Press Releases

     

    GA/SHC/3749
    23 October 2003

    INDIGENOUS ISSUES MUST BE INTEGRATED IN PUBLIC POLICIES,
    DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD,
    AS DISCUSSION BEGINS

    NEW YORK, 22 October (UN Headquarters) -- Indigenous issues had become an emerging priority for the United Nations and must be integrated in public policies and development strategies, said Johan Scholvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today began its consideration of indigenous people’s rights.

    The indigenous movement had a growing international visibility through the human rights agenda, he said, noting that that agenda was now expanding to address indigenous concerns in economic and social development, and in environmental, health and cultural issues.  Indigenous peoples, during the last decade, had sought to increase their involvement in the international dialogue on these issues, stressing particular concerns about the protection of traditional knowledge and indigenous intellectual property.

    With an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples spread throughout all continents and some 70 countries, the challenges for the international community to effectively address indigenous peoples’ concerns were enormous, he said.  The engagement of the United Nations system was key to the successful mainstreaming of indigenous issues, and would require changing public policies and resource allocations, and an increased understanding of indigenous issues among public officials at national and international levels.

    Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed the Committee about activities undertaken by the High Commissioner’s Office, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Working Group on the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

    The Working Group on Indigenous Populations -- the largest international human rights forum for indigenous representatives -- had met with more than 900 participants in 2003. It had carried out an ambitious work programme, and had considered a number of standard-setting recommendations on human rights issues related to indigenous people and globalization. The second session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had been held in May 2003, and had included a high-level panel on indigenous children. A technical seminar was planned for the next session to discuss concrete actions on how to most effectively protect indigenous people’s rights.

    He added that the last session of the working group on the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples held in September 2003 had not adopted any new articles on the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people.  In fact, only two out of 45 articles had been agreed upon so far.  Initiatives needed to be taken if the declaration was to be adopted by the end of 2004, as recommended by the General Assembly.

    During the general debate, several delegates highlighted the creation of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as a major achievement of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.  The Forum had made notable progress in raising awareness of indigenous issues throughout the United Nations, said a representative of Finland.  She said the Nordic Countries hoped the Forum’s discussions next spring would address the priority theme of indigenous women.

    A representative of Brazil said the Forum’s unique and innovative features had allowed its members to offer decisive contributions towards addressing the challenges facing indigenous people, including the lack of access to health and education, persistent poverty, and exclusion and discrimination.  Brazil’s Constitution recognized indigenous peoples’ social organizations, customs, languages, creeds and traditions, as well as their original rights over the lands they traditionally occupied.

    Other delegates stressed the importance of the international community arriving at a consensus in the negotiations on the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people, in order to better protect indigenous communities.

    Some delegations, expressing concern that the targets of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People had not been met, suggested the declaration of a second international decade in order to attend to outstanding issues.  Speakers also highlighted national legislation reforms, as well as educational initiatives undertaken which guaranteed and respected the rights of the indigenous population in their respective countries.

    Also speaking today were representatives of the following countries:  Peru (on behalf of the Rio Group), Belize (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, New Zealand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, and Chile.

    The observer for the Holy See also spoke, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

    The Committee will reconvene tomorrow, at 3 p.m., when it will begin taking action on draft resolutions, after which it is expected to continue its consideration of indigenous issues.

     

    Background

    The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) will begin its consideration of the programme of activities of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.

    In this connection, there is a note of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the programme of activities of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (document A/58/289,) which states that during the current reporting period (August 2002-July 2003), the second session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was held.  During this period, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people carried out a large number of activities, including communications with governments, country missions and a thematic report on the impact of large-scale development projects on indigenous peoples’ rights.

    The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued to promote inter-agency cooperation within the framework of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People through initiatives such as the Consultation and Training Programme for Pygmy Communities on Human Rights, Development and Cultural Diversity, which was carried out in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  The report also says the Office of the High Commissioner is carrying out a joint research project with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme on indigenous peoples and their housing rights and continues to promote the mainstreaming of indigenous rights into technical cooperation programmes.

