Continuing Session, Speakers in Permanent Forum Call upon Governments to Repeal Oppressive Laws, Practices that Encroach on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The collective rights of indigenous communities must be preserved and respected the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today, as speakers took stock of progress made in the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations and indigenous groups all took part in the first wide-ranging general debate of the Forum’s fifteenth session.

“Without fair policies and social justice, there will never be peace and true social development,” stressed one speaker representing indigenous peoples and communities.

Many participants pointed to Government and private sector actions that had resulted in the plundering and destruction of natural resources.  In that context, speakers urged the Forum to monitor and ensure implementation of the Declaration and called on Governments to repeal oppressive laws and practices that encroached on the fundamental rights of indigenous communities and peoples.

Other delegations lamented the plight of indigenous human rights defenders, many of whom had been targeted and subjected to intimidation, harassment and violence.

Per Olsson Fridh, State Secretary to the Minister for Culture and Democracy of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, noted that civic space was shrinking in many countries and legal restrictions had been imposed in more than 50 countries in recent years.  Indigenous human rights defenders were routinely subjected to violence and attacks on them worldwide must come to an end.

The unique needs of the most vulnerable within indigenous communities were highlighted by a number of speakers, including the representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), who said a number of the its programmes and advocacy efforts were geared specifically towards marginalized groups.

The rights of indigenous women and girls to participate in decision-making processes and policy formulation, access to sexual and reproductive health, including maternal health and family planning, and the ability to fully exercise their reproductive rights were all of utmost importance, he stressed.

Unjust educational policies had historically inflicted great harm on indigenous communities, many speakers said, underscoring that tribal self-determination and self-governance must extend to the education of indigenous children.  In that regard, the delegate of the United States acknowledged that the forced removal of children from their homes and placement in boarding schools had caused intergenerational harm

Many delegates focused on the need to protect indigenous languages, with the delegate of Venezuela telling the forum that her Government established an institute to preserve and promote indigenous peoples’ languages and ensure that education policies existed based on indigenous values and cultures.

The nexus between sustainable development and indigenous peoples was also explored by many speakers, with many pointing to the importance of sustainable agricultural practices.

Traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities could support social well-being and sustainable livelihoods noted the delegate of the Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  In that context, the Community had recognized that indigenous peoples had the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and cultural expressions.

In an announcement that drew wide applause, Carolyn Bennett, Minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Canada, announced that her country was now a full supporter of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualifications.

Canada was among the only countries that had incorporated indigenous peoples’ rights in its Constitution, under section 35, she noted, saying that with the Declaration’s adoption, her State would “breathe life” in to that section.  Self-government agreements were the ultimate expression of free, prior and informed consent.

Also speaking today were representatives of Guatemala, Colombia, Norway, Namibia, Panama, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Estonia, Peru, El Salvador, Venezuela, China, Australia and Brazil

Representatives of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also spoke.

Speakers representing Metis National Council, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Figi Indigenous Peoples Foundation, New Zealand Nurses Organization, West Paupa Interest Association, Australian Human Right Commission, Cultural Survival, Kapaeeng Foundation, Vivat International Franciscans International, National Indian Youth Council Inc., Nation of the South Caribbean of Nicaragua, International Development Law Organization, Raipon, Maari Ma Health Corporation, Indigenous Network on Economics and Trade, Meilis of the Crimean Tartar People of Crimea, Tribal Link, Assyrian Aid Society Iraq, Congreso General Guna, Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, Hinerupe Marae, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, Centro por la Justicia y Derechos Humaos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and the Council of Western Mayan People of Guatemala also spoke.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 May, to continue its session.

Statements

PER OLSSON FRIDH, State Secretary to the Minister for Culture and Democracy of Sweden, delivered a statement on behalf of his country, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, and said that the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples would continue to be long-standing priorities.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a milestone in recognizing the status and rights of indigenous peoples and the fulfilment of its objectives would require continuous and consistent work both at the national and international level.  Sweden, Norway and Finland were currently negotiating a Nordic Sámi Convention, which was aimed at reaching a common understanding of unresolved issues.  It was hoped the Convention would promote the protection of the human rights of the Sámi so they could preserve and develop their language, culture, livelihood and social life.  Given that the Sámi lived in all three countries, the Convention also aimed at ensuring that the its objectives could be reached with as little restriction to State boundaries as possible.

