Indigenous peoples lived in situations of extreme social and economic disadvantage, speakers in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said today, pressing Governments to improve their access to basic services, respect their traditional livelihoods, and both return — and protect — the sacred lands on which their survival depended.
Those and other questions around the role of States in meeting those needs dominated discussion among indigenous, Government and United Nations participants alike, as the Forum moved into week two of its fourteenth session. Economic and social rights covered a range of areas that affected how indigenous peoples lived their lives, speakers said, from health and education, to employment, food and housing. Cultural rights involved the protection of traditional and religious practices, languages and sacred sites.
In a morning panel on the topic, Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, drew attention to the weak guarantee of indigenous peoples’ collective rights, and thus, “precarious” enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Because they lived in poverty, they faced more difficulties in accessing food, housing and education than others.
“States do not respect the cultural differences between these peoples and others”, he said. In some cases, the Committee — which monitored implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — had called on States to recognize indigenous rights to lands, resources, and free, prior and informed consent, as well as to protect indigenous languages and heritage.
In the afternoon, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights could not be achieved through the dominant development paradigm, which had produced distorted economic growth that favoured wealthy elites.
Indigenous peoples, who constituted 15 per cent of world’s poor, had the right to define and pursue their development path, she said, one underpinned by self-determination and equality. Going forward, States might need to adopt special measures that not only addressed the socioeconomic gaps between indigenous people and others, but also removed the barriers to the exercise of self-determined cultural integrity.
Throughout the day, indigenous representatives from around the world decried Governments’ lack of political will to truly implement the hard-won provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many cited cases of States’ repeated violations of their economic, social and cultural rights and freedoms, urging an end to the multifaceted discrimination they faced on a daily basis.
For their part, Governments outlined efforts to improve their relationship with indigenous peoples, with some acknowledging the need to reform national institutions and create more viable avenues for their participation in decisions that affected them, especially those relating to the development of indigenous lands.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 April, to continue its fourteenth session.
Panel on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Forum commenced the day with a panel discussion on economic, social and cultural rights, which featured presentations by Dalee Sambo Dorough, Forum member from the United States, and Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Opening the panel, Ms. DOROUGH said the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples outlined how economic, social and cultural rights should be exercised in the specific context of indigenous peoples. Those rights should be considered in the over-arching context of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and non-discrimination. In social and economic terms, indigenous peoples lived in extreme disadvantage as compared to other segments of society, and faced numerous barriers to exercising those rights in the areas of the existence of disaggregated data concerning indigenous peoples’ needs; access to culturally appropriate social and economic programmes, including in rural areas; participation of indigenous peoples in the design and delivery of such programmes at the local, national, regional and international levels; and recognition of indigenous peoples’ lands and resources which formed bases for multifaceted socioeconomic, cultural and spiritual development.
Mr. YEPES discussed the negative relationship between economic, social and cultural rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples. There was a weak guarantee of indigenous rights, and thus, a “precarious” enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Because indigenous peoples lived in poverty, their access to social rights — food, housing and education — was lower than the access that others enjoyed. “States do not respect the cultural differences between these peoples and others”, he said, stressing that if they did not ensure the right to high-quality education, for example, indigenous peoples would face challenges in defending their collective rights. To create a positive interdependence, he urged raising awareness of indigenous collective rights. For its part, the Committee monitored State implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In some cases, it had recommended that States recognize indigenous rights to lands, resources, and free, prior and informed consent, as well as protection of indigenous languages and cultural heritage. He urged the Forum to strengthen its relationship with the Committee and other treaty bodies.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, indigenous speakers from around the world cited cases of States’ repeated violation of their economic, social and cultural rights and freedoms. They urged an end to the multifaceted discrimination and called for action to rectify entrenched and persistent problems.
DANDU SHERPA, Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, said many indigenous groups in his country were not officially recognized. While 2011 census data showed indigenous peoples numbered 35 per cent of the population, only 0.001 per cent of the national budget was allocated for them. The Government had neglected multilingual education, despite a policy outlining such a right, and had failed to promote the use of mother tongues in federal agencies. It also had yet to adopt a plan for implementing International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169.
REFAT CHUBAROV, Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People, said that until recently, his people had been living in one State with Ukrainians, involved in political and social life. Their hopes had been crushed by the Russian Federation’s armed occupation of Crimea. “The most threatening factor to the rights of indigenous peoples is the active aggression and war of one State against another,” he said, urging the Forum to include in its outcome document a provision describing the threat to Crimean Tatars due to occupation of that area.
Offering a perspective from Africa, BELKACEM LOUNES, Congres Mondial Amazigh, said that in Morocco, celebration of the Amazigh spring had been banned, while human rights defenders elsewhere were regularly targeted by police. Shamba Arab communities had attacked Amazigh, with support from Algeria. In Libya, Amazigh had been caught in the crossfire of warring groups. In the Sahara, the Tuareg were “doubly threatened” by climate change and mining companies trying to take their resources. He urged support for the Tuareg in northern Mali who were fighting colonialism and trying to exercise their right to self-determination.
