With native peoples worldwide continuing to encounter systemic prejudice and discrimination, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the international community to confront such ill-will head on, in a spirit of solidarity and respect, to help indigenous peoples overcome a history of inequality.
Opening the Third Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Secretary-General said despite a dramatic shift in global attitudes, indigenous peoples still suffered disproportionately from extreme poverty and faced serious barriers to health care and basic education.
Such threats would only "fester and deepen" without immediate and decisive action, he added, calling for particular focus on promoting the rights of indigenous women and encouraging their greater involvement in decision-making.
Some 1,500 people from about 500 groups will meet over the next two weeks at UN Headquarters in New York to focus attention on indigenous women and girls, whose well-being is critical to the survival and prosperity of their peoples' unique culture in this age of globalization.
As keepers of gender-specific traditional knowledge, it is mainly through the indigenous woman that traditional language and culture is transmitted from one generation to the next. Their vulnerability has been amply demonstrated, and this year's Forum is an opportunity to exchange good practices in protecting and supporting indigenous women.
"For far too long the hopes and aspirations of indigenous peoples have been ignored," Mr, Annan said in his opening address, recalling that "partnership in action" was the motto of the UN International Decade of the World's Indigenous people. "The time has come to give concrete meaning to those words."
But, he warned, partnerships among governments, the UN, civic action groups and private businesses will only work if there is genuine participation of indigenous peoples in the decisions that affect them - and if there is a genuine sensitivity towards their cultures.
The Forum advises and makes recommendations to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on social development, economic, cultural, human rights, environmental, education and health issues.
This year's session will feature a number of panel discussions and round-table meetings with indigenous and women's rights experts, including former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, now the Chairperson of the Council of Women World Leaders and Executive Director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative.
Video of event:
session [1hrs 05mins]
session [2hrs 30mins]