20 May 2011

U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Convenes at United Nations Headquarters

From United Nations Press Release

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to Review Progress at United  Nations Headquarters

Implementation of Recommendations on Development, Environment, Consent to Be Focus

More than 1,300 delegates...attend the tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at Headquarters in New York from 16 to 27 May. This year’s Permanent Forum will be especially significant, since it is a review year, which will focus on the implementation of Forum recommendations on economic and social development, the environment and free, prior and informed consent.

At its previous nine sessions, the Permanent Forum made 131 recommendations related to economic and social development, 127 on the environment and 35 related to free, prior and informed consent. The Forum has received appraisals on the implementation of about half of these recommendations.

The Permanent Forum will engage with Member States, United Nations agencies and civil society. Delegates will include the United Nations, intergovernmental organizations, Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations, non-governmental organizations and academia.

During the second week of the session, the Permanent Forum will hold an in-depth dialogue with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to obtain a better understanding of its functions, and also to consider some of the challenges and opportunities faced by United Nations agencies in discharging their mandates, especially those related to indigenous peoples. The dialogue will include brief presentations from senior UNICEF officials, as well as regional coordinators.

The special regional focus of the Permanent Forum is on indigenous peoples of the Central and South America and the Caribbean region. Other special features include a discussion on the Permanent Forum’s mission to Colombia, a half-day discussion on the right to water and indigenous peoples and discussions on studies completed this year by the Forum (during the second week of the session).

The Permanent Forum expects some 30 United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations and about 60 Governments to participate. The Secretary-General, the President of the Economic and Social Council, and the Under-Secretary for Economic and Social Affairs will attend the opening of the session.

Human Rights

The Forum has invited the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to have a dialogue during the first week. Members of Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Chairperson of the Forum will also participate.

Other highlights of the session include discussion on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, during the second week of the session; discussion on the Rio+20 Conference, again during the second week of the session; and follow-up recommendations and action on the various studies that will be presented during the Forum.

Cultural Exhibition on Indigenous Peoples and Water

During the Permanent Forum session, there will be an indigenous exhibition at the United Nations, which aims to present the ways in which water is tied to indigenous peoples’ spiritual, cultural, political and economic systems. The exhibition includes photographs from a number of internationally recognized artists, such as Wayne Quilliam, one of Australia’s most respected indigenous photographers. Mr. Quilliam is the first indigenous photographer to be featured at the International Photo Biennale and has created and curated more than 100 exhibitions throughout the world. Other artists whose works will be on display include Ina Hume ( Bangladesh), David Hernandez-Palmar ( Venezuela), Brian Adams ( United States), and Troy Donovan Hunter ( Canada).

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the opening of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in New York, today, 16 May:

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today. I am happy to open this tenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. At the onset, Madame Chair, I would like to congratulate you on your election as the chair of the tenth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and, under your leadership, I hope that the well-being and rights of indigenous peoples will be fully guaranteed. And as Secretary-General, you can count on me.

A warm welcome to all the indigenous representatives from around the world. You have travelled long distances, physically but also in the struggle to achieve your rights. Welcome also to the new members of the Forum. I look forward to working closely with you. This is the Forum’s tenth anniversary; 10 years of fighting against decades of marginalization; 10 years of uniting different cultures to reach shared goals; 10 years of pushing for indigenous rights.

The road has been tough, but the rewards are real. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples finally has the consensus it deserves. Now we need to make the Declaration’s principles a reality. To those who do not grasp the Declaration’s importance, I say: protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples benefits us all.

We see examples around the world. In Peru, indigenous communities are responding to climate change by re-introducing native varieties of potatoes. They have support from a United Nations-backed fund benefiting poor farmers. Now they are helping conserve the Earth’s biodiversity. We know that indigenous peoples have a close spiritual relationship with nature. Now we have to make the connection between their knowledge — your knowledge — and our world.

Indigenous peoples have been living in a “green economy” for centuries. When economists today look for new ways to achieve sustainable development, they should look at old practices in indigenous communities.

Ancient indigenous traditions can help overcome modern problems. The goal is not to appropriate your knowledge — to extract it or exploit it — but to respect indigenous peoples and help preserve their traditions.

There is an indigenous saying that, “When an elder dies, it is like a light burning out.” This is a beautiful expression of respect for the wisdom of age. But it could also be a warning. We could just as easily say that, “When an indigenous custom dies, it is like a light burning out.”

If that is true, our world is growing darker. Today, one indigenous language dies every two weeks. Indigenous cultures are threatened with extinction. Millions of indigenous peoples continue to lose their lands, their rights, and their resources. They make up one third of the world’s 1 billion rural poor. And they are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of any group.

Indigenous women, who are the custodians of so much rich heritage, often suffer the most. We do not have enough studies of the problems, but the studies we do have show appalling gaps. Indigenous peoples do not live as long as others. They suffer higher rates of diseases like diabetes and tuberculosis. Their children are less likely to survive past the age of five. Their communities are less likely to thrive.

This Forum can play a dynamic role in changing this deplorable situation and helping indigenous peoples around the world achieve the self-determination they deserve. Your success can build momentum towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples planned for 2014. You can identify ways to bring to life the principles enshrined in the Declaration. And you can shape other important events on the international agenda.

Two decades ago in Rio, indigenous peoples were active at the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development. Maybe some of you were there. We need you now even more with the Rio+20 Conference coming up next year.

From the forests to the oceans, from the mountains to the deserts, around our world you are guardians of nature. We need you to help influence the decisions we make today on energy and the environment — decisions which will affect generations to come.

Earlier this year in Guatemala, I met with Rigoberta Menchu. I remember when she won the Nobel Prize in 1992. Just before they made the announcement, people kept asking her, “What if you win? What if you lose?” Here was her answer: she said, “With the Nobel Prize, there are no losers or winners. There is a chance to hear about the struggle of people who are oppressed, a chance to be heard, and we hope that this chance never ends.”

We must end the oppression, and we must ensure that indigenous peoples are always heard. Raise your voices here at this Forum and beyond. I will urge the world to listen. Thank you.

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