‘We Have Talked of Suffering, We Have Talked of Hope. Now, Let’s Talk

Of Action,” Urged Forum Member, Echoing Sentiment of Speakers in Session

In a bid to transform the historic 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into “living law”, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues closed its eighth session today by adopting a text that invited States to adopt or endorse the document, substantively inform the Forum about its implementation and effectiveness locally and nationally, and recommended that they do the same in core reports to human rights treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review.

By that text (document E/C.19/2009/L.3), one of four orally amended and adopted today by consensus, the Forum recommended that the Declaration -- a new foundation for the rights of indigenous peoples and a legal basis for all related activities –- be integrated into the policies, projects and strategies of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Further, the Forum called on States to consult with indigenous peoples and fully respond to their needs and rights when crafting relevant legislation, as well as to adopt or endorse the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169.

Key to those efforts was the Forum’s adoption of its first general comment, aimed at giving effect to the Declaration’s article 42, which stipulates that the United Nations must promote respect for and full application of the Declaration and its incorporation into national law, court systems and administrative decisions of the various countries.

By a text on economic and social development, indigenous women and the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (document E/C.19/2009/L.2/Rev.1), the Forum urged the World Bank to expand its operational budget to ensure adequate management of its $30 billion increase in infrastructure spending for developing nations. Transnational corporations must adopt minimum standards as a requirement of due diligence, particularly in creating a human rights policy, while States should ensure that corporations comply with standards laid out in the Declaration and ILO Convention No. 169.

Also by that text, the Forum recommended that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) organize an international expert workshop on the theme of “Indigenous peoples and health, with special emphasis on sexual and reproductive health”, and submit a report to the Forum’s ninth session. It urged the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues to hold an international technical expert seminar on well-being indicators to be used in monitoring indigenous peoples’ situation.

The Forum further recommended that States, United Nations agencies and indigenous peoples’ organizations actively engage in the mid-term evaluation of the Decade and submit reports on its national implementation. It also welcomed that principles and rules contained in the Declaration had been integrated into Bolivia’s new Constitution, which had been ratified in a referendum on 25 January.

In a text that emerged from its half-day discussion on the Arctic region (document E/C.19/2009/L.5), the Forum urged all Arctic States to implement the Declaration, and the Nordic States, in particular, to ratify the Nordic Saami Convention, which would set an example for other peoples whose traditional territories were divided by international borders.

Also by that text, the Forum called on the Arctic Council to provide its indigenous permanent participants with resources to allow for their involvement in all relevant activities. It recommended that the Arctic Council formally engage with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to follow-up the international expert meeting on Arctic climate change, held in Monaco from 3 to 6 March.

Among other recommendations, the Forum appointed three of its members to undertake a study on the impact of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures on reindeer herding, and another on indigenous fishing rights in the seas. It called on UNEP to conduct a fast-track assessment of the short-term drivers of climate change, with a view to starting talks for a global agreement on reducing black carbon emissions.

By a text on its future work (document E/C.19/2009/L.7), the Forum recommended that the World Health Organization (WHO) study the health effects on indigenous peoples caused by radioactive poisoning, uranium mining, dumping of radioactive waste and nuclear testing on traditional lands, and further, to submit a report to the ninth session. Similarly, it appointed a Forum member to study the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept which served as the basis for human rights violations against indigenous peoples, and to submit a report in 2010.

Also according to that text, the Forum supported a plan to hold the first World Indigenous Nations Games in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2012, and decided to hold a half-day session on the theme of “Addressing racism against indigenous peoples” during Forum’s tenth session in 2011.

Echoing the sentiments expressed by many speakers throughout the Forum’s two-week session, Hassan Id Balkassm, Forum member from Morocco, said: “We have talked of suffering and we have talked of hope. Now, let’s talk of action.” Despite progress in many countries to recognize indigenous peoples’ identity and culture, much remained ink on paper, and implementation of their values was lacking. International commitments by Governments implied there would be real action and he hoped that would happen.

In closing remarks, Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Forum member from the Philippines, said each agenda item during the eighth session had provided important insights and an opportunity for participants to hear and learn from one another. At the national, regional, local and community levels, challenges remained. “We must be strongly committed,” she stressed. “We need to work towards developing close cooperation with United Nations agencies and Governments to realize our self-determined rights.”

She said that, during the session, delegates had heard that, while most States had adopted human rights standards, there was considerable incoherence at legal and international levels. States had a duty to provide more effective protection against corporate-related harm. Speakers had underscored the absolute necessity to affirm the rights of indigenous women, noting that there was increased expectation that women and girls performed well in society and, at the same time, preserved indigenous identity. That could only be done in partnership. Forum experts had also reported on their mission to Paraguay and Bolivia, where they had met with victims of forced labour and servitude, among others.

Regarding the Arctic, she said the half-day discussion on that region had focused on environmental issues of serious concern, including the fact that heavy metals were being spread in the air and water streams. During the Forum’s following in-depth dialogues, several United Nations agencies had discussed their approaches to incorporating the Declaration into their policies and programmes. Concerns had been expressed that indigenous peoples might be seen as only the subjects of studies, rather than as partners -- active agents -– in their own development.

The financial crisis had also figured prominently, she noted, with one United Nations expert explaining that the number of global working poor would increase by 200 million. Government social spending was at risk and there was growing unrest in the face of expanding poverty. Indigenous peoples would face an uphill battle in gaining access to natural resources, particularly water.

The Forum adopted, as orally amended, the draft report of its current session (E/C.19/2009/L.10), which contained three draft decisions, including a decision (E/C.19/2009/L.8) in which it recommended that the Economic and Social Council decide to authorize a three-day international expert group meeting on the theme “Indigenous peoples: development with culture and identity; articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples”, and to report on that meeting’s results to the Forum’s ninth session. By another decision (E/C.19/2009/L.9), the Economic and Social Council would decide to hold the Forum’s ninth session at Headquarters in New York from 19 to 30 April 2010). By the third decision (E/C.19/2009/L.4), the Forum adopted that session’s provisional agenda.

During the meeting, Rapporteur Mick Dodson, Forum member from Australia, introduced the Forum’s report and recommendations.

During the closing ceremony, Chief Francois Bellefleur, First Innu Nation of Natashquan, said the Innu, who lived along the north coast of Quebec, had decided long ago to abandon confrontation and resolutely adopt a voice of equal partnership with the Quebecois. He pointed to a joint hydroelectric project between the Innu and the Quebec government, saying it was a solid opportunity to carve out a better future for his people’s children and reaffirm their pride in belonging to a great nation. Armand McKenzie, also of the First Innu Nation, then sang an indigenous prayer.

Robert White Mountain, Midnight Strong Heart Society, also sang an indigenous prayer, while Nima Lama Yolmo and other members of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities and indigenous members of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly sang their national anthem, which was written in 2006.

A 16-member subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, the Forum is mandated to provide expert advice on indigenous issues to the Council and the United Nations system, raise awareness about and promote integration and coordination of indigenous issues in the Organization’s activities, and prepare and disseminate information about those issues.

Published on: 2009-05-30

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