Concrete Action Needed to Tap Potential of Science, Technology in Solving Global Development Challenges, Speakers Tell Innovation Forum

Science, technology and innovation had an undisputed role in achieving the global development goals and sustainable development, in general, speakers said today as the Economic and Social Council kicked-off its Science, Technology and Innovation Forum.

In opening the two-day annual meeting, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, warned that, despite all the potential of science and technology to identify and design solutions to mankind’s challenges, no tangible progress would be made without real action on the ground.

In that context, the international community must collectively step up efforts to leverage science and technology in support of concrete steps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, stressing that such cooperation might not only prove to be highly effective, but could also help bridge divides across national borders and between various communities.

Highlighting that rapid advances in science, technology and innovation had revolutionized the way people lived, worked and communicated in recent years, Peter Thomson (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, noted that, increasingly, such transformation was taking place on a global scale.

Addressing unequal access to innovation and technology and increased connectivity, especially in Africa, would be critical, Mr. Thomson added, calling for the establishment of strategic partnerships and broader participation of women in the field.  It was also important to do more to understand and manage the social, political, economic, ethical, security, security and human rights risks associated with technological advances, he underlined.

The private sector must do its part to put technologies at the service of sustainable development by providing the goods and services, while civil society could steer production and consumption towards sustainable solutions, said Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, speaking for Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  Pointing out the wide range of stakeholders participating in the Forum, Mr. Gass said their presence demonstrated that the spirit of innovation and cooperation was alive and well.

Science, technology and innovation had an amazing impact on societies in modern times, recalled Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who delivered a video message to the Forum.  While they were not “silver bullets”, science, technology and innovation could help “unlock miracles”, he stressed, while adding that Governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations all had a role to play in those efforts.

Without a breakthrough in international cooperation in the field of technology, shifting towards a more sustainable path would be very difficult and burdensome for developing countries, said the representative of Ecuador, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  She went on to emphasize the  urgent need to channel effective, sustainable technical assistance and capacity-building tailored to the specific needs and constraints of developing countries, and to address technology infrastructure gaps, as well as capacity constraints.

Increasing the availability of technology could help weaker and vulnerable countries build resilience, while also helping to eliminate poverty and promote good governance and financial inclusion, highlighted the representative of Bangladesh, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, and aligning himself with the Group of 77.  Least developed countries needed suitable technologies and relevant know-how to adapt to local requirements, he said, underscoring the need for adequate financial support to harness science, technology and innovation, as well as the important role of private-public partnerships, and South-South and triangular cooperation.

Also speaking today during the opening segment were the representatives of Cameroon (on behalf of the African Group) and El Salvador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).

Throughout the day, there were also seven panel discussions that explored the key opportunities and priorities for the use of science, technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Forum will continue at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 16 May.

Opening Remarks

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that science, technology and innovation had an undisputed role in achieving the global development goals and sustainable development, in general.  Yet, for all the potential of science and technology to identify and design solutions to mankind’s challenges, no real progress would be made without real action on the ground.  Given that reality, the international community must collectively step up efforts to leverage science and technology in support of concrete actions towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Such action-oriented cooperation might not only prove to be highly effective, but could also help bridge divides across national borders and between various communities, as well as strengthen communication and collaboration.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Forum would bring together a wide and diverse sampling of public and private actors, ranging from decision makers and regulators, to entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as scientists and civil society representatives, he said.  The mandated objectives of the Forum were to identify and examine technology needs and gaps, including with regard to scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building, and to help facilitate the development, transfer and dissemination of relevant technologies for the Sustainable Development Goals.  In that regard, the Forum must consider a range of sources of knowledge, including indigenous knowledge, and provide an opportunity to strengthen the dialogue between stakeholders, while also facilitating exchanges on science, technology and innovation solutions.  The summary of the Forum would be fed into the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which would be held from 10 to 19 July, he noted.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, noted rapid advances in science, technology and innovation that in recent years had revolutionized the way people lived, worked and communicated.  Increasingly, such transformation was taking place on a global scale.  Smart mobile devices were being used to provide banking services to people without bank accounts, to diagnose medical disorders and to remotely manage chronic illness care.  Also highlighting technological advances made in solar energy and in combating illegal fishing, he urged the international community to continue to unlock the potential inherent in innovation.  Properly done, such actions could help achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Addressing unequal access to innovation and technology and increased connectivity, especially in Africa, would be critical, he continued.  Urging the establishment of strategic partnerships, he called on the international community to broaden participation in science, technology and innovation by women.  It was also important to do more to understand and manage the social, political, economic, ethical, security, security and human rights risks associated with advances in innovation and technology.  That included protecting systems against mass-scale malicious cyberattacks as seen across the world last week.

“We’ll also have to address privacy concerns relating to the collection, retention and distribution of personal data,” he continued, emphasizing that the automation replacing industrial jobs would have to be carefully managed.  “We cannot all be employed polishing robots,” he added.  The Forum had both an explanative and a constructive role to play as it had become the pre-eminent, global platform to bring together key stakeholders.  Welcoming the December 2016 General Assembly decision to establish the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, he said to function effectively, the Technology Bank, as well as the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, were in need of increased financial resources.

THOMAS GASS, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivering a statement on behalf of Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, noted that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would require transformation on many different levels and scales and would require the kind of change that could only happen through science, technology and innovation.  Science pushed the boundaries of the unknown and inspired practical solutions, while technology and innovation helped transform science into real results that affected everyday lives.  The world was experiencing a time of rapid progress that affected all lives in every aspect — economic and social, as well as environmental.

The international community must put technologies at the service of sustainable development, he said.  Many people must work together to make that happen, including the private sector which needed to provide the goods and services.  Furthermore, civil society needed to steer production and consumption towards sustainable solutions.  The United Nations stood ready to do its part, including by facilitating technology transfer, particularly as most Member States recognized the importance of science, technology and innovation for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Forum served as a collaborative space, with the objective of harnessing and disseminating science, technology and innovation.  The participation of such a wide range of stakeholders demonstrated that the spirit of innovation and cooperation was alive and well.  By participating in the Forum with its global reach, stakeholders were in the “right place at the right time” to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

YANEZ LOZA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed that without a breakthrough in international cooperation in the field of technology, shifting towards a more sustainable path would be very difficult and burdensome for developing countries.  There was an urgent need to channel effective and sustainable technical assistance and capacity-building tailored to the specific needs and constraints of developing countries, and to address technology infrastructure gaps as well as capacity constraints.  There was also a need to fully operationalize the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, recognizing its potential to foster productive capacity, structural transformation, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The Group reaffirmed that international cooperation, especially North-South cooperation, remained a fundamental catalyst to sustainable economic growth and urged developed countries to fulfil their unmet official development assistance (ODA) commitments.  In the same vein, it was essential to mobilize domestic resources to support science, technology and innovation, while also recognizing the central role of tax systems in development.  Technology transfer and diffusion on concessional and preferential terms from developed countries were also needed.  The Group also underlined that traditional knowledge should be fully considered, respected and promoted while developing policies, strategies and programmes to foster science, technology and innovation.

MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE (Cameroon), speaking on behalf of the African Group, and associating himself with the Group of 77, said that countries in Africa were continuing to mobilize resources to meet the 2030 Agenda.  In that regard, science, technology and innovation had been established as a “game changer” for the socioeconomic development of Africa.  Recognizing the Forum’s potential to help create jobs, he noted the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships in sharing knowledge and building on experience.  African countries continued to heavily rely on technology in order to shift to a more sustainable path.  However, many challenges persisted, particularly in levelling the playing field and addressing the persistent digital divide.

Unless such challenges were addressed, many developing countries, particularly least developed countries in Africa, would continue to lag behind, he added.  African countries were facing many obstacles, with regard to finance, capacity-building and research and development.  An effective technology innovative system could help bridge the gap.  Welcoming the setting up of the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, he called on the United Nations to fast-track its operationalization.  It was of utmost importance to improve the state of science, technology and innovation in least developed countries.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, and aligning himself with the Group of 77, said that the 2030 Agenda aptly recognized that science, technology and innovation had great potential to accelerate human progress.  Availability of technology could help weaker and vulnerable countries build resilience.  It could also help eliminate poverty and promote good governance and financial inclusion.  A stronger commitment and political will of the international community was essential to help the least developed countries utilize science, innovation and technology to realize the 2030 Agenda and the Istanbul Programme of Action.  He welcomed collective efforts that led to the adoption in December 2016 of the charter of the Technology Bank.

He recommended enhancing vertical coordination between policies and strategies adopted by countries to ensure more public investment in research and development.  That would help ensure availability, affordability and accessibility to technology.  Least developed countries needed appropriate technologies and relevant know-how to adapt with local needs.  Noting also the need for adequate financial support to harness science, technology and innovation, he highlighted the role pf private-public partnerships, and South-South and triangular cooperation.  There must be more concrete initiatives among the countries in the South to exchange their lessons learned.

