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18 May 2012

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues focuses on Human Rights

On 15 May, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) focused on indigenous peoples’ human rights as it discussed the state of implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Dalee Sambo Dorough, Permanent Forum member, opened the discussion by stating that attention for indigenous peoples’ human rights was especially needed at the domestic level, on the ground and within the regions and territories of indigenous communities and peoples as this is where the indigenous peoples are and where they claim their rights.. States have to take substantive and concrete action to enable indigenous peoples to fully enjoy all the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she claimed. Although five years was far too soon to assess the implementation of the Declaration, she called upon governments and other stakeholders to reflect on the centuries of indigenous peoples’ suffering that began with the so-called doctrine of discovery, and to focus on the concrete steps that governments can take to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and to address existing inequalities in terms of poverty, full participation in decision-making, self-determination, and food security, to name a few examples.

Wilton Littlechild, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), referred to the mandate of the Expert Mechanism, noting that it was established by the Human Rights Council in 2007 in order to undertake studies to provide the Council with information and advice about the situation of indigenous peoples. “While having neither the capacity to deal with country situations nor the mandate to monitor the implementation of the Declaration, it can contribute to a better understanding of its provisions and how to translate them into concrete measures,” he explained. Mr Littlechild shared the two studies completed so far: one on the indigenous people’s right to education and another one on their right to participation in the decision-making. He further announced the Expert Mechanism’s ongoing work on a study on the role of languages and culture in the protection and promotion of the rights and identity of indigenous peoples; a report on the responses to a questionnaire sent to States on best practices regarding possible appropriate measures and implementation strategies in order to attain the goals of the UNDRIP; and a follow-up report to its study on indigenous peoples and the right to participate in decision-making, with a focus on extractive industries. The draft study and two reports will be made available at the Expert Mechanism’s fifth session (9-13 July 2012).

Legborsi Saro Pyagbara spoke on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations. explained that the Fund aimed to help representatives of indigenous organizations and communities to attend and participate in the deliberations of the UNPFII; the Expert Mechanism; the Human Rights Council; the Universal Periodic Review (UPR); and other human rights treaty bodies by providing financial assistance. “Without the assistance of the Fund the most vulnerable would be constrained in their ability to raise awareness of the intemational community on the severe issues affecting their daily lives,” he emphasized. The Fund’s resources come from voluntary contributions from governments, NGOs, or other public or private entities. After describing the various accomplishments of the Voluntary Fund, Mr. Pyagbara greatly deplored the drop in contributions since 2008. The Fund has seen a 75% decrease in the amount of contributions received between 2008 and 2012. This seriously compromises its existence and the implementation of its mandate. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, he therefore appealed to all governments, organizations and private donors to contribute to the Fund and to guarantee that indigenous voices can continue to reach the United Nations.

Bernadette Cavanagh, Deputy Permanent Representative of the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the UN, underlined that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was used by the Human Rights Commission of New Zealand, and cited in the Waitangi Tribunal and in the New Zealand Supreme court. She also mentioned the latest visit of the Special Rapporteur and progress achieved so far, hailing the example of increased Maori participation in a range of decision-making procedures.

Antti Korkeakivi of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) asserted that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an important framework in the work of OHCHR and highlighted some key initiatives undertaken by the Office to ensure that the rights included in the Declaration efficiently reach national human rights institutions. OHCHR provides guidance at regional, sub-regional, country and local level, in partnership with indigenous organizations and with other UN agencies through the UN Indigenous Peoples Partnership (UNIPP), he added.

Leornardo Crippa from the Indian Law Resource Center focused his intervention on the World Bank, which should, according to Mr. Crippa, pay more attention to indigenous peoples’ human rights in the implementation of its programmes. The consequences of the World Bank’s work are devastating and often lead to forced relocation, he claimed. He therefore proposed that a half-day discussion on role of the Bank be held by the Permanent Forum during its twelfth session.

Noeli Pocaterra, representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, described the legislation and measures undertaken by her government to ensure a better recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights. For instance, about one billion hectares of land have been returned to them, she said. She also highlighted improvements in the empowerment of indigenous peoples through a greater participation in decision-making processes at the local and national level.

