Governments Must Uphold Commitments, Prevent Reversal of Hard-Won Gains, Speakers Tell Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

| April 26, 2017

Fearing a rollback of achievements in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, speakers appealed to Governments to uphold commitments protecting the rights of all indigenous peoples and prevent a reversal of hard-won gains, as the sixteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues continued today.

Addressing the theme “tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:  measures taken to implement the Declaration”, Government delegates and indigenous peoples presented progress reports on successes and cited a range of challenges ahead.

Examples of concrete steps that had already produced positive results on the ground were also shared, with Denmark’s speaker noting that Greenland had had a self-government system since 2009.  As well, Ecuador’s delegate said school curricula and material now reflected all indigenous communities and languages nationwide.

Other achievements in implementing the Declaration included national action plans drafted with indigenous peoples in their respective countries.  The representative of Brazil, where more than 300 distinct indigenous peoples made up a population of almost 1 million, said protecting their rights was embedded in the Constitution and the Government guaranteed bilingual and culturally appropriate policies for them with more than 3,000 indigenous schools.

However, implementing projects were not without challenges, Namibia’s delegate said.  While his Government had initiated programmes focusing on access to livestock, water, housing, education and health facilities, there were budget and resource shortages.

Meanwhile, some delegates said the Declaration was being used as a critical tool for indigenous peoples to claim their rights, including with regard to land, education and health.  More, however, must be done, many speakers agreed, with some highlighting obstacles to implementation efforts.  Among suggestions on how to better monitor successes and challenges, the Botswana Khwedom Council’s speaker appealed to that country’s Government and the United Nations to establish a national-level forum to share progress reports.

Many speakers said land-related issues were a priority matter.  Recalling the protest and protection of sacred lands at Standing Rock in the United States, the representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network stressed that no consent had been given by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nor had the Tribe been consulted in regards to the Dakota Access Pipeline being built through the Tribe’s sacred waters and homelands.  Nonetheless, the situation at Standing Rock had brought the world together and had demonstrated that indigenous peoples were more powerful than militarized police forces and guns.

Other representatives of indigenous non-governmental organizations agreed that urgent action was needed to ensure that their communities were included in future national plans.  The representative of the Assembly of First Nations appealed to States to ensure that progress was not rolled back and to uphold commitments.  He urged the Forum to call on States to work in partnership with indigenous peoples in decision-making processes that impact their rights.  Although Canada had made repeated, high-profile commitments to implement the Declaration, substantive actions to fulfil those promises had yet to be meaningfully realized.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Argentina, Nepal, Peru, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Botswana and the Russian Federation.

Other speakers today were representatives of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as speakers from the National Human Rights Institution of Norway, Asociacion Nacional Indigena Salvadorena, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, Ogaden People’s Rights Organization, AIM West, Massey University, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Congrès Mondial Amazigh, Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Survival, World Sindhi Congress, Pacos Trust, Fiji Indigenous Peoples Foundation, Movimiento Indígenas and the Tuareg People’s Association.

Permanent Forum members from the Russian Federation, Australia, Peru, Denmark and the United States spoke, as well.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 April, to continue its work.

Presentation of Report

AISA MUKABENOVA, expert member from the Russian Federation, provided an overview of the international expert group meeting held in January that took stock of progress made implementing the Declaration and identify challenges.  Citing examples from Latin America, she said regional and national efforts had included changes to legal frameworks.  Court decisions on a range of issues had also been made based on the Declaration.

She went on to say that the Declaration’s mechanisms must be strengthened to ensure further progress on the ground.  Priorities over the next two years included bolstered information exchanges and awareness raising activities.  A medium-term strategy could cover follow-up measures to ensure progress and encourage discussions with indigenous peoples.  In the long term, raising awareness of the Declaration must reach all States.  In addition, the expert group had also said that more attention addressing rights to land, access to justice and consent issues was needed.

Statements

MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil) said his country had over 300 distinct indigenous peoples, making up a population of almost 1 million.  The protection of their rights was ingrained in the Constitution.  Education for indigenous peoples remained a priority.  The Government guaranteed bilingual and culturally appropriate policies with more than three thousand indigenous schools.  Some 22,000 indigenous students were enrolled in Brazil’s universities.  Health care of indigenous peoples was also a major focus of the Government.  Brazil would remain an active participant of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it recognized the importance of sovereign integrity while allowing the indigenous rights agenda to thrive.