JAIME CALDERON (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said science, technology and innovation had enabled the building of knowledge societies.  Collaboration in innovation was particularly important to finding competitive solutions to local, national and regional challenges.  To that end, it was essential to refrain from carrying out unilateral measures that could foster conflict among States, he said, also highlighting the need to protect the right to privacy of all individuals.  While science, technology and innovation were central in advancing the 2030 Agenda, he reiterated that not every problem had a technological solution.

Various sources of knowledge, including indigenous understanding, must be utilized, he continued.  Technology transfer was a powerful driver of economic growth and a tool to bridge the digital divide.  He stressed the role of capacity-building, particularly in least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States and middle-income countries.  Women, children and persons with disabilities must have access to technology.  Technology transfer, capacity-building and the dissemination of information were key drivers of economic growth.

BILL GATES, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, then delivered a video message to the Forum, in which he highlighted that science, technology and innovation had an amazing impact on societies in modern times.  Since 1990, childhood mortality had been cut in half, which meant some 122 million lives had been saved.  He was optimistic about the Sustainable Development Goals and how innovation could help meet those goals.  Science, technology and innovation were not “silver bullets”, but they could help “unlock miracles”.  There needed to be new vaccines, more innovation in agriculture, and reliable, affordable clean energy.  Governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations all had a role to play, which was why the Forum was so important.

Panel I

The first panel titled, “Harnessing Science Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals — the key to unlocking science, technology and innovation potentials”, was moderated by Elenita Daño, Asia Director, Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, Philippines.  It featured brief remarks by the Forum Co-Chairs Vaughan Tuekian, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary Of State, United States, and Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations.  The panellists were Indira Nath, Professor, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, India, and Taikan Oki, Senior Vice-Rector, United Nations University.

Mr. TUEKIAN said that the Forum had brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, as well as youth, which spoke to the optimism and creativity that would be needed to achieve the future development goals.  He hoped the next two days would provide participants an opportunity to meet with colleagues and exchange ideas and solutions, as well as think about ways to “bend the science, technology and innovation curve” to address some of the great challenges the world faced in a collaborative manner.

Mr. KAMAU noted that the gap between the knowledge and the available science and policies was huge, and it was up to the Forum to address that gap.  There needed to be greater coherence between the various scientific and technological communities so that they spoke to each other across boundaries to ensure a collaborative outcome.  Only 13 years remained to complete the tasks that had been laid out in the 2030 Agenda.  Science, technology and innovation could be transformative and accelerate change; now was the time to ensure that the policymakers “got it”.

Ms. DAÑO said the objective of the discussion was to provide long-term vision on how and to what extent the world could harness science, technology and innovation for the 2030 Agenda and to ensure better human well-being in the future.  Science, technology and innovation should not only focus on high-technology solutions, but there must be acknowledgement of a diverse range of sources, as well.

Ms. NATH said that human health was not only about humans and diseases, but was also about human well-being.  There were an increasing number of infectious diseases and the destruction of animal habitats was contributing to the spread of infectious disease.  The emerging epidemics the world was dealing with related to the spread of diseases from animals to humans.  Sustainability would not be possible unless the relationships between animals and humans were understood, and there must be a better understanding of the health of the total planet.  Some of the early signals of epidemics that affected humans were first evident in animals, but the connection had not been made, which meant that surveillance and reporting must be expanded to avoid that phenomenon.  Rapid urbanization and internal migration also needed to be studied more carefully as they related to the spread of disease.

Mr. OKI recalled that the Sustainable Development Goals pursued both inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development, although that could not be achieved without holistic approaches that strengthened the pillars of sustainable development through good governance, social inclusion and environmental conservation.  Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would require an immense amount of work and determination, and in that regard, science, technology and innovation had a fundamental role to play by equipping humankind with better tools to progress beyond social hurdles and environmental hazards and reaching development equality across nations.  By supporting developing countries to implement the Sustainable Development Goals on their own, science, technology and innovation had the potential to become a form of ODA.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of China said that science and technology were important links to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, eradicating poverty and promoting better human health.  The representative of Ethiopia, associating himself with the statement of the Group of 77, recalled that the Forum was an outcome of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and stressed that the transfer of science, technology and innovation from developed to developing countries was of great importance, particularly for the least developed countries.  The representative of Canada said that the Forum should help build the enabling environment required for science, technology and innovation to be best utilized to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  A representative of a stakeholder group, meanwhile, stressed that “silo solutions” must be broken down.

Panel II

Opening the second panel, the Forum heard an innovation pitch from John Gibbons, winner of the Call for Innovations for the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, on “Babajob in India”.  Babajob was a website in India that helped connect employers with job seekers.  By doing so, it had also acquired a wealth of data on employment trends in India.

Titled “key priorities for engaging science, technology and innovation to end poverty in all its forms everywhere (Goal 1)”, the panel was moderated by Gillian Tett, the United States Managing Editor, Financial Times.  Participating in the discussion were the following speakers:  Dirk Fransaer, Managing Director, Flemish Institute for Technological Research, Belgium; Priyanthi Fernando, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka; and Anne Kingiri, Senior Research Fellow, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, African Centre for Technology Studies, Kenya.

Mr. FRANSAER said integration was critical to fostering innovation and remained vital to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  The integration of the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development were essential to find myriad solutions to current development challenges, relating particularly to science, technology and innovation.  For example, a Government programme focusing on purifying water would be aided by also including aspects of sanitation, sewage, waste and energy consumption.  “We start from problems and we look at how integrated solutions could help bring forth solutions,” he added.

Ms. FERNANDO, noting that poverty was not an abstract concept, said women and girls were disproportionately affected by the phenomenon.  Less than 46 per cent of Indian women used mobile phones; that was substantially less than Indian men.  In India, mobile phone usage by women was seen as undermining tradition.  Such social attitudes limited female autonomy, restricted women’s job searches and perpetuated the gender gap.  More than 1 billion people still lacked access to electricity, with women particularly affected.  “Babies are delivered in the dark,” she added.  Governments had failed to invest significantly in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable citizens and private investment alone would not resolve the gaps.  She urged Governments worldwide to demonstrate political will and stop discounting women’s potential.  “Women are technology producers and innovators”, and not just consumers, she stressed.  Respecting that potential would prevent multinational corporations from exploiting resources and local populations.

Ms. KINGIRI focused her presentation on the importance of enhancing capabilities which she said must be a priority for all Governments that wished to achieve sustainable development.  Multi-stakeholder collaboration and sustainable learning depended largely on the capacity of domestic and local actors.  Interactive learning, whether at the level of project, national innovation system or global value chain, was critical to sustainability.  It often led to capacity-building conversations including on how to conceptualize and form business models.  She highlighted the importance of rethinking the role of science, technology and innovation policy in building platforms and promoting collaboration between enterprises and universities.  Examining the social aspect of innovation helped expose complex dynamics of access, affordability and distribution, she added, highlighting the need to invest in domestic capabilities.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of China outlined steps her Government was taking to eradicate poverty, particularly by mobilizing resources and focusing on technology gaps.  China would continue to partner with developing countries and share its experience and expertise at international conferences. 

The representative of Zambia said with so much international competition, knowledge-sharing was instrumental in breaking down silos.  Echoing that sentiment, Ms. KINGIRI highlighted the need to change mind sets and start new conversations.

Panel III

Opening the third panel, the Forum heard two innovation pitches; the first from Asher Hasan on “doctHERs in Pakistan”, which was a home-based technology that connected young, female doctors in India to patients.  The second innovation pitch was from Adama Kane on “JokkoSante in Senegal”, which helped families, including those with young children, store necessary medicines in their homes.

Titled “key priorities for engaging science, technology and innovation for ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, the panel’s opening remarks were delivered by Rachel Kyte, Chief Executive Officer and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.  The moderator was Paulo Gadelha, Senior Advisor, FIOCRUZ, Brazil, and the panellists were Livio Valenti, Co-Founder, Vice-President of Policy and Strategy, Vaxess Technologies, and Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, United States; and Sarah Marniesse, Director, Mobilization of Research and Innovation, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, France.

Ms. KYTE said that, by focusing on energy and health together, it was possible to seek solutions that may in fact scale up and expedite the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals related to each area.  Fortunately, there was a plethora of data available on both energy and health, and it was clear that there was both a public and private sector interest in finding solutions to energy and health challenges.  International, national and local policy makers would all need to be involved.  Closing the energy access gap was a clear target laid out in the future development agenda, but, without concerted efforts, that goal would not be met until 2040, at the earliest.

There were real challenges to bringing the existing science, technology and innovation to market in the most effective way, including insufficient human capital and managerial capacities within institutions which were not always forward-looking.  Unfortunately, there was a weak enabling environment for health care and sustainable energy, which also slowed progress.  A constant push from the top would be required to make the two complex systems work together to provide solutions.  There was, however, some “low-hanging fruit” which could be addressed immediately for quick, positive results, such as pushing for clean cooking, which would reduce indoor air pollution and the associated illnesses and loss of life.

Mr. GADELHA said that health was one of the Sustainable Development Goals most closely related to human well-being and social rights.  He noted that more than 60 per cent of health problems were due to communicable diseases, while only 1 per cent of money allocated for research and development in health care was devoted to the most predominant communicable diseases in developing countries.

