Calls demanding respect for traditional lands, resources, knowledge and cultures rang through the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today, with participants from the North Pole to New Zealand pressing Governments to move beyond “paper promises” and uphold their rights.
As the sixteenth session continued, speakers underlined the critical importance of protecting natural resources, with one from the Indigenous Environmental Network stressing that the United States military action at Standing Rock contravened the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples’ human rights had been violated, she stressed.
In similar vein, others said traditional knowledge should be tapped — not side-lined — in tackling climate change, one of several issues addressed during a discussion on “implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. The mandated areas include economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.
Many stressed that indigenous peoples’ rights over natural resources on traditional lands were being trampled, and that more must be done to ensure that States fulfilled their commitments. A speaker from Altepetl Nahua de la Montana de Guerrero pointed to lagging implementation of the Declaration at a time when their lands were being exploited and countries, including Mexico, had not submitted required progress reports. While Governments had pledged commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change, extractive industries were moving ahead with full force, said a speaker from Indigenous Climate Action.
Several speakers described violations on ancestral lands and waterways, with participants from the Sami Parliament of Finland and from the Arctic Caucus both expressing strong opposition to a recent agreement between Finland and Norway that harmed traditional fishing practices, and violated Sami culture, land rights and self-determination.
A speaker from Two Feathers International declared: “They are not welcome in our waters,” referring to the Amazon Warrior seismic vessel conducting oil exploration off the New Zealand coast, and mining corporations, which were attempting again to win Government approval to extract seabed materials. She urged New Zealand to make climate-smart decisions on those activities.
Amid rapid global environmental change, speakers said, traditional knowledge could improve decisions on sustainable development, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation. But, to do so, said some, indigenous peoples must be allowed to independently shape their self-governing systems, rather than have State prescriptions imposed on them. The representative of the Government of Greenland (Denmark) urged States to ensure the recognition and vitality of indigenous knowledge, to protect it from misappropriation and accept its links with both biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.
Environmental stewardship, medicine and farming were just some of the areas in which indigenous peoples were ready to share their knowledge, speakers said. Announcing the launch of a report on indigenous peoples and climate change, the speaker from the International Labour Organization (ILO) cited their critical role at the forefront of climate action. However, indigenous peoples must be empowered as agents of change and their access to decent work ensured.
For their part, Government representatives described national efforts, with some presenting progress reports on the Declaration’s implementation. Panama had passed a law in 2008 giving indigenous communities deeds over five land areas, that country’s delegate said. Botswana’s representative pointed to programmes that empowered indigenous peoples’ use of land and natural resources for economic and cultural purposes.
Many speakers agreed that special attention must be given to ensuring that indigenous peoples participated in — and benefitted from — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With that in mind, the speaker from the International Indigenous HIV and AIDS Community urged the Permanent Forum to address AIDS as a humanitarian issue and acknowledge HIV as a threat. He pressed indigenous leaders to make access to treatment a priority.
Looking to the next generations, the representative of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North advocated greater involvement of indigenous youth in decisions that affected their future.
Also speaking today were speakers from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Save Our Unique Landscape, Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, American Indian Movement of Colorado, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Nation of Hawai’i, Congrès Mondial Amazigh, El Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu, Red de Jóvenes Indígenas de Amėrica Latina y el Caribe, Crimean Tartar People, Fundacion Egdolina Thomas Para la Defensa de los Derechos de los Habitantes de la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua, New South Wales Aboriginal Council and Consejo Regional Indigena del Medio Amazones.
Representatives of Namibia, Guyana, Russian Federation, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Chile, Philippines, Paraguay, Australia, Denmark, Guatemala, Brazil, New Zealand and Costa Rica also spoke.
Forum members from Australia, Peru, Denmark and the Russian Federation made interventions, as did representatives of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 April, to continue its sixteenth session.
PERNILLE BENGTSEN, Government of Greenland (Denmark), said that in the midst of rapid environmental change, indigenous knowledge could help to improve decision-making on sustainable development and on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Drawing attention to Greenland’s initiatives in that regard, she urged States to ensure the recognition and vitality of indigenous knowledge, protect it from misappropriation, and accept its links with the conservation of biodiversity conservation and management of natural resources.
