With the successful inclusion of indigenous peoples’ concerns in the major global frameworks, the priority now is to translate these aspirations into concrete improvements, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today in its fourth day of discussions.
Brian Keane, Rapporteur of the Forum, updating delegates on the implementation of the recommendations of the Forum’s seventeenth session, pointed out that development agreements ranging from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to the Paris Agreement on climate change have provided valuable opportunities to advance indigenous peoples’ rights at the policy level. The next step is to follow through at the operational level, he stressed.
The Permanent Forum continues to provide expert advice to ensure that indigenous people’s rights are fully understood and promoted in the implementation, follow-up and review of these global agendas, he said. Further, the Forum had endorsed the recommendation for an international year to draw attention to the urgent need to protect indigenous languages, following which the General Assembly proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Today’s discussions also spotlighted another vital aspect of indigenous well-being, namely health. Mariam Wallet Mohamed Aboubakrine, Permanent Forum member from Mali, presenting the results of a study on the high prevalence of tuberculosis among indigenous people, stressed that services must be tailored to their specific contexts and take into consideration their traditional knowledge. Treatment must never be imposed, she said, asking: “Who would want a health‑care system that is alien to their values?” Calling for “profoundly respect-based relationships”, she added that colonial history explained the disproportionate level of tuberculosis among indigenous peoples.
The representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that its End TB Strategy emphasizes collaboration with affected communities. The human face of the epidemic calls for far more intensive action. It is possible to drive down rates of tuberculosis among indigenous peoples across diverse continents, she said, calling on the international community to utilize the fruits of research and enhance data collection. The organization is working in a range of countries, in tandem with national plans, she said.
In the ensuing discussion, Aloha Nunez, Minister of People’s Power for Indigenous Peoples of Venezuela, said that, since the Bolivarian revolution, her country has seen the full expression of all its cultures. The Government has instituted public policies that encourage indigenous people’s knowledge to flourish.
The representative of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) said that the Institute’s peace-making programme offers training in negotiation and reconciliation. Focusing on both rights-based and problem‑solving negotiation strategies, the programme enables indigenous peoples to negotiate with the Government and private sector to resolve conflict in a mutually beneficial manner. The Institute actively seeks the participation of indigenous women, she said, noting that more than 500 indigenous people around the world have participated in the programme.
The Russian Federation’s representative noted that there are 193 indigenous peoples in the country, many of them living their traditional way of life. Their right to free use of their land and its resources is protected. Responding to an issue raised on Wednesday, he said that, while the Sámi only represent 2 per cent of the entire population, they have access to large amounts of land for reindeer herding.
The representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that, despite their strength and resilience, indigenous people are affected by a range of health issues including HIV/AIDS. His agency and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in consultation with community leaders, have developed an approach to fast-track a strategy focusing on integrative sexual and reproductive services for indigenous people.
The representative of the Assyrian Aid Society said that, until recently, his community in Iraq numbered 1.5 million people, but that number is plummeting because of violations perpetrated by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). “There is a great deal of suspicion towards us,” he said, also adding that it is dangerous to return to the traditional lands of the community due to the conflicts.
The representative of the Indigenous Women’s Network in Myanmar and Bangladesh said that the conflict and violence in Rakhine State has displaced many people and destroyed heritage sites. Human rights violations occur every day. “People are being raped and murdered,” she said, stressing that all perpetrators of these crimes must be held accountable. The international community must also provide aid to the affected people in the Rakhine State and those displaced.
The Forum then turned to a discussion on the “Implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples,” namely: health, education, human rights, economic and social development, environment and culture. The Forum had before it a note by the Secretariat titled “Update on the promotion and application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples”.
Anne Karin Olli, State Secretary of the Ministry for Local Government and Modernization of Norway, also speaking on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, said Nordic studies indicate that indigenous women face more violence than non-indigenous women. Indigenous groups also face challenges in communicating with police officers, which hinders their access to justice. More focus must be directed at fulfilling the rights of these communities, she stressed.
Ulla Holmquist, Minister for Culture of Peru, said that her Government is focused on bringing indigenous peoples on board to fully participate in State‑level consultations. This aims to ensure that State decisions concerning issues affecting indigenous communities are sustainable and inclusive. Peru is also pursuing methods to promote multilingualism in school curricula.
The representative of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said that Canada’s Government has not heeded international warnings about moving forward with a State-owned oil pipeline project on indigenous land. The indigenous people have a right to be consulted and a right to their land and resources, yet the Canadian Government continues to fail to recognize these rights.
The representative of the Finish Saami Youth Organization said that people who belong to multiple minorities faced additional discrimination and hostility. As a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and as an indigenous youth, she noted that many activists who belong to such groups “burn out” when pushing Nordic Governments to take action to improve their situation. There is a need for better mental health services for this group, she added, calling on the Forum to fund a gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer indigenous individuals to discuss matters pertaining to them.
The representative of Mexico, noting that her country is home to some 20 million indigenous people, spotlighted legislative measures that recognize the rights of these communities. One of them ensures inclusion of indigenous men and women as candidates for the National Assembly. In another ruling, a displaced community of indigenous peoples was given the right to vote in federal elections and polling stations were set up in the area in which they settled. She stressed the need to ensure indigenous peoples’ political rights.
Les Malezer, Permanent Forum member from Australia, said the sterilization of indigenous women in the United States and other parts of the world is a crime of genocide and a form of population control. UNFPA should provide some information and material to help guide the conclusions and recommendations on the matter for inclusion in the Forum’s outcome document.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Guatemala, Bolivia, El Salvador, Estonia, South Africa, Australia, Denmark and Nicaragua.
Also speaking were representatives of UNFPA and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Permanent Forum members Vice-Chair Tarcila Rivera Zea (Peru) and Jens Dahl (Denmark) also participated.
Also taking part were the representatives of Indian Treaty Council, Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, Assembly of First Nations of Canada, Native Youth Alliance, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Knowledge, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council, Native Council of Nova Scotia and other organizations.
The Permanent Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 26 April, to continue its work.