The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues concluded its eighteenth session this afternoon, adopting several recommendations which reflected this year’s central theme, Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge: Generation, transmission and protection.
The Forum sent the Economic and Social Council three draft decisions — contained in document E/C.19/2019/L.3 — on its future work, the first of which would authorize a three-day international expert group meeting on the theme “Peace, justice and strong institutions — the role of indigenous peoples in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16”. By the second and third draft decisions, it set the dates for the Forum’s ninetieth session — at Headquarters from 13 to 24 April 2020 — and the provisional agenda for that meeting.
In her closing remarks, Permanent Forum Chair Anne Nuorgam (Finland) said the session’s theme — traditional knowledge — is fundamental to indigenous communities, yet it is often unrecognized along with their rights to land, education and resources. Noting that more than 1,000 participants from around the world have shared their concerns, successes and good practices over the past two weeks, she said indigenous women face added threats, including violence and abuse. They must therefore be recognized for their key roles, especially in light of the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
During the session, the Permanent Forum addressed a broad range of common challenges facing many indigenous peoples, she said. Underlining gains to right historical injustices, she said efforts continue to address the persistent obstacles to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and encouraged United Nations agencies to follow the lead of the Organization’s entities who have already included indigenous peoples on their agendas.
Summarizing some of the agreed recommendations, she said the Permanent Forum urged the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy, in consultation with indigenous peoples, to advance implementation of the Declaration. Stressing the gravity of the increasingly frequent violent attacks on indigenous peoples, she said it is pertinent for the nineteenth session to focus on peace, justice and strengthening institutions, as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 16.
In addition to the report containing the draft decisions, the Forum approved nine reports today as presented and orally revised by the session’s Rapporteur, Brian Keane. While the second report (document E/C.19/2019/L.2) detailed the procedural aspects of the seventeenth session, including dates, venue, proceedings and attendance, the third report (document E/C.19/2019/L.4) expressed concern for the state of the world’s indigenous languages. By terms of that document, the Forum recommended the adoption of a rights-based approach to indigenous language issues that considers the full spectrum of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Declaration. It also asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to present a report to the Forum by 2020 on the implementation of the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Considering the rapid rate of disappearance of indigenous languages, the Forum recommended that the General Assembly proclaim an International Decade on Indigenous Languages, to begin in 2021 or as soon as possible, and that Member States formulate evidence-based policies, long-term strategies and regulatory frameworks, in cooperation with indigenous peoples, to ensure revitalization of indigenous languages and adequate, sustained support for bilingual, mother-tongue education.
The report on the Forum’s dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the discussion on the theme “Traditional knowledge: generation, transmission and protection” (document E/C.19/2019/L.5), regarding the negotiations taking place at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, reiterated the urgent need to develop an instrument that responds to the current lack of adequate protection of traditional knowledge. It also recommended that WIPO commission the updating of the “Technical Review of Key Intellectual Property-Related Issues of the WIPO Draft Instruments on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions” to reflect current issues and how they may conflict with indigenous peoples’ human rights and customary law. It further urged Member States to include indigenous people’s rights in the outcomes of the 2019 climate summit to be held in September and recommended that States, the United Nations system and other partners secure funding to ensure the adequate participation of indigenous peoples at the summit.
In a report on 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” (document E/C.19/2019/L.6), the Forum reiterated its grave concerns about the situation of indigenous human rights defenders who continue to be harassed, criminalized, prosecuted, or even killed. The Forum called upon Member States to take a zero-tolerance approach to violence against such defenders, duly investigate any violent acts and prosecute those responsible to the full extent of the law. Member States were also urged to consider the expansion of the mandate of the Voluntary Fund to support grantees who have effective and positive initiatives to implement recommendations of the United Nations human rights mechanism.
The Forum, in the same report, encouraged Member States, particularly those in Africa and Asia, to invite the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples to undertake country studies. In a new recommendation, the Forum urged indigenous peoples to report on threats and human rights abuses for participating in United Nations meetings to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at email@example.com.
In the report on its future work, including issues considered by the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues (document E/C.19/2019/L.8), the Forum appointed Elifuraha Laltaika, a Forum member, to conduct a study on “Best practices in the protection of indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources: A case of hunter gatherers in East Africa” and present that study to the Forum in 2020. It also appointed Forum members Jens Dahl and Brian Keane to conduct studies on “Indigenous Peoples Autonomies: experiences and perspectives” and “The development of standards and redress mechanisms for protecting indigenous peoples’ rights in conservation”, respectively and present both studies to the next session.
In its report on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (E/C.19/2019/L.9), the Forum expressed concern that indigenous peoples are not receiving adequate information regarding implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and further reiterated the importance of data collection and disaggregation for tracking progress concerning implementation so that indigenous people are not left behind.
In its report on the implementation of its six mandated areas with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (E/C.19/2019/L.10), the Forum recommended that a “Special Programme of Research Training in Human Reproduction” take the lead — in collaboration with OHCHR, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) — in conducting an initial study on the global scope of past forced sterilization programmes of indigenous peoples. The Forum also urged Canada, Mexico, and the United States, in cooperation with United Nations entities, to organize an international expert group meeting, by 2021, on ongoing issues of violence against indigenous women and girls, including the continuing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The Forum’s report concerning the dialogues with indigenous peoples, Member States and the funds, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations system (E/C.19/2019/L.11) expressed concern regarding indigenous young people in situations where they are increasingly migrating from their communities because of poverty, lack of economic opportunities and climate change.
In other business, the Forum approved an informal paper containing recommendations on agenda item 3, concerning the follow-up to the recommendations of the Permanent Forum; item 4 concerning mandated areas; item 11 concerning the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and the Expert Mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples; item 13 on regional dialogue between indigenous peoples and Member States; and item 14 concerning the future work.
* The 16th through 19th Meetings were not covered.