DEIDRE MCGRENRA, Chief, America Liaison Office, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said the Fund’s partnership with indigenous peoples had grown to comprise 123 projects, as well as $1.6 million in loans and $40 million in grants to indigenous peoples. IFAD also supported the development of innovative solutions in the area of securing land tenure, among others.
NINA VEYSALOVA, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, said her organization had conducted a number of major events to encourage the involvement of indigenous youth. She also emphasized the need to develop the competencies of indigenous peoples, saying that would help them determine their future.
SLUMBER TSOGWANE, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, said that, since adopting an affirmative action framework for communities in remote areas, his country had established programmes to empower their use of land and natural resources for economic gain and cultural purposes. He reaffirmed Botswana’s commitment to the Declaration.
MARTIN OELZ, International Labour Organization (ILO), announced today’s launch of a report on indigenous peoples and climate change. Providing a snapshot of the situation, he said issues that had been addressed included forced displacement, gender inequality and a lack of recognition of indigenous rights. Those and other conditions posed formidable challenges to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Indigenous peoples had a critical role to play at the forefront of climate action, given their contributions to a green economy. However, they must be empowered as agents of change and their access to decent work must be ensured.
ROYAL JOHAN KXAO /UI/O/OO (Namibia) said national efforts had seen results, stressing that education support had facilitated enrolment, investment in infrastructure had produced positive achievements and settlement programmes had been implemented. Namibia had also provided support to communities in areas ranging from health to assistance for burials.
TRISHA RIEDY, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), said programmes had been tailored to enhance indigenous peoples’ abilities to engage in negotiations that would further the promotion and protection of their rights. Land and resources were other pressing issues, he said, noting that UNITAR had provided training to help resolve conflict in a mutually beneficial manner. It also had sought increased participation for women.
JERALD JOSEPH, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, said about 20 per cent of the complaints received by the Commission related to indigenous peoples, a sign of their awareness of their rights. Many of their complaints dealt with encroachment on traditional lands for the purposes of logging, plantations and mining. He urged Malaysia to call for a moratorium on the development of indigenous lands pending the implementation of recommendations by a task force on that issue.
VALERIE GARRIDO-LOWE, Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Guyana, said her country, in partnership with Canada, had launched a sun-dried tomato project in hinterland communities which illustrated how modern science could be wed to traditional indigenous agricultural knowledge. She also described efforts to overcome logistical challenges that hinterland communities faced in accessing schools.
Mr. OMEDO, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said informed and prior consent was not only a procedural matter, but also connected to the right to self-determination. That was a flagship principle for the Union. He said all Government, non-governmental and environmental actors should adopt a binding standard on the rights of indigenous peoples related to the environment.
TUOMAS ASLAK JUUSO, Sami Parliament of Finland, expressed his objection to a recent treaty between Finland and Norway that infringed on traditional Sami fishing rights. The Parliament had not been consulted on the treaty, which had far-reaching implications for the Sami. It violated Sami culture, land rights and the principle of self-determination.
ANNA OTKE, Russian Federation, said the Government was reviewing land use legislation that incorporated proposals from the Parliament of the Chukotka region.
SANDRA DEL PINO, Cultural Diversity Adviser, Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), said significant progress had been made by her organization on indigenous youth health in Latin America. A recent forum on the issue had drawn attention to several issues, she said, including the need for culturally oriented health care, a lack of data on indigenous youth health and the underrecognized value of indigenous medicine.
PANIA NEWTON, Save Our Unique Landscape, said the New Zealand authorities were currently threatening her people’s land, including ancestral burial caves and precolonial sites. Descendants of colonial land owners had used special housing legislation to drive forward urban development. Recent actions included the sale of ancestral land to a housing corporation, which had contravened articles of the Declaration, she said, calling on the Permanent Forum to act and request New Zealand’s authorities to respect her people’s land and rights.