Mr. VALENTI said his group was most focused on ensuring vaccines were made available to those who needed them the most.  In that context, the creation of vaccines that did not require refrigeration or that could be administered without the use of needles was the primary aim of his organization’s research.  Through the use of new technologies, it was possible to envision a dramatic decrease in the cost of vaccination campaigns in the near future.  His organization had created a patch through which vaccines could be administered, and in which individuals could receive two doses at once, making the entire process far more efficient.  There was a sense of urgency to his work, although additional funding was also of critical importance.

Ms. MARNIESSE recalled that about 16,000 children were dying every day.  From that figure, it was clear that more needed to be done to prevent and treat diseases, improve nutrition, and other efforts; all under the umbrella of universal health care.  A holistic approach would be required to mobilize synergies across the Sustainable Development Goals.  Silos needed to be broken down and research institutions in developing countries must be supported in order to bolster local research outcomes, while innovation had to take into account local social and cultural aspects.  As evidenced by the success of anti-malaria campaigns, which were largely focused on the proper use of bed nets, more research was necessary on the social determinants of health.  Most health challenges were locally specific, which called for improved local research and capacities at the core of any viable solutions.

In the ensuing discussion, a representative of a stakeholder group stressed that knowledge gained from publically funded research should be made available to everyone and be publically owned, while the representative of another stakeholder group highlighted that assistive technologies could help persons with disabilities to obtain equal access to health care.  The representative of Zambia emphasized that people needed to understand all the determinants of health, rather than simply focusing on prescribing drugs, while the representative of Ethiopia stressed that the number of deaths in Africa from preventable diseases was unacceptable.

Panel IV

Launching the second afternoon panel, the Forum played a video of Emmanuel Owobu, also a winner of the Call for Innovations for the Science, Innovation and Technology, who presented his innovation pitch “OMOMI in Nigeria”.

Focusing on “key priorities for engaging science, technology and innovation to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, the panel was moderated by Myrna Cunningham, President, Centre for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua, and member of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism.  It featured presentations by Susil Premajayantha, Minister for Science, Technology and Research, Sri Lanka; Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations; and Dalia Francheska Marquez, member of the Women’s Leaders Committee, Organization of American States-Youth United in Action, Venezuela.

Ms. CUNNINGHAM said that, as an indigenous woman, she represented more than  150 million indigenous women from seven sociocultural regions of the world.  They were knowledge-bearers and transmitters of culture, history, languages, traditional medicine, agricultural systems and biodiversity.  The 2030 Agenda was critical for indigenous women in that it recognized that realizing gender equality was crucial to progress.  While expanded opportunities for women and girls could reduce poverty and inequality through better education and health, women only accounted for 28 per cent of the world’s researchers, she noted.

Mr. PREMAJAYANTHA highlighted the work of her Ministry, saying that new information and communication technology had immensely contributed to the empowerment of women, especially in the developing world.  Noting a village programme that provided a midwife to advise pregnant women, he underscored the role of the midwives, who now enjoyed access to iPads to find information and do research to help pregnant women with their delivery and beyond.  Harnessing the potential of women and girls required a multi-stakeholder approach, he continued, citing progress in engaging science, technology and innovation towards that goal.  A higher number of women were involved in science and medicine, and were helping contribute to the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  Women were participating in university science departments.  Female faculty had been performing much better than their male counterparts.  “It is a matter of pride for us,” he said.  However, challenges persisted, especially in the private sector, which had a higher gender imbalance.  The private sector preferred to recruit men, due to myriad gender perceptions including that men were available to work later in the day.  For those reasons, women must have a role in decision-making in both the private and public sectors.

Mr. NUSSEIBEH said that, as a small country with big ambitions, the United Arab Emirates recognized that progress would not be possible without the empowerment of half of its population.  As a historically oil-based economy, economic diversification depended largely on building-up a highly skilled pool of labour.  Women were encouraged to participate in various sectors, including science and medicine, she said, noting another programme to educate young girls in the sciences.  While the gender-based digital gap in the United Arab Emirates was marginal, the Government remained committed to bridging it and called on the United Nations to prioritize closing that gap at the international level and empowering women through science and technology.  Women’s empowerment and protection was a major pillar in the economic development of the United Arab Emirates.  That empowerment had to begin in schools with Government-supported curriculum.  Resource allocation also remained critical in making science and technology accessible to women and girls.

Ms. MARQUEZ said women were less likely to have a mobile phone which today was seen as a major driver of innovation.  “We still face a glass ceiling which keeps us far away from prestige,” she said.  Women faced many gaps, both economic and social.  Sexist education played a major role, she said, noting that, while boys were encouraged to play strategic games, young girls were encouraged to follow paths associated with motherhood and household activities.  The best way to achieve equity was through fair learning.  Her organization set up educational workshops and supporting women researchers focusing on human rights.  “We bet on education,” she said.  Training in entrepreneurship was crucial, as well, she continued, emphasizing the need to guarantee access to education that was nor sexist and not gender-biased.  Economic dependency on partners or family limited women’s potential and remained a major challenge in Latin America.  The private sector must support women entrepreneurs.  “If we cannot innovate, we stagnate,” she said.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Zambia, referring to the presentations focusing on gender progress, said of her country, “we have not gotten there yet” due to culture biases limiting women to “non-difficult professions”.  It would be important to enact policy that put women in science and technology positions.  “I think it should start at home,” she added, emphasizing the need to educate young girls about the past achievements of their gender.  Responding to a question by the representative of Panama on whether national successes had been driven by grass-roots or global progress, Mr. PREMAJAYANTHA said that in Sri Lanka most graduates in science and technology were women, who then become engaged locally, educating and empowering other women and girls.  Ms. NUSSEIBEH said that, in the case of the United Arab Emirates, direction from the top was critical.  There were currently eight women Ministers in the Cabinet and the Government was further focused on achieving gender parity in the coming years.

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Chair Calls for Renewed Commitment to Indigenous Issues, as Permanent Forum Opens 2017 Session Marking Tenth Anniversary of Rights Declaration

While progress had been made on a range of pressing challenges amid the world’s embrace of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, far more must be done to ensure that indigenous peoples were not left behind, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today, during the opening of its sixteenth session.

Mariam Wallet Mohamed Aboubakrine (Burkina Faso), newly elected Chair of the sixteenth session, said that, while modest progress had been seen since the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, fresh attention was needed to its implementation.  The current session, running until 5 May, would focus on the theme “the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, she added.

As an advisory body of the Economic and Social Council, the Permanent Forum had an important role in the follow-up to and review of the 2030 Agenda, she said.  “The odds we face in getting our rights respected and our self-determined development operationalized are many,” she added.  “Thus, the approach is to strengthen partnerships so that we can consolidate and expand on our gains.”

Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, stated:  “We have responded,” in regard to the request by indigenous peoples and Member States for increased engagement by the United Nations system.  Citing the Organization’s initiatives across 17 agencies, he said such efforts would continue through the new international development phase guided by the 2030 Agenda.

Nonetheless, there was always room for improvement, he said.  Describing the Declaration as a “road map”, he noted that indigenous peoples continued disproportionately to suffer poverty, discrimination and poor health care.  “Their collective and individual rights are too often denied.  This is unacceptable.  We can do better.  We must do better,” he stressed.

Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN-Women, highlighted the place of indigenous women and girls in the discussions and outcomes of the most recent session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Appealing to Member States to contribute to ongoing efforts and support further progress, she said the international community could no longer tolerate a situation in which such precious stakeholders and actors for sustainable development were not only left behind, but also the furthest to reach.

Durga Prasad Bhattarai (Nepal), Vice-President of the General Assembly, also noted that far more needed to be done to fully realize the human rights of indigenous peoples.  Underscoring the importance of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, he said targeted strategies would ensure that indigenous peoples could fully participate in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Elaborating on that point, Cristián Barros Melet (Chile), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, although the 2030 Agenda pledged to leave no one behind, voluntary national reviews on implementation of the Goals highlighted that very risk for indigenous peoples.  The Forum could make a significant contribution to the next high-level political forum on sustainable development, he said, encouraging indigenous peoples to be more involved in the realization of the 2030 Agenda.

Providing a national perspective, Canada’s Minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs said her delegation included seven indigenous parliamentarians, and that several indigenous leaders from Canada had played a significant role at the United Nations.  Reconciliation and decolonization were ongoing journeys that must feel like a partnership, although partisanship and ideology remained obstacles.  “In Canada, we understand that reconciliation must include all Canadians,” she said.  “It’s not just an indigenous issue.  It is, for us, a Canadian imperative.”  Going forward, all voices must be heard at the United Nations, including those of opposition parties and indigenous leaders.

As the Permanent forum’s afternoon meeting commenced, Les Malezar, Permanent Forum member from Australia, paid tribute to four people — Augusto Williamson-Diaz, Erica Irene-Daes, Henriette Rasmussen and Rodolfo Stavenhagen — who had worked towards the Declaration and who had passed away over the past year and a half.  They, among others, should be remembered for their efforts which enabled indigenous peoples to celebrate the Declaration as a standard of equality and non-discrimination, he said.

