United Nations mechanisms on indigenous issues, she stressed the need to avoid duplication by reviewing existing mandates.  Finally, she underlined the responsiveness of States in implementing the rights of indigenous peoples and stressed that international mechanisms should provide support at the request of Member States. 

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said it would hold a conference on indigenous peoples and noted with satisfaction the organization of the first international indigenous games, reuniting indigenous athletes from a large number of countries.  He commended the establishment of a working group charged with assessing the implementation of the outcome document of the World Conference.  Noting that indigenous representation and participation in United Nations work on decisions affecting them was an issue of utmost importance for Brazil, he regretted the lack of progress achieved in that regard.

OMID ASGHARI OSBOUEI (Iran) said it was unfortunate that indigenous peoples were among the poorest of the poor, even on their own land.  In addition to the outcome document and the Declaration, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris would be another opportunity where the special situation of indigenous peoples could be highlighted.  For the United Nations to play its role, a system-wide action plan would be important.  With regard to international investment and trade agreements, it was necessary for indigenous people to be consulted, he said.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said environmental degradation and unsustainable approaches to development could not be forgotten.  Providing indigenous peoples with the opportunity to participate in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda would help to ensure they were not left behind.  “Indigenous peoples have a lot to teach us on how to take care of and love our common home,” he said, calling on policymakers and movers at all levels to respect the rights of indigenous peoples to their homelands and natural resources.  Just laws were important in that regard.  The input of indigenous peoples in decision-making was also vital, as the very survival of their identity and heritage could be at stake.

Committee Vice-Chair Mr. DEMPSEY (Canada) informed delegates that the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples would present her report on 20 October.  He then introduced Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, to present the report of the Secretary-General on progress made in implementing the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Mr. MONTIEL summarized the report, noting that few specific actions had been taken by Member States in following up to the document, possibly due to the short amount of time that had passed.  Member States, the United Nations system and indigenous peoples all had a role to play in raising awareness of the World Conference and the Declaration.  A system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration and to report on progress would be shared with the Chief Executive Board in the coming weeks.

With regard to Expert Mechanism providing thematic expertise to the Human Rights Council, it was necessary to strengthen the impact of its work, Mr. Montiel said.  The Human Rights Council was reviewing that issue and had asked the OHCHR to convene an expert workshop on that matter no later than the first quarter of 2016.

Turning to proposals to enable the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions at the United Nations, he said Member States were encouraged to develop measures in that regard.  It was recommended that the General Assembly President considered appointing a co-facilitator or advisers, including indigenous representatives, to lead an open-ended consultation on possible procedural and institutional steps and a selection criteria to enable the participation of indigenous peoples.  Member States, indigenous peoples’ representatives and existing United Nations mechanisms could be involved in that consultation, he said.

ARINO YAGUCHI (Japan) said the Government had recognized the Ainu people as an indigenous community in 2008.  Regarding the efforts based on the World Conference outcome document, she said that Japan had set up a council to comprehensively and effectively promote ‘Ainu policy’.  Also, the Government had undertaken measures to improve the lives of Ainu people and to advance their social and economic status in Hokkaido.  Concluding, she said her country was committed to tackling issues faced by indigenous peoples all around the world in cooperation with the United Nations.

ANA CAROLINA RODRIGUEZ DE FEBRES-CORDERO (Venezuela), aligning with CELAC, said the Bolivarian Revolution had brought a recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to traditional cultural identity and to regain ownership of ancestral lands.  Laws had been adopted to defend indigenous communities, including their cultural heritage, languages and access to bilingual education.  Health policies had been developed for indigenous peoples and measures had been taken to provide assistance to vulnerable groups, including women.  It was important to recognize the tragedy of disappearances of indigenous peoples during the age of colonialism.  Although it was late, those people still deserved reparation.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) said there should be a correct and clear understanding of the concept of indigenous peoples, which was indeed the product of western colonial history.  Not all countries had indigenous peoples, and native residents were not the same as indigenous peoples, he said.  Underlining the importance of implementing the 2030 Agenda’s goals relating to indigenous peoples, he called on developed countries to rectify historical injustices inflicted upon indigenous peoples.  Continuing, he stressed the importance of enabling the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in relevant United Nations meetings while preventing some NGOs from disguising as indigenous peoples in those meetings.  Lastly, he called on Governments to enable indigenous groups to enjoy their fair share of economic dividends from international investment and free trade.

IGOR BONDIUK (Ukraine) said his country was deeply committed to the implementation of the World Conference outcome document.  For its part, Ukraine had undertaken a number of measures at national and local levels to guarantee the promotion of the cultural, linguistic and religious rights of the indigenous peoples of Crimea, in particular Crimean Tatars.  The occupation of Crimea had brought an atmosphere of tension, aggression and intolerance, with more than 10,000 Crimean Tatars being forced to leave the area and settle in other parts of the country.  Leading international human rights organizations were alarmed by the radical deterioration of the human rights situation with regards to Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea.  Accordingly, a separate report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and an international monitoring mission on the ground were urgently required.  In conclusion, he called on the international community to increase its pressure on the Russian Federation to respect international law and ensure the protection of Crimean Tatars as the indigenous peoples of Crimea.

PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand) said many countries had developed policies and programmes with regards to the rights of indigenous peoples.  Also important was recognizing challenges faced by States in supporting the realization of the aspirations of indigenous peoples’ rights.  For New Zealand, he said, one of the major challenges was the appropriate consideration of existing domestic legal and constitutional frameworks.  He supported efforts to renew the mandate of the Expert Mechanism, with a stronger role in terms of facilitating the application of the Declaration at national and international levels.  New Zealand, however, would be hesitant about the creation of additional modalities that might be duplicating the work of other mechanisms.  Concluding, he explained that although New Zealand had concluded a large number of free trade agreements, measures were systematically taken to protect the rights of the Maori.