Human rights defenders engaged in the promotion of the human rights of indigenous peoples had been targeted and subjected to intimidation, harassment and violence, he continued.  Civic space was shrinking in many countries and legal restrictions had been imposed in more than 50 countries in recent years.  In some countries, indigenous human rights defenders were particularly subjected to violence, too often resulting in tragic deaths.  Attacks on human rights defenders worldwide must come to an end.  The Nordic countries strongly called on all States to abide by their human rights obligations and commitments by ensuring that indigenous human rights defenders could work without fear of being subjected to any form of reprisal, harassment, intimidation or violence.  The situation faced by indigenous women and girls was particularly severe, many of whom experienced complex, multidimensional and mutually reinforcing human rights violations and abuses.  In that context, Nordic countries placed special emphasis on the importance of safeguarding the rights of indigenous women and girls.

BRAULIO FERREIRA DE SOUZA DIAS, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, described a number of international standards which the Conference of the Parties to the Convention had adopted in relation to the session’s theme, “conflict, peace and resolution”.  Such standards and guidelines provided for legal clarity and minimal standards and contributed to peace and the avoidance of conflicts.  At their thirteenth meeting to be held in Mexico in December, States parties would consider the adoption of guidelines for the development of national measures to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and local communities for accessing their knowledge, innovations and practices, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use and application of such knowledge.  They would also consider guidelines for the repatriation of indigenous and transitional knowledge, in order to assist indigenous peoples in knowledge and cultural restoration.  In preparation for that meeting, the Convention secretariat was implementing, with support from Japan and other donors, a training programme carried out in partnership with indigenous organizations in five regions.

CLÉMENT CHARTIER, Metis National Council, said substantial progress had been made from the first indigenous peoples meeting in 1977 in Geneva, to the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, to events today.  He welcomed Canada’s re-engagement in the international community after its 10-year absence from a positive role.  Noting that Canada had supported the World Council on Indigenous Peoples, he said indigenous leaders would call for the country’s fiscal assistance for the creation of an organization for indigenous peoples to engage fully in the Organization of American States (OAS).  Next week, negotiations would be held on an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with a view to developing standards, rights and recognition for indigenous peoples in that region.  He expected Canada to join his delegation there next week.

MILDRED GUZMÁN MADERA (Dominican Republic), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the third International Conference on Financing for Development had recognized that traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities could support social well-being and sustainable livelihoods.  It had further recognized that indigenous peoples had the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and cultural expressions.  Sustainable development could not be attained without the inclusion of groups and people in vulnerable situations, including indigenous peoples.  She added that equity, social and financial inclusion and access to fair credit were central to ensuring overall access to justice, participation, well-being and dignity for indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples played a significant role in sustainable development, she continued, recognizing in particular the importance of sustainable agricultural practices associated with biodiversity and the exploitation of resources.  In that regard, the Group had decided to strengthen the region’s productive capacity, placing emphasis on sustainable local and cultural practices of indigenous peoples and local communities with a view towards optimizing the use of and access to water for irrigation and the proper management of basins, the recovery of soil fertility and the preservation and increase of biodiversity, according to the legislation of each country.  She called for steps to protect the patents on traditional and ancestral knowledge of indigenous and tribal peoples and local communities to prevent violation by third parties through registrations that ignored their ownership.  The States of the region supported the empowerment and capacity-building of indigenous women and youth, including their participation in decision-making processes in matters that affected them.

HAI-YUEAN TUALIMA, Indigenous Fellow at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said her organization had renewed the mandate of its Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore for 2016-2017.  Since 2009, WIPO had undertaken intense negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement on an international legal instrument or instruments relating to intellectual property which would ensure the balanced, effective protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.  The three current draft texts reflected unique approaches to the protection of those resources and knowledge, she said, and included indigenous peoples and local communities as beneficiaries of their protection.  The organization had taken robust and consistent measures, including capacity-building initiatives, to address the concerns and interests of indigenous peoples and local communities and to ensure their participation in WIPO negotiation processes.  It had further undertaken and submitted a technical review, as requested by the Permanent Forum at its eleventh session, focusing on the draft texts that had been developed within WIPO negotiations.

