Speakers in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today denounced the persistent side-lining of their languages, cultures, traditions and identities, as they shed light on the myriad ways their rights are violated by Governments, companies or by ineffective policies that do not protect their communities.
“Our people are still being jailed for practicing our culture,” said the speaker from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council of Australia, who pointed out that they represent 4 per cent of the population in New South Wales, but 80 per cent of those jailed for fishing offences since 2009. She urged States to stop prosecuting indigenous peoples for these reasons and pressed the Forum to urge Governments to embed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into the management of fisheries.
The speaker from Nunavut Tunngavik urged Canada to recognize Inuttitut as an indigenous language of Nunavut, the only jurisdiction where the homogenous mother tongue is neither French nor English. In 2020, the government of Nunavut passed a law that drastically reduced the legal provisions for using Inuttitut in schools, violating her peoples’ rights. She recalled that in 1976, they sought political self-determination. “Our intent was simple: the survival of our people. Our language, our philosophy. Our whole way of life,” she said. Today, 70 per cent of Innuit youth are dropping out of school or being pushed out by foreign language or culture. “This is linguicide.”
Several speakers described daily routines that threaten their very right to life.
A speaker named Carlos, who said he is from an indigenous community in Colombia, described the systematic abuse perpetrated against his people. He now travels in an armed escort vehicle to advocate for the free, prior and informed consent of his people on decisions affecting them. “There is no political will to ensure our bodies of water or territories are protected,” he explained, noting that the Government has given a carte blanche to the fracking industry. Since 2021, he has advocated for participation — and a vote — in the European Union so his people can work alongside civil society to avoid electoral fraud in Colombia’s 2022 presidential elections. Armed forces are looking to besmirch the reputation of his people, he said, urging the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples to visit the territory.
“Sirens are going off, as we may be bombed by the Russian Federation,” said the speaker from the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, who joined the Forum virtually from Ukraine. “Perhaps you can hear the sounds.” In 2021, a law on the rights of indigenous peoples in Ukraine was adopted and a commission created under the State Council for freedom of conscience. The Russian Federation — including its President — worked to prevent this law from being passed, he said, citing it as a reason for the invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine devised a concept for indigenous languages and national strategies covering indigenous peoples’ rights; however, this work has ceased.
The speaker from PCJSS said the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed between the Jumma people and Bangladesh in 1997. However, due to the Government’s stalling tactics, the system of self-government envisioned for the Chittagong Hill Tracts has not been developed. The councils have not been entrusted with any general administration functions. Rather, they are being governed by unelected interim officials. The Chittagong Hill Tracts has been handed over to the army, and a de facto military rule persists. “The Jumma are now forced to live in a suffocating state,” described as “terrorists” and “armed miscreants”. She urged the Forum to play a role in the withdrawal of “Operation Uttoron”.
The speaker from Nia Tero said Brazil is home to the largest number of isolated indigenous peoples in the world — there are 28 such groups in the Brazilian Amazon. In 1987, the no-contact policy was designed to respect indigenous peoples and their territories. However, “what was a source of pride for Brazil has become a source of shame” under the current President, he said. With 191 logging projects approved, isolated peoples are being threatened by loggers, miners, religious fundamentalists and drug traffickers alike.
Some indigenous participants pointed to gains made. The speaker from RAIPON said the Russian Federation is home to 40 indigenous peoples who have maintained their languages, cultures, links to the Government and identities. She expressed concern over some people speaking in international forums who are not acknowledged by local indigenous communities in the Russian Federation.
The speaker from Congress Mondial Amazigh said the United Nations, States and indigenous peoples themselves are morally and legally bound to respect all resolutions, first and foremost the Declaration and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169.
When Government representatives took the floor, many outlined legislative and other measures in place to protect and promote indigenous peoples’ rights.
To that end, Nicaragua’s delegate cited a strong legal framework and a recognition of their rights in the Constitution. The Government upholds free, prior and informed consent when using resources on indigenous lands.
The representative of Australia said the social and economic empowerment of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders is at the heart of the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap. In 2021, a package of measures worth A$1 billion was announced to coincide with the first “closing the gap” implementation plan.
As well, the representative of the Philippines cited a 1997 law that provides guarantees for indigenous peoples in relation to their ancestral lands, cultural identity and participation in decision-making. Another law requires that their free, prior and informed consent be obtained on any development that affects them, she said.
The representative of Morocco, noting that the Constitution recognizes indigenous languages as official, alongside Arabic, said that in 2001, the King demonstrated his commitment to indigenous rights and his own cultures as an Amazigh. In 2019 and 2020 laws were passed allowing Amazigh to be integrated into Moroccan life. Further, a council for language and culture and an Amazigh cultural centre were created in 2002. On 22 April, Morocco ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The representative of Ukraine, noting he is a chief elder representing indigenous peoples living in the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova, pointed out that the Russian Federation does not recognize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Rather, it uses the rhetoric of protecting minorities in order to conquer foreign land. The Russian Federation is “a prison of nations” where millions of Ukrainians have been detained for nine years. The Kremlin considers multiethnicity a problem that can be resolved through Russification. He urged the world to pay attention to “this criminal policy aimed at the ethnocide of the indigenous peoples of Russia”.
Also today, Marjolaine Étienne, Chair of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, briefed the Forum on the Fund’s activities. Its resources contributed to the adoption of the Declaration, the creation of the Permanent Forum itself and the expanded mandate for the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Taking part in international forums allows beneficiaries to denounce human rights violations against indigenous peoples at home, in addition to measures they take in their national capacity. Among other things, the Fund organizes consultations with Special Rapporteurs related to water, sanitation and housing. In 2021, it allocated $400,000 for participation in United Nations bodies, including in Geneva; however, it could not provide the support due to the pandemic. She thanked Australia, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Philippines and Peru for their contributions over the last three years.
Speakers from the following organizations also spoke: Global Coordinating Committee; Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean; Indigenous World Association; Association of Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad; National Commission for Indigenous Territories; Shawnee Tribe; Arramat Project; Native American Rights Fund; International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs; Coordinating Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa; International Indian Treaty Council; Manitoba Métis Federation; Union of Communities of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug; and Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente Boliviano.
Also speaking as observers were representatives of Spain, Canada, Guatemala, Paraguay, Panama, China and the United Kingdom.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 May, to continue its twenty-first session.
* The 8th Meeting was closed.