Following that, ministers, senior officials and representatives of Member States, international bodies and non-governmental organizations participated in a discussion on measures taken to implement the Declaration.   

South Africa’s Deputy Minister from that country’s department on traditional affairs noted that it might be time to consider the possibility of a legally binding convention on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Other speakers drew attention to the particular situations in their respective countries.  Some also noted how few countries had ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, also known as ILO 169, since its adoption in 1989.

The Permanent Forum also adopted the agenda (document E/C.19/2017/1) and the organization of work (document E./C.9/2017/L.1), and elected the following Vice-Chairs:  Phoolman Chaudhary, Jens Dahl, Jesus Guadalupe Fuentes Blanca and Terri Henry.  It also elected Brian Keane as Rapporteur.

As the meeting commenced, Mónica Michelena Díaz from Uruguay sounded the traditional conch to signal the opening of the sixteenth session.  Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, delivered his ceremonial welcome statement, emphasizing that all living beings must live as one.  The Creator had known that the peoples of Earth needed help and had provided protectors to watch over them.  Giving thanks to the Earth, sky and the protectors, he asked all participants to do the same.

Also speaking were representatives of Cameroon, El Salvador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and in its national capacity), Botswana, Venezuela, Norway, Mexico, Guyana, Bolivia, Colombia, Finland, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Australia, Panama, Cuba, Russian Federation and Guatemala.  An observer of the Holy See also spoke.

Representatives of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Labour Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and International Fund for Agricultural Development also spoke.

Other speakers today were representatives of the Australian Human Right Commission, International Indian Treaty Council, Indigenous Network on Economics and Trade, Te Hiko o Papauma Mandated Iwi Authority, Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association, Caribbean Amerindian Development Organization, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Congrès Mondial Amazigh, Tonatierra, Indigenous Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean, Boro Women’s Justice Forum, Assyrian Aid Society in Iraq, Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation and Two Feathers International.

Permanent Forum members and experts from Australia, Ecuador and Peru spoke, as well.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 April, to continue its work.

Opening Remarks

TODADAHO SID HILL, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, delivered the annual ceremonial welcome to the Forum, emphasizing that all living beings must live as one.  The Creator had known the people on Earth needed help and provided protectors to watch over them and selected a man, Handsome Lake, as a leader.  Giving thanks to the Earth, sky and protectors, he asked all participants to follow suit.

DURGA PRASAD BHATTARAI (Nepal), Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson (Fiji), noting that 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that discussions were ongoing within the Assembly on ways to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples within the Organization.  In that regard, he encouraged Member States and indigenous peoples to participate in upcoming dialogues on a comprehensive draft text addressing the matter.

Far more needed to be done to fully realize the human rights of indigenous peoples, he continued, underscoring the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.  Targeted strategies would ensure that indigenous peoples could fully participate in implementing those accords.  As well, issues of particular importance to indigenous communities must be addressed, he emphasized, highlighting the Ocean Conference to be held at Headquarters in June.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, as an advisory body of the Council, the Forum had an important role to play in providing specialized advice and recommendations.  It was essential to review progress made to date and to consider what additional efforts were required.  Although the 2030 Agenda included a promise to leave no one behind, voluntary national reviews on implementation of the Goals had highlighted the risk of indigenous peoples being left behind.

He underscored the contribution that the Forum could make to the next High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and encouraged indigenous peoples to be more involved in the realization of the 2030 Agenda.  The Forum should meanwhile continue its collaboration with other Council bodies.  Its recommendations would help ensure that provisions of the Declaration were promoted, he said, expressing hope that the Forum would provide advice and guidelines which ensured indigenous issues remained an integral part of the United Nations work.

MARIAM WALLET MOHAMED ABOUBAKRINE (Burkina Faso), Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that, while modest progress had been seen since the Declaration’s adoption, fresh attention was needed to implement the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  The United Nations was increasingly engaged in indigenous issues, including through the system-wide action plan on the rights of indigenous peoples, the review of the Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and current consultations to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations.  Still, Member States needed to include diversity, democracy and equal opportunities for all their inhabitants regardless of their cultural identities.  The gap must be narrowed between the formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground.

She said the sixteenth session of the Permanent Forum would also focus on the empowerment of indigenous women and youth and would hold a discussion following up on the World Conference to provide an overview of recent developments and national action plans.  Dialogues with Member States, indigenous peoples and the United Nations system would also take place, providing an opportunity to identify challenges and opportunities.

“The odds we face in getting our rights respected and our self-determined development operationalized are many,” she said.  “Thus, the approach is to strengthen partnerships so that we can consolidate and expand on our gains.”  As an advisory body of the Economic and Social Council, the Forum had an important role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda.  She urged Member States to give due consideration to the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly through the elaboration of national programmes, to ensure they were not left behind.

Providing an overview of the session’s work programme, she said the General Assembly President would conduct consultations 26 April and 3 May on the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations meetings.  For the first time, an indigenous media zone had been organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information.  She also called on all representatives of Member States, indigenous peoples and the United Nations system to work together to make meaningful and worthwhile changes for the survival, dignity and well-being of all indigenous peoples.  “The promotion and implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples benefits us all,” she stated.

LENNI MONTIEL, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, speaking for Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, outlined United Nations actions, including hosting in 2014 the first-ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and adopting in 2015 a system-wide action plan that identified concrete measures to support the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Currently, 17 United Nations agencies had provided information on their implementation of the action plan in all six action areas.  Country-level implementation was critical, he said, highlighting that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs was facilitating dialogues between indigenous peoples and Governments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, United Republic of Tanzania, Myanmar, Nepal and Paraguay, and was supporting national processed to implement the Declaration in Namibia, Kenya, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Noting that indigenous peoples and Member States had requested increased engagement of the United Nations system, he added that “we have responded”, and cited further examples of such efforts, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).  Those efforts would continue through the new international development phase guided by the 2030 Agenda.

“There is always room for improvement,” he stated.  “We have the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a road map.  We have the system-wide action plan to guide the United Nations support.  Yet, indigenous peoples continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty, discrimination and poor health care.  Their collective and individual rights are too often denied.  This is unacceptable.  We can do better.  We must do better.”

CAROLYN BENNETT, Minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Canada, said her country was formally retracting its concerns regarding paragraphs 3 and 20 of the 2014 Outcome Document from the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  Those paragraphs, which were about free, prior and informed consent, went to the heart of the Declaration.  “In Canada, we understand that reconciliation must include all Canadians,” she said.  “It’s not just an indigenous issue.  It is, for us, a Canadian imperative.”  Treaties signed between indigenous peoples and settlers must be honoured, and where they did not exist, new ways needed to be found to recognize indigenous rights and jurisdiction.

She said she was proud that Canada’s delegation to the Forum, including seven indigenous parliamentarians, and that several indigenous leaders from Canada had played a significant role at the United Nations.  Going forward, it was crucial for all voices to be heard at the United Nations, including those of opposition parties and indigenous leaders.  Reconciliation and decolonization were ongoing journeys that must feel like a partnership, although partisanship and ideology remained obstacles.  In speaking to each other as equals, youth must be included at the table, she said, adding that the world needed to listen to the Forum’s wisdom and leadership.

LAKSHMI PURI, Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said the future of indigenous peoples, as well as the sustainable development project, would be jeopardized without the empowerment of indigenous women, who worldwide faced disproportionate levels of discrimination, exclusion and violence.  Indigenous women and girls needed to be aware not only of their identity, but also their human rights, and they must claim those rights.  She added that no traditional culture or custom could be invoked to justify and perpetrate violence and harmful practices against indigenous women.

The economic rights of indigenous women and the need for them to participate equally in decision-making, she underscored.  Access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services was a major area for redress, action and progress.  Indigenous women were also major actors on the front lines of climate change action, she added, emphasizing their role as agents of change.  Highlighting the place of indigenous women and girls in the discussions and outcomes of the most recent session of the Commission on the Status of Women, she said that the international community could no longer tolerate a situation in which such precious stakeholders and actors for sustainable development were not only left behind, but also the furthest to reach.

Discussion

The Forum, beginning the discussion on the theme “tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:  measures taken to implement the Declaration”, had before it a note by the Secretariat on that topic (document E/C.19/2017/4).

GERVAIS NZOA (Cameroon), opening the discussion, recalled that the Declaration was the international instrument that most thoroughly recognized the rights of indigenous peoples and had become the norm for national standards and international activities.  The United Nations and its agencies must work to promote the full respect and implementation of its provisions.  Although there had been significant progress in the 10 years since the Declaration’s adoption, indigenous peoples still continued to suffer exclusion, marginalization and other challenges that prevented them from enjoying their fundamental rights, including in the areas of education and health.