    Before the Committee, there is also a note by the Secretariat (document A/C.3/58/2), which states that at its 2003 substantive session, the Economic and Social Council decided to transmit to the General Assembly the recommendation contained in draft decision VII, adopted by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues entitled, “Proposal for a second international decade of the world’s indigenous people”.  The draft decision recommends initiating the consideration of such a decade, taking into account the forthcoming review by the Council in 2004.  The text reads: “The Economic and Social Council recommends to the General Assembly that it declare a second decade of the world’s indigenous peoples after the conclusion of the current International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People in 2004”.

    BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director, New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Committee about the activities undertaken during the year by his Office concerning indigenous issues.  He said the annual Working Group on Indigenous Populations constituted the largest international human rights forum for indigenous representatives, with more than 900 participants in 2003.  During its last session, the Group had carried out an ambitious work programme and had considered a number of standard setting activities, including a series of recommendations on human rights issues relating to indigenous people and globalization.

    He added that the Economic and Social Council review of United Nations mechanisms relating to indigenous issues had been considered in July 2003, and had looked into questions of duplication, complementarities and the efficiency of United Nations mechanisms on indigenous issues.  The discussion of the review had been postponed until the 2004 session of the Council, in order to receive and consider additional information.

    The second session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had been held in May 2003, he said.  It had included a high-level panel on indigenous children.  A technical seminar would be held around the next session of the Permanent Forum to discuss concrete steps of how the different mandates on indigenous issues could be best combined to ensure the most efficient protection of indigenous people’s rights.

    He said the last session of the Working Group on the draft declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People had been held in September 2003, with no new articles adopted.  Only two out of 45 articles had been agreed upon so far.  Given the time pressure, some initiative needed to be taken if the declaration was to be adopted, as recommended by the General Assembly, by the end of 2004.

    He also accounted for the activities of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people during the year, as well as activities of the Indigenous Fellowship Programme.  The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights had continued to promote inter-agency cooperation within the framework of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People through initiatives such as the Consultation and Training Workshop for Pygmy Communities on Human Rights, Development and Cultural Diversity.

    In 2004, the International Decade would come to an end, and it had been proposed that a substantial workshop be convened in December 2004 to review the Decade and look to the future.  He invited States to contribute the Voluntary Fund for the International Decade and the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations.  As the last year of the Decade was approaching, it was hoped that all those involved would make a special effort to contribute to the realization of the aims of the Decade, including the adoption of a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples by the end of 2004.

    JOHAN SCHOLVINCK, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said that indigenous issues had become an emerging priority for the United Nations.  The indigenous movement had a growing international visibility through the human right agenda, which was now expanding to address indigenous concerns in economic and social development, and in environmental, health and cultural issues.

    With an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples spread throughout all continents and some 70 countries, he went on, the challenges for the international community to address indigenous peoples’ concerns were enormous.  They were among the world’s poorest and most marginalized peoples.  They were affected by internal conflict, killed, enslaved and internally displaced.  Where they were the majority in various countries, or within their traditional territories, indigenous peoples were increasingly demanding participation in political and economic processes, claiming collective land rights and calling for more equitable distribution of resources to overcome legacies of colonialism.

    He said that the engagement of the United Nations system was key to the successful mainstreaming of indigenous issues.  This would require changing public policies and resource allocations, and an increasing understanding of indigenous issues among public officials at the national and international levels.  He stressed that “multi-pronged” strategies were critical to effectively integrate indigenous issues in governmental and inter-governmental public policies, and especially in efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals.

    Interactive Dialogue

    In a subsequent question-and-answer session, the representative of Mexico welcomed the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and said he was pleased about the coordination seen between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Such coordination must be reflected in next year’s report, he said.

    The representative of Canada expressed interest in the Indigenous Fellowship Programme and hoped that the Permanent Forum could pursue similar programmes.

    Responding, Mr. Ndiaye stressed that cooperation was very important between the Office of the High Commissioner and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

    Mr. Scholvinck said the coordination mentioned above was excellent, however there were other mechanisms whose cooperation was equally important, notably the inter-agency support group.  The fellowships were in the process of being set up, and financial contributions would be needed.

    Statements

    MARJATTA RASI (Finland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that with the end of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People approaching in 2004, the Nordic countries saw the creation of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as its main achievement.  The Forum had made notable progress in raising awareness of indigenous issues throughout the United Nations.  She said the Nordic Countries expected the Forum’s discussions next spring to address the priority theme of indigenous women.

