New York

25 April 2017

Remarks to the High-Level Event of the UN General Assembly to mark the Tenth Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

[Delivered by Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Senior Adviser on Policy]

It is a great honour to be here with you today, to mark the Tenth Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would first like to convey the warm welcome and heartfelt greetings of the Secretary-General who is away this week and is unable to join us today.

The 46 Articles of this landmark Declaration signify global consensus on indigenous peoples’ rights. They cover an impressive range of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, from self-determination to land and labour rights. They protect access to healthcare, religious freedom and the rights of indigenous children and women. 

In my previous work in human rights and humanitarian assistance, I visited many indigenous communities and witnessed the empowering effect of this Declaration. 

Implementation of this Declaration must be comprehensive and indivisible. All its articles are critical to overcoming the marginalization, exclusion and discrimination faced by indigenous peoples, and the many threats to their cultures, languages and identities. 

Since 2007, there has been some progress in implementing the Declaration at the international, regional and national levels. It has been used in courts and it has galvanized political action including the development of national action plans. 

But we are all aware that despite progress, considerable challenges remain. These include lack of political representation; economic marginalisation; poverty; lack of access to social services; discrimination; and fragmentation in the legal framework and in some of our approaches. Conflicts on lands and territories belonging to indigenous peoples, and the lack of inclusion of their voices in peace processes, are particularly concerning. 

The gap between the principles of the Declaration and reality on the ground is especially wide for many indigenous women. The discrimination and violence they face often goes unreported, as women have been shut out of discussions and decision-making. 

I am therefore delighted to see so many champions of indigenous women’s rights here today, ready to change this picture. You have our full support – and our admiration.  

We must continue our efforts to overcome all these obstacles, and others, through greater inclusion, better communication and improved coordination.  

We have several tools at our disposal.

First, the three UN mechanisms to support indigenous peoples – the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – provide important guidance and recommendations.     

Second, the UN system-wide action plan on indigenous peoples was launched in April last year, and is currently being implemented by the UN’s agencies, funds and programmes. 

Third, consultations are ongoing on the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in United Nations meetings on issues affecting them. Such participation has already yielded benefits for the United Nations, and we hope that these consultations will help to amplify indigenous voices in the work of the UN. 

The full engagement of indigenous peoples in negotiations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change showed the way ahead. The close relationship between many indigenous peoples and their land, as well as their local knowledge and practices, hold many important lessons for us all, as we implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  

We must work together and walk hand-in-hand with indigenous peoples towards peace and prosperity for all peoples and our planet. 

Ten years after the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we must continue our efforts to make it a reality – a minimum standard for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples around the world.

Thank you.