PEDRO SITTON, National Director of Indigenous Territories, Panama, gave an overview of his country’s progress on legislation protecting languages, among other issues. A political decision had been taken to sign ILO Convention 169 (Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries) and other initiatives had provided public services and access to drinking water, health and education. As for legal security and land rights, he said that a law passed in 2008 gave indigenous communities title deeds over five areas of land.
PRATIMA GURUNG, Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network, said the Permanent Forum’s mandated areas were equally important to all groups, including women, youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Exercising their rights meant that more attention must be paid to the multiple levels of discrimination they faced. Gaps in access to rights must be addressed and narrowed, she said, calling for action in that regard.
DEVONNEY MCDAVIS (Nicaragua) said progress had been made on the rights of communal land ownership. Efforts would continue to increase the productive capacity of food production systems using indigenous knowledge. More communities had access to water and sanitation, she said, emphasizing that authorities had undertaken initiatives, including recognizing cultural identities. Turning to health, she said indigenous knowledge was being applied. On education, a legal framework had strengthened their rights.
MAROCS MATIAS ALONSO, Altepetl Nahua de la Montana de Guerrero, said progress was lagging on implementing the Declaration. Countries, including Mexico, had not submitted required reports while poverty levels remained high alongside efforts to exploit their lands. Indigenous peoples had a right to enjoy economic development, one of the many articles that were not being realized on the ground and Mexico’s national budgets had actually decreased.
NABA KUMAR KISHORE TRIPURA, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Bangladesh, said the authorities had taken an inclusive and comprehensive approach to the region, which was home to 1 million people. District councils now handled tourism, education, health and other services. The Government employed a zero-tolerance approach to any form of human rights violations and was currently focused on addressing development challenges in the region, he said.
PHYLLIS YOUNG, American Indian Movement of Colorado, said she had taken part in many historic events, including a 1974 gathering at Standing Rock in which 97 nations had produced the International Indian Treaty Council. She said that she had also drafted that Council’s Declaration of Continuing Independence.
LES MALEZER, Permanent Forum member from Australia, emphasized the importance of assuring the future of all indigenous peoples. Citing court cases in which rulings had been handed down in their favour, he said that some of those verdicts had not been implemented. Such issues must be discussed, he said, underlining the importance of dialogue between States and indigenous peoples.
JUAN EDUARDO FAÚNDEZ (Chile) said his country had not hesitated from implementing the Declaration. Tolerance and respect for diversity were essential for a democratic and peace-loving country. Today, indigenous peoples held important positions in national political life, but more must be done in that regard, he said, adding that Herculean efforts had been made to create better policies. It was possible to integrate indigenous concerns into health-care systems with excellent results.
GWENDOLYN PIMENTEL-GANA, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, said desecration of the environment was, for indigenous peoples, tantamount to violating the right to life. In the Philippines, Government policies had yet to fully reflect and consider indigenous customs and practices to preserve the environment. Some policies and regulations criminalized certain indigenous practices, she said, adding that indigenous peoples’ unique world view must be encouraged and reinforced.
TEODORO L. LOCSIN, Jr. (Philippines), emphasizing that his country had long guaranteed the rights of indigenous peoples, said the challenge was not to fight prejudice, but plain greed. For the self-protection of its indigenous peoples, the Government was promoting indigenous basic education. Culturally sensitive health programmes had also been adopted and political power had been given to indigenous peoples. He called on Member States to renew their commitment to the Declaration, to stop making excuses and work harder towards its realization.
TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, Permanent Forum member from Peru, emphasized the theme of youth inclusion and invited participants to make related recommendations.
BRANDON MAKA’AWA’AWA, Nation of Hawai’i, said that, while waiting for Member States to fulfil their obligations, indigenous peoples must maintain their ancestral lands, preserve cultures, protect unique identities and seek solutions for themselves. The Nation of Hawai’i used strategies that included working to win economic recognition. Alongside 38 other indigenous nations, Hawai’I had declared its territory a food sovereignty zone in 2016 in order to restore and decolonize its traditional food sources.
