1 May 2019
Eighteenth Session, 15th Meeting* (PM)

Lack of Political Will Overshadows Vital Improvements for Indigenous Communities Despite Gains on Land, Language, Legal Rights, Delegates Tell Permanent Forum

Despite scattered gains in land, language and legal rights, a glaring lack of political will around the world is inhibiting fundamental change on the ground in thousands of communities in every region, delegates told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today as it continued its work.

Achievements outlined by Member State representatives today were starkly overshadowed by grave concerns - including high youth suicide rates, social exclusion and widespread political apathy - raised by many speakers, as the Permanent Forum concluded its general 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 six areas are economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

Across these areas - from land marred by war or extractive industries’ activities to ignorance about indigenous history and languages - speakers called on Governments and the Permanent Forum alike to urgently take the kind of actions that will have a direct, positive impact on their communities.

Echoing a common message, a representative of the Youth Council of the Sami Parliament in Finland said the lack of political will around the world is sad.  Recommending that the Permanent Forum identify ways to promote a better understanding of indigenous peoples and tackle ignorance, he also said it is time for the Government of Finland to make commitments to work with indigenous youth.

Also calling for action, a representative of an indigenous peoples’ non-governmental organization raised concerns about alarmingly high suicide rates among indigenous youth around the world.  To halt this epidemic, he recommended that the Permanent Forum engage with an expert on this phenomenon, provide an update on Member States’ responses and request the United Nations to provide targeted funding for related projects.

Highlighting a grave concern about unkept commitments, a representative of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples said not one State has responded to the requests to repudiate the doctrine of discovery.  While all mandated areas require this, Governments continue to spend tens of millions of dollars to re-enact “discoveries”.  State-sponsored celebrations of cultural invasions must come to a halt, she said, recommending that the Permanent Forum call on Member States to cease the sponsorship of colonialization so that indigenous peoples can begin working towards fulfilling the six mandated areas.

Highlighting security concerns, a representative of the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq called on the Government to ensure that indigenous lands are not used as battlegrounds in ongoing efforts to combat the spread of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).

A representative of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, citing a recent report outlining measures to ensure indigenous peoples’ rights, asked the Permanent Forum to engage with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to promote progress in launching inclusive efforts.

A representative of the Society for Threatened Peoples highlighted the critical situation facing the Uyghur, Kazakh and other indigenous people in China and urged Member States and the international community to take immediate action to address the arbitrary detention of more than 1.5 million people and other grave human rights violations.

China’s delegate said the Society for Threatened Peoples made unfounded attacks against his country.  “We think these [claims] are not even worthy of refute,” he added.  The person who spoke on behalf of the organization is a designated terrorist and the organization he represents is on the sanctions list of the Security Council.  He said the participant came to the Forum through deceptive means and is not qualified to speak at the meeting.

The representative of the United States emphasized that the Chinese delegate’s accusations against the individual representing the Society for Threatened Peoples are unfounded.  Despite facing hardships, Dolkun Isa has persisted in his human rights work and “we are interested in hearing him”, she added.  This characterization that he somehow is a terrorist is not in any way true.  “He would not have been given access to the United Nations, nor granted a United States visa, nor German citizenship, if he were a terrorist,” she stressed.

The representative of Germany said his country had brought the representative of the Society for Threatened Peoples, emphasizing that the safety of Uyghurs is very important.  “To have this represented here for us is very important to make the case for the fate of indigenous people,” he emphasized.

Other concerns were raised during the morning session.  Permanent Forum member Terri Henry (United States) said many indigenous peoples were migrating to the United States, where they still have the right to speak their languages.  But, when they reach the United States borders, the situation they face is challenging and must be monitored.  She also urged countries, particularly the United States, to fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples, especially concerning their language rights.

A representative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), highlighting several projects, said indigenous knowledge is critical for the Earth and should not be taken for granted.  Without enforceable rights to land, indigenous peoples are unable to apply their traditional knowledge and practices that are so essential to their livelihoods and to conservation efforts.  Coercion, intimidation and violence against indigenous people must stop.

Delegates also spotlighted achievements, with the representative of the Philippines saying the Government guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples, which comprise 15 per cent of the population.  A national commission on indigenous peoples is fast-tracking land title cases, and a sustainable development strategy reaches communities on a range of issues, she said, noting that efforts are also ongoing in education and in preserving culture and languages.

Brazil’s delegate, who is also President of the National Indian Foundation, outlined activities engaging indigenous groups, including agricultural projects, community development efforts to promote ecotourism, and land rights initiatives involving logging and mining companies.

Nepal’s representative said his country remains committed to promoting the rights of indigenous peoples, with affirmative action measures and policies that include teaching indigenous languages.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Cuba, Colombia, Paraguay, Canada, Bolivia, Viet Nam and Kenya.

Also taking part were representatives of several organizations, including the Indigenous Peoples Survival Foundation, Rainforest Foundation International, Indigenous Crimean Tatars of Crimea - Ukraine and the Society for Threatened Peoples.

Permanent Forum members Les Malezer (Australia), Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal), Jesus Guadelupe Fuentes Blanco (Mexico), Gervais Nzoa (Cameroon) and Jens Dahl (Denmark) also participated in discussions today.

The Forum also took up consideration of the “Follow-up to the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples”, with a representative of the Assyrian Aid Society–Iraq, stressing the need to ensure representation of indigenous people in all sectors of the Iraq Government.  He said it is also essential to provide support and resources to indigenous communities so that they can achieve the goals in the Declaration.

A representative of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said that the world remains idle while indigenous communities stand up to increased military power and “become expendable in the eyes of the extraction industries”, which label indigenous people terrorists for defending their land and water.

The representative of Canada also participated in the discussion.

Also taking part were representatives of several organizations, including the Coordinating Body of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, Earth Island Institute, and the Episcopal Church.


* The 10th through 14th Meetings were not covered.

For information media. Not an official record.