BEATRICE DUNCAN, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), reiterated her commitment to indigenous people all over the world.   The work of UN-Women would continue to be guided by the Declaration, as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  She looked forward to UN-Women hosting the 2017 Inter-Agency Support Group Meeting in Quito, Ecuador, which would tackle issues and challenges faced by indigenous peoples.  That meeting’s objective would focus on developing an action plan to support indigenous rights.  “We cannot afford to let indigenous peoples down”, she said. Their history was worth saving for future generations.

PERRY BELLEGARDE, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, urged the Forum to call on States to work in partnership with indigenous peoples in decision-making processes that impact their rights.  The applicable international standard was free, prior and informed consent; and States should not proceed with unilateral actions.  He also called on Canada and other States to work with indigenous peoples to build a solid framework that ensured future Governments did not reverse any constructive advances, including legislative, administrative and constitutional measures.  Although Canada had made repeated, high profile commitments to implementation of the Declaration, substantive actions to fulfil those promises had yet to be meaningfully realized.

ROYAL JOHAN KXAO /UI/O/OO (Namibia) underscored several initiatives his Government had taken to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples, including establishing a division to address challenges faced by the most marginalized groups of society.  Programmes had also been implemented to ensure that young people from those communities were enrolled in school and that such communities had equal access to land.  More needed to be done to help marginalized communities access resources, he said, urging the United Nations system to continue highlighting the rights of indigenous groups.  He also underscored national initiatives in education, resettlement and relocation, and livelihood support.  The Government was focusing on indigenous people having access to livestock, water, housing, education and health facilities, and supplies of farming materials.  Such projects were not without challenges, he noted, underscoring budget and resource shortages.

LUIS MORA, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), highlighted work targeting real changes in the lives of indigenous peoples around the world.  Working with Governments and communities, UNFPA had contributed to increasing health services and reducing HIV prevalence among women.  Given the lack of data on indigenous women and girls, the Fund was strengthening the knowledge base and collection tools.  Working with partners, the Fund was also drafting a fact sheet that aimed to raise awareness of health realities and support the improvement of facilities and services.

BRENDA WHITE BULL, Indigenous Environmental Network, noting that she was a descendent of Sitting Bull and a 20-year veteran of the United States Marines, stressed that no consent had been given by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nor had the Tribe been consulted in regards to the Dakota Access Pipeline being built through the Tribe’s sacred waters and homelands.  Nonetheless, the situation at Standing Rock had brought the world together and had demonstrated that indigenous peoples were more powerful than militarized police forces and guns.  She voiced hope that the United Nations would put a stop to the violence perpetrated against indigenous peoples.  She also called for States to stop the militarization of indigenous lands, territories and communities.  As well, the Forum should initiate a study on violence of any form directed against indigenous peoples, communities or individuals, particularly those who defended their rights under the Declaration, and should also include the theme on water and violence to water.

CARLOS ANDRADE MARÍN (Ecuador) said his country had made historic progress, including achieving 100 per cent school enrolment for indigenous children.  In addition, curricula and material had been adapted to reflect cultural communities and all indigenous languages.  More needed to be done, however, and the path of dialogue, understanding and mutual respect must be followed in order to reach those ends.

XUKURI XUKURI, Botswana Khwedom Council, said indigenous peoples must be included in national, regional and international arenas.  He urged the Government of Botswana to fully implement articles 3, 4, 8, 10, 11, 18 and 19 of the Declaration and to ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169.  He also urged the Government and United Nations agencies to create a national-level forum for further engagement with indigenous peoples to share challenges and progress on implementing the Declaration.

PETER MARTIN LEHMANN NIELSEN (Denmark) said recommendations held no value unless they were implemented.  Citing some success stories, she said Greenland had established a self-government system in 2009.  Indigenous peoples were also a general focus area in Denmark’s development cooperation, which adopted a human-based approach.

PETTER FREDRIK WILLE, National Human Rights Institution of Norway, said national rights institutions had a key role, as advisers and watchdogs.  He said he hoped to involve national institutions, who could be important allies domestically and internationally.

STEFANIE AMADEO (United States) said 10 federal agencies collaborated on implementing the Declaration.  As well, the Government and tribal leaders had gathered to discuss priority issues.  Recent developments included efforts to repatriate sensitive cultural items and offering training sessions for federal agencies.