JULIO CESAR ARRIOLA (Paraguay) said his country had taken a number of steps to ensure the full and effective enjoyment of indigenous peoples’ rights, especially in health and education. The Government had extended an open invitation to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and established a monitoring mechanism to follow up on their recommendations, he added.
JAMIL AHMAD, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said a growing number of indigenous human rights defenders had lost their lives in the past decade. That was a matter of deep concern, he said, citing the case of Berta Cáceres, a “Champions of the Earth” laureate who had campaigned against illegal logging on behalf of the Lenca people in Honduras. A planet free of pollution would be the theme of the United Nations Environment Assembly, to be held in Nairobi this year.
BELKACEM LOUNÈS, Congrès Mondial Amazigh, said that, while Morocco had adopted the Declaration, its interpretation of that instrument “went against the grain” of the text. Noting that recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language of Morocco had been frozen for six years, she said the Amazigh people had no sovereignty over their land and had been excluded from development projects. They were poor and marginalized, and their demonstrations were violently put down. The Amazigh people would only obtain the status they deserved in a sovereign State.
RACHEL O'CONNOR (Australia) emphasized the importance of economic development and the empowerment of indigenous women. Indigenous people had demonstrated great talent, imagination and entrepreneurialism, she said, citing a Government programme to provide more business to indigenous suppliers. She underscored the leadership role of indigenous women and their contribution to the economy, citing Australia’s strategies that made it easier for them to access loans.
JENS DAHL, Permanent Forum member from Denmark, replied to comments by one Government that it would recognize community land ownership if deeds were available, pointing out that indigenous peoples often did not have such deeds. He urged compliance with Article 27 of the Declaration pertaining to indigenous peoples’ right to participate in processes concerning their lands and resources.
The representative of the Arctic Caucus called on the Permanent Forum and relevant international organizations to produce a report on indigenous protected areas. Raising a number of concerns, she said a new agreement on salmon fishing in the Deanu River between authorities in Finland and Norway would negatively affect the Sami traditional way of fishing. Free, prior and informed consent was a crucial part of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Arctic States were among the richest in the world, yet indigenous peoples in the region were entrenched in poverty. Rather than focus on the symptoms of social, economic and health gaps, the Permanent Forum, Member States, international organizations and indigenous peoples should instead seek broad solutions that addressed root causes, including recognition of the right to education and to economic development.
ELIAS GONZALEZ PATAL (Guatemala) said progress had been achieved through amendments to the Constitution, including on the recognition of languages and rights. A bipartite governmental body was working to take action on a range of issues. A trust fund would also work to integrate indigenous peoples into Guatemala through economic development efforts and inclusion in schools, institutions and the political process.
KANDI MOSSET, Indigenous Environmental Network, said actions taken at Standing Rock in the United States contravened the Declaration and violated human rights. Military action against people protecting the land was a violation of their rights. Recommendations made during the Permanent Forum had repeatedly urged the United States to implement the Declaration and stop raping Mother Earth. Echoing the call of others, she said the theme of the next Permanent Forum should focus on water, which must be protected. “We should not be violated for protecting water,” she said.
MAMANI NAVARRO, El Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu, underscored the contribution of social organizations in his country. Progress was being made step by step, and indigenous peoples were no longer marginalized, he said, noting that the Constitution recognized its 36 indigenous nations and acknowledged native languages.
Ms. FRANCA, Red de Jóvenes Indígenas de Amėrica Latina y el Caribe, said young people were deeply concerned by the absence of an intercultural perspective on reproductive rights. That contributed to early pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, she said, noting also the close link between emotional health and the vulnerability of young people. She expressed concern about a lack of data on young indigenous people with disabilities, as well as policies that would protect them.
ZAIRA ZAMBELLI TAVEIRA (Brazil) said the national indigenous health system was operating in 34 districts, serving more than 5,000 tribes and working in partnership with communities. While there had been improvements in child health, youth suicide was rising. Targeted projects addressed suicide-related issues, she said, emphasizing Brazil’s overall commitment to promoting and protecting indigenous peoples’ health.