SARAH DEKDEKEN, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, said the plight of indigenous peoples in the Philippines had turned from bad to worse, with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples serving as an instrument for violating their rights rather than protecting them.  The Government had violated their collective rights to ancestral lands and plundered their resources through mining and energy projects.  She urged the Forum to monitor and ensure implementation of the Declaration, and encourage the Philippines to respect indigenous peoples’ rights to lands and resources.  Oppressive laws and policies that displaced communities, among other things, must be repealed and the Government urged to comply with its international humanitarian law obligations.

RAÚL MORALES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, welcomed efforts to improve the effectiveness of the Forum’s deliberations, which had great importance for drawing attention to Member States about the issues facing indigenous peoples.  Guatemala had made progress in implementing the Declaration, including by setting up a high-level body dedicated to strategic and coordinated action on indigenous issues.  Guatemala had in place a national development plan formulated in a consultative fashion, which guided the action of the State.  Its key features included increasing access to education and health care, improving nutrition, reducing infant and maternal mortality, expanding the range of school programmes with cultural relevance, and improving access to potable water and basic sanitation, all while taking into account the cultural practices of individual communities.  Guatemala had also put into place a public policy addressing reparations for individuals and communities affected by infrastructure projects and had initiated a historic process of national dialogue on judicial reform.  Despite some shortcomings, Guatemala had shown signs of progress and change and remained well-positioned to bridge the gaps that existed.

BOYAN RADOYKOV, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), described work at the policy, operational and normative levels, noting that the organization was developing a policy to engage with indigenous peoples.  Launched in 2011, the process had advanced through consultative workshops held with indigenous peoples in Santiago, Luanda, Chiang Mai, New York, Geneva and Paris.  The policy would be finalized and submitted to the UNESCO board for possible adoption in 2017.  There was a risk that most indigenous knowledge was being lost, and with it, valuable records on traditional ways of life.  UNESCO was working to develop policies on indigenous cultures, and along with the Convention on Biological Diversity, was promoting links between biological and cultural diversity in the context of that convention.  The World Summit on Information Society also offered an opportunity to mainstream indigenous issues into ongoing debates.

ADI ASENACA CAUCAU, Fiji Indigenous Peoples Foundation, highlighted the Fiji Government’s failure to recognize the Declaration, noting that it had instilled fear in indigenous communities by striking a bilateral agreement with Indonesia, which had allowed that country to enter Fiji to carry out work in its schools, a sign of disrespect.  The Government had violated indigenous groups’ rights, and many cases had not been investigated.  Health services were in decline and she cited environmental issues around copper mines in that context.  In a March 2015 report, Amnesty International had found that the Government had agreed to ensure economic and social development, but that civil and political rights had not been promoted.  The Government had not set a standard for the treatment for indigenous peoples, leaving them exposed to human rights abuses.  Non-recognition of the Declaration had led to absence of dialogue between the Government and indigenous peoples.

CARMEN INÉS VÁSQUEZ CAMACHO, Vice-Minister for Participation and Equal Rights of Colombia, said there were about 1.4 million indigenous peoples in her country, which represented 3.4 per cent of the total population.  The rule of law and democracy should be the minimum standard for setting public policy, including for minorities.  Colombia’s development road map had set resource distribution strategies aimed at improving the living conditions of indigenous peoples and bolstering their cultural identities.  By reducing inequality and poverty, all people would gain increased access to public services, appropriate living conditions, improved access to other regions of the country, and quality health care and education.  Colombia had established a mechanism for the protection of the legal security of territories occupied by indigenous peoples.  Progress had also been made in developing linguistic policies.  In that context, in addition to Spanish, there were 65 native languages in Colombia that were recognized as official languages in their respective areas.  There was widespread recognition of the vulnerability of indigenous women, which had prompted the country to employ leadership and empowerment strategies for women and girls.

