Press Releases

    GA/SHC/3826
    21 October 2005

    Speakers Cite Need to Adopt Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights, as Third Committee Concludes Discussion of Issue

    New Zealand Delegate Stresses Need for "Inclusive" Declaration, Avoiding Suggestions of Two Standards of Citizenship

    NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- While some progress had been made in bringing the issues of indigenous peoples to the forefront of the United Nations development agenda, their rights had been under debate for more than 10 years, and it was necessary to adopt a draft resolution on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, several representatives told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today as it concluded its general discussion of indigenous issues.

    There was scarcely a single major international conference that disregarded the issues of indigenous peoples, the representative of the Russian Federation said.  Special attention also needed to be given to the fact that together with the delegations of Governments, the representatives of the indigenous peoples themselves were also participating in events.  However, the problems indigenous peoples faced were far from being fully resolved.  While the First International Decade had given a powerful impetus, at the same time a number of the goals set forth had not been attained.  The process of agreeing on the new draft declaration had also come to a halt, he said.

    New Zealand's representative called the present text of the draft declaration "unworkable and unacceptable" for many States.  It must be amended if a declaration was to be implemented as a standard of achievement, and the failure to recognize that would effectively mean no declaration.  In elaborating the rights of one group of citizens, New Zealand could not agree to a document that suggested there were two standards of citizenship or two classes of citizens.  In that sense, the declaration must be inclusive and not exclusive, and that imperative must apply to all provisions of the declaration.

    Furthermore, the Second Decade on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, which had started in January, should ensure that issues relating to indigenous peoples, including the recommendations of the Permanent Forum, be better taken into account in the implementation process of the Millennium Development Goals and the follow-up to major United Nations conferences, the representative of Finland said on behalf of the Nordic Group.  The possibilities of indigenous peoples to contribute to and impact the outcomes of the various United Nations processes should also be further strengthened.

    There were several lessons to be learned in connection with the First Decade of the World's Indigenous People, which could serve as a platform to make the Second Decade more successful, Guatemala's representative said.  They included the need to improve dissemination among indigenous peoples of information on the political and legal mechanisms regarding the Second Millennium to strengthen development strategies to raise their living standards and combat poverty.  Guatemala had instituted legislative and constitutional reform to promote respect for indigenous peoples' rights, and indigenous groups now had a greater role in politics.  Several indigenous persons were members of Congress and held decision-making positions in various State institutions; proposed public policies; and built mechanisms for dialogue, negotiation and agreements to set priorities to resolve indigenous peoples' concerns.

    Similarly, Myanmar's representative said the Government had set up in 1992 a Ministry for the Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs to promote socio-economic development in the regions where national races lived; preserve their culture, literature and customs; strengthen amity among them; substitute opium poppy cultivation with alternative means of livelihood; and preserve and maintain security, law and order, peace and tranquillity in border areas.

    Along those lines, Venezuela's representative said her Government was trying to reverse what had been done to indigenous peoples, who were lagging behind because they did not have legitimate rights.  Her Government had created a mission aimed at maintaining and developing the ethnic and cultural identity of indigenous peoples that included bilingual education that dealt with their social and cultural needs, allowing indigenous peoples to participate in the national economy, and technical and financial assistance and training.  Her Government also had established an indigenous social bank for women, and a programme dealing with migrant indigenous peoples.

    The representatives of Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Canada and Nepal also made statements.

    A representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization also spoke.

    The Committee will meet again on Friday, 21 October, at a time to be announced in the Journal, to take action on draft proposals related to the implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and of the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly; social development, including questions relating to the world social situation and to youth, ageing, disabled persons and the family; follow-up to the International Year of Older Persons:  Second World Assembly on Ageing; advancement of women; implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled "Women 2000:  gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century"; crime prevention and criminal justice; and international drug control.

    Background

    The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its general discussion of indigenous issues.

    For more background information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3825 of 19 October.

    Statements

    JARL-HÅKAN ROSENGREN (Finland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic Group, said the Outcome Document made it clear that the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide had been placed high on the international agenda.  It was now up to Member States to move forward and make those commitments a reality.  The adoption of the draft Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People would be helpful in maintaining a broad-based focus on the situation of the world's indigenous peoples.  The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had had a central role in the preparations of the draft, and should also have a central role in the future follow-up.  He proposed that consideration be given to consolidating the reporting and follow-up functions of the Programme of Action to the corresponding process of the Forum.

