UN Forum on indigenous issues looks to new Human Rights Council

25 May 2006

As the two week-long meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues nears its end, indigenous leaders today said they wanted a key UN human rights body to consider taking new steps to meet their concerns.

“We are calling upon the Human Rights Council to ensure that indigenous issues will be an integral part of its mandate,” said Forum Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz at a news conference held at UN Headquarters in New York.

She added that the Council should also enhance the role of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of indigenous peoples.

The fifth session of the Forum was attended by more than 1,200 members of the indigenous communities and representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and various UN agencies. Convened by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the meeting provided a platform for indigenous peoples to voice their demands and dialogue with the governments and the UN system about their concerns.

Though participants discussed a wide range of issues concerning the indigenous peoples, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said they paid particular attention to finalizing the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They also focused on the situation facing the indigenous peoples in Africa as well as the impact of UN reforms on all such groups.

“We have told governments that the indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands and resources must be respected,” she told reporters, adding that though some official delegates objected to certain provisions, most governments have fully endorsed the proposed Declaration adopted by the Forum this week.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said the United States, Australia and New Zealand were the only countries that disagreed with the Forum that indigenous peoples should have right to “self determination” and that those intending to use their lands and resources must be legally bound to seek “free, prior informed consent” of the indigenous peoples.

Currently, the UN estimates that there are some 370 million indigenous peoples living in different parts of the world.

“It’s very important that governments respect the sovereignty of natural resources of the indigenous peoples,” Wilton Littlechild, a Permanent Forum member from Canada, told reporters. He urged the General Assembly to adopt the proposed Declaration during its next session due in September.

“It’s important not to lose gains made by the indigenous people in the past several years,” said Mr. Littlechild who has been involved in the UN-led process on indigenous people’s rights since 1975. “I would be concerned if the General Assembly opened it up” for amendments, he added.

The Forum is due to submit its recommendations to the ECOSOC tomorrow.