New York

20 April 2015

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues [as delivered]

Thank you very much, Madame Chair, Distinguished Members of the Permanent Forum,
Representatives of Indigenous Peoples’, Excellencies,  Dear Representatives of the UN system, and other inter-governmental organizations and Civil Society, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to be with you today at the opening of this session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 

On behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, I offer sincere congratulations to the Members of the Forum.  Through the years, we have seen the Forum gain in recognition and gain in results.  Today, the Permanent Forum is widely regarded as an effective and representative arena for deliberation on the rights and roles of indigenous peoples, not least from the global development perspective. 

The Forum provides a strong platform for all partners to embrace the vision and aspirations of indigenous peoples. 

Last year’s World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was a historic milestone in the relationship between indigenous peoples and Member States.  It was inspiring, I found, and gratifying to see how you worked side by side, setting the direction for a strengthened and vitalized partnership. I commend the President of the General Assembly for his committed work for the success of the conference.

Member States reaffirmed their support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and agreed to a set of goals and commitments.  This set of goals relates to a range of measures on health, on environment, on education, on land and on territories.  It also involves traditional knowledge, dissemination of such knowledge, economies and livelihoods, subsistence activities, etcetera, as well as national action plans – a lot of things that need to be done.  And of course the right of indigenous peoples to determine their development priorities was clearly recognized.

Member States also agreed to address the participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations.  I count on Member States and indigenous peoples to continue to identify creative solutions to enhance indigenous peoples’ engagement on issues affecting them, directly or indirectly.


The World Conference document calls on the UN to take a number of concrete steps.  One of them is a system-wide action plan, to achieve the aims of the UN Declaration. 

The Secretary-General has appointed our Chair earlier today, Mr. Wu Hongbo, the Under Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, to coordinate this effort.  Work has already begun, and you will hear more on this during the discussions later today.

This year, the Permanent Forum will focus on the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples. The UN Declaration affirms their rights to health, to education, clean drinking water and of course very basically an improved environment on this planet. We have no planet B – let’s remember that. Plan B we may have, but certainly no planet B.  It also states that these services must be provided in ways that are – and I think this is important – culturally appropriate and that take into account indigenous peoples’ ways of life.

Here I would like to make a personal observation: we all have much to learn from the respect for everything living – human beings, animals, trees and plants – which permeates the history of indigenous peoples. Looking back at this in our present state of affairs, in our work against environmental degradation and climate change, I think we need to come back to this basic belief in how interconnected we are with each other. I have mediated in several conflicts, but if there were one conflict that I’d like to negotiate in, it is a peace negotiation with nature. We need peace with nature.

So let us strive to ensure that the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples are fulfilled – rights that are essential to basic dignity and, in fact, to survival – for all of us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear friends,

2015 is a critical year for the UN.  We will mark the Organization’s 70th anniversary, define a new development agenda and strengthen our efforts to tackle climate change.  

The future well-being of the world’s indigenous peoples is a crucial part of this critical year’s work.  We have made substantial progress. There are three mechanisms devoted to indigenous issues:  one, the Permanent Forum, the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; two, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and three, the World Conference successfully held last September.  These are important tools for our work, no doubt. But we all know there is much more to be done out there in the world. 

I call on Member States to make sure that the post-2015 development agenda includes the situation and rights of indigenous peoples.  Now is the time for indigenous peoples to be at the forefront of a transformative agenda that leaves no one behind.

In closing, I would like to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to indigenous peoples. 

I count on all of you – Member States, Indigenous Peoples and other partners – to make real and, I would say, historic change happen, and to stand up for a life of dignity for all. A life of dignity for all.

We must all work together to make the Declaration a reality.  This is a task and a mission in the true spirit of the UN Charter. Remember the first words of this Charter. The first three words are “We the peoples”. We the peoples. We are here to serve the peoples, to make sure that they can live in peace, with development and respect of human rights and the rule of law.

So I wish you a successful Session and thank you for your attention.