    The key objectives of the draft Programme of Action were well-formulated, he continued.  Based on the findings of what goals remained unattained from the First Decade, the objectives quite rightly emphasized the need to ensure the effective participation of indigenous peoples in all decision-making processes, as well as the need for non-discrimination and gender equality.  Discrimination and the denial of the rights to participate in decision-making processes continued to be major causes of poverty among indigenous peoples, and the Group strongly supported the emphasis placed on inclusive processes in the draft Programme.  Furthermore, the Second Decade should aim to ensure that issues relating to indigenous peoples, including the recommendations of the Permanent Forum, be better taken into account in the implementation process of the Millennium Development Goals and the follow-up to major United Nations conferences.  There was clearly a growing awareness about the ways in which indigenous peoples contributed to the common assessment of challenges affecting humanity as a whole, such as the relationship to the environment.  However, the possibilities of indigenous peoples to contribute to and impact the outcomes of the various United Nations processes should be further strengthened.  Another important goal was to adopt the Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

    ALEJANDRO ARTUCIO (Uruguay) said Uruguay's indigenous population had received greater attention in recent years.  He expressed concern over the backwardness from which indigenous peoples in Uruguay continued to suffer.  Indigenous people had the right to full human rights protection and enjoyment, as well as special rights as indigenous peoples.  They had bequeathed to societies a rich cultural heritage and tremendous diversity and knowledge.  He supported the activities of the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People and expressed hope that, during the next session of the Commission on Human Rights or the Human Rights Council that would possibly replace it, countries would make solid progress in negotiations to finalize the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    ANDREY NIKIFOROV (Russian Federation) said that in the last 10 years, the programme of the indigenous peoples had been given much attention.  There was scarcely a single major international conference that disregarded the issues of indigenous peoples, and much had been done already at the United Nations.  Special attention also needed to be given to the fact that together with the delegations of Governments, the representatives of the indigenous peoples themselves were also participating in events.  Thanks to the support of voluntary contributions to the United Nations, a larger number of indigenous peoples were able to participate in the conferences and sessions of United Nations bodies.  Furthermore, that had been done in close cooperation with the indigenous peoples themselves.

    The Russian Federation gave great attention to international cooperation relating to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, he continued.  It was quite apparent that issues were frequently linked to the very survival of the peoples themselves, but without appropriate efforts on the parts of Governments, many of the issues would still remain unresolved.  In recent years, the Russian Federation had given priority attention to strengthening its relevant legislation, and special laws now stipulated the rights of indigenous peoples to protect their habitat, traditional lifestyles and use of natural resources.  Programme-targeted State support was an important addition.  On the international level, the problems indigenous peoples faced were far from being fully resolved.  While the First International Decade had given a powerful impetus, at the same time, a number of the goals set forth had not been attained.  The process of agreeing on the new draft declaration had also come to a halt, he said.

    AYE THIDAR MYO (Myanmar) said Myanmar's population of 54 million people comprised eight main ethnic groups of more than 100 national races.  Ethnic groups, or national races, in Myanmar made up 40 per cent of the population, and most lived in remote border areas.  In 1992, the Government set up a Ministry for the Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs to promote socio-economic development in the regions where national races lived; preserve their culture, literature and customs; strengthen amity among them; substitute opium poppy cultivation with alternative means of livelihood; and preserve and maintain security, law and order, peace and tranquillity in border areas.

    She then pointed to Myanmar's achievements in the development of national races.  For example, the Government had built road and bridge networks in mountainous and remote areas; facilitated cultivation of paddy and other cash crops for food security; created sustainable produce markets; opened schools; and developed disease prevention programmes.  It had also set up an Education and Training Department within the above-mentioned Ministry to promote efficiency in basic and higher education for youth, as well as two Nationalities Youth Resource Development Degree Colleges affiliated with Yangon University and Mandalay University.  There were 27 basic education training schools existed for national race youth from border areas and domestic science vocational training schools for women in 18 regions.  A National Races Village in Yangon supported and encouraged cultural diversity, and officials also had launched a Master Plan for the Development of the Border Areas.

    Giving national races greater political representation was a top Government priority, he said.  National race delegates held 60 per cent of the seats in the National Convention, and were actively participating in discussions on issues directly affecting their communities that were crucial for the emergence of a new State constitution and, eventually, a modern democratic State.

    IMERIA NÚÑEZ DE ODREMAN (Venezuela) said that for indigenous peoples, 12 October 1492 was the beginning of a war of their domination.  Venezuela could not justify the extermination of its native population saying that an occupation was civilized, because of the brutal pillaging to which its indigenous peoples had been subject.  The day was called in her country the survival of the indigenous population, and was commemorated as a day of indigenous resistance.  Nationally, the indigenous subject was a substantive part of the Government's agenda.  The Government worked to tackle the needs of indigenous peoples, such as by creating a mission aimed at maintaining and developing the ethnic and cultural identity of indigenous peoples.  That included bilingual education that dealt with their social and cultural needs, allowing indigenous peoples to participate in the national economy, and providing technical and financial assistance training.  Her Government's achievements included the establishment of an indigenous social bank for women, and a programme dealing with migrant indigenous peoples.