JULIE TURNER, Two Feathers International, said that, despite the climate crisis, the Amazon Warrior seismic ship, along with other oil companies, were currently exploring new areas in New Zealand. “They are not welcome in our waters,” she said. On the west coast of New Zealand, a mining corporation was attempting again to obtain approvals for the extraction of dozens of tons of seabed material, with a view to tapping into oil or tar sands. That new industry had little information on the effects of such activities, yet the potential for environmental disaster was real. The coastline and oceans were integral to New Zealand and the Government must take appropriate, climate-smart action.
JACLYN WILLIAMS (New Zealand) said her country placed great importance on environmental discussions with indigenous peoples. Citing a current dialogue on ancestral rivers, she said enactments had been drafted on a range of issues, including education and the environment.
ESKENDER BARIIEV, Crimean Tatar People, said his people’s rights had been violated since Crimea was invaded by the Russian Federation, which had ignored principles of the Declaration. “I cannot live at home, in my own country,” he said. Citing a personal example of being searched and detained, he said many Crimean Tatars faced kidnapping and torture, with no criminal investigations being launched. He called for those in custody to be released, urging the Permanent Forum and its members to lend their support in that regard.
ROLANDO CASTRO CORDOBA (Costa Rica) said the Declaration had been a guide to drafting rules, legislation and constitutional reform. Costa Rica had worked to promote equality and opportunity for all in all cultural groups. A holistic, human rights-based approach must guide efforts addressing the situation of indigenous peoples, including for education and housing. Turning to employment, she said a national employment programme had earmarked funds for projects tailored to indigenous peoples.
BROOKLYN RIVERA, Fundacion Egdolina Thomas Para la Defensa de los Derechos de los Habitantes de la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua, said her people’s rights were not being upheld and a tokenistic appreciation of languages and cultures was instead taking place. Violent acts had been perpetrated against indigenous peoples, included kidnappings and forced displacement. Nicaragua was imposing rules upon indigenous peoples, who were not allowed to enjoy regional autonomy.
ANDERS PRIMDAHL VISTISEN (Denmark) said that despite progress, persistent violations of indigenous peoples’ rights existed. Citing an example in Chittagong Hill Tracts, which had seen conflicts over land, he urged Bangladesh to take positive action to remedy the situation and ensure that the population was not left behind.
DMITRII KHARAKKA-ZAITSEV, Permanent Forum member from the Russian Federation, emphasized the need to define the reasons why, in some countries, indigenous peoples and movements were seen as “aliens” and “obstacles”.
ANNE DENNIS, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, recommended that the Council urge States to ratify without reservations and fully implement all human rights obligations under the treaties to which they were party. It should also urge States to ensure that legislative systems were established to redress systemic indigenous disadvantage through indigenous control mechanisms for the delivery of social justice, she said.
MARAMA PALA, International Indigenous HIV and AIDS Community, Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and INA HIV/AIDS Foundation, said many indigenous communities feared indigenous men, women and children living with HIV and discriminated against them. It was unacceptable for such people to bear institutionalized stigma within their own communities. Indigenous peoples must be accurately represented in all HIV/AIDS epidemiological data, with resources provided to enable them to design, develop and implement HIV-AIDS programmes. The Permanent Forum should address AIDS as a humanitarian issue and acknowledge HIV as a threat to indigenous peoples, she said, pressing indigenous leaders to make access to treatment a priority.
HEATHER MILTON-LIGHTENING, Indigenous Climate Action, said the Permanent Forum must ensure a space for indigenous voices and provide support for rights-based climate strategies. Even as Governments pledged commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change, extractive industries were moving forward in full force. Indigenous peoples must not be forced to adopt State-led prescriptions of self-government. Rather, they must be the ones to exercise their autonomy in addressing climate change.
NAZARETH CABRERA GUERRERO, Consejo Regional Indigena del Medio Amazones, said ancestral knowledge must be maintained, stressing that women’s knowledge in particular was important in farming, food production, cultural heritage and health. Describing the range of roles women played in communities, she said special efforts must be made to protect their rights and acknowledge their domestic work in order to end violence and abuse.