In some countries, there was formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the corresponding allocation of adequate resources, he continued.  However, the political will of States was lacking in some cases.  As well, donor programmes were of concern to some indigenous peoples, along with an absence of international pressure to fully implement the Declaration.  Dialogue between Governments and indigenous peoples was also lacking, although many countries had in place constitutional and legislative frameworks that acknowledged indigenous peoples.

RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA (El Salvador), speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), welcomed the renewal by the Human Rights Council of the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.  CELAC was fully commit to implementing the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and supported the General Assembly’s decision to proclaim 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages.  He also recalled the challenges faced by indigenous peoples, including poverty reduction and sustaining economic and social development.

BEATRICE DUNCAN, Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples, said the Group — comprising 42 institutions — congratulated all indigenous peoples on the tenth anniversary of the Declaration.  She went on to draw attention to a number of initiatives undertaken by the Group in recent years.

JUNE OSCAR, Australian Human Rights Commission, emphasized that entity’s role in promoting and protecting the human rights of indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples by facilitating dialogue between the indigenous people and the Government and by submitting regular reports to Parliament.  While acknowledging a recent visit to Australia by the Special Rapporteur, she added that despite numerous reports and recommendations, the country’s indigenous peoples remained the most disadvantaged section of the population.  The Commission looked forward to working with the Government in order to breathe new life into the Declaration by way of a national implementation strategy.

SLUMBER TSOGWANE, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, said that the Declaration was an important step forward for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples, who were entitled to, without discrimination, all human rights recognized in international law.  His country’s Constitution guaranteed fundamental freedoms and the basic human rights, which included equality before the law.

TIMOTHY HERMANN of the Holy See recalled that Pope Francis had recently met with groups representing indigenous peoples.  The Pope had repeatedly stressed that he wished to promote the deepest longings of indigenous peoples and raise public awareness about the many threats to their identities, and in some cases, their very existence.  Every effort must be made to promote the harmonization of indigenous peoples’ right to development with the right to economic development.  Furthermore, the right of prior and informed consent must always prevail.  Indigenous communities should be the principle dialogue partners when projects were proposed that would impact their ancestral lands.  Indigenous peoples deserved not only respect, but also the world’s gratitude and support.

SAUL VICENTE VAZQUEZ, International Indian Treaty Council, expressed concern regarding activities by Member States that were actively opposing provisions laid out in the Declaration.  Many countries had failed to uphold the principles of free, prior and informed consent.  He recalled that the new President of the United States had issued an executive order on key infrastructure projects, including those related to energy on indigenous-held lands.  Indigenous peoples had not consulted on those issues, nor was consent given.  His organization proposed that the next Forum focus on measures and protocols that would ensure free, prior and informed consent.

ALOHA NUÑEZ, Minister for People’s Power for Indigenous People of Venezuela, associated herself with CELAC and said that the past 20 years had seen unprecedented change in her country, especially for indigenous peoples who had been duly recognized in the Constitution.  They accounted for 2.8 per cent of the population.  A raft of laws had been put into place to defend indigenous peoples and their communities.  Despite a never-ending assault by violent sectors of the opposition and the meddling in the country’s affairs from outside its borders, Venezuela would face the challenges of indigenous peoples and implement the outcomes of the World Conference.

YON FERNANDEZ DE LARRINOA, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), summarized some of the work that entity was doing in support of the Declaration’s implementation.

RUSSELL DIABO, Indigenous Network on Economics and Trade, drew attention to the Algonquins of Barrière Lake in Quebec, Canada.  There, a customary system of government had been replaced by the colonial Indian Act and the community put under third-party management.  Their situation had worsened as a result, he said, recommending that the Forum ask the Government of Canada to implement the Declaration, which it had said it endorsed.

ANNE KARIN OLLI, Minister for Local Government and Modernisation of Norway, noted that, at the national level, her Government was taking steps to further strengthen the rights of the Sami people to participate in decision-making processes.  The Government was currently conducting consultations with Sámediggi on a draft bill regarding consultation procedures in matters that would affect the Sami people directly.  Norway had also recently adopted a new regulation related to the protection of traditional knowledge which ensured that free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people were obtained when others accessed and used their traditional knowledge associated with genetic material.  In January, Norway, Sweden and Finland had concluded negotiations on the Nordic Sami Convention.  Furthermore, over the last ten years, Norway had taken some important steps to improve the situation of indigenous women and children affected by violence.

MAIHI OELZ, International Labour Organization, said ensuring indigenous peoples’ equal access to training and education, employment, decent working conditions, social protection and support for sustainable enterprises was of strategic importance.  The Declaration had empowered indigenous peoples to claim their rights and the new global accords on development and climate change specifically acknowledge indigenous peoples.  The Declaration had also helped to increase attention to the discrimination and exclusion faced by indigenous women and persons with disabilities.  The real test of success would be whether those efforts translated into tangible improvements in the daily lives of the over 370 million indigenous women and men across all regions of the globe.

ANIKA BRAWTAN, Te Hika o Papauma Mandated Iwi Authority, said her group had chosen the right to refrain from forced assimilation and requested that the Forum appeal to the New Zealand Government to ensure that the Te Haika o Papauma would not be forced to assimilate.  Te Haika o Papauma sought redress for historical wrongs, including the loss of millions of acres of lands.  She expressed concern that the Government had allowed larger tribal groups to take actions that violated her group’s rights.

NUVIA MAGDALENA MAYORGA DELGADO (Mexico) said that the Declaration served to allow indigenous peoples to pursue development while preserving their own identity.  Prior to the Forum, Mexico had made significant progress on the rights of indigenous peoples thanks to the country’s constitutional reforms of 2000.  Mexico had sought to harmonize its legislation and bring it up to the standards of the Declaration.  The right to free determination and autonomy was provided for under Article 4 of Mexico’s Constitution, fully and without restriction.

KIRI TOKI, World Intellectual Property Organization, recalled that, since 2009, the Organization’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore was undertaking intense text-based negotiations.  The objective was to reach an agreement on an international legal instrument or instruments that would ensure the balanced and effective protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.  In September, the Property Organization’s General Assembly would be taking stock of the progress made during the 2016/2017 biennium and decide on next steps.  Indigenous peoples participated in those negotiators as observers and important stakeholders.

MUSA USMAN NDAMBA, Mborobo Social and Cultural Development Association of Cameroon, said the Government in his country was taking laudable efforts to implement the Declaration, with the Ministry of Social Affairs being the focal point for indigenous peoples and other minority groups.  He also pointed out that the Association prioritized education, especially by providing access to culturally appropriate education for indigenous children.

LES MALEZER, Permanent Forum member from Australia, noting that fewer than 30 States had ratified ILO Convention 169, said he would like to hear from States and indigenous peoples, in their interventions, what impediments might be standing in the way of that instrument’s adoption.

VALERIE GARRIDO, Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs of Guyana, said her Government had been working assiduously towards full implementation of the Declaration, including its Article III regarding indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination.  In addition, the Government had put into place an ambitious programme whereby funds were released to indigenous communities to undertake community development projects.  She emphasized that the principle of free, prior and informed consent was always upheld.

GONZALO OVIEDO, International Union for Conservation of Nature, outlined how the organization was implementing the Declaration, including the creation of tools to address issues, including the right to land.  Expressing support for the Permanent Forum’s efforts to advance further gains, he said a rights-based approach must be upheld.  Despite gains over the last decade, the Union aimed at dovetailing efforts with the United Nations to ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights were respected.

IRVINCE AUGUISTE, Caribbean Amerindian Development Organization, said the recognition by certain States of some provisions of the Declaration but not others was unacceptable.  To remedy that trend, he called on indigenous peoples to establish an independent monitoring body and requested that the next four expert group meetings focused on implementation efforts.

CARLOS MAMANI CONDORI (Bolivia) said the Declaration was not a concession, but the fruit of a fight that had been waged by indigenous communities themselves.  Bolivia had upheld the rights of indigenous peoples for the benefit of the whole country.  He reminded all participants that the Declaration was about ancestral lands and had recognized indigenous peoples’ links with Mother Earth.  For its part, Bolivia would continue to support all indigenous movements.

ANTONELLA CORDONE, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), provided an overview of concrete actions and results, including instruments that had been used to work with indigenous communities.  Among other things, IFAD had established an indigenous forum to hold dialogues on a range of issues.  Furthermore, free, prior and informed consent were principles that were being mainstreamed in IFAD programmes.

MAI THIN YU MON, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, said efforts to operationalize the implementation of the Declaration were part of her organization’s work.  She urged Asian States to provide formal legal recognition of indigenous peoples, if they had not yet done so, and to respect the principles of consent.  She recommended United Nations agencies and development partners to continue monitoring the Declaration’s implementation.

OBED BAPELA, Deputy Minister for the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa, said that, on the occasion of the Declaration’s tenth anniversary, concrete action must be taken in order to give true meaning to the notion of leaving no one behind.  Emphasizing the need to protect human rights defenders, particularly from corporate abuse, he said the Government had adopted an inclusive approach with regards to indigenous peoples.  He added that it was time to reflect on the possibility of a legally binding convention on the rights of indigenous peoples.