    She said the resources necessary to support the work of the Forum should be provided through the regular budget of the United Nations.  Despite some shortcomings, the past decade had resulted in a growing understanding, on the international level, of the obstacles faced by indigenous peoples in preserving their culture, livelihoods and communities, and in improving their living conditions.  It was now time to strengthen efforts to achieve the goals that were still outstanding.  She urged all delegations to build on the deliberations of the working group and to redouble their efforts to reach a consensus text.

    MARCO BALAREZO (Peru), speaking for the Rio Group of countries, said the Group agreed with the Secretary-General that, despite its faults, the United Nations was still reflecting the hopes of peoples.  This was particularly true for indigenous peoples.  The work on indigenous issues had made significant progress, and many activities had been undertaken during the International Decade, including by the Special Rapporteur.  Training courses, seminars and workshops had been held, and constituted tools that strengthened cooperation and increased participation of indigenous people in decision-making.  The Indigenous Fellowship Programme was now in its seventh year, and had provided important experiences to the Fellows who had participated in United Nations meetings.

    He said the most important success of the Decade had been the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which had allowed a dynamic flow of ideas, which were now showing good results.  Although much had been done, more needed to be done to eradicate problems of discrimination, intolerance, oppression and racism that indigenous peoples faced.  For this reason, the Rio Group encouraged the Working Group of the Commission on Human Rights to finish the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples before the end of the present decade.

    STUART LESLIE (Belize), speaking on behalf of the member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said education was a critical component for the future promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous populations.  The CARICOM was committed to improving educational opportunities for indigenous people, especially for children who were among the most vulnerable in indigenous communities.

    He noted that an agreement signed two years ago between the Government of Belize and community leaders of the Maya of southern Belize, had resulted in a partnership to co-manage the natural resources of protected areas.  His Government was now in consultation with leaders of the Maya Community to implement the national poverty elimination action plan in a way that respected Mayan cultural values.  As a result, schools had been built, and access to technology had been provided, along with assistance in environmental protection efforts.

    Progress had also been made in Guyana, where the Government was collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to provide improvements in health care, education and food programmes for indigenous communities.  The Government had commissioned an integrated planning process for Dominica’s indigenous Carib Territory that focused on sustainable agriculture, education, economic development, tourism and cultural recuperation.

                                                                                                                                                 

    He said CARICOM’s commitment to the integration of indigenous peoples into its development agenda was unquestionable, and urged all States to translate words into action to improve the lives of indigenous peoples everywhere.

    FREDERICO S. DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) said the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues constituted a landmark in the realization of one of the chief objectives of the Decade. The Forum was a catalyst for a broad-based partnership involving governments, the United Nations system, indigenous peoples and civil society. Its unique and innovative features allowed its members to contribute towards addressing some of the challenges confronting indigenous peoples -- lack of proper access to health and education, persistent poverty, and exclusion and discrimination.

    The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would provide the Permanent Forum with a solid framework for the promotion and protection of indigenous rights worldwide.  The Declaration must be universally acceptable and politically realistic, he said.  Creative solutions would have to be worked out on a number of key issues to allow for completion of the drafting work by the end of 2004.

    Brazil was determined to promote and protect the socio-cultural identity and the rights of over 200 indigenous people in the country, he said.  The Constitution recognized indigenous peoples’ social organizations, customs, languages, creeds and traditions, as well as their original rights over the lands they traditionally occupied.  More than 11 per cent of Brazil’s national territory -- roughly 1 million square kilometres -- was reserved for the permanent use and fruition of the indigenous peoples.

    He concluded that the International Decade of the Indigenous People must be more than a symbolic gesture -- it must contribute to a new era of sustainable development and full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.

    CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer for the Holy See, said the right to development was an inherent right for every person, group or nation.  The 350 million indigenous people had the same claim to development as everyone else.  Development, for it to be truly human, must be integral, comprising all its multidimensional aspects -- economic and social, political and cultural.  It must be both individual and collective, and personal and shared.  Indigenous people themselves must be the architects of their own development.