GRETHEL AGUILAR, International Union for Conservation of Nature, said the Declaration was approved by the Union in 2008 and was incorporated into its programme framework starting in 2012.  Indigenous issues were a key part of the Union’s human-rights-based approach.  The most relevant provision of the Declaration applicable to the Union’s work was the provision that detailed the right to conservation and the protection of the environment, including the production capacities of ancestral lands.  The Declaration was the only instrument that had established the right to the protection of the environment.  The history of colonization and trends towards economic development had severely affected the well-being of indigenous peoples.  A mapping exercise had been conducted in Central America, aimed at increasing the knowledge of the relationship between nature conservation and indigenous peoples.

KERRI NUKU, New Zealand Nurses Organization, said Māori had equal rights to health and acknowledged their right to good health included physical, cultural and spiritual well-being.  There were ethnic disparities in life expectancy between Māori and non-Māori peoples.  Having a Māori health workforce would be essential to a long-term strategy for improving outcomes.  Yet, the nursing workforce did not reflect the community it served.  There would be a shortage of 50,000 Māori nurses by 2035 and little work was being done to address that alarming situation. Without measuring the problem, no confidence could be placed in a Māori workforce strategy.  Also, the lack of pay parity was a historical inequity, with a 2012 Human Rights Commission report showing a 25 per cent pay gap between Māori health professionals and others in health settings.

ANNE KARIN OLLI, State Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Modernization of Norway, also speaking also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, underscored the need to recognize the special contributions of indigenous people in common sustainable development efforts, which would determine the success of the new global framework on climate change.  They played an important role in mitigation and adaptation through their historic role as the most effective stewards of the world’s forests.  She urged investing in secure tenure for indigenous peoples, which could enhance their participation in the management and use of State-owned land.  In the area of education, qualified teachers and learning materials were needed to overcome the lack of instruction in mother tongue languages.  She hoped to create more opportunities for Sami children and youth in that context.

LUIS MORA, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the Fund worked in more than 150 countries and territories that were home to the vast majority of the world’s people.  In its programmes and advocacy efforts, UNFPA placed emphasis on the rights of indigenous women and girls to participate in decision-making processes and policy formulation, their access to sexual and reproductive health, including maternal health and family planning, and the ability to fully exercise their reproductive rights.  UNFPA had supported efforts to establish an intercultural and human-rights-centred approach to sexual and reproductive health in Latin America.  In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples were still invisible, either because national statistics did not disaggregate information or simply because their indigenous identity was not recognized.

RONALD WAROMI, West Papua Interest Association, recalled that, in 1963, Netherlands New Guinea — or West Papua — had joined Indonesia as Irian Jaya, the dishonest result of the “act of free choice”, after which his peoples’ fundamental human rights and freedoms had never been fully guaranteed.  The political process was still being questioned by West Papua indigenous peoples who have called for independence.  West Papua indigenous peoples continued to suffer discrimination, marginalization and extreme poverty.  They had rejected Special Autonomy Law No. 21 in Papua Province and called for self-determination.  Human rights violations against indigenous West Papuan peoples had been highlighted in a Human Rights Council Working Group report.

CAROLYN BENNETT, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Canada, said the Declaration was the result of indigenous peoples’ long struggles for recognition, marking a monumental shift to protect their rights, culture, language and dignity worldwide.  Noting that former High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour had shepherded the Declaration’s adoption at the Human Rights Council, she said the Prime Minister had stated in mandate letters to ministers that no relationship was more important than that with indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.  She announced that Canada was now a full supporter of the Declaration without qualifications.  It was among the only countries that had incorporated indigenous peoples’ rights in its Constitution, under section 35.  With the Declaration’s adoption, Canada would “breathe life” in to that section.  It also viewed self-government agreements as the ultimate expression of free, prior and informed consent.  The calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had shed light on the dark history of residential schools and informed path forward for righting historical wrongs.  All Canadians must now embark on that journey.

