Indigenous Peoples Must Be Part of High-Level Decision-Making, Speakers Stress, Calling for Observer Status in General Assembly, as Permanent Forum Continues

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today heard myriad challenges these communities face in pursuing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as calls for indigenous peoples’ inclusion at the highest level of decision-making by granting them Observer Status in the General Assembly.

The Forum held two panel discussions on the “Follow-up to the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples”, and “Update on the indigenous peoples and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.  In an interactive discussion that followed, Member States and United Nations agencies shared national action plans and international initiatives aimed at empowering indigenous voices and securing their rights.

In a fifth day of discussions, representatives of indigenous peoples continued to present their communities’ struggles.  They stressed that the Forum can only do so much without the help of United Nations agencies and called for additional resources to be allocated for their causes.  Indigenous women, youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities require protection, they added.

Les Maler, Permanent Forum member from Australia, in his introductory remarks to the first panel, said that indigenous peoples do not get much source information on the 2030 Agenda.  The World Conference aimed to help indigenous peoples achieve the 2030 Agenda in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  While several States have taken some steps to include the concerns and needs of indigenous communities in their national development plans, there is still far too little progress on this issue, he said, also echoing calls to grant indigenous peoples Observer Status in the General Assembly.

The first panel included Yanerith Morgan, Deputy Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the President of the General Assembly; Martin Oelz, Senior Specialist on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the International Labour Organization (ILO); and Royal Johan Kxao/Ui/o/oo, Deputy Minister for Marginalized Communities of Namibia.  Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University; Marion Barthelemy, Director of the Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and Joan Carling, Tebtebba Foundation participated in the second panel.

Ms. Morgan, shared conclusions reached in discussions held on Thursday with the President of the General Assembly, emphasizing that the participation of  indigenous peoples from all parts of the world should be improved upon.  Indigenous women and persons with disabilities must especially be encouraged to voice their concerns.  They should be able to make statements and submit information in writing.  Underscoring the good practices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and other inclusive mechanisms, she also noted the importance of regional consultations during recent discussions.  The Forum must strive to be more inclusive and democratic, she said.

Mr. Oelz said that, through languages, people communicate and pass down their heritage.  “For these reasons, we must preserve indigenous languages,” he said, noting ways that United Nations agencies are actively engaged in this regard.  Five years ago, the General Assembly held the World Conference, with the outcome calling on the Secretary-General to produce a plan on how to meet the goals of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The subsequent action plan has helped mobilize indigenous peoples’ participation in the Forum.  Ensuring greater coherence, transparency and accountability in the work carried out with indigenous communities is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda.  He reaffirmed ILO’s commitment to supporting Member States’ efforts to realize the rights of indigenous peoples.  “Our engagement with the Forum is very important in this regard,” he said.

Mr. Kxao/Ui/o/oo said that Namibia does not currently have a plan tailored to the needs of the indigenous communities there.  However, the Declaration has been an excellent guide in formulating the country’s plan to develop a draft working paper to address indigenous peoples’ challenges and concerns.  The working paper will be submitted for approval to Namibia’s President, after being reviewed by the Minister for Justice.

During the second panel, Mr. Sachs invited Forum participants to contact the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which he heads.  “It is not enough to mobilize knowledge without your knowledge,” he said.  Sustainable development means taking a holistic approach to creating societies that are not only prosperous, but also fair and environmentally sustainable.  While today’s global economy is producing a lot of wealth, “we are hurdling to disaster” with mass inequality and the rich becoming “absurdly and unimaginably” richer.  Emphasizing also the impact of climate change, pollution and habitat destruction, he said that, in the United States, it seems the Government is determined to do everything possible to destroy the planet while upholding the interests of a few oil and gas companies.  Worldwide, meanwhile, the treaty rights of indigenous peoples are being recklessly neglected by Member States.  “Equal justice means honouring treaty rights,” he said.