JOHAN ARIEF JAAFAR (Malaysia) said the rights of indigenous peoples had always been a priority for the Government.  Article 8 of the federal Constitution addressed the right to equality, as well as the protection of rights of indigenous people in the peninsula and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.  The Government had agreed to accept all recommendations made by Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission on giving special attention to the issue of land rights affecting indigenous peoples and in that regard, it had established a cabinet committee.  The Government had also introduced income-generating programmes and commercial agricultural activities tailored specifically for the indigenous communities to further spur their socioeconomic advancement.

GENE BAI (Fiji) encouraged the Special Rapporteur to continue her work on the effects of climate change.  With regard to the impact of investment agreements, he noted that investment clauses in free trade agreements could be particularly onerous on developing countries and harm local industries, employment and livelihoods.  Such impact was inevitably felt by the most vulnerable, including indigenous communities, he said.  Fiji’s indigenous peoples were well-protected and had access to free education, enabling them to participate on an informed basis in the workforce and decisions made that affected them.  He noted, however, that indigenous peoples could be disproportionately affected by policy decisions made with regard to free trade agreements and underlined the importance of consultation and information mechanisms by States.

INGRID SABJA (Bolivia), aligning with CELAC, said the adoption of the Declaration had been a milestone for indigenous peoples around the world and reaffirmed her country’s commitment to implement the World Conference outcome document.  She welcomed the recently adopted Human Rights Council resolution and stressed the importance of the collaboration of indigenous representatives with the Expert Mechanism and other United Nations bodies dealing on those issues.  Moving to the domestic situation in her country, she said measures had been taken to create a more inclusive, participatory and democratic society, to eradicate poverty and to protect the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.  She recognized the importance of measures to protecting indigenous cultural agricultural practices and access to water and resources while protecting indigenous women, youth and persons with disabilities.

KEVIN CASSIDY, International Labour Organization (ILO), outlined steps taken since last year’s World Conference, including its celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention, 1989 (No. 169), which had had had far-reaching impacts on the laws of ratifying States.  It had helped to shape laws and policies in other countries, as well as influenced other international organizations, such as the Human Rights Council.  Among other activities, a strategy was being prepared to strengthen the organization’s ability to respond to the needs of Governments, workers, employers and indigenous peoples.  He urged greater cooperation across the United Nations system in providing support to States on indigenous peoples’ issues.

LESETLA ANDREAS TEFFO (South Africa) was encouraged by progress in the development of a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to advancing the Declaration, as set out in General Assembly resolution 69/2.  Fully supported the full and effective implementation of the Declaration, he realized that it did not carry the same status as a Convention.  To that end, South Africa was ready to support the elaboration of a convention on the rights of indigenous peoples.  It was, however, unfortunate that most of the main advocates of the Declaration had been completely opposed to any wording that talked to the “implementation of the provisions of the Declaration”.  He encouraged the sponsors of the resolutions on that thematic issue to move towards the elaboration of a convention that would ensure that States reported on the implementation of its provisions.

ANA CRISTINA RODRÍGUEZ PINEDA (Guatemala), aligning with CELAC and the Group of Friends, welcomed resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council with regards to the Expert Mechanism and consultations with indigenous peoples.  States were called upon to consider national consultations with indigenous peoples.  Sustainable development would not be possible if they and persons of African descent, among others, were not included.  Fresh data were required in order to develop projects and ensure that indigenous peoples were not left behind.  The empowerment of indigenous women was supported and measures were needed to ensure that all indigenous peoples enjoyed all human rights as well as collective rights.

FERNANDO ANDRÉS MARANI (Argentina), also aligning with CELAC and the Group of Friends, noted the importance of statistics that were inclusive and in keeping with the guidelines of the 2030 Agenda.  Such information was critical.  Defending the human rights of indigenous peoples was a matter of policy in Argentina, where the Government had undertaken a number of measures over the years, including the recognition of a large number of hectares as indigenous land.  Every country faced challenges with regard to indigenous peoples, whose rights had to be given priority by the international community.  “We cannot feel smug about this at all,” he said, adding that commitments were called for in order to continue working on that issue.

RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), aligning with CELAC, strongly urged the Special Rapporteur to continue her work and welcomed the recommendation to develop a system-wide action plan for the implementation of the outcome document of the World Conference.  El Salvador was committed to the rights of indigenous peoples and had developed a five-year development plan, acknowledging them as a priority group.  Progress had been made to ensure their right to health and to recognize their ancestral practices.  The Government had invested a large amount of money to protect and perpetuate the traditional language and culture of its indigenous groups.  A national action plan was being finalized and would seek to implement the goals of the Declaration, he concluded.

ILLA MAINALI (Nepal) said her country was multi-ethnic, multicultural and multireligious, with almost 40 per cent of its total population constituting indigenous nationalities.  Consequently, Nepal attached great importance to indigenous peoples and had promulgated a new Constitution promoting their rights, representation and participation and recognizing all mother tongues as national languages.  In addition, the Government had allocated substantial resources to programmes targeting indigenous minorities.  It was also committed to protecting and empowering indigenous women and had adopted a rights-based approach to development.  The Government was now focusing on reconstruction in the aftermath of massive earthquakes in 2015, which had affected many people, including indigenous peoples, leaving them in vulnerable situations.

For information media. Not an official record.