MARGARITO CRESPIN, Asociacion Nacional Indigena Salvadorena, said that indigenous peoples continued to be stripped of their rights and Government support to those communities was insufficient.  The Government of El Salvador must abide by various international conventions and agreements to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, a wave of hatred and discrimination had been inspired by the United States and was affecting indigenous groups everywhere.  He called for an international convention focused solely at protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) said the rights of the indigenous peoples were enshrined into his country’s national code.  A draft bill ready to be submitted to the National Congress would enhance indigenous peoples’ right to land.  Another piece of legislation on education enshrined specific targets on bilingualism.  Highlighting programmes that aimed to provide aid to indigenous peoples, he said his country would continue to link those efforts with the 2030 Agenda.

ROY AH-SEE, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, urged all States to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples in their laws and policies.  Considering the criticism Australia had received on the international stage regarding its treatment of indigenous peoples, the Australian Government would do well to honour commitments enshrined in the Declaration and work proactively to incorporate it into domestic policy and legislation.

NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE (Nepal) said his country had more than 100 ethnic groups and languages.  Attaching utmost importance to the protection of indigenous peoples, he said his country established commissions that aimed to protect and promote the multicultural nature of Nepal.  Indigenous women often faced “double discrimination”, he added, outlining myriad ways his country was protecting such marginalized groups.  As well, some of Nepal’s leaders were from indigenous communities which helped bring their case into the halls of power.

ABDIRAHMAN MAHDI, Ogaden People’s Rights Organization, said that proper attention had not been paid to fragile and conflict-prone States like Ethiopia, where the rights of indigenous people were being “buried under other interests”.  The pastoralists in Ogaden were currently undergoing a humanitarian crisis brought about by unprecedented natural disaster comprising of an extended drought and a cholera epidemic that had claimed the lives of thousands of people.  Civil society organizations appealed to the world regarding the Ogaden.  The Government had underestimated the unfolding disaster and had even ignored the spread of the epidemic.  In addition, indigenous people in Ethiopia faced colossal challenges, including climate change, access to resources and conflict.

TANIA EDITH PARIONA TARQUI (Peru), noting progress made in her country, said that despite efforts to increase awareness on an international scale there were many national-level challenges.  She urged the Forum to call on Peru to strengthen indigenous institutions and to move them beyond being just advisory bodies.

DAVID GARCIA, AIM WEST, cited a number of cases of violations of rights among indigenous communities in Arizona in the United States.  Principles in the Declaration were being violated along the border area with Mexico.  The proposal by the United States to build a wall at the border would further affect indigenous communities, he said, reiterating his position against that endeavour.

NGUYEN DUY THANH (Viet Nam) said national policies and programmes had focused on ethnic minorities, the most vulnerable and those in remote areas.  Projects had helped to reduce the poverty rate and had promoted and protected ethnic minorities, who actively participated in the political arena.  His Government supported the implementation of the Declaration.

ROBERTO EUGENIO T. CADIZ, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, said that despite the formal recognition in domestic laws that indigenous peoples had a clear set of protected rights, they continued to be ignored, exploited and marginalized.  More effort must be exerted by the Government of the Philippines not only to preserve the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, but to protect them from the onslaught of developmental aggression.  The failures of the Government had resigned indigenous peoples to abject poverty, which in turn fuelled insurgency and resulted in displacement from ancestral lands.

RAWIRI TAONUI, Massey University in New Zealand, said that the United Nations, a large organization, was challenging to navigate.  Outside of the key indigenous agencies, the level of awareness and understanding of indigenous issues and person-to-person skills required strengthening.  Indigenous people could not be left behind and must be included into the 2030 Agenda.

RABAH ARKAM, Congres Mondial Amazigh, said the rights of indigenous persons must be legally guaranteed.  In North Africa countries, national legislation had failed to fall in line with the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, movements had been opposed by the Algerian governments.  The enjoyment of indigenous rights could not be actualized unless all rights were upheld.  The culture and history of the Amazigh people could greatly benefit the overall richness of society.

SAMARJIT SINGHA, Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum, expressed concern that indigenous peoples were experiencing a worsening situation in Bangladesh due to land grabs and evictions from their own ancestral land, as well as human rights violations.  Although the Government had taken some positives steps, the establishment of a land commission for indigenous peoples would greatly contribute to resolving problems created due to lost lands.  Still, there had been few improvements in the human rights situation of indigenous peoples, with the extrajudicial killing in north Bengal serving as a recent example of human rights violations.  The lack of implementation of the Declaration, as well as other human rights instruments, brought no progress on the deplorable situation facing indigenous peoples in the country.

