Info Service on Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge (Aug17/02)
14 August 2017
Third World Network
United Nations: Indigenous peoples continue to face challenges to
Published in SUNS #8521 dated 11 August 2017
Geneva, 10 Aug (Kanaga Raja) - While progress has been made in the
formal recognition of indigenous peoples in several countries, ten
years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, they overwhelmingly continue to face discrimination, marginalization
and major challenges in enjoying their basic rights.
This assessment has come as the United Nations commemorated the International
Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9 August.
"While indigenous peoples have made significant advancements
in advocating for their rights in international and regional fora,
implementation of the Declaration is impeded by persisting vulnerability
and exclusion, particularly among indigenous women, children, youth
and persons with disabilities," said more than 40 United Nations
system entities and other international organizations in a joint statement
on 8 August.
Grouped under the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples'
Issues (IASG), these UN agencies and other organisations said that
the Declaration was the culmination of tireless efforts by indigenous
peoples and Member States, among others, to design an instrument that
would recognize both the individual and collective rights of indigenous
As a result of such efforts, today, the rights contained in the Declaration
constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being
and rights of the world's indigenous peoples.
"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a unique
opportunity for placing indigenous peoples at the center of development
as rights-holders and empowered agents of change. The 2030 Agenda
and the Declaration are inseparable instruments for the implementation
of the rights of indigenous peoples," they underlined.
The recent decision of the General Assembly to proclaim the year 2019
as the International Year of Indigenous Languages presents a unique
opportunity to draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages
and the urgent need to preserve, revitalise and promote indigenous
languages and to take further urgent steps at the national and international
levels, they further said.
"Making progress in realizing the objectives of the 2030 Agenda
and the Declaration will require significant investments in building
strong mechanisms and procedures for indigenous peoples' meaningful
participation, as a central pillar of engagement."
This is needed to ensure that public policies, legislation and development
plans take indigenous peoples' priorities and concerns into account,
said the Group.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted
by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007, establishing
a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity
and well-being of indigenous peoples, according to a UN press release
of 8 August.
The landmark document is the most comprehensive international instrument
on indigenous peoples' collective rights, including the rights to
self-determination, traditional lands, territories and resources,
education, culture, health and development.
There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries
around the world.
Practising unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic
and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the
dominant societies in which they live.
Ahead of the International Day, a separate joint statement was issued
on 7 August by Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the Special Rapporteur on
the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, the
Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"The Declaration, which took more than 20 years to negotiate,
stands today as a beacon of progress, a framework for reconciliation
and a benchmark of rights," they said in that joint statement.
"But a decade on, we need to acknowledge the vast challenges
that remain. In too many cases, indigenous peoples are now facing
even greater struggles and rights violations than they did ten years
ago," they added.
Indigenous peoples still suffer from racism, discrimination and unequal
access to basic services including health-care and education. Where
statistical data is available, it shows clearly that they are left
behind on all fronts, facing disproportionately higher levels of poverty,
lower life expectancy and worse educational outcomes.
(For the full statement, see SUNS #8519 dated 9 August 2017.)
According to the UN press release, although some countries have taken
constitutional and legislative measures to recognize the rights and
identities of indigenous peoples, exclusion, marginalization and violence
against indigenous peoples continue to be widespread.
To elevate the profile of the anniversary on social media, the UN
Department of Public Information has partnered with Twitter to create
and promote a branded emoji for the hashtags #WeAreIndigenous and
#IndigenousDay that will be live from 8 August to 15 September, covering
both the International Day (9 August) and the actual date of the adoption
of the Declaration (13 September).
Meanwhile, in a statement issued on 8 August, the International Labour
Organisation (ILO) noted that the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples, along with ILO's Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
Convention, 1989 (No. 169), has been a reference point for affirming
and advancing the rights of indigenous women and men.
Together, these instruments have guided public policy making from
the local to international levels, and have empowered indigenous communities
to pursue their own development priorities, it said.
However, said the ILO, the situation is still far from acceptable.
Indigenous peoples constitute a disproportionate 15 per cent of the
world's poor whereas they are an estimated 5 per cent of the world's
"Indigenous women are commonly the poorest of the poor, discriminated
against because they are indigenous and because they are women."
The ILO said that the marginalisation and social exclusion faced by
indigenous peoples must be addressed as part of the collective effort
to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda
for Sustainable Development.
"Our combined efforts - governments, employers' and workers'
organisations, indigenous peoples and their organisations, UN partners
and others - can go a long way in ensuring that indigenous peoples
are not left behind."
A message was also issued on 9 August by Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General
of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous
In her message, Ms Bokova noted that indigenous peoples are custodians
and practitioners of unique cultures and relationships with the natural
"They embody a wide range of linguistic and cultural diversity
at the heart of our shared humanity. Protecting their rights and dignity
is protecting everyone's rights and respecting humanity's soul, past
The protection and well-being of indigenous peoples has never been
so important. Despite their cultural diversity and homelands across
90 countries, they share common challenges related to the protection
of their rights as distinct peoples.
Ms Bokova said that 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than
5 per cent of the world's population but account for 15 per cent of
In this spirit, she noted that UNESCO's latest Global Education Monitoring
Report provides concrete guidance and policy advice for the advancement
of indigenous peoples' rights.
UNESCO also launched the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS)
programme in 2002 to support governments in creating synergies between
scientific and indigenous peoples' knowledge.
"All this inspires UNESCO's ongoing work to develop a Policy
on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples to ensure a stronger implementation
of the UN Declaration," she said.