UN opens two-week forum on indigenous issues to consider ways forward

16 May 2005

With indigenous peoples being the poorest and most marginalized in many countries, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today said the failure of Member States to negotiate an acceptable declaration on their rights is one of the major challenges facing the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

With indigenous peoples being the poorest and most marginalized in many countries, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today said the failure of Member States to negotiate an acceptable declaration on their rights is one of the major challenges facing the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“At the level of international law, Member States have still not adopted the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, despite many, many years of negotiation and advocacy,” Ms. Fréchette said as she opened the fourth session of the Permanent Forum.

Meeting in Geneva last month, the UN Commission on Human Rights urged all parties involved in negotiating the declaration, a process underway since 1995, “to do their utmost to carry out successfully the mandate of the Working Group and to present for adoption as soon as possible a final draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”

“Like other vulnerable people, indigenous communities are often disproportionately victimized by the effects of armed conflict, adding a destructive and deadly burden to already difficult struggles,” Ms. Fréchette said.

“There is a need for a concrete plan of action, drawn up with the participation of indigenous peoples, that would point the way towards measurably improved standards of living and greater respect for human rights,” she said, urging indigenous peoples and the international community to “take up this challenge.”

The Forum, through its decade of work, was drawing attention to neglected issues and was playing a catalytic role in forging partnerships between indigenous peoples, governments and the UN system, she said.

On the UN General Assembly’s September summit review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she said, “Each of those eight goals are, of course, of direct concern to indigenous people, whether we are talking about improving maternal health, ensuring access to primary education, or guarding against the loss of land and other natural resources.”

The Working Group on Indigenous Populations, scheduled to meet in July, should be used to work out commentaries, guidelines and studies that could clarify concepts and principles, she said, and indigenous peoples should contribute to an understanding of the concept of poverty UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

“Is an indigenous community that has lost its ancestral lands lifted out of poverty because some of its members have found temporary work and get a wage? Is an indigenous community poor because there is little money circulating when its members can fish, hunt and farm and use local resources for housing and basic necessities?” she asked.

The Working Group on Indigenous Populations had decided to hold meetings for two weeks in October and November, as well as a week in December. “The Government of Mexico has also offered to host an informal workshop that is intended to help further understanding of some of the critical issues contained in the draft declaration,” she said.

“We all look forward to a real breakthrough in the months ahead and I have pledged that my office will contribute in any possible to a successful outcome,” Ms. Arbour said.

The Secretary-General’s adviser on Gender Issues, Rachel Mayanja, said she was pleased that so many women were attending the Forum and she highlighted the close collaboration between the Forum’s Secretariat and the UN Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality.

A recent World Bank study of indigenous people in Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru concluded that poverty had intensified among the indigenous, Forum Chairperson Victoria Pauli-Corpuz of the Philippines said, even though the Governments had amended their constitutions to recognize their ethnic plurality and had ratified the relevant UN International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention.

“How do we use all the studies and research, Special Rapporteur reports, results of workshop seminars on rights to land and land tenure issues?” she asked, adding that the Permanent Forum might identify a role to play here.

ILO research had shown that Governments and donors were reluctant to disaggregate data in the search for operational strategies and in the effort to make indigenous economies visible, while the indigenous were often the victims of forced labour.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.