20 April 2021

Indigenous Peoples’ Role in Peace, Security ‘Underappreciated’, Demands Greater Focus, Human Rights Expert Says, as Permanent Forum Continues Session

Indigenous peoples’ lands are increasingly occupied by terrorists and extremists, threatening their lives and often their ability to partner with Governments in the establishment of institutions to protect their rights, a renowned international human rights expert told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today.

This underappreciated aspect of peace and security deserves much more focus, said Albert Barume, Security Coordinator and Regional Expert of the Security Council Panel of Experts on Mali, one of three panellists briefing the Forum under the theme “Peace, justice and strong institutions:  the role of indigenous peoples in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16”.

Mr. Barume said the depletion of natural resources and livelihoods, particularly in remote areas, makes indigenous communities “much more” vulnerable to extreme or radicalized influences in a murky tug-of-war for power.  Their traditional knowledge of and control over large areas of land is being used by States and extremist groups alike.  “They rely on that knowledge,” he said of States in particular, which depend on indigenous peoples to expand or take part in counter-terrorism activities.

He also drew attention to cases in which States have “taken shortcuts” by labelling indigenous peoples “terrorists”, “extremists” or “radicalized communities”, which represents a missed opportunity, both for the international community working for peace, and for States on whose lands these issues are recurring.  If indigenous peoples must be resilient, “this resilience also has to be against radicalism and extremism”, especially in the Sahel.

For this to happen, he said States must develop new paradigms.  “There has to be a shift,” he assured.  “It cannot be that entire communities are labelled as extremists.”  A new partnership between States and indigenous communities must be built on trust, mutual understanding and the protection of rights.  It is also time to consider how to convince the Security Council and States to “see indigenous peoples as partners, and at the same time, as prime victims, in many cases, of radicalism and extremism”.

Presentations by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Tebtebba Foundation and Jaime Enrique Arias, Member of the Mayor Council of Government of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, were inaudible due to technical difficulties.

At the meeting’s outset, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Forum member from Chad, presented her study on “Indigenous peoples and climate change” (document A/C.19/2021/5), noting that the Paris Agreement recognizes the importance of indigenous peoples in mitigation and adaptation efforts.  The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples platform was also established to address knowledge and capacity-building.  She urged the Forum to encourage respect for indigenous peoples’ rights in the design of climate policies.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, indigenous peoples, Government representatives and Forum members alike outlined models for meaningfully including indigenous peoples’ voices in decisions affecting them.

The representative of Australia said his country is committed to partnering with indigenous peoples to improve their outcomes, notably through a partnership approach which includes expertise of indigenous Australians.  He drew attention to the 52 Aboriginal and Torrey Strait peoples who have offered guidance on a platform for ensuing indigenous voices are heard.  Consultations are under way in cities and towns around the country.  The National Agreement on Closing the Gap between all levels of Government, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, which came into effect in July 2020, outlines reforms to improve health, safety and education outcomes for indigenous Australians.

A speaker representing indigenous peoples in North Siberia of the Russian Federation described an assembly of indigenous representatives, which proposes legislative initiatives.  Since 2011, indigenous peoples have acted as deputies of their representative bodies in the autonomous region.  There are various forms of social participation, he said, pointing to a council of indigenous peoples that meets four times a year on public health, education and traditional cultures, and which provides an “excellent platform” for consultation.

The representative of the United States said “we need to do everything we can to help indigenous peoples advocate for themselves”, including strengthening the institutions that help them achieve this goal.  As stewards of the natural environment, indigenous peoples have long recognized the delicate balance between humans and nature.  She drew attention to the Government’s announcement last week of $4 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which will “combat COVID-19 in Indian country”, underscoring that the Government will advocate for indigenous peoples throughout the United Nations system.

The representative of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council encouraged States to support indigenous peoples’ right to determine their own political status by providing secure financing for autonomous functions.  In Australia, there is no legislative framework for sharing information with the State on matters affecting their lives.  They are excluded from the Constitution that came into effect in 1901.  “Australia is incomplete as a nation without recognition of its first peoples,” he said, stressing that their education, health and other outcomes will not change while they lack control over their own destinies.

The representative of Canada said his country recognizes the contributions of indigenous peoples in addressing climate change.  Highlighting Canada’s commitment to integrate “indigenous climate leadership” into its sustainable development plans, he said the Indigenous Circle of Experts provided input on protecting 17 per cent of Canada’s land by 2020, which is particularly important in the arctic areas.

Hannah McGlade, Forum member from Australia, said she had followed the “voice co-design” project in Australia.  It does not reflect provisions in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, notably the right to self-determination and to free, prior and informed consent.  Indigenous peoples will not have negotiating rights within the model proposed by Australia’s Government, rather only an advisory role.

Lourdes Tibán Guala, Forum member from Ecuador, pointed out that indigenous peoples in the country have their own justice administration; however, “when we exercise that right and demand justice, we are countered and marginalized”.  Those who defend natural resources are undermined.  She asked for advice in framing self-governance for indigenous peoples in a way that counters the resistance of States.

