On 9 August 1982, the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held its first meeting. Eight years later, the UN General Assembly decided to institute this date as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People – to be observed every year during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1994-2004). In 2004, owing to the achievements during the Decade, the General Assembly proclaimed a Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples through its resolution 59/174.
The aim of the Second Decade is to further strengthen international cooperation and to address the problems faced by indigenous peoples in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.
Celebrations of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People took place at UN headquarters in New York brought together UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang; and Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Carlos Mamani. The opening ceremony also featured indigenous speakers, including Roberto Múcaro Borrero, President of the United Confederation of Taíno People (Puerto Rico) and Kevin Tarrent (Ho Chunk / Hopi). The event also included four films made by indigenous peoples from Brazil, Sweden, Puerto Rico and Alaska to celebrate indigenous film making.
Mr. Ban affirmed that those films were like windows into indigenous communities, cultures and history and thus an interesting way to learn about belief systems and philosophies. At the same time, he took the opportunity to call upon governments to strengthen their initiatives to protect indigenous languages, religions and cultural traditions and to advance "the status of indigenous peoples everywhere."
From a human rights perspective, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, stressed that "the gap between the principles of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the reality remains wide, as indigenous peoples "continue to suffer discrimination, marginalization in such fields as health and education, extreme poverty, disregard for their environmental concerns, displacement from their traditional lands and exclusion from effective participation in decision-making processes." Despite the creation of new tools to give voice to indigenous people in decision-making processes in some countries and the increasing support for the Declaration, she warned that it remains necessary to intensify efforts to build a true “Partnership in action and dignity” in order to enhance the "rights and dignity of those who are suffering most."
Besides, James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people further stressed that "it is painfully apparent that historical patterns of oppression continue to manifest themselves in ongoing barriers to the full enjoyment of human rights by indigenous peoples." Both the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur urged States to strengthen their commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in order to "translate the words of the Declaration into effective action." Only this "will bring historical justice to this too often ignored segment of humanity and help advance principles of equality, self-determination and respect for diversity, ” Mr. Anaya added.
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This article is available in Spanish.