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12th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held at UNHQ

arton4319The 12th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) was held at UN Headquarters in New York from 20-31 May. Around 2,300 indigenous participants, delegates of Member States, representatives of UN agencies discussed culture, education and health during this session, which included a special focus on youth and on indigenous groups in Africa.


“We must have a better understanding of the views and values of indigenous peoples by engaging them in decision-making and providing a platform for issues affecting their lives and livelihoods,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged in a message at the opening of the 12th forum delivered by Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. The two-week gathering was overseen by Paul Kanyinke Sena, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum, who stressed that culture, education and health are the basic rights for all people: “They are at the core of indigenous peoples’ right to life, our right to dignity and well-being.”

During the 5th meeting of this session, the UNPFII put its spotlight on human rights and the implementation of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Member of the Permanent Forum Dalee Sambo Dorough, moderating the session, presented an optional protocol to UNDRIP related to lands, territories and resources. Ms. Sambo Dorough stressed the fact that there was an urgent need for implementation of UNDRIP, highlighting the lack of comprehensive national agendas in this regard. The UNPFII then addressed the situation of indigenous persons with disabilities, with a particular focus on challenges faced with regard to the full enjoyment of human rights and inclusion in development. The areas of discrimination examined in the report were political participation, education, language, culture, access to justice, indigenous women and children with disabilities, and was written in consultation with indigenous people with disabilities from different regions.

Speakers asserted that the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) adopted in 2006 should be more fully integrated at the community level, and needs further awareness among indigenous peoples. They also recommended that all stakeholders should pay more attention to the rights of people with disabilities through addressing discrimination and ensuring the right to self-determination. Calling attention to the linkages between disability and increased exposure to environmental degradation, participants recommended that UN agencies should increase access for people with disabilities in all areas including website accessibility, and promoting increased participation of indigenous people with disabilities in annual sessions.

Ms. Sambo Dorough also referred to a recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya on the Ethiopian region of Gemballa, as an example of the lack of improvement in the status of indigenous peoples over the past few years. The UNDRIP was intended to impact national policies to curb and eventually end physical violence and discrimination, so there is a crucial need for Member States to uphold their obligations in allowing indigenous peoples to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

During the 12th and 13th meetings, the UNPFII led discussions on the development agenda beyond 2015. Participants emphasized the crucial need to include indigenous peoples in shaping the post-2015 development agenda and in closing persistent gaps in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), so that when the time came, the global community could “hit the ground running.” The Permanent Forum held a panel discussion in which top United Nations policy advisers sketched plans for the much-anticipated follow-on proposal. Post-2015 will be a “much bigger” agenda, said Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning. Representatives of indigenous peoples insisted that in the process of defining the post-2015 agenda, their voices must be heard and policies must be articulated in ways that responded to their needs. A member of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Patricia Espinosa, agreed that the inclusion in defining the post-2015 agenda was truly necessary. Honing in on implementation, she said that despite the early stages of defining the post-2015 agenda, she was confident that it would incorporate the concerns of all, especially indigenous peoples.

On the subject of bridging from the MDGs to post-2015, Joan Carling of the Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact called attention to the concept and measurements of poverty as defined in the Millennium Goals as less than one dollar per day. From the perspective of indigenous peoples, she continued, the definition of poverty relates to overall well-being and not to anything material. Therefore attention to indigenous peoples’ cultural views is essential in defining development priorities and providing services, such as health or education, to indigenous peoples, to avoid alienating the very people for whom the services were intended, Ms. Carling concluded.

Representatives of indigenous peoples’ groups made several joint statements outlining their priorities for the post-2015 agenda, both in terms of participation and content. Both are available on the website of the Campaign for People’s Goals for Sustainable Development (CPGSD). The joint statement of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) is available here. The joint statement of Kari-Oca 2, IPMSDL, and CPGSD is available here.

In a call to action at the close of the two-week session, the Forum approved a draft decision recommending that the Economic and Social Council change its name to the “Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” in recognition of a dynamic effort to preserve indigenous peoples’ identity, ensure their rights and secure their fully fledged place on the global stage.

Forum Chair Paul Kanyinke Sena, summing up the session’s discussions in closing remarks, underlined the need for improved statistics on health and for access to an education that provided indigenous children with skills relevant to the communities in which they lived. He expressed appreciation for the increasing political support in Africa for UNDRIP and for the continent’s growing willingness to engage with indigenous peoples. He also stressed that development banks should not support any project that affected indigenous people without prior recognition of and guarantees for their collective rights to own, control and manage their lands, territories and resources.

This year’s Forum also looked forward to the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, to be held in September 2014. Two hundred indigenous participants from seven regions are to be invited to the conference. Preparations at the regional level are already underway, and coincide with the ongoing process to define the post-2015 development agenda. From 8-12 June in Áltá, Norway, representatives of indigenous peoples organizations from seven regions held a Global Indigenous Preparatory Conference for the World Conference. The outcome document [pdf] of the session outlines four themes for further discussion in the process towards the World Conference: Indigenous Peoples’ lands, territories, resources, oceans and waters; UN system action for the implementation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Indigenous Peoples’ priorities for Development with free, prior and informed consent.

For more information please see:

the official documents related to this session, including information submitted by non-governmental organizations;

recommendations by 72 Indian Nations and others for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; and

the website for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Photo Credit: Secretariat of the Permanent Forum.

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