29 April 2015
Fourteenth Session, 13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)

Inclusion in Political Processes, Protection of Human Rights Focus, as Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Continues Session

The recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, autonomy and self-governance must be woven into the post-2015 development agenda to ensure inclusive political participation and a sharpened focus on outstanding land disputes and other pressing concerns, delegates heard as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues discussed emerging issues and continued its segment on rights.

While some States had passed legislation to guarantee human rights, many communities still remained outside the political process, with some still fighting centuries-old disputes, participants heard during a morning panel, “Future work of the Permanent Forum, including issues of the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues”.

“Must a people disappear in order to exist,” said a representative of the Association ELLAY de Tombouctou, echoing a common call heard through the day for States to recognize their rights.

It was insulting for Canada or the United States to insist that indigenous peoples applied for “green cards” or “immigrant status” in lands they had lived on for time immemorial, said a representative of the Indigenous World Association.  To address that, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its provision on cross-border rights must be respected, he said, urging for the removal of any barriers to freedom of movement and calling on the Forum to investigate legislation that regarded indigenous peoples as immigrants.

To start the discussion on emerging issues, Permanent Forum members presented new information on cross-border concerns, the post-2015 agenda and political participation.  Introducing the “Study into cross-border issues, including recognition of the right of indigenous people to trade in goods and services across borders and militarized areas”, Permanent Forum Chair, Megan Davis from Australia, said that, before the colonization period, trade was essential to indigenous peoples and that “imposed” borders often had no regard for cultural relationships or established routes for commercial activities.

Pointing out that cross-border rights were covered by article 36 of the Declaration, she said, even though the right to self-determination existed, many indigenous peoples had been unable to exercise that right with regard to borders.  Inviting participants to visit the Permanent Forum’s website to examine the full study, she said case studies outlined experiences in areas including Australia, North America and the Arctic region.

Introducing the “Study on the situation of indigenous peoples and their participation in democratic societies”, Álvaro Pop from Guatemala said that, today, more than ever before, democracy was the most effective system for inclusion.  Through legislative processes, the full development of indigenous societies was possible, he said, noting that there was no one-size-fits-all model for democracy.

Yet, in many cases, he said, some States had failed to recognize indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, the world had not yet concluded the ongoing debate on what constituted a nation, decolonization remained an issue and some indigenous peoples were still being denied the right to participate as political citizens.  Another challenge was to put the Declaration into practice, he said.

Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe from Bolivia introduced the “Study on traditional knowledge in the framework of the post-2015 development agenda”, which recognized an urgent need to mainstream the issue.  The post-2015 agenda must also recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, autonomy and self-governance.  In the second part, the study concerned the concept of traditional knowledge that indigenous peoples had developed, and considered its potential for natural resource management.  It was widely known that the greatest biodiversity was found in indigenous territories.  The management of natural and genetic resources, therefore, needed to entail drawing on the extensive knowledge of indigenous peoples about the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The study also addressed challenges and difficulties faced by indigenous peoples as a result of the loss of traditional knowledge owing to climate change, migration and the rapid expansion of resource extraction.  Discussing the role of indigenous women in traditional knowledge, she said that they were living in disadvantaged and vulnerable conditions as a result of discrimination and poverty.  However, they played a crucial role in embodying culture and maintaining community networks.  Further, their active participation in production and reproduction systems had helped to preserve traditional knowledge through the generations.

During the ensuing discussion, Government ministers and representatives outlined various national efforts towards, among other things, ensuring the full participation of indigenous peoples in political and legislative processes.  Guyana’s Minister for Amerindian Affairs said laws dating back to 1925 had provided better access to social services and new legislation guaranteed their participation in politics.

Solid democracy and stable Governments played an important role for all communities to benefit from economic investment and development, Canada’s representative said.  As such, the First Nations Election Act, established in April this year, would provide those choosing to “opt in” with access to several benefits, including longer terms of office that were necessary to foster long-term planning, he said, anticipating that the new law and the positive changes accompanying it were a form of progress for the First Nations and Canada.