KAMIRA NAIT SID, Congrès Mondial Amazigh, said the Secretariat’s notes contained no reference of the recognition of the rights of Amazigh people in the countries of North Africa, including Arabic and Islamic countries that preferred to call Amazigh a minority, thus denying their rights.  That was a serious assault on the Amazigh, as well as an obstacle to the Declaration’s implementation.

LUIS ERNESTO, Deputy Minister for the Interior of Colombia, said that his country had achieved the highest standards of compliance with the Declaration with regard to dialogue and land ownership.  Norms and standards had been issued to boost the standard of education and health care for indigenous peoples.  Recalling the end of war in his country, he said the reality of life for Colombia’s indigenous peoples was vastly different from what it had been.

MARIO LUNA ROMARO, Tonatierra, said the situation of the Yaqui people in Mexico had not changed one jot.  Treaties had been signed, but facts on the ground had not changed, and the State had failed to follow up on any judicial order.  The Yaqui were not being heard and many sons and daughters found themselves behind bars.  He said he hoped that violence against human rights defenders, including those involved with indigenous peoples, would end.

Mr. VALIMAA (Finland) underscored that indigenous people’s institutions, such as the Sami Parliament in Finland were not deemed non-governmental organizations, and therefore, lacked access to many United Nations meetings on issues affecting them. Enhancing indigenous people’s participation at the United Nations could only be achieved through partnership between indigenous people and Member States.  Commending the work of the Commission on the Status of Women, he said it was important that the United Nations continued to recognize and support the essential role of indigenous women.  Finland was committed to ensuring that the Sami, as an indigenous people, maintained and developed their own language and culture.  However, he said, he recognized the challenges in reconciling the Government’s views with those of the Sami Parliament.

WILLIAM SOTO SANTIAGO, Indigenous Fund for Latin American and Caribbean Countries, said his organization’s efforts included recent initiatives targeting youth.  Peoples from across the region could come together to discuss pressing issues, from women’s rights to ancestral land claims.  Meetings always produced written proposals, with members currently drafting a constitution and charter for indigenous peoples and for Mother Earth.

DEVONNEY MCDAVIS (Nicaragua) said land ownership cases were being settled, with communities working together on the principle of shared use.  A political reform in 2014 had changed terminology, from “indigenous” to “original” peoples.  That change had seen the recognition of their rights in areas including dispensing justice, which, among other initiatives, had helped with the Declaration’s implementation.

ANJALI DAIMARI, Boro Women’s Justice Forum, said her people had been fighting for the right to self-determination, which had led to human rights violations, including youth and women being killed, maimed and exploited.  The Boro people had being fighting for their rights for decades to no avail.  India was evading the situation and should restore the Boro people’s rights and protect their land.

JORGE ALBERTO JIMENEZ (El Salvador) said his country was committed to putting an end to the social marginalization of indigenous peoples.  El Salvador had begun a process to uphold the principles of consent and had worked on various issues, including the due recognition of indigenous peoples’ cultural wisdom.  Reforms had been undertaken in legislation and the Constitution, opening doors to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples.

SHOUSHAN TOWER, Assyrian Aid Society, stressed that the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, specifically in Iraq, were facing increased challenges to their very existence.  Since 2014, the Assyrian Christians had suffered genocide under Da’esh and many Assyrian historical sites and cities had been destroyed.  Assyrian Christians were unable to go back to their homes due to political instability, the lack of security, basic public services and the massive amount of damage inflicted on the infrastructure.  The Iraqi Parliament had designated the Nineveh Plains region a disaster area following its liberation, although trespassing and the confiscation of indigenous people’s lands continued.

PATRICIA O’CONNOR (Australia), speaking also for the Australian Human Rights Commission, said the tenth anniversary of the Declaration was an opportunity for States to reflect on its implementation.  Ongoing dialogue would ensure that the Declaration would keep making a difference.  Her Government was analysing its policies and initiatives in relation to the Declaration in order to identify successes, as well as gaps.  She also noted she was interested in hearing about lessons learned — both negative and positive — from Member States and indigenous peoples.

CONDUCT HANG, Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, said Governments could still deny the existence of their indigenous peoples.  Countries specifically in Asia had yet to uphold ILO Convention 169.  She recommended that a study be undertaken on those countries that did not recognize indigenous peoples, for the Declaration to be published in indigenous languages, and for Viet Nam to open a dialogue with its indigenous peoples.

ISBETH QUIEL (Panama), associating herself with CELAC, emphasized her country’s robust commitment to the Declaration, noting that it had adopted a raft of provisions with regard to its implementation.  Indigenous peoples made up 12 per cent of Panama’s population, she said, adding that the country worked to uphold the values of indigenous peoples as a key part of its national identity.

Ms. GUERRERO, Two Feathers International, said empowering indigenous women was critical when addressing the issue of informed consent.  In Colombia, communities were rooted in living in the Amazon area, using their knowledge of plants to feed and care for themselves.  Mother Earth had provided people with emeralds, gold and oil, yet extracting or mining those resources was a violation.  All goods that were underground must remain there, she said, emphasizing that the Earth must be protected.

LOURDES TIBÁN GUALA, Forum expert from Ecuador, said protecting land and territory was essential.  In her country, reporting to communities on what people planned to do was not enough.  Many believed the Declaration should not be domesticated and that it could just be filed and put away.  States must work hard to ensure its implementation.

TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, Forum member from Peru, said the Declaration had covered rights that extended to education, the ability to establish organizations to protect and preserve land and to intellectual property.  Yet, all the rights in the Declaration must be equally enjoyed by men and women.  Economic empowerment was equally important and women must be included in those efforts.  There were beautiful models of ideal initiatives, she said, urging that it was time to move from theory to action.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with CELAC, said that, 10 years after the adoption of the Declaration, many indigenous communities around the world still faced violence, racism and major economic and social disadvantages.  Cuba supported the right of indigenous peoples to fully enjoy their traditional and millennial rights and to preserve their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions without discrimination.  She reiterated her support for Bolivia’s right to defend and protect coca leaf chewing as a tradition of their indigenous communities.  Actions must be aimed at harmonizing policies for the conservation of protected areas with respect for the ancestral values of indigenous peoples.

KRISTINA SUKACHEVA (Russian Federation) said steps at the international level to implement the Declaration must be matched by corresponding steps at the national level.  She said her country was among the few in which the status of indigenous peoples were enshrined both legislatively and constitutionally.  She went on to emphasize a pressing need for a database that would enable the exchange of positive experiences and best practices, as well as a further strengthening of the capabilities of specialized United Nations agencies.

Ms. DOMINGUEZ SEBASTIAN (Guatemala), associating herself with CELAC, said that, in 2016, her country hosted a well-attended seminar on challenges involved in implementing the Declaration.  In education, bilingual text books had been published, while health and social services were being brought in line with cultural sensitivities.  As well, the rights of indigenous peoples were being incorporated into land planning activities.

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Human Rights to Food, Water, Sanitation Essential for Enjoyment of All Others, Experts Tell Third Committee during Interactive Dialogue

‘Morally Unconscionable’ Approach to Cholera in Haiti, Feeds Belief that Rights of Neediest Can be Trampled, Says Special Rapporteur

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion of human rights today, with six Special Rapporteurs updating on ways to improve respect for the rights to food, water and adequate living standards, especially following the 2010 outbreak of cholera in Haiti that had claimed 10,000 lives.

In one of the strongest calls for the United Nations to live up to its founding values, Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, decried the Organization’s handling of the cholera outbreak as a “disaster” that had reinforced a perception it could “trample with impunity” on the rights of those in need.

The United Nations had abdicated its responsibility, he said, by refusing to accept factual responsibility for introducing the epidemic, insisting that no legal claim for negligence could be brought against it and refusing to approve compensation or issue apologies.  The Office of Legal Affairs had blocked necessary legal action, while the United States had refused to even state its legal position.  That approach was “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, politically self-defeating and entirely unnecessary”, he asserted.

To reverse course, he urged the United Nations to follow the procedure laid out in the Convention on Privileges and Immunities for providing an appropriate mode of settlement for victims. It should also replace the “fundamentally flawed” 2013 legal advice with a procedure that enabled such claims to be resolved in a manner that both protected the Organization’s immunity and avoided the impunity that the Legal Affairs Office sought to enshrine.  Member States should back their words of sympathy with generous contributions to the newly established Trust Fund.  He also noted that his presentation was not immediately available via webcast, as was standard practice for all Committee meetings.

To comments by Haiti’s delegate, and others, he said the Organization had been tarnished not simply by its failure to compensate victims, but by the “ludicrous and disgraceful failure” of the Secretary-General to acknowledge why cholera had arrived in Haiti.  If it wanted to show it was accountable in the face of major human rights violations, its actions in Haiti were a perfect opportunity.

Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, emphasized that the right to adequate food should be interpreted as a right to a standard of nutritional quality, not as a right to a minimum number of calories.  The food system, dominated by industrial production, had created dependence on highly processed, energy-dense yet nutrient-poor foods that caused unhealthy eating habits to rise globally.  She expressed particular concern over aggressive marketing that promoted unhealthy foods and sugary beverages, especially to children and untapped markets in developing nations.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the United States voiced strong objections to the report, particularly its policy prescriptions on tax law, marketing and advertising.  She rejected its characterization of international law and the connection made between malnutrition and trade, food and intellectual property, urging the Special Rapporteur to develop recommendations “consistent with facts”.

While acknowledging that the United States was the world’s largest food aid donor, Ms. Elver said “the world would also like to feed themselves,” and it was thus important to establish a system that was not under the control of major corporations.

Along similar lines, Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, said an estimated one-third of deaths worldwide were linked to poverty and inadequate housing, making the link between those issues and the right to life both obvious and disturbing.

To comments by the United Kingdom’s delegate, who said she did not recognize the link between the rights to adequate housing and to life, and to concern expressed by Brazil’s delegate about conflating the two, Ms. Farha explained that the right to adequate housing was not included in some countries’ constitution or human rights legislation.  In such cases, it was difficult for people to claim or have remedy for violations of that right.  Most constitutions, however, did contain provisions on the right to life which, if read less narrowly, could offer that avenue.

The Third Committee also heard presentations by the Special Rapporteurs on the right to education; the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; and the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The Third Committee will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  For further information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4172.

Introductory Statements and Interactive Dialogues

HILAL ELVER, Special Rapporteur on the human right to food, presented her third report (document A/71/282), emphasizing that the right to adequate food should be interpreted as a right to a standard of nutritional quality, not as a right to a minimum number of calories.  Nearly 800 million people were undernourished, more than 2 billion suffered micronutrient deficiencies, and another 600 million were obese.  Reviewing international policy initiatives to address the problem, such as the 2030 Agenda, she said recent figures had shown that the world was not on track to reach its global targets.  The food system, dominated by industrial production, had created dependence on highly processed, energy-dense yet nutrient-poor foods that caused unhealthy eating habits to rise globally.  She was particularly concerned by aggressive marketing that promoted unhealthy foods and sugary beverages, especially to children and untapped markets in developing nations.

Discussing nutrition within a rights-based framework was critical to ensuring that marginalized and vulnerable populations were guaranteed a certain level of nutrition and health, she said, rather than the minimum intake needed for survival.  The human rights framework underlined food corporations’ responsibility to respect human rights; in turn, States were obliged to protect citizens from unchecked market influence.  Stronger accountability was needed at the national level to control the corporate food industry.  Companies’ promotion of ineffective voluntary commitments or sponsorship of nutrition and health education programmes as part of “corporate social responsibility” blurred the lines between education and marketing.  It was crucial that States were encouraged to implement comprehensive plans to combat malnutrition, tailored to meet domestic needs.

When the floor was opened, several delegates expressed their support for the Special Rapporteur and asked her to elaborate on measures that States and private corporations could take to improve nutrition.  The United States’ representative, however, voiced strong objections to the report, particularly its policy prescriptions on tax law, marketing and advertising.  She rejected the report’s characterization of international law and the connection it made between malnutrition and trade, food and intellectual property, and urged the Special Rapporteur to develop recommendations “consistent with facts”.

Ms. ELVER explained that although the Sustainable Development Goals had shied away from the concept of a “right to food”, it was nonetheless referred to indirectly; for instance, through the Goal of eliminating hunger.  The private sector, as part of the nutrition industry, must be engaged, she said, recalling that the Goals emphasized the role of public-private initiatives.  She recommended that private corporations be regulated at the domestic level so that their profits did not come at the expense of public services.

She applauded Poland’s efforts to deal with obesity, and in response to that country’s request for her policy recommendations, suggested stronger limitations on advertisements that went beyond voluntary measures.  She welcomed the question by Morocco’s delegate on counteracting the promotion of industrialized food, particularly through advertisements, and agreed that it was problematic to have large corporations that sold sugary drinks and junk food sponsoring the Olympics.

Addressing the United States’ delegate’s rejection of her characterization of international human rights, she recalled that the human rights principles outlined in her report had been accepted by 160 countries.  “I didn’t invent these principles,” she said.  While she acknowledged that the United States was the largest food aid donor in the world, “the world would also like to feed themselves,” she stressed.  It was therefore important to establish a system that was not under the control of major corporations.

Also speaking were representatives of Turkey, Iran, Poland, Switzerland, Cameroon, Indonesia and Eritrea, as well as the European Union.

On the right to education

KOUMBA BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, presented the report (document A/71/358) of her predecessor Kishore Singh, stressing the importance of lifelong learning, the right to education and the emerging “right to learning”.  The report examined State responsibility and the role of social partners in realizing the right to education, she said, recalling that in 2015, States had adopted a “2030 Agenda for Education” to promote learning and training.  The report underlined the importance of learning and education in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, opportunities that not only benefited students, but also employers, civil society and society as a whole.

The report recognized the importance of information and communications technology, she said, noting that universal access and educational quality were essential in advancing the right to education.  Innovations in education must be harnessed, access decentralized and resources mobilized, she said, urging that all stakeholders and social partners must be included, students and their parents among them.  Further, special attention must be paid to girls and women, especially in Africa, with equal consideration given to formal and informal education.

Delegates then asked how lifelong learning could be ensured, what could be done to maintain access to education in emergency situations and about potential contributions of the private sector.  They also asked about the role of information and communications technology in advancing the right to education.

Ms. KOUMBA BOLY replied that fulfilling the vision of lifelong learning required a holistic strategy that included all levels of formal and informal education.  Stressing that universal access must be ensured, she said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) promoted tools that encouraged a holistic and decentralized approach. 

Further, learning must adapt to new forms of mobility, she said.  There were good examples of private sector participation in Switzerland and the Republic of Korea, she said, noting that public-private partnerships should be formed carefully so they did not negatively impact development.  Resource allocation was also crucial, as was proper management and transparency, and in that context, she encouraged the “Global Partnership for Education” to continue raising awareness and resources.  Given the often limited State resources, the private sector’s contribution was essential, especially in ensuring lifelong learning in emergency situations.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of South Africa, Portugal, Iran, Mexico, Qatar, Norway, Morocco, Maldives, Cameroon and Indonesia, as well as the European Union.

On Extreme Poverty

PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said that six years ago United Nations peacekeepers had brought cholera to Haiti, resulting in 10,000 deaths and 800,000 people infected, adding up to 8 per cent of its total population.  The United Nations had opted to abdicate its responsibility by refusing to accept factual responsibility for the introduction of the epidemic, insisting that no legal claim for negligence could be brought against it, refusing to approve any compensation or issue apologies, and abstaining from promoting efforts to eradicate the epidemic.  The approach was a “disaster” as it “enshrined a double standard which exempts the United Nations itself from having to respect human rights”, he said, underscoring that it reinforced the perception that United Nations peacekeeping operations “can trample with impunity on the rights of those being protected”.  That approach was “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, politically self-defeating and entirely unnecessary”.

While the United Nations had reversed course on some aspects of its Haiti cholera policies, he said, no formal acceptance or apology, recognition of legal responsibility, agreement on the use of terms such as “compensation” or “reparations” or legal settlements had been made.  The Office of Legal Affairs had insisted that the United Nations must avoid accepting responsibility.  However, there was no legal basis to justify elevating an almost entirely hypothetical concern that a legal challenge to United Nations immunity could rise to a level where it trumped a case for respecting international legal obligations.  “This is impunity masquerading as legal prudence,” he said.  The United Nations should follow the procedure in the Convention on Privileges and Immunities to provide an appropriate mode of settlement for victims.  In the absence of accountability, there were no incentives for practices to change, as exemplified in a 2014 report revealing that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) had continued to discharge waste into public waterways.  The United Nations should replace its fundamentally flawed 2013 legal advice with a procedure that enabled claims to be resolved in a manner that protected the Organization’s immunity, while avoiding impunity.  Member States should also contribute to the newly established Trust Fund.

In the ensuing dialogue, Haiti’s delegate thanked the Special Rapporteur for his courage and sincerity, saying that his report had given him hope.  The cholera outbreak had tarnished the United Nations, which was supposed to promote human dignity.  Its response would be a “litmus test” for its commitment to human rights.  He urged all Member States to show stronger political will to work together to provide reparations, which were a crucial principle of international law.

Mr. ALSTON said that while he was pleased with a proposal to mobilize $400 million in assistance, the basis on which that was being done was unsatisfactory in that it did not address the issue of impunity.  “All of us need to bear in mind that it could be us,” he said, adding that the United Nations’ reputation was also at stake.  It was unacceptable that it had refused to establish a mode of settlement per the terms of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities.

Welcoming the support expressed by Jamaica’s delegate, he said he had a “terrible feeling” that there had been little discussion among “those who hold power” among Member States and within the Secretariat about the policy on immunity.  Moreover, it was troubling that the United Nations had refused to share its legal opinion, describe it in any detail or attempt to justify it.  He called out the United States for not standing up and expressing its legal position.  Instead, it had used the excuse of ongoing litigation to consistently evade comment.  While he commended members of the United States Congress for speaking out and calling on the United Nations to do the right thing, he expressed concern that they did not understand the key role of the United States, which had not stated explicitly that, when a private law matter of such magnitude occurred, compensation should be paid in accordance with international law.