    She said Venezuela was trying to help the people who were lagging behind because they did not have legitimate rights, and also to honour the commitments of the Millennium Development Goals.  The Government had adopted laws to implement the basic principles of the Venezuelan constitution, by establishing:  a special institution to fight against discrimination; distinctions in the educational system; representation of indigenous peoples in national assemblies; special jurisdictions to settle conflicts based on the customs of indigenous peoples; and the position of an indigenous ombudsman.

    Internationally, Venezuela commended the fact that the Second International Decade of the Indigenous Peoples was initiated in January, and thanked the Secretary-General for his report on a comprehensive programme of action for the Second Decade.  She said there had been an increase in awareness of the rights of indigenous peoples, who were the most excluded, and member States must now work hard for indigenous peoples in the Second Decade.  It was necessary to continue to strengthen international cooperation in solving the problems that directly affected them.  Today, violations against them continued, and the main challenge was to have a declaration covering their rights.  She expressed hope that States would finally be able to conclude drafting a declaration in the second decade to finalize and recognize the rights of all the people who had been excluded throughout history.

    ANDREW BEGG (New Zealand) said the draft text on the rights of indigenous peoples, which had been under debate for over 10 years, was unworkable and unacceptable for many States, including New Zealand.  It must be amended if a declaration was to be implemented as a standard of achievement.  Failure to recognize that would effectively mean no declaration.  For that reason, New Zealand, along with a group of other countries, had tabled a comprehensive and amended text in negotiations in 2004.  In elaborating the rights of one group of citizens, New Zealand could not agree to a document that suggested there were two standards of citizenship or two classes of citizens.  In that sense, the declaration must be inclusive and not exclusive, and that imperative must apply to all provisions of the declaration.

    While the negotiations had been inclusive, the declaration would be one for States to endorse and adopt, he continued.  States must assume more leadership in the negotiations so that they could be brought to an early conclusion.  His Government has not prepared to continue with what had become a protracted and inconclusive process, nor was it prepared to let negotiations labour on for another decade.  Welcoming the chair's text submitted to the Commission on Human Rights earlier this year, he said it required further amendments, both on self-determination and on lands and resources in particular, before it would be acceptable.  However, it provided a sound and realistic basis for moving the negotiations forward and the potential for them to be concluded early next year.  That must now become the collective objective, he added.

    CONNIE TARACENA (Guatemala) said her country's evaluations in connection with the First Decade of the World's Indigenous People were intended to serve as a platform to make the Second Decade more successful.  Among the lessons learned was the need to improve dissemination among indigenous peoples of the political and legal mechanisms regarding the Second Millennium, and thus strengthen development strategies to raise living standards and combat the poverty and extreme poverty of indigenous peoples.  Guatemala had instituted legislative and constitutional reform to promote respect for indigenous peoples' rights.  For example, indigenous groups had a greater role in politics.  Several indigenous persons were members of Congress and held decision-making positions in various State institutions; proposed public policies; and built mechanisms for dialogue, negotiation and agreements to set priorities to resolve indigenous peoples' concerns.

    During the Conclave of Indigenous Peoples held from 7 to 9 October, guidelines, strategies and proposals had been set up to carry out the Sixth Negotiating Meeting held from 10 to 14 October to reach consensus on the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within the framework of the Organization of American States.  She called for early adoption of that Declaration, as well as the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Many of the Guatemalan Government measures aimed to improve the lives of indigenous peoples over the medium- and long-term.  Tropical storm Stan had struck many indigenous communities, and mudslides in mountainous areas had claimed lives and caused irreparable losses and damage to the productive areas of the country. As a result, funds meant to achieve the millennium targets had been diverted to emergency relief for the tropical storm.

    ROMY TINCOPA (Peru) said Peru had set up a National Institute for the Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Populations, functioning at the ministerial level, to coordinate programmes and projects intended to promote, defend and research the rights and development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian communities.  Last year, Peru had launched the Second Decade for Indigenous Populations in order to consolidate gains achieved during the First Decade, and to continue efforts to improve standards of living and well-being for indigenous groups worldwide.  Peru, along with Ecuador, Guatemala and other countries, was hammering out a resolution on the adoption of the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.  The Programme of Action focused on strengthening international cooperation to achieve indigenous community development.