AMBER ROBERTS, speaking on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, said her organization had a dedicated indigenous commissioner position with a statutory reporting role to the federal parliament, providing a critical focal point to facilitate dialogue between the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organizations.  She listed a number of recommendations, including:  that the Permanent Forum ensure the full and independent participation of A-status human national human rights institutions in its sessions; that Member States establish independent national indigenous commissioner roles; and that Member States further engage in meaningful dialogue with indigenous peoples and national human rights institutions.

LAWRENCE ROBERTS, Acting Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior of the United States, noting that he was also a citizen of the Oneida Nation, said that at the seventh White House Tribal Nations Conference, the President had discussed with tribal leaders the strengthening of the nation-to-nation relationship, among other topics.  Recovering and protecting tribal land was a priority, with a goal of taking 500,000 acres of land into trust on behalf of Indian tribes.  The Government had settled more than 80 tribal cases alleging the United States’ breach of trust.  The policy of tribal self-determination and self-governance extended to education of indigenous children, he said, acknowledging the intergenerational harm caused by the forced removal of children from their homes and placement in boarding schools, a practice that had ended in the 1960s.

JAMIL AHMAD, Deputy Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the organization was continuously improving its engagement with partners, including indigenous peoples, to enhance environmental sustainability and to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  It was also working to ensure that UNEP’s projects and activities respected the rights of indigenous peoples, reflecting their perspectives and needs.  Noting that indigenous peoples were at the forefront when conflicts over access to and use of natural resources and land arose, he said UNEP had responded to crisis situations in more than 40 countries.  Recent work in that area included the collaborative research project on “Mediating Natural Resource Conflicts — Guide for Mediation Practitioners” and the documentation of the impacts of industrial development on reindeer husbandry.

MARIA DEL ROSARIO SUL GONZALES, Cultural Survival, noted a number of violations of the right to free and informed consent and the abuse of land by various hydroelectric companies that had taken place in Guatemala.  In response to those violations, the Government responded by persecuting activists and accusing them of being criminals and drug traffickers.  The contamination and diversion of water by private companies was a continuous challenge for indigenous peoples in various parts of the country.  The release of political prisoners was another ongoing issue in the country.  She asked that the Forum continue to be vigilant to ensure the Government took steps to protect the well-being of indigenous peoples, as well as monitor cases in which indigenous leaders were criminalized.

ROYAL JK UI/O/OO, Deputy Minister for Marginalized Communities of Namibia, described a number of measures undertaken by his Government to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples.  The main objective of the Division of Marginalized Communities was to integrate San, Ovatue and Ovatjimba communities into the economic mainstream.  Those groups were referred to as marginalized communities, and not indigenous peoples, because all Namibians saw themselves as indigenous peoples of both the country and the continent.  In the area of education support, he said the high illiteracy rate among marginalized communities was receiving high attention, and that the Government was working to construct permanent buildings for schools.  In the area of resettlement and relocation, various farms had been procured for the resettlement of San communities in the Kunene region, where more than 800 households had been resettled.  In the area of livelihood support, the Government was working to distribute food rations under the San Feeding Programme, and income generation projects had been implemented in almost all resettlement farms and villages.

PALLAB CHAKMA, Kapeeng Foundation, said Bangladesh was home to more than 54 indigenous peoples, who comprised 2 per cent of the total population, including in the partially autonomous Chittagong Hill Tracts region and in the plains.  They were among the most neglected groups in the country.  Indigenous peoples routinely faced discrimination and human rights violations by State agencies, corporations, Bengali settlers and other non-indigenous actors.  Thousands of acres of land had been forcibly taken in the name of commercial purposes, with military camps and tourist complexes set up either on titled or customarily held lands.  The projects had been carried out without consultation or consent of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council.  He urged Bangladesh to make the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission functional without delay, and both the Forum and Member States to encourage that Government to implement recommendations made by the Forum at its tenth session.