Rochelle Roca-Hashem, speaking on behalf of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), invited the Permanent Forum to attend the thirty-sixth session of the World Heritage Committee, to be held in Saint-Petersburg from 24 June to 6 July 2012. She also stressed the key role of indigenous cultures in sustainable development. Eventually, she cited a number of issues of the World Heritage Review that can be relevant for indigenous peoples.

Egil Olli, President of the Sami Parliament of Norway, also reasserted the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and insisted on addressing its lack of implementation. Although welcoming the ongoing revision of the Norwegian Constitution and the recognition that Norway is established on the territory of two (Norwegian and Sami) peoples with similar rights to develop their culture and languages, he called for the inclusion of “true equality” between Sami and Norwegian peoples, especially in terms of resource management as defined in the right to self-determination. True equality goes far beyond equal linguistic and cultural rights.

Albert Barume, on behalf of International Labour Organization (ILO), underscored the disproportionately negative impacts of the current crises on vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples. He drew attention to the growing synergies between the Declaration and ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples No. 169 (ILO Convention No.169), and called for a greater involvement of all actors in the implementation of the UNDRIP, including governments, parliaments, human rights bodies and commissions, and indigenous caucuses. He also highlighted the particular role of the private sector, since a great number of countries and peoples rely on extractive industries and natural resources.

Intreabud Ricky Tran, on behalf of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, called for the greater participation of indigenous youth, notably through training courses. He also urged the Permanent Forum and the Special Rapporteur to pay more attention to violence against indigenous young people and to help enhance the right to self-identification.

Pablo Antonio Thalassinos, representative of Panama, spoke about the indigenous people’s rights enshrined in his country’s Constitution. Indigenous peoples cover 25% of the land area, which is particularly rich in natural resources and suited for tourism. A recent law provided an enhanced protection of this environment and includes a systematic consultation of the national congress in every decision affecting indigenous peoples, he said.

Maria Victoria Wulff Barreiro, Director of the Indigenous Programme of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), argued that her country works to promote indigenous peoples’ rights within the UN system and through different bilateral or multilateral programmes. She added that Spain especially promotes the right to free, prior and informed consent.

Saoudata Aboubacrine, speaking on behalf of the African Caucus, stated that European colonialism denied African cultural diversity. For this reason, indigenous peoples have been extremely marginalized and deprived of their rights. She focused her intervention on the situation in Mali, which she described as a humanitarian crisis. She therefore urged the Permanent Forum and the Special Rapporteur to put pressure on African governments for a better implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Felix Cardenas, Vice-Minister for Decolonization of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, outlined that Bolivia was made up of 36 different cultures. He explained that the new Constitution and laws now provide the strong consultation of indigenous peoples in decisions that affect their lives and guarantee their free, prior and informed consent. An environmental tribunal has also been established, he added. He described his country as a “political laboratory” and expressed his satisfaction with this powerful ongoing movement forward.

Sheleigh Solis, on behalf of the Pacific Indigenous Caucus, urged the Permanent Forum to investigate human rights violations and exhorted States to work with indigenous peoples to ensure better implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, especially the right to self-determination.

Gabriela Garduza Estrada, Director of International Affairs of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, stressed the need to improve the availability of data: specific and accurate data are fundamental to design efficient and targeted policies. She shared the outcomes of some programmes implemented in Mexico to improve the conditions of indigenous peoples and communities and their access to electricity, water, sanitation, education and healthcare services. She also elaborated on the country’s Constitutional reform process in terms of human rights (2011) and indigenous peoples’ access to justice; and on other recently implemented initiatives by the Mexican government to further enhance the situation of indigenous peoples within the country.

Similar to many other speakers, Windel Boliget of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus also deplored the continuous violation of indigenous peoples’ collective rights and the lack of respect of their consent. He denounced the militarization of their territories to secure State and corporate interests as this creates an “environment of terror.” He therefore urged Asian States to review their legislations and set up mechanisms to convict perpetrators of human rights violations. He equally exhorted the Permanent Forum to support peace negotiations between States and revolutionaries.

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