Civil society members had an absolutely central role to play going forward, he said, urging them to keep pressure up on Member States.  He voiced hope that the new Secretary-General would reconsider the matter, making good on his own statement that “immunity is not impunity”.  He agreed with the Russian Federation’s delegate that immunity was important, but in cases of negligence, there must be a settlement by the United Nations.  He also agreed with South Africa’s delegate about the importance of holding corporations accountable for their actions.  While it was true that the contractor involved in the cholera outbreak was negligent, it had been employed by the United Nations.  “The negligence was part of the contract”, he said, arguing that the United Nations was therefore just as responsible as the contractor.

To a question on the relationship between human rights and development, he said he welcomed the assistance package now proposed by the United Nations, but it did not eliminate the human rights claims made against the Organization.  To comments by China’s delegate that the Third Committee was not the appropriate venue for discussing some of the legal aspects of the issue, he responded that he would welcome a conversation in the Sixth Committee, but it had not initiated one.  He also pointed out that initiating such a conversation was in the power of China as a Member State, but it had taken no such action.

Finally, he agreed that the cholera incident was indeed a “litmus test” for the Organization.  Its reputation had been tarnished not just because of its failure to compensate victims, but because of the “ludicrous and disgraceful failure” of the Secretary-General to acknowledge why cholera had arrived in Haiti.  If United Nations wanted to show it was accountable in the face of major violations, the episode in Haiti was a perfect opportunity, he said, urging it to put in place a procedure based on the Convention to address such negligence.

Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of Jamaica, Spain, Switzerland and Iraq, as well as the European Union.

On Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

LÉO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said development cooperation represented a significant share of total funding for water and sanitation services in developing countries, which was expected to increase in line with the commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda.  If guided by a human rights approach, States and other funders could guarantee that their activities in the sector helped to realize the right to water and sanitation.  Discussing his most recent report, he said States and multilateral organizations were obliged to realize the human rights to water and sanitation through development cooperation, while international financial institutions, regional banks and regional development organizations must respect, protect and facilitate those rights.

Turning to the report’s findings, he said the use of a human rights-based approach in the formulation of development cooperation projects and programmes appeared to be more of an exception than a rule.  Similarly, only some major multilateral funders had issued policy documents in which the human rights to water and sanitation had been recognized.  Moreover, lack of consideration for country ownership was a frequently-raised issue, he said, stressing that particular technological solutions and policies should not be imposed, and that conditionalities in loan and grant concession should never be leveraged in such a way as to deny the sovereignty and ownership of the beneficiary country.  Calling for more development cooperation funding, he said States needed strong legal, regulatory and policy frameworks for the water and sanitation sector that aligned with the human rights to those resources.  Partner countries must create an enabling environment for development cooperation, observing their human rights obligations. 

When the floor was opened, several delegates asked about the implementation of a human rights-based approach, with Slovenia’s representative asking for the Special Rapporteur’s views on how the human rights to water and sanitation could be incorporated in all development activities.  Mexico’s and Spain’s representatives inquired about measures that could ensure the participation of all stakeholders.

Mr. HELLER, on how best to incorporate the human rights framework in development efforts, said the right to clean water and sanitation must be considered at every stage of development, particularly in the early stages.  He noted that the World Bank had refused to include a human rights framework, arguing that it was a political matter.  He disagreed, saying that the human right to clean water and sanitation was a question of access to fundamental services. Under the 2030 Agenda, the human right to water and sanitation was clearly reflected in both the goals and the targets.  States must align their international cooperation efforts with the human rights framework because otherwise, the new Agenda would not be properly realized.  Regarding the High-Level Panel on Water, he underlined that participatory mechanisms must include all relevant stakeholders in the decision-making. 

Also participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Switzerland, Morocco and Maldives, as well as the European Union.

On Adequate Housing

LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, introducing the relevant report (document A/71/310), said the divided architecture of international human rights had led to unequal protections for the dignity and rights of the most disadvantaged and marginalized communities.  The link between inadequate housing and the right to life was both obvious and disturbing, with an estimated one-third of deaths worldwide linked to poverty and inadequate housing.  While homes and infrastructure were increasingly targeted in situations of conflict, housing crises had resulted in evictions and foreclosures.

Noting the absence of outrage that should be provoked at such abhorrent conditions, she said many politicians, judges and everyday people had grown accustomed to stigmatizing — even criminalizing — people for their poverty and lack of adequate housing.  Government officials seemed to consider inadequate housing not as a human rights issue that demanded timely rights-based responses and access to justice, but rather as one of many complex programme and policy issues.  The right to life, in turn, had been impoverished by its separation from the right to adequate housing.  There was no excuse for the failure to address widespread homelessness and inadequate housing as urgent human rights crises, she stressed.

When the floor was opened, the United Kingdom’s representative said she did not recognize the legal link the Special Rapporteur had made between the rights to adequate housing and to life, while Brazil’s delegate also voiced concern about her equation of those two rights.  South Africa’s representative supported the Special Rapporteur’s approach, but requested further explanation of how States could ensure that the right to adequate housing was justiciable.

Many delegations also referred to the Habitat III conference, which Ms. FARHA said was an encouraging sign that the urban agenda had not been forgotten.  While she had criticized that event for excluding the rights to life and adequate housing from its agenda, it was important to move it forward.

She went on to expand on why it was important to link the right to life with that to adequate housing — a connection around which many delegates had expressed concern.  In some countries, she explained, the right to adequate housing was not included in a constitution or other human rights legislation.  In such cases, it was difficult for people to claim or have remedy for violations of that right. Most constitutions, however, included provisions on the right to life which, if read less narrowly, could offer that avenue.

On that basis, she emphasized that she did not mean to completely conflate the right to housing and right to life.  Separating them, however, did not allow them to benefit from each other.  She found it problematic that States were willing to say that some deplorable conditions violated human rights but were justifiable because their causes were due to State action, however, other similar conditions were not justifiable, simply because the cause was inaction.

Responding to a query from the Maldives’ delegate on recommendations for small island developing nations, given their unique context, she referred to her predecessor’s report.  Updating on the campaign to end homelessness by 2030, she said she had held a well-attended multi-stakeholder meeting at Habitat III on the need for a global initiative to place adequate housing on the agenda.  Consensus had emerged on the need for a “global coming together” of diverse stakeholders to advance the right to adequate housing.

Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of Germany, Qatar, Morocco and Iraq, as well as the European Union.

On Physical and Mental Health

DAINIUS PŪRAS, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, presented his report (document A/71/304) underscoring that health was central to the Sustainable Development Goals as it was both an outcome of and a path to achieving poverty reduction.  The 2030 Agenda suffered from weak accountability requirements, unclear guidance on how to implement the Goals at the national level and a lack of guidance on how to transform the global financial system in a manner that supported an ambitious global strategy.  Universal health coverage was crucial to ensuring equity in implementing the right to health, he said, stressing that there were grossly unmet needs for rights-based mental health services, which had traditionally been addressed without the person’s consent. 

Civil society actors working on health-related issues needed a safe and enabling environment which included the full exercise of public freedoms, he said, expressing concern about the limited space for human rights defenders focused on health-related rights in many countries.  That was particularly the case for those working on women’s rights, on sexual and reproductive health rights, or defending the right to be free from discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  States should ensure that the focus on access to essential medicines and other life-saving interventions did not neglect equally important non-biomedical interventions that promoted mental and physical health and well-being, and that contributed to achieving the right to health and the Sustainable Development Goals.

When the floor was opened, several delegates asked about the situation of vulnerable groups, with Portugal’s representative asking which policy measures Member States should put in place to eliminate discrimination against people facing health issues and Mexico’s representative asking how marginalized communities could be assured of health care access.  Morocco’s representative asked whether the Special Rapporteur intended to work with other institutions to ensure complementarity in the field.

Mr. PŪRAS said he was happy there was a common understanding of the importance of health while implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Universal health coverage was not a simple goal because it sought to address asymmetries and imbalances.  All hard-won victories, such as moving toward eliminating HIV/AIDS and reducing infant and child mortality, had been achieved because human rights approaches had been applied.  His vision was to contribute, with States and other partners, toward integrating human rights-based approaches in the area of mental health.

He said his report, which would be presented to the Human Rights Council in June, would address the right of everyone to mental health.  The international community could shift the paradigm by investing in mental health and having that issue reach parity with physical health.  The practice of depriving people of liberty because they had mental health conditions should be eliminated.  The best way to reduce violence was to invest in healthy relationships, which was not expensive, he said, stressing the need to overcome beliefs that children could only be disciplined violently.  Qualitative data collection could not be forgotten, as statistics could both hide and reveal problems.  Good statistics, qualitative research and social science all must be combined.

Also participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of South Africa, Indonesia, Maldives, Brazil and Palau (also on behalf of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Micronesia, and Portugal), as well as of the European Union.

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