    The Holy See welcomed the integration of the concerns of indigenous peoples into the objectives of the United Nations system, particularly in education, he said.  Education was key to their full participation in world progress, the attainment of social justice, good governance, and informed and responsible freedom, without which indigenous peoples were easy prey to misinformation and manipulative policies often disguised as development programmes.

    Every initiative that concerned indigenous people must be guided by some firm principles, he said.  First, one must refrain from using criteria foreign or unacceptable to the identity of those concerned.  Indigenous people were considered custodians of the earth.  They maintained a strong symbiosis with nature; they possessed an acute sense of realities beyond material; and they were keepers of oral traditional knowledge.  Their culture and languages must be respected.  Programmes that did not take these elements into account could do more harm than good.

    Secondly, indigenous people must be involved in the various stages of the projects, from feasibility studies to implementation, from evaluation to readjustments, he said.  Their participation was vital, since at stake was not only their own development, but the very survival of their identity and heritage.

    SILVIA ESPINDOLA (Ecuador) said indigenous peoples had intensified their work to achieve development and fight discrimination and intolerance, and the International Decade had been an opportune time for the international community to seek valuable solutions to the problems they faced.  Many activities had been undertaken, including the nomination of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of indigenous peoples, and the holding of workshops and training seminars.  The greatest achievement, however, was the establishment of the Permanent Forum.  This Forum reflected the commitment of the United Nations and various stakeholders to the plight of indigenous peoples.  It also gave indigenous peoples an opportunity to voice their concerns in an international forum. 

    Ecuador was a multi-ethnic country, and implementing the rights of indigenous peoples was a challenge the Government shouldered with seriousness, she said.  The Constitution recognized the rights of indigenous peoples and acknowledged and guaranteed collective rights to indigenous peoples.

    There were several public entities under the Constitution that worked to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, she said, and the International Labour Organizations Convention No. 169, ratified by the Government of Ecuador, guided these entities.  It was in Ecuador’s national interest to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, since they represented the majority of the population and played an important role in the country’s development process. 

    MARIO AGUZZI (Venezuela) said his country’s Constitution guaranteed collective and individual rights, as well as special services for indigenous peoples.  National legislation was being consistently updated to acknowledge the social debt his Government had to the indigenous populations.  Venezuela had attempted to move from assistance-based policies to policies with a participatory character respecting the needs and cultural values of indigenous communities.

    He noted that there were 32 original peoples in his country who had preceded the establishment of the national Venezuelan State. Each had its own traditions, language, legal system, religion and history that distinguished it from the others. There were some 30 indigenous languages whose use was strongly threatened, and which had therefore been made into co-official languages with a view to protecting the heritage of indigenous languages.

    The high morbidity rates, bad health conditions and poor nutrition suffered by the indigenous population were of concern, he said.  The Government had introduced health-care programs that took into account cultural specificities of indigenous peoples.  It had adopted a programme to address the special needs of indigenous people according to the guiding principles of fairness and the right to receive health care without discrimination. It also recognized the importance of cultural diversity, community participation and self-determination.

    CONNIE TARACENA SECAIRA (Guatemala) said the peace agreements, particularly the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, signed in 1995, continued to form the frame of reference for elaboration of legislation on indigenous issues. Within Guatemala’s struggle to ameliorate existing inequalities, an important step forward was the approval, in April, of the Policy for Social Development and Population.  It brought together strategic objectives to improve the standard of living of the indigenous population.  Since last year, the Government had been applying the education reform presented by the Joint Commission, which provided for a bilingual and intercultural education reform in keeping with Guatemala’s cultural diversity.

    She said that the creation of the Office for the Defence of the Indigenous Women was also one the achievements that marked the implementation of the peace agreements.  Another issue was that of the tenure and use of land.  Land was not only essential to the rural population -- the majority of which were indigenous -- but it also had a special value in the world view of indigenous peoples.  Concluding, she said the evaluation of the Decade was a highly important matter.  Not all the objectives had been accomplished, nor had progress been equal in all areas.  This was why Guatemala found merit in the Permanent Forum’s request to the General Assembly to launch a Second International Decade for Indigenous Peoples of the World.