    She said she lamented the fact that adoption of a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, as proposed during the First Decade, and discussed by the Commission of Human Rights, had not occurred.  She expressed hope that stalled talks would resume, and that such a declaration would soon be adopted for the benefit of indigenous groups in accordance with paragraph 127 in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.

    ALEJANDRO ALDAY GONZÁLEZ (Mexico) said it was very important to be able to implement all of the commitments made over time to improve the situation and lives of indigenous peoples through the goals established by the Programme of Action of the Second Decade.  While the Programme of Action was focused more on the social aspects of development for indigenous peoples, the human rights approach could not be ignored.  Concerning the draft resolution, Mexico supported the delegations of Guatemala and Peru and others who had joined in the draft, and hoped that it would be adopted by consensus.

    It was very important to have a final declaration on indigenous peoples, he continued.  Perhaps one of the main obstacles was that attempts had been made to regulate each and every one of their rights.  The idea of establishing general principles from which States could develop their own scopes would not be a bad option.  Delegations should work hard in drawing up the declaration, as it was fundamental to have a concrete methodology.  It was necessary to determine in what areas negotiation could be agreed upon so that there would be a declaration on indigenous peoples as soon as possible.  It was not useful to discuss the issue of their rights for another 10 years, he added.

    CRISTIAN REHREN (Chile) endorsed the statement of the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, which referred to the importance of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document concerning promotion of human rights of indigenous groups and of achieving the millennium targets to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and achieve universal primary education.  He also noted the work of the United Nations interagency support group, saying it reflected the decision of Member States to end the marginalization of indigenous issues in national, regional and international policies and plans.  He supported the First International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, but said much remained to be done to develop their rich diversity and heritage.  The draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People should be adopted.

    He supported the draft of Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru and other co-sponsors on action of the Second Decade of the World's Indigenous People.  Chile had offered its expertise to collect disaggregated data on indigenous populations and to efforts to recognize indigenous peoples' input and rights in public policies.  He supported the cooperation of regional bodies concerning indigenous issues, such as the Fund for Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean, a multi-party body that aimed to identify Governments' weaknesses and strengths in dealing with indigenous peoples' issues.  In addition, the Intercultural Indigenous University offered professional training in response to the demands and needs of indigenous peoples in Latin America.

    GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said it was encouraging to note that the areas highlighted, in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, as representing the greatest challenges to Canada largely coincided with the areas his Government had identified for increased action as it sought to close the unacceptable socio-economic gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.  His Government welcomed the report as a positive contribution to the collective national efforts to improve the lives of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

    His Government took its human rights obligations seriously, and had sought to address those challenging issues in an open and transparent fashion, involving indigenous groups themselves.  That approach was reflective of a vibrant and healthy democracy.  Further, Canada had sought to cooperate fully with United Nations special mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur.  In addressing their respective human rights challenges, he encouraged all States to foster an inclusive, open dialogue, in an environment free from threats to political and democratic rights and freedoms.  He also further encouraged other States to take full advantage of the support offered by United Nations special mechanisms.

    SHARADA SINGH (Nepal) said Nepal was party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and gave due consideration to the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concerning the periodic reports Nepal submitted to the Committee.  Nepal's constitution guaranteed special protections and promotion of vulnerable populations, such as women; children; older persons; and socially, economically and educationally marginalized groups.  It guaranteed all peoples the right to preserve and promote their language, script and culture and the right to practice their traditional religion.  Legal measures promoted the participation of indigenous people in the civil service, while public awareness and school enrolment campaigns under the "Education for All" programme aimed to achieve the millennium targets.

    The National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities had been set up in 2002 to promote the interests of 61 indigenous groups, she said.  The Dalit Commission and the Women's Commission were collaborating with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholder on development programmes for indigenous groups.  The February 2006 municipal elections and the April 2007 House of Representatives elections would provide further opportunities to increase indigenous groups' participation in the country's democratically elected institutions.  The elections would pave the way for restoring sustained peace and ending terrorism that had impeded the development of indigenous groups, particularly in rural areas.

    TOSHIHIKO MURATA, Executive Officer of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office with the United Nations, said poverty alleviation and food security for indigenous peoples were of great importance in the work of his Organization.  Since its inception, the FAO had worked to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security.  Accordingly, most of the FAO activities were linked directly or indirectly to poverty alleviation and the improvement of the conditions of rural populations in one way or another.

    Some of the major FAO activities that were linked with indigenous peoples' priorities in the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger included the establishment of an intergovernmental working group to elaborate a set of voluntary guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.  Furthermore, the entry into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources in June 2004 was a major milestone for international cooperation in the areas of food security and biodiversity management.  Its implementation was of great relevance to indigenous peoples and their organizations, and would contribute to the recognition of farmers' rights, he added.

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