Marking the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said indigenous peoples have a central interest in development and can act as “powerful agents of progress.”
“In order for them to contribute to our common future, we must secure their rights,” said Mr. Ban in his message on the Day, in which he added: “Let us recognize and celebrate the valuable and distinctive identities of indigenous peoples around the world. Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.”
The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is commemorated annually on 9 August in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, held in Geneva in 1982.
“Historical injustices have all too often resulted in exclusion and poverty,” Mr. Ban said, adding that power structures continue to create obstacles to indigenous peoples' right to self-determination.
There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries around the world who constitute 15 per cent of the world's poor and about one third of the world's 900 million extremely poor rural people. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.
Yesterday at an event at UN Headquarters in New York to kick off commemoration of the International Day, the President of the General Assembly, John Ashe, said that with the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People coming to an end and the World Conference in September 2014, this year celebration carries with it particular significance.
“The historical marginalization of indigenous peoples is still an unfortunate reality in today's world and in many places, daunting obstacles are a part of daily life,” Mr. Ashe said through a statement delivered by his Special Advisor, Crispin Gregoire.
Irina Bokova, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that the agency, tasked with protecting cultural diversity, is leading the way with two angles of action – first, to promote the use of indigenous cultures, languages and traditions, and second, to provide knowledge and skills that enable indigenous peoples to participate fully and equally on the national and international stage.
“We are taking this forward also in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. With our partners, we are advocating for an ambitious and comprehensive education goal that provides due respect to local knowledge systems, including those of indigenous peoples,” she said.
The UNESCO chief said the International Day is an opportunity for all to mobilize to bridge the gaps that remain to the fulfilment of indigenous peoples' rights, particularly as the international community shapes a new post-2015 development agenda.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, recognized their right to self-determination and to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. This year's theme, “Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of Indigenous peoples” also marks the 20th anniversary of the celebration, which dates back to 1994.