UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues also demanded inclusion in preserving culture & languages
Full inclusion of indigenous people in realising their socio-economic development and preservation of culture, languages as well as environment took centre stage at the 22nd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
UNPFII, the largest international annual gathering of indigenous people, began at the UN headquarters in New York on April 17, 2023 and will run until April 28.
During the meeting, Vital Bambanze, a UNPFII member from Burundi, presented a report from the international group of experts meeting on the “truth, transitional justice and reconciliation processes” held in Chile in 2022.
“The experiences suffered by indigenous people originate from colonialism and are linked to armed conflict, exploitation of land and natural resources and systematic violence against them,” he said.
More so, in the context of prolonged national conflict, indigenous people have rarely been consulted in peace and reconciliation processes, he pointed out.
On that note, the deputy minister for marginalised communities of Namibia recalled the effects of colonialism and apartheid on his country. This led to the pervasive loss of land and resources by indigenous communities.
Namibia fully acknowledges the connection of indigenous people to the land as well as the need to adopt and implement specific affirmative action measures, he said.
“These efforts are best supported by creating national policies to protect the social, economic and political rights of indigenous communities,” he added.
The representative of Colombia also recounted her country’s experience, underlining the importance of overcoming Colombia’s historic debt to indigenous people. To this end, developing public policies and combating structural forces of discrimination is vital.
Much remains to be done to ensure the recognition of indigenous people’s rights. She urged governments to implement the recommendations that emanate from the permanent forum.
However, the representative of Chagossian Voices, a community platform, and other indigenous speakers brought to light examples of systematic disregard by governments and authorities.
Some 50 years ago, the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom forcibly exiled and forbade the return of the Chagossian people to the Chagos Archipelago, he pointed out.
These people had been one of the healthiest communities on the planet, but in exile, they lived in poverty, he said. They are victims of marginalisation, racism and discrimination. No official apology or remorse has been offered to the Chagossian people, he stressed, calling for an urgent investigation and review of how the organisation will protect their indigenous rights.
The representative of the National Congress of American Indians and Native American Rights Fund, meanwhile, spotlighted the rampant misappropriation and misuse of indigenous people’s traditional knowledge, cultural experiences and genetic resources in violation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons.
Adequate legal protections are still lacking, he said. The representative urged member states to ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) diplomatic conference on a draft genetic resources and associated knowledge instrument.
Like many speakers, the representatives of Ogiek People’s Development Programme, a Kenya-based non-profit, and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) underlined the need to preserve the cultural identity and languages of indigenous people. RAIPON’s delegate suggested an international conference of teachers of indigenous languages and culture.
The representative of the Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú, an indigenous association in Peru, said states must implement policies and educational plans that promote the formation of cultural identities and intercultural citizenship.
Movements against indigenous rights are gaining more power, bolstered by disinformation that seeks to delegitimise their demands, she warned.
Addressing this concern, the representative of UNESCO noted that Article 16 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People acknowledges such peoples’ right to establish their own media. Media is essential for providing reliable information, raising awareness and inspiring action to address global challenges, she said.
Free, independent and pluralistic media contributes to diversity, openness and inclusion in society and indicates good governance, she added.
Several delegations, including the representative of the Saami Council, a non-profit, stressed that the green shift cannot happen by compromising cultures that have kept the ecosystems intact.
“We do not protect our lands for others to destroy,” he said. The global community needs to abandon fossil fuels and reduce emissions while transiting to alternative energy sources without placing the burden of this shift on indigenous people, he added.
The representative of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity underscored that the framework acknowledged the full participation of indigenous peoples and local communities.
The framework provides a road map for addressing environmental challenges through biodiversity, conservation and sustainable use, as those components are essential for a more just and sustainable future for all.
On the opening day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said UN is committed to promoting indigenous people’s rights in policies and programming at all levels and amplifying their voice. “Let us work hand in hand for peace, prosperity and sustainability for all,” he said.
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