Mr. GALLEGOS, Panama, associating himself with CELAC, said that his country had committed itself to guaranteeing the protection of traditional lands and property.  That was a right which was elaborated within Panama’s Constitution.  Panama had seven indigenous groups representing 12 per cent of the population.  Large portions of indigenous lands were under official designation, representing 25 per cent of the total surface area of the State.  Panama’s national development plan sought to promote intercultural dialogue and bolster democratic governance in response to demands for inclusiveness and the recognition of collective cultural rights.  Inhabitants should be permitted to enjoy their own lifestyle, provide for their own well-being and have access to the joint benefits of the country.  The Government had sought to reduce poverty levels and improve the economic positions of indigenous peoples by strengthening their traditional ways of life and increasing women and young peoples’ access to education, health care and infrastructure.  The Government remained committed to a six-month round-table discussion with indigenous peoples, as part of the country’s move towards ratifying international labour conventions.

ROBERT MIRSEL, Vivat International Franciscans International, noted that mining activities in Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines had not only been destructive, but also marginalized and excluded indigenous peoples from their territories.  Land-grabbing had allowed for the massive expansion of palm oil plantations in Borneo and West Papua, Indonesia, both by transnational and national corporations through concessions provided by national and local governments, in violation of the right to free, prior and informed consent.  The violation of the human rights of activists, environmentalists and human rights defenders was of great concern.  “Without fair policies and social justice, there will never be peace and true social development,” he said.

KUNTI KUMARI SHAHI, Minister of State for Federal Affairs and Local Development of Nepal, said her country was home to over 125 ethnic groups, 59 of which were listed as indigenous nationalities.  Noting that Nepal was emerging from conflict, she went on to say that, for the first time in its history, the country’s speaker of the Parliament was an indigenous woman.  The new Constitution provided for the protection and promotion of cultures, languages, arts and scripts of marginalized people, and established independent commissions for such people.  The country had been implementing the six mandated areas identified by the Permanent Forum, and it had established the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities.  Furthermore, the Government had introduced affirmative action for indigenous nationalities in the public services.

Ms. WILLIAMS (New Zealand), reiterating the importance of indigenous languages, said Māori culture and heritage were a critical part of her country’s national identity.  The Government supported the protection of Māori cultural heritage through a range of domestic measures, including legislation, funding and monitoring.  One of its national education goals was to advance Māori education initiatives, she said, noting that, while much progress had been made in that area, much remained to be done.  The Government had therefore developed the Māori Education Strategy 2013-2017, which was designed to rapidly change how the education system performed so that all Māori students gained the skills, qualifications and knowledge needed to achieve and enjoy educational success.  Noting that Māori had poorer health outcomes than non-Māori, she said the Māori Health Strategy guided the health and disability sectors to achieve the best possible outcomes for Māori.

ROBIN MINTHORNE, National Indian Youth Council, said research had shown that more than one in three native women would be raped in their lifetime; 55 per cent of them would experience sexual violence in their lives.  There were several reasons why such abuse was underreported.  Sexual violence averaged at an annual rate as 7.2 per 1,000, while 34.1 per cent of Alaska native women would be raped in their lifetimes.  It was a systemic issue.  She recounted the experience of a Navajo girl abducted by another member of the Navajo Nation, a story that had shaken the state of New Mexico and Indian country, as it had spotlighted the problem of access to state-wide emergency response.  Indigenous peoples had the right to self-determination, to autonomy and self-government, the right to life and to security of person.  It was important to identify issues impacting indigenous women and to use the Declaration to connect states to indigenous communities.

JOHNNY HODGSON, Representative of Nation of the South Caribbean of Nicaragua, associating himself with CELAC and the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, said that, for the last nine years, the Caribbean population in his country had seen significant progress in the restitution of their rights.  Law 445, enacted in 2003, recognized the right to communal property and restitution of that right, while there was access to preschool, primary and secondary education, with a regional autonomous education system along the coast.  There was greater access to health care, with coverage increasing for indigenous communities and those of African descent.  For the Grand Interoceanic Canal project, a consultation process had been carried out to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of the Rama and Kriol people.  On 10 January the Assembly of Rama and Kriol had adopted a draft document indicating consent, based on the environmental impact assessment, which had been reviewed by several communities.  On 3 May, the agreement was signed and it would be published in the official gazette.

