The world’s 370 million indigenous people continue to suffer discrimination, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflict, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling for urgent action to deal with their pressing concerns.
In a message marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, observed each year on 9 August, Mr. Ban pointed out that while the occasion is a time to “celebrate the contributions that indigenous peoples make to humanity through their rich civilizations,” it is also important to remember the critical issues they grapple with daily.
Aside from discrimination, marginalization and poverty, Mr. Ban said indigenous peoples also face dispossession of their traditional lands and livelihoods, displacement, destruction of their belief systems, culture, language and way of life.
“Our fast-paced world requires us to act with urgency in addressing these issues,” he said, stressing that in doing so indigenous peoples’ full and effective participation must be ensured at every step along the way.
Mr. Ban noted that recently, the world has grown “increasingly aware of the need to support indigenous people,” and has done so by establishing and promoting international standards, and by vigilantly upholding respect for their human rights. Recognition of, and respect for, indigenous knowledge on issues related to the environment and climate change has also been reinforced.
The Secretary-General also highlighted the three-decade-long partnership between indigenous peoples and the United Nations, which culminated in 2000 with the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – an expert body that discusses indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. “Today, indigenous peoples have a home at the United Nations,” he stated.
Echoing Mr. Ban’s comments, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour emphasized that while the Day is a “celebration of humankind's diversity and richness, it needs also to serve as a reminder of the continuing exclusion indigenous peoples face.”
In a joint statement issued with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Ms. Arbour urged Member States to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is due to be taken up by the General Assembly in the coming weeks.
The Declaration, adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, sets out global human rights standards for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. It is drawn from the experiences of “thousands of indigenous representatives who have shared their anguish and their hopes.”
“As we stand at the brink of this historic decision by the General Assembly, it is the time to call upon Member States of the United Nations to join as one and adopt the Declaration and thereby establish a universal framework for indigenous peoples' rights, social justice and reconciliation,” she said.
The Declaration also recognizes that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable development, including proper management of the environment. At its 2008 session, the UN Permanent Forum will focus on the particular vulnerability of indigenous communities to climate change and their important role in responding to it.
“The Saami community in Scandinavia is well-known for having brought the issue of climate change and its impact on their future livelihoods to the fora of the international community,” stated Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Also today, Mr. Ban’s Special Representative in Nepal Ian Martin welcomed a recent agreement between the Government and the Janajatis to ensure the latter’s inclusion in the electoral process and the Constituent Assembly elections scheduled for November, calling it a “major step for Nepal’s indigenous peoples.”
Mr. Martin said the agreement also highlights the need for continuing dialogue to ensure electoral rights for other traditionally marginalized groups. “This will contribute to achieving the ultimate goal of the election: to produce a Constituent Assembly that is truly representative and able to frame a constitution which responds to the aspirations of all Nepalese people,” he said.