Ms. Barthelemy briefed the Forum on the Council’s upcoming High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, taking place at Headquarters from 9 to 18 July, and ways in which indigenous peoples can engage with it.  She also discussed the Sustainable Development Goals Summit scheduled for 24 and 25 September at the start of the General Assembly’s seventy-fourth session.

Ms. Carling, recalling that 93 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals are fully aligned with human rights, appealed to Member States to engage in good faith with indigenous peoples at the local and national levels and ensure their meaningful participation, inclusion and empowerment in the implementation of the Goals.  It is also critical for the whole United Nations system, including country teams, to collaborate and build partnerships with indigenous peoples as they work to achieve the Goals, she said.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Finland, also speaking on behalf of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, said indigenous people must be empowered to take part in meetings which are relevant to recognizing and securing their own rights.  It is fully “reasonable” that indigenous peoples directly hold talks with the Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on outcome documents.  Guatemala’s delegate said that indigenous women, youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities require particular protections.  Guatemala’s Government continues to take steps to realize their rights, including through specific social policies.  The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said that, while only 0.1 per cent of her country’s population is indigenous, the Government continues to pursue the inclusion of the nation’s original inhabitants in socioeconomic, cultural and political life.

The representative of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change underscored the important contributions of indigenous peoples in the recent Conference of Parties, COP-24, held in December 2018 in Poland.  The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that, without the participation of indigenous peoples, it would not be possible to fully eradicate hunger.  FAO remains committed to preserving traditional knowledge on agriculture.  The representative of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said that, for more than 40 years, his organization has invested in empowering indigenous communities.  Indigenous peoples have much to teach the world on how to respect and protect the climate, he said.  Agriculture of the twenty-first century can benefit greatly from traditional holistic knowledge.

The representative of the Seventh Generation Fund of Indigenous Peoples said “colonial fictions” continue to block indigenous people from realizing their rights.  Stressing the need to dismantle colonial ideological structures, she also added:  “They uphold mistruths and undermine our rightful role in this world.”  She also warned against conflating British imperial expansion with the maritime exploration of nations in the Pacific.

The representative of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition of Australia said that moving beyond rhetoric to improve the living conditions of aboriginal people has been a challenge for Australia’s Government.  It has cut funding for indigenous peoples, exacerbating financial hardship for aboriginal communities.  She urged the Forum to provide an annual report on Government efforts to fulfil the Declaration.

The representative of the United States said it is unfortunate that the General Assembly’s enhanced participation process ended without creating a separate category for indigenous peoples.  The United States supports a wide array of views heard at the United Nations.  “Indigenous people have valuable knowledge and expertise […] and we need to ensure it is heard here and not stifled,” she said.  She also expressed concern for the indigenous peoples living in the autonomous region of Tibet and parts of China, and urged China to close internment camps for Muslim minorities.

China’s delegate, responding to the United States, said that its national policies have nothing to do with the work taken up by the Forum.  Accusations made by the United States are unsubstantiated and concerning.  China is a united country with multiple nationalities.  There are “no so-called indigenous people living in China”, he said, adding that all ethnicities have their own language.  Drawing attention to what the United States has “done to its own indigenous groups”, he said the United States is not in a position to hurl accusations.

Terri Henry, Permanent Forum member from the United States, said that many Mayans in recent years have migrated to the United States border.  They are often wrongly identified as Latino or Hispanic and they struggle to communicate with border officials.  “Translation in indigenous languages is desperately needed at the United States-Mexico border,” she stressed.

Also speaking were representatives of Australia, Mexico, Argentina and Sweden.

The representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also participated.

Also taking part were representatives of Nation of Hawai’i, Movimiento Indigena de Nicaragua, International Council of Indigenous Peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, and Flying Eagle Woman Fund, among other organizations.

Permanent Forum members Elifuraha Laltaika (United Republic of Tanzania), Jens Dahl (Denmark), Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal), Gervais Nzoa (Cameroon)and Tarcila Rivera Zea (Peru) also participated.

The Permanent Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 29 April, to continue its work.

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* The 8th Meeting was closed.

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