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Secretary-General, Chair Hail Participation of Indigenous Peoples in Key Negotiations, Dialogues with Member States
Closing its fifteenth session today, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues sent a series of far-reaching recommendations — on issues ranging from the preservation of indigenous languages to the prevention of suicide among indigenous youth — to the Economic and Social Council.
The Forum sent three draft decisions (contained in document E/C.19/2016/L.8) on its future work, to the Council, the first of which would have it decide to organize a three-day international expert group meeting under the theme “Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: the role of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and other indigenous-specific mechanisms”.
In his closing remarks, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled his visits to indigenous communities and how they had helped him gain a deeper understanding of indigenous struggles and contributions to humanity. “My message to you is clear: I am with you,” he said, citing important strides made. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the World Conference held in 2014 were both the result of close partnerships between indigenous peoples and Member States, he noted. Indigenous people were firmly on the United Nations agenda, thanks in large measure to their annual participation in the Permanent Forum, he added.
Indigenous peoples had been fully engaged in the negotiations on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, he continued, emphasizing that it was now time for them to participate in and contribute to their implementation. Member States, on the other hand, must be held accountable for implementing the 2030 Agenda with full respect for the rights and standards guaranteed for indigenous peoples. However, more work remained to be done, he stressed, noting the challenges posed by conflicts over the lands of indigenous peoples, and the need to include their voices in peace processes. Member States, indigenous peoples and the United Nations must work together to address challenges, he said, adding that the Organization, for its part, would continue to integrate the rights of indigenous peoples into international human rights and development agendas, while continuing to promote their rights at all levels.
Álvaro Esteban Pop, Forum Member from Guatemala and Chair of the Permanent Forum, said that, while dialogue had not been easy over the last two weeks, it was absolutely necessary to be able to continue working together. “Every day we learn more,” he added. Many indigenous speakers had described the serious situation of their respective people, in particular their struggle to access land and resources, the violence and abuse suffered by indigenous women and girls, and their lack of access to health and education. Indigenous women had made their “voices of protest heard”, he noted. Also, the high rate of suicide among indigenous youth, which related to colonial injustices of the past, was simply unacceptable. While it was essential to ensure broad partnership among indigenous peoples, Governments and the United Nations, the Organization could serve as an indispensable bridge of communication between Member States and indigenous peoples.
He went on to state that discussions on preventing conflicts had included the voices of indigenous people and their push to gain access to justice and harmony. “The indigenous peoples are confident they are here for that purpose,” he added, emphasizing that the majority of conflicts were violent and affected the living standard of indigenous peoples. Conflict usually began because of disputes over resources — minerals, oil, gas and water. Conflict had caused the forcible displacement of indigenous peoples and the assassination of their leaders, he noted. “The message of this Forum is that the world needs a new ethical system,” he emphasized. Noting the previous absence of lack of participation by indigenous people in negotiating peace agreements, he said that for the first time, Forum the members had held separate dialogues with Member States and United Nations entities, which had been “direct and frank”, and “with the purpose to improve our work”. He urged those members to take what they had learned to their communities and homes, and to continue promoting indigenous rights worldwide.
By the terms of draft decision II, the Council would decide to hold the Forum’s sixteenth session from 24 April to 5 May 2017 at United Nations Headquarters. By draft decision III, it would take note of the report of the Permanent Forum at its fifteenth session, and approve a provisional agenda for its next session, with a focus on indigenous human rights defenders and indigenous youth.
Overall, the Forum approved seven draft reports without a vote — as presented and orally revised by Rapporteur Oliver Loode, Forum member from Estonia — which together would be combined into the final report of the fifteenth session. Its first report (document E/C.19/2016/L.2) detailed the procedural aspects of its fifteenth session, including its dates, venue, proceedings and attendance.
By its report on the international expert group meeting on the theme of indigenous languages (document E/C.19/2016/L.3), the Forum — noting that more than half of the world’s indigenous languages would become extinct by 2100 — recommended that States recognize the language rights of indigenous peoples and develop policies to promote and protect indigenous languages, including by supporting full immersion methods. It further recommended that States and the United Nations system provide support, including funding, for the efforts of indigenous peoples’ institutions to preserve and revitalize their languages, and that the General Assembly proclaim an International Year of Indigenous Languages by 2020.
According to the report on implementation of the Forum’s six mandated areas (document E/C.19.2016/L.4), the Forum welcomed Canada’s recent endorsement, without qualification, of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and looked forward to its immediate implementation in that country, with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples. Regarding a proposal to place an observatory on Hawaii’s sacred mountain Mauna Kea, it recommended that the free, prior and informed consent of native Hawaiians be recognized.
Further by that report, the Forum called upon Member States to implement the recommendations of the international expert working group meeting on indigenous youth held in 2013, and urged the consideration of a distinct United Nations voluntary fund for indigenous youth, or the earmarking of existing and future funds for that purpose. It further urged States to take the measures necessary for the prevention of self-harm and suicide among indigenous children and young people, recommending that States adopt measures to address the specific problems of police brutality, systemic police violence and discrimination against indigenous women.
In its report on the theme of the just-concluded session, “Indigenous peoples: conflict, peace and resolution” (document E/C.19/2016/L.5), the Forum recommended that States take effective measures to eliminate violence against indigenous peoples, including by studying the root causes of conflict and human rights abuses, developing indicators and methodologies for risk assessment and early warning mechanisms. It also urged States to take measures for post-conflict settlement, protection and security, and for the construction of lasting peace, promoting the full and effective inclusion of indigenous peoples, including women, in any initiative for peace and reconciliation.
More specifically, the Forum urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the assassination of Berta Cáceres in Honduras. Condemning the unresolved disappearance of 43 trainee teachers in Guerrero, Mexico, it called upon the Government of that country to resolve that disappearance. It further invited Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Nigeria and Rwanda to submit reports on the situation of indigenous peoples affected by conflict in those countries to the Forum at its sixteenth session.
By its report on follow-up to its recommendations (document E/C.19/2016/L.6), the Forum noted that indigenous peoples — including the Canada’s Ktunxa Nation, Australia’s Aboriginal people and Guatemala’s Mayan people — continued to face destruction of their religious, spiritual and cultural sites, and urged States to take effective measures to ensure the protection of such sites. It recommended that States ensure that indigenous peoples were not forced to defend those rights against proposed development projects or through litigation in court, and that they actively resolved disputes directly with indigenous peoples.
The Forum’s report on dialogue with Member States, United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies and on its own future work (document E/C.19/2016/L.7) recommended that all Member States prepare reports on implementation of the Declaration for its sixteenth session. It also issued a number of recommendations to the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, including a proposal to institutionalize dialogue between the expert members of the Forum and the principals of United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies. It also recommended that States and United Nations agencies widely disseminate the Sustainable Development Goals to indigenous peoples, using culturally appropriate educational tools, and in indigenous languages.