Similarly, YVES MINANI, Union des Peuples Autochtones pour le Reveil au Developpment, said the Batwa people were discriminated against in Burundi. Their survival depended on begging. Students left their studies with minimal instruction, which excluded them from higher education. She pressed Burundi to provide fertile land for the Batwa people, who currently lived in stony areas that did not favour agriculture, to offer them primary and secondary education and to ratify ILO Convention No. 169.
BELKACEM LOUNES of the Inuit Circumpolar Council said animal rights groups in Europe were influencing politicians, arguing that seal hunting was barbaric. He refuted that claim, stressing that hunters killed a small number of seals. “None of the seals we hunt are endangered,” he said. “But, the seal hunters are facing extinction.”
Government speakers acknowledged that realizing the rights contained in the Declaration required consistent work at all levels, with many outlining ways they were working to strengthen State relationships with indigenous peoples. The representative of Denmark, speaking for the Nordic countries, (Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland), noted that, last year, the Human Rights Council of Greenland had issued the first-ever report on human rights in Greenland. Its conclusions had been transmitted to the parliaments of Denmark and Greenland.
Along similar lines, Paraguay’s representative said his Government was providing expanded access to land, water, food and electricity. Last year, 14,000 hectares of land had been returned to indigenous peoples; some 27 hectares had been given to a group in the Chaco region.
The representative of Peru said the 54 indigenous communities in her country faced discrimination and poverty, stressing the need to improve laws and national institutions. Towards that end, Peru had passed a landmark law to improve the State’s relationship with indigenous peoples. It had held 19 prior consultations with indigenous groups and would implement 15 additional procedures in 2016. It was working to protect oral traditions and trans-border languages, having passed a language law in 2011 and a policy in 2012 to train the more than 200 official interpreters in 35 languages.
Representatives of specialized agencies also cited ways they were working together to promote indigenous peoples economic, social and cultural rights. In that context, the representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) described joint work in Guatemala since the elections in 2009, pointing out that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had helped indigenous groups better channel their demands through the courts, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had strengthened bilingual and cultural education.
MARTIN OELZ of ILO cited work in Bangladesh, where ILO had facilitated a workshop on the employment of indigenous peoples. It was now assessing working conditions on tea plantations and in the urban informal economy. Indigenous peoples were covered under the full range of ILO conventions and recommendations, including equality of opportunity for employment and occupation, and the right to favourable working conditions and social protections.
Picking up that thread, RAJA DEVASISH ROY, Forum member from Bangladesh, urged indigenous people to become more strategically engaged with treaty bodies and other Geneva mechanisms.
KARA-KYS ARAKCHAA, Forum member from the Russian Federation, responded to comments made by the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People representative, noting that she had met with indigenous peoples and authorities in Crimea. There were 300,000 Crimean Tatars on the peninsula, or 11 per cent of the population. She cited a Russian presidential decree that rehabilitated indigenous peoples and established a committee on interethnic relations. She also described the drafting of an action plan that contained legal measures to enhance the social and political situation. One problem was the return of land. Land amnesty had been decreed for Crimean Tatars, which had caused protests.
Adding to those remarks, OLIVER LOODE, Forum member from Estonia, said the main problem was not that Tatars could not return from places like Uzbekistan. The Crimean Tatar representative speaking today had been banned from returning to the peninsula. Other gross violations of the Declaration included forced Russian citizenship on Crimean Tatars — without which they risked losing their residence permits — murders and abductions of Crimean activists, and attacks on religious sites. Furthermore, the only Tatar language television station had been unable renew its license under the new mass communication laws.
Representatives of the following indigenous groups also spoke: Assembly of First Nations, International Native Tradition Interchange, Inc., Zo Reunification Organization, Tonatierra, Youth Caucus, Chief Ed John and Pacific Caucus.
Also speaking were representatives of New Zealand, Russian Federation and Australia.
A representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) delivered remarks.
Maria Eugenia Choque-Quispe, Forum member from Bolivia, also spoke.
Presentations and Dialogue on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
In the afternoon, the Forum heard remarks by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as presentations by Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, Chair of the Voluntary Fund on Indigenous Peoples and Albert Deterville, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Opening the discussion, Mr. PYAGBARA said 2015 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Fund, which had been established by the General Assembly in 1985. Since its creation, the Fund had provided financial assistance to support indigenous representatives’ participation in United Nations processes. Further, it had helped to strengthen their capacity, and thereby ensure a more effective use of international human rights mechanisms. The previous year was particularly significant, with the first-ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The Fund had played a crucial role in supporting the participation of over 100 indigenous peoples’ representatives in the Conference and its preparatory process.
Mr. DETERVILLE said that in July 2014, the Expert Mechanism had held its seventh session with the participation of more than 50 Member States and 150 indigenous peoples’ organizations. At that session, panel discussions were conducted on the post-2015 development agenda, whereupon the Mechanism made proposals to the Human Rights Council regarding the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Currently, it was working on two projects related to indigenous peoples, as requested by the Human Rights Council in resolution 27/13 of September 2014.
Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, described activities in her first year, noting that her first report had outlined obstacles and advances in achieving indigenous peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights. The progressive realization of those rights could not be achieved through the dominant development paradigm, which had produced distorted economic growth that favoured wealthy elites. Indigenous peoples, who constituted 15 per cent of world’s poor, had the right to define and pursue their development path, one that was underpinned by self-determination and equality.
Going forward, she said, States, in light of their colonial histories which featured the persistent marginalization of indigenous peoples, might need to adopt special measures. Those measures were integral to the principle of non-discrimination and should not only address the socioeconomic gaps between indigenous people and others, but also remove barriers to the exercise of self-determined cultural integrity. The huge challenges in implementing indigenous peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights spoke to the international failure to use the Millennium Development Goals as a way to achieve equality. States were obliged to consult with indigenous peoples before pursuing development projects, programmes or strategies that affected them.
In the ensuing dialogue, several indigenous speakers decried Governments’ lack of political will to truly implement the Declaration’s hard-won provisions, pointing to their persistent 15 per cent representation among the world’s poor. Indigenous peoples’ geographic remoteness often meant they were not reflected in national statistics. Some noted that the solution was not move indigenous peoples to urban areas, but rather, to put in place measures that allowed them to enjoy the same rights as others, without sacrificing their attachment to ancestral lands.
TIINA SANILA AIKIO, President, Sami Parliament of Finland, said that the Skolt Sami community, of which she was a member, was the most endangered Sami group in Finland. The future of her culture depended on 300 Saami speakers, including her 6-year-old daughter. Accordingly, she asked for international support to keep her community’s culture alive and to convince the Government to ratify ILO Convention No. 169.
RADINE HARRISON JENNINGS, Foundation for Indigenous Americans of Anasazi Heritage, said the 2020 United States Census would not have a category in which descendants from indigenous American females “Anisazi” could represent themselves. Replacing the ethnic identity of indigenous American female descendants with “African-American” would assimilate indigenous Americans into ethnic African immigrants. It would allow the United States to “ethnically cleanse” that population without “publically lifting a gun.”
ADAM KULEIT OLE MWARABU LEMAREKA, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and Parakuiyo Pastoralists Indigenous Community Development Organization, said the Maasai people in the United Republic of Tanzania were under threat. Their livelihoods were being prohibited; they could not move freely or bring their livestock onto their traditional lands. Those eying their resources assumed they would simply wipe the Maasai out. “We cannot entertain a policy of elimination,” he said, noting that, on 18 January, 15 Maasai went missing when their group was attacked by mobs. It was difficult for the Maasai to access social services in nearby cities, as no such services existed in their homelands. On 24 April, two Maasai people had died and 10 were injured following an invasion of a village by Government-sponsored militias, during which 50 houses were burned. Police in affected areas, rather than protecting the Maasai, threatened them. He urged the Government to account for such crimes and called for the United Nations to provide aid to affected communities.
Government speakers then highlighted the ways they were working to improve their relationships with indigenous peoples, with some citing the protection of ancestral land, and the promotion of health and self-determination as priorities for upcoming legislation.
ELOY FRANK GÓMEZ of Nicaragua and JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA of Costa Rica spoke of their Governments’ commitment to protect and promote indigenous peoples’ rights, notably through legislation to expand their access to property, food and energy. In both countries, those Governments had placed high importance on the protection of educational and cultural rights and had developed national policies to recognize and provide education in indigenous languages, coordinating consultations between indigenous communities and the Government.
ISELIN HEBBERT LARSEN (Norway), speaking for the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden), said she was impressed by the Special Rapporteur’s high level of activity, despite the limited resources allocated to her mandate. With regards to the Expert Mechanism, measures were needed to improve the Declaration’s implementation, through increased national action plans and strategies.
BRUNO RÍOS SÁNCHEZ (Mexico) asked about challenges in coordinating the specialized mandates on indigenous rights, and in particular, on the matter of guidance for United Nations agencies, in order to provide technical assistance to States on indigenous priorities. In addition, there was a question as to the best format for the annual Human Rights Council resolution on the rights of indigenous peoples and whether studies related to the implementation of the World Conference outcome document should be requested.
Adding to those remarks, Mr. DETERVILLE said the Expert Mechanism should play an important role in facilitating communication between Governments and indigenous peoples. In addition, the Mechanism should collect and disseminate information about good practices, revisit previous studies, and provide recommendations.
Representatives of the following indigenous groups also spoke: National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Saami Parliament in Norway, Dewan Adat Papua, Sanifi Alifuru, Suoma Sami Nuorat, Saami Council and Saminuorra, Sakhalin, Enlace Continental de Mujeres de las Americas, Conselho Indigenista Missionario. The Ombudsman on the rights of indigenous peoples of Sakha spoke, as well.
Also speaking were representatives of Paraguay, Bangladesh, Brazil and Indonesia, as well as a representative of the European Union Delegation.
A representative of the World Bank spoke, as did a Forum member from the United States.