Indigenous speakers, however, raised grave concerns on a number of related issues, among them a dearth of mechanisms by which they could seek justice over land disputes with States.  A representative of the Assembly of First Nations, said an ongoing land dispute with Canada had sought to remedy violations of a 1784 treaty, which had left the Six Nations with less than 5 per cent of the promised land holdings.  Seeking an account from Canada through the legal system, the Six Nations wanted justice and the 950,000 “promised” acres, she said.  To better regulate such disputes, a neutral tribunal was needed and the Permanent Forum should establish such a mechanism.

Issuing other calls for action, a number of speakers expressed local and regional concerns.  To remedy the grim situation facing the Yazidi community and indigenous populations in war-ravaged Syria, a representative of the Assyrian Aid Society appealed for protection.  She called on the Security Council to create a zone safe from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) and called on the Forum to include a Middle East candidate in its membership.  Criterion in determining the election of Permanent Forum members should also consider the inclusion of persons with disabilities, said a speaker for the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, urging the Economic and Social Council to make that change.

More broadly, Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Forum member from Burkina Faso, called on States and institutions, including the European Union and the World Bank, to respect their commitments, particularly with regard to bilateral cooperation and the Declaration.

Addressing some of the issues speakers raised, Mr. Pop said the participation of indigenous people in the Forum was highly crucial to enable the international community to meet and discuss concerning issues.  Calling on the political authorities, he said that they need to recognize the indigenous rights to self-determination, autonomy and self-governance.  Further, he recommended States to ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples in the decision-making process.

Ms. Choque Quispe expressed her gratitude for the active participation of indigenous organizations and State representatives in the Forum.  The value of knowledge for the sustainable use of Mother Earth must be acknowledged in national, regional and international action plans.  To protect and empower traditional knowledge, the international community needed to take further steps, such as organizing development workshops, in the context of climate change and the post-2015 development agenda.

Hearing from a number of speakers as they elaborated on some of those concerns, the Forum concluded this afternoon its discussion on the “Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and the “Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

Outlining specific examples of the challenges they faced in efforts to exercise their rights, a number of indigenous speakers said the majority of their communities had suffered from various forms of violence and the lack of legal recognition.  The representative of the Association ELLAY de Tombouctou said the Tuareg territory in Mali was being pillaged, with people dying due to the indifference of others.  Radiation from nearby mines was causing deaths in the community, and despite efforts made to enter into discussions, he said, the Malian Government had not taken any steps in that direction.

Some indigenous speakers said they had not fully tested the human rights mechanisms available to them.  The representative of Parbatya Chhatagram Jana Samhati Samiti said indigenous people in Bangladesh continued to be the victims of human rights violations, including land-related disputes and communal attacks.  Along similar lines, the representative of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People said it was disheartening that, almost eight years after the adoption of the Declaration, the Nigerian Government had not designed an implementation plan.

For their part, Governments outlined national plans to ensure the protection and promotion of indigenous rights.  Chile’s speaker said that, in 2014, the Government had created the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples to deal with issues and problems directly related to the indigenous population.

Many speakers recognized the reality facing many communities in their countries.  “Indigenous people still bear the consequences of decades of violations of their rights all over the world,” said Brazil’s representative.  Describing national gains, she said that, in December 2014, the National Truth Commission, which investigated human rights violations during the military dictatorship, had acknowledged for the first time the responsibility of the State for the illegal occupation of indigenous lands.  The Government had also demarcated indigenous lands, which amounted to more than 12 per cent of Brazilian territory, she said.

Delivering statements were representatives of the following indigenous groups:  Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indigenas campesinas y Cominidades Interculturales de Bolivia (COINCABOL) and CONAMAQ; TeRunanga o TeRarawa and Two Feathers International; Tribal Link; Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indigenas de las Americas (ECMIA); Organismo Indigena para la Planificacion de Desarollo Naleb; Krom Federation and Krom Temple; Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indigenas Campesina y Comunidades Inerculturales; American Indian Law Alliance; International Native Tradition Interchange; and Comunidad Integradora del Saber Andino; and Pacific Disability Forum (speaking for the Disability Caucus).

The following representatives of indigenous parliaments delivered statements:  Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti of Bangladesh, and the Sami Parliament in Sweden.  Representatives of Chile, Viet Nam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Panama, Bolivia, Botswana and Estonia also delivered statements.

Forum members from Kenya, Philippines and Bangladesh also spoke.

The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 30 April, to continue its work.

For information media. Not an official record.