The struggle for the recognition of indigenous rights continues

This year’s Permanent Forum marks the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And a persistent challenge remains: more needs to be done to fully realize the human rights of indigenous peoples

News | 25 April 2017
The assembled delegates for the UN’s annual Indigenous Peoples’ Permanent Forum enthusiastically applauded the strong and consistent call by UN officials for greater action to fully realise the human rights of indigenous peoples.

The UN General Assembly Vice-President, Durga Prasad Bhattarai from Nepal, stated that “far more needs to be done to fully realize the human rights of indigenous peoples” and reassured participants that there were active discussions to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples within the UN system beyond the Forum.

Ambassador Bhattarai highlighted the importance of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for Indigenous Peoples. He noted that this was the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN-DRIP), a comprehensive declaration emphasizing the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions.

The Chairperson for this session of the Permanent Forum, Mariam Wallet Mohamed Aboubakrine (Burkina Faso), said that more attention was needed to implement the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Ms. Aboubakrine stated that governments needed to include diversity and equal opportunities for all their citizens and that the “gap must be narrowed between the formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground”.

In his opening statement, Lenni Montiel of the UN’s Department for Economic Development, underscored the importance of the Declaration given that “indigenous peoples continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty, discrimination and poor healthcare”.

Mr. Montiel, highlighted the UN’s work in assisting indigenous peoples, stated that “the ILO, UNDP, UN Women, FAO and OHCHR to name just a few, are all engaged in a range of activities to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, in cooperation with many Member States.

This includes support for national action plans on indigenous peoples, participation of indigenous peoples in peace negotiations and environmental processes, development of legal and policy frameworks to support realization of indigenous rights, combating violence against indigenous women, as well as promoting collective land titling and access to justice.”

The Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, focused her remarks on the relationship between the gender equality compact of the SDGs. Ms. Puri stated that “if indigenous women are not empowered the indigenous future is jeopardized and so is the sustainable development project.”

The activities of UN Women in assisting indigenous peoples concentrated on a few issues such as ending multiple forms of discrimination, ending violence and harmful practices, economic empowerment, equal participation and leadership in decision-making as well as supporting indigenous women and girls as agents of change.

In delivering the ILO’s statement to the opening plenary, Martin Oelz, Senior Specialist on Equality and Non-Discrimination, stated that the ILO’s convention on indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ and its’ strategy for action are important complementary instruments to UN-DRIP in that they both seek to promote the rights of the peoples concerned in the context of inclusive and sustainable development.

“The real test of success will be whether our efforts to promote the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples translate into tangible improvements in the daily lives of the over 370 million indigenous women and men across all regions of the globe” Mr. Oelz said.

In reference to a new ILO report on the rights of indigenous peoples in Asia, which will be launched on 26 April at the Forum, he noted that in order to address persistent gaps in the recognition of indigenous and tribal communities greater knowledge sharing on effective policies was necessary. The new report presented how a “range of countries in the region already refer to indigenous and tribal peoples in their development policies and makes a set of recommendations on how to strengthen the existing approaches and on addressing the gaps.”

The Permanent Forum, which will continue until 5 May 2017, is the primary platform at the UN that addresses indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.