Opening Remarks to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Asia and the Pacific, Field-Headquarters Consultation and Joint Work Planning Exercise

by Mr Hugh Odhams, OIC Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 29 March 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the ILO's Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Bangkok and to this meeting.

As you all know 2004 marks the end of the UN's Decade for the World's Indigenous People. A lot has been achieved in these 10 years to improve the lives of indigenous and tribal peoples. The situation of one of the world's most disadvantages groups, and the diversity and value of their cultures, has been brought to the attention of the public. It has been pushed up the agenda of policy-makers.

We want to capitalise on this.

Of course, the ILO has been working with and for indigenous peoples for a lot longer than 10 years. Since the 1920's we have been at the forefront of efforts to improve their living and working conditions and promote social justice. Two ILO conventions - Number 107 and Number 169 - have been dedicated to these issues.

These conventions also function as useful benchmarks, documenting the way that attitudes towards the rights and needs of indigenous and tribal peoples have changed. The first Convention was conceived in the 1950’s. It draws its approach from a colonialist era. The underlying assumptions of what was ‘best’ for ITP’s were paternalist and interventionist.

The later, 1989 Convention, reflected a fundamental shift in society’s attitude to ITP’s. Its guiding principals are consultation and participation. These remain our principles today, and this meeting is example of that. There is a more general recognition of the invaluable contribution made to global society by indigenous peoples - what they can do for us as well as what we can do for them. As the UN General Assembly put it at the launch of this special International Decade, it is a “partnership in action”.

The last decade has achieved much. Not only have public attitudes changed but institutions have been built or reformed. The ILO’s work in human rights promotion, poverty reduction and policy development has produced concrete, lasting progress that we can be proud of.

But there is still a lot to do. It’s estimated that there are around 300 million indigenous and tribal people in the world, living in more than 70 countries. Regrettably, many remain among the most excluded and vulnerable in their societies.

We need to strengthen our consultation frameworks with these groups, particularly with women and young people. We must develop a more in-depth understanding of the way indigenous peoples live and what their priorities are. And we must bear in mind that their views on poverty and self-sufficiency can be different from ours, meaning that we have to come up with new, creative, approaches if we are to be successful.

In summary, this means integrating the needs of indigenous and tribal peoples into the very fabric of the ILO’s work and policies.

Meetings like this are fundamental to achieving that aim. They allow us to debate and test policies drawn up in offices against best practices and lessons learned in the field. This is another kind of “partnership in action”.

You have a very full agenda before you and a lot of important topics to cover. I wish you a successful and productive two days and I look forward to seeing the outcome of your consultations.

Thank you.