HENRIETTA MANN, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, recalled that the Declaration took many decades to formulate and today stood as a monument to the indigenous intellect and spirt, as well as their responsibilities and rights.  More so, the Declaration would have been relegated to serving as nothing more than a footnote of history had it not been adopted by the General Assembly a decade ago.  The Declaration clearly articulated that Member States must work cooperatively, respectfully and in good faith with indigenous peoples.  As well, Governments must secure free, prior and informed consent before any development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources on ancestral lands or territories.

MARIA DEL ROSARIO, Cultural Survival, said that indigenous communities were working to establish free outlets of media.  Often community journalists suffered acts of violence perpetuated by Government officials.  In Guatemala, for example, over ten community radio offices had been raided in the last 10 years.  That had occurred because of legal loopholes which failed to protect the rights of indigenous journalists, some who had even been murdered for doing their job.

SAGHIR SHAIKH, World Sindhi Congress, said that indigenous people had been denied critical rights for far too long.  “Our lands are being allocated to retired military officers,” he said, condemning such “anti-people” projects.  He called on Pakistan, and “its sponsor, China”, to review mega-development projects currently being undertaken that uproot indigenous people from their homes.

LES MALEZER, Permanent Forum member from Australia, in response to the many statements delivered today in the Forum and in the General Assembly, noted the myriad issues raised, and requested additional information on the subject of land titles.  Regarding the killings of indigenous peoples, he said it was important to look at those crimes seriously.

ANDREW AMBROSE, Pacos Trust, said an inquiry into the situation on the ground in Malaysia had resulted in calling on the Government to take action on a number of issues.  He urged the Government to implement the recommendations in full collaboration with indigenous peoples and to look to the Philippines and other countries for examples of best practices.

ADI ASENACA CAUCAU, Fiji Indigenous Peoples Foundation, said the voices of that country’s indigenous peoples were struggling to be heard in their efforts to draw attention to murders and the overthrow of a democratically elected government.  There was no free speech, nor was there informed consent.

MARTA GOMEZ, Movimiento Indígenas, said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had recognized a traditional dance as heritage.  Yet, there was currently a European invasion to their culture.  She pointed out that the dance in question was not Mexican, but pan-American.  “You can’t buy our spiritual traditions,” she said, “nor can they be marketed as commodities.”

TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, Permanent Forum member from Peru, called upon the previous speaker and the Government of Mexico to make a recommendation on that matter.  The Declaration recognized cultural traditions, she said, urging indigenous participants to come together to share positive experiences.  Including indigenous cultures and languages into national curricula would ensure they would be involved in society.

JENS DAHL, Permanent Forum member from Denmark, said he wanted to hear about how in their practical lives indigenous people had implemented the Declaration and also ways in which they had confronted their Governments.

LOURDES TIBAN GUALA, Permanent Forum member from Bolivia, said it was important to distinguish between Governments which backed the rights of the indigenous and those who did not.  Indigenous rights were not always taken seriously, she added.  The issue of land rights must be at the top of the agenda.  Indigenous peoples must be consulted when it came to mining natural resources.  “What you always see is a lack of prior consent,” she continued, adding that those who defended the territorial rights of indigenous peoples were often treated like criminals.

ELIFURAHA LALTAIKA, Permanent Forum member from Botswana, called for a binding document, and to “do away” with the Declaration.  In the meantime, African countries were organizing to come up with a guiding document that would help implement the Declaration.

DMITRII KHARAKKA-ZAITSEV, Permanent Forum member from the Russian Federation, said it was important to discuss what was not implemented from the Declaration.  “We do not want to hear excuses,” he added.  States, agencies and indigenous people must all accept the Declaration.

The representative of the Tuareg People’s Association stressed that the peoples in the Sahel and Sahara regions were suffering.  The media had made the Tuareg people a pariah, she said, emphasizing that violations against her people included extrajudicial killings and clashes with authorities in Mali.

TERRY HENRY, Permanent Forum member from the United States, said part of the implementation problem was there was no binding nature of the Declaration.  Perhaps it was time to ramp up efforts and demand that a convention on the rights of indigenous peoples be elaborated.  Reports had said billions of tons of carbon were currently on indigenous lands.  As such, indigenous peoples had a significant say in how the world was going to exist.  “We should strengthen our voices and advocate for a convention,” she said.

BRIAN KEANE, Permanent Forum member from the United States, said indigenous peoples were still viewed as obstacles to development, and problems of threats against them persisted.  He said the Forum was reviewing all recommendations that had been made during the session to date.

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