8th Session of UN Permanent Forum
Govts urged to show respect for rights of indigenous people
The 8th annual session of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples continued in New York yesterday with indigenous speakers decrying the governments' near-total disregard for their rights in the development of roads, waterways and extractive projects, negotiation of free trade agreements and drafting of national legislation that have impacted their lives.
A representative of the Asian Indigenous Peoples Caucus said the situation was desperate in his part of the world where indigenous peoples were losing their lands at an alarming rate due to development of hydropower and other projects, according to a message of UN Economic and Social Council received here.
Saying that they needed technical support to protect their natural resources, he called on the states, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions to consider alternative systems to fossil fuel-based energy, bio-energy and hydropower dams.
Echoing that call, a representative of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazonian River Basin (COICA) said people in his region were being repressed by the governments that signed contracts with multinational companies without considering their right to free, prior and informed consent.
Moreover, indigenous peoples' access to water was not being prioritised and he condemned the governments' refusal to declare water as a human right. He asked the forum as well as participating countries to demand implementation of environmental and social standards of the projects carried out in indigenous territories.
In the daylong meeting where almost 60 speakers took the floor, indigenous representatives from all regions called on the states that had not yet done so to swiftly endorse the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and redress what they viewed as an entrenched lack of respect for their values -- even existence -- laid bare in unjust laws and “policies of territorial manipulation”.
Indigenous peoples had a right to be consulted on the issues on which they were vulnerable and yet they lacked the ability to make real decisions in social, political and environmental spheres, they added.
Responding to those calls, a participant from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) discussed a training programme that aimed to strengthen indigenous representatives' ability to negotiate improvements in all areas under the forum's mandate: Health, education, culture, environment, economic and social development and human rights.
Most cases focused on the two greatest challenges to indigenous peoples: Conflict over land and resource issues and marginalisation from political and economic processes.
The meeting also heard from representatives of the governments -- participating as observers -- and international financial institutions who stressed the need for conservation and the equitable sharing of benefits. For their part, the representatives defended measures taken to address challenges faced by indigenous peoples and outlined steps to improve health, education and other services in the areas in which they lived.
Offering another way forward, a representative from the Convention on Biological Diversity said the natural resources stewardship circle of the aromatic, perfume and cosmetics industry adopted a declaration that supported the goals of convention, declaration, global compact and ILO Convention No. 169.
That industrial sector -- a more than $40 billion annual industry -- was sourced largely by natural extracts directly from indigenous and local communities. Such “win-win” creative partnerships between the private sector and indigenous people benefited biodiversity, the environment and indigenous communities.
Also speaking were state representatives from Nicaragua, Brazil, Finland, Spain, Guatemala and Ecuador. A deputy director of special projects of the office of the prime minister of Namibia and assistant deputy attorney general of Canada made their statements.
Representatives of Colombia, Chile, Spain and Vietnam spoke in exercise of the right of reply. Forum members from Bolivia, Morocco, Spain, Congo and Uganda also spoke. Speaking on behalf of the UN's specialised agencies and other intergovernmental organisations were representatives of ILO, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and IOM.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the caucuses, umbrella organisations and indigenous groups, including Asian Indigenous Peoples Caucus, IUCN, International Indigenous Women's Forum, Global Indigenous Women's Caucus and Australian Caucus of Non-Governmental Organisations.