    ANDREW BEGG (New Zealand) said his country, recognizing that one in seven New Zealanders were of Maori ethnicity, had, in recent years, made efforts to revitalize the Maori language and culture.  He noted that Maori were represented at the highest levels in government, public affairs, business and the community.

    He said New Zealand had been a strong supporter of the International Decade for the World’s Indigenous People and had committed financial resources to projects consistent with its goals.  With the end of the Decade approaching, it awaited, with interest, the review of the Decade to be undertaken by the Office of the High commissioner for Human Rights.

    He stressed that the end of the Decade did not mean the end of negotiations for the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and urged those, who continued to block progress by arguing for no changes to the draft text, to reconsider their positions.

    Regarding the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, he said New Zealand had previously commented on its view that the working group had made little improvement to the indigenous condition.  But it looked forward to substantive discussion of the role and respective mandates of all indigenous mechanisms.

    NDUKU BOOTO (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said her delegations supported the Permanent Forum and the work that had been undertaken so far.  Her delegation also believed that the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people must be completed by the end of year 2004.  It was hoped that the working group for the drafting of this declaration would receive widespread support.

    She also appreciated the holding, by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of a training workshop for pygmy populations, a workshop in which her country had been actively involved.

    ANA TERESITA GONZALEZ (Cuba) reaffirmed her country’s view that the main objective was to enhance international cooperation to resolve problems of indigenous peoples regarding health, education, the environment and human rights.  Her Government urged all States to further the legitimate interests of indigenous populations.  The political will of every participant was needed to move forward to adopt the declaration on the rights of indigenous people by 2004. 

    She said Cuba believed all existing mechanisms were relevant to their respective mandates, and must continue with their endeavours.  Her country supported the declaration of a second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People.  The challenges standing in the way of sustainable development included addressing the legitimate rights of indigenous peoples. 

    LORETO LEYTON (Chile) said progress had been made in Chilean legislation to protect indigenous peoples through affirmative action policies.  A Commission on Historical Truths and New Treatments was about to be established, in order to address the past and better protect the rights of indigenous communities.  Chile attached high priority to indigenous issues and believed that no effort could be spared in order to achieve consensus in the working group on the draft declaration on indigenous populations.

    The role of Chile on this and other issues pertaining to indigenous issues had been to eliminate social tension and promote cultural diversity.  This process had inherent difficulties, she said.  Chile was approaching these issues through public policies that acknowledged indigenous peoples’ problems and needs.  In order to work constructively, Chile had taken up various indigenous problems in international bodies, and had assisted the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples.

    CLARE FLEMING, of the World Bank, said the Bank recognized that indigenous peoples, although relatively few in number, were a significant and important part of humanity.  Their heritage, ways of life, stewardship of the earth, and cosmological insights were an invaluable treasure for all.  The World Bank had come to understand that the contribution of indigenous culture was invaluable to the socio-economic framework that the Bank assisted countries to achieve. The Bank’s commitment was to promote indigenous peoples’ development and to ensure that the development process fostered the full respect for the dignity and uniqueness of indigenous peoples.

    The Bank’s relationship with indigenous peoples had moved beyond the initial, modest “do no harm” objective. Beyond its safeguard policy, the Bank was committed to a wide variety of development activities to meet the serious development challenges facing indigenous peoples.  The greatest challenge for development agencies was to learn to build on the strengths of existing social and cultural organizations. The Bank and its indigenous partners therefore worked to protect indigenous communities’ wealth of social, biological, and cultural diversity, while expanding peoples’ livelihood options and their access to health care, education and security.

    The Bank had established a Grants Facility for Indigenous People, designed to directly assist them, she said.  It provided small grants directly to indigenous peoples’ organizations to support implementation of sustainable development programmes based on their cultural preferences.

    S. RAMA RAO, Senior Counselor of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said WIPO had been engaged in elaboration, clarification and norm-making concerning the protection and promotion of intellectual property issues related to the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities.  The agency had debated policy and legal questions, documented and analyzed traditional knowledge and developed mechanisms to support traditional knowledge holders.

    He said WIPO had actively collaborated with the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and other international bodies involved in dealing with other aspects of intellectual property issues.  He stressed that intellectual property and traditional knowledge, and other resources and expressions, were interlocked, and formed integral elements in the overall framework of development.

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