The speaker from the Nation of Hawaii said his organization has been fighting peacefully for 128 years to restore the Hawaiian nation, stressing that the state of Hawaii was built on oppression of his people.  He called for returning his people to their lands, allowing them to live free from intrusion of outside jurisdictions.  He cited United States law 103-150, which mandates reconciliation, in that context stressing that “our nation and all indigenous peoples need more support from the United Nations and our allies to achieve meaningful reconciliation”.  He urged the Forum to support all reconciliation efforts and a process for his people to achieve permanent observer status at the United Nations.

The representative of Guyana said that in 2005, she introduced an Amerindian Act in Parliament, which allows indigenous peoples to have their own governance structures.  Article 212 established an indigenous peoples’ commission to enhance their status, while a minister of Amerindian affairs was also created, whose portfolio includes a process for addressing land claims.

Tove Søvndahl Gant, Forum member from Denmark, underscored that the right to self-government is a factor in the realization of Goal 16 and fully aligned with the global trend of democratization, where central powers are devolved to local authorities, thus bringing democracy closer to all.

A speaker from Chirapaq called for the establishment of administrative registers with an intracultural perspective for health care and education, as well as the collection of data disaggregated by gender, age and geography, and protocols to promote protection, health care and reparations.

The representative of Guatemala recalled that indigenous peoples have spiritual relationships with the environment, and that their ancestral knowledge is passed on through oral tradition.  Stressing that climate change and biodiversity loss threaten indigenous peoples, he said Guatemala faces socioeconomic and geographic threats as a country with diverse geographies and climates, and has conducted studies on indigenous knowledge.

A speaker from the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, which represents nine countries in the Amazon region, said his organization has “raised the alarm” over serious threats to the right to life and land for peoples in the region.  The Forum must adopt a policy of protection for these peoples.  He also pressed countries in South America to pursue policies with specific data geared to climate change, health care, territory and the right to life.  “Every two days, a brother or sister dies, assassinated in the Amazon for defending our right to land” he said, and for defending the largest jungle in the world.

The representative of Spain underscored his country’s commitment to countering climate change and advancing indigenous peoples’ rights.  “We cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we leave behind this group of people who represent 5 per cent of the world’s population,” he said, calling for their effective participation in such efforts.

The speaker from Inuit Circumpolar Council outlined a project in an area shared by indigenous peoples in Greenland and Canada and which is home to various migratory species.  Noting that the Arctic is greatly affected by climate change, and that communities and biodiversity there are also at risk, he pointed to the erosion of an ice bridge, as well as increased shipping, tourism, resource development and fishing.  Noting that the ecosystem has supported Inuit for millennia, he said that in 2016, a commission was established to ensure that future generations could harvest existing resources.  “There is an opportunity for Canada and Greenland to reformulate relationships with the indigenous peoples they represent,” he said, acknowledging that “we are far from implementing the recommendations, mostly due to a lack of involvement of civil society and Inuit peoples organizations”.

The representative of the Russian Federation pointed to a meeting with indigenous peoples who span eight regions of the country, where participants covered ways to overcome the digital divide, as well as issues of self-governance.  Noting that 93 nations live in the Russian Federation — 47 of which are small nations of indigenous peoples, who have specific issues — he said the self-awareness of indigenous peoples has increased in the last 30 years.  Technologies are used to systemically reform efforts to support the rights of indigenous peoples.  For example, the Government has connected reindeer breeding camps to the Internet and supported efforts to overcome the digital divide.

A speaker from the Inter-regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples recommended expanding the office of the ombudsman for indigenous peoples in other parts of the Russian Federation, as it fosters the establishment of representative institutions for small nations and their involvement in decisions.

The representative of Denmark and Greenland expressed support for the outcome of the 2019 International Expert Group meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and agreed on the importance of safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples.  Recalling that Greenland has self-governed since 2019, she asked about what States can do to facilitate inclusion.

A speaker representing pastoralists of the Sahel noted that the Tuareg and Tamasheq peoples live in a hostile, arid region, which largely lacks access to water.  With insecurity increasing in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, the drama experienced by these peoples compels them to leave their ancestral lands.  They fall victims to various parties to conflict.  Protecting them, as recommended by the Forum, has led to massive displacements within their countries and the loss of their means of subsistence.  This, in turn, causes trauma, especially as extremist movements grow.

Darío José Mejía Montalvo, Forum member from Colombia, called for action by the institutions established to help indigenous peoples.  He also proposed the creation of a regional body in Latin America that would follow up on United Nations calls to protect indigenous peoples and their rights.

Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ, responding to comments, recommended constructive dialogue between indigenous peoples and States.  Noting that when indigenous peoples self-govern, they achieve better results in terms of peace and well-being, she encouraged Governments to relate more effectively and sincerely with them.  “They are part of the nation,” she asserted. “They should be part of nation state building.”  When there is violence against indigenous peoples, a nation loses a big part of its knowledge and wealth base.

Mr. BARUME expressed disbelief that Governments continue to criminalize local communities, whose youth and children are particularly exposed to risks amid the growing threat of radicalism, extremism and livelihood disappearance.  He pressed the Forum and indigenous peoples themselves to engage the Security Council on these concerns.

Mr. ARIAS said that during his presentation, an indigenous governor was killed.  “It is inconceivable that the world would continue killing people,” he said, stressing that peace is not brought about by simply silencing the guns.  “You need to have harmony created in the human being — in their thoughts and actions” and with the territory and the environment.  “That is fundamental to life,” he observed.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 April, to continue its work.

For information media. Not an official record.