JUDIT ARENAS LICEA, speaking on behalf of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), said her organization promoted legal pluralism because there was no single legal system that trumped others.  Underscoring the principles of equality, inclusion, sustainable development and respect for human rights, she said her organization proudly shared the values of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Noting that poverty, marginalization, loss of habitat and in some places outright extinction still threatened indigenous peoples around the world, she said that indigenous voices were rarely heard in processes and decisions that affected them directly.  Her organization worked at the policy and advocacy levels to redress that challenge.  The inclusion of the rule of law in the new sustainable development paradigm was a powerful way to include indigenous people in decision-making and to support legal pluralism.  Her organization was working with ministries of justice in various countries, as well as with indigenous community leaders on legal issues, such as the reduction of land-related conflicts.

LEDKOV GRIGORII, speaking on behalf of Raipon, said his organization was involved in preserving the way of life of the indigenous groups of the Russian Federation.  The group was currently carrying out programmes to revitalize indigenous languages.  For example, 80 per cent of the words used by reindeer herders came from indigenous languages, so helping to preserve their way of life also helped to preserve language.  He noted that indigenous people themselves bore the greatest responsibility to preserve their language and culture, and proposed that the Forum’s outcome document include an appeal to individual indigenous people that they work to preserve their native languages at home.

Mr. VACA, Member of Parliament of Bolivia, associating himself with CELAC, reaffirmed his country’s commitment to implement the outcome of the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples, which outlined a global agenda and path for implementing the Declaration.  He welcomed the Human Rights Council resolution requesting a review of the Expert Mechanism mandate, calling on all interested parties to contribute to that process and recalling the commitment in resolution 70/232 on indigenous peoples’ participation and representation in United Nations meetings.  Indigenous peoples had resisted colonization, preserving their culture and philosophy to live in balance with mother Earth.  “We want to build a society and State that are more inclusive,” he said, in order to fight extreme poverty.  In such efforts, Bolivia had referred to traditional knowledge, medicine and plants, which were sources of “great scientific wisdom” and could be used in food production to increase food security.

JUSTIN FILES, speaking on behalf of the Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation, said education and health could drive current and future self-determination by facilitating access to decision-making in public and private sectors, leading to indigenous empowerment.  The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy, adopted in 2015, included an initial set of national priorities, such as childhood education and care, early childhood transitions and attendance and engagement.  Noting that, like many indigenous peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was facing crisis levels of suicide, he asked the members of the Forum to urge nations to implement their commitment to the principles of indigenous sovereignty and social justice by ensuring that indigenous peoples were able to exercise their rights to education and health.  He further asked them to ensure that nations were engaging effectively with indigenous peoples’ organizations in line with the principles of free, prior and informed consent.

YON FERNANDEZ DE LARRINOA, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the system-wide action plan for achieving the Declaration gave United Nations agencies funds to advance agenda by building respect among indigenous representatives, States, the Forum and agencies.  Coordination was more important than ever.  There were several results:  free prior and informed consent was now mandatory within his organization, and included a programme manual.  FAO had opened a grievance office related to non-compliance with obligations, which now included free, prior and informed consent.  It was launching national programmes for indigenous women on human rights, food and nutrition security, and collaboration with the indigenous women’s global leadership school.  Indigenous peoples were among the hardest hit by climate change.  Their knowledge was essential for mitigation and adaptation, which was why it launching forests projects.

JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), associating himself with CELAC, described his country’s comprehensive legal framework, noting that it was a State party to International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169, which superseded the Constitution.  Last August, a constitutional reform established the pluri-cultural nature of the country, defining it as democratic, free, multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural.  The situation of indigenous peoples must be addressed through a rights-based focus.  Education reform had culminated with a 2013 decree modifying the indigenous education subsystem, which now ensured that ancestral languages were preserved and spoken, as well as development of a context based curriculum.  A national financial system for housing benefitted indigenous populations, and to fight discrimination, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security offered economic subsidies to help vulnerable segments of the population.

CHIEF DONALD HARRIS, Indigenous Network on Economics and Trade, expressed concern about an ongoing controversy in which the Government of Canada had threatened to modify or terminate the right of indigenous people to access portions of its ancestral land.  The dispute had caused significant conflict between and within indigenous peoples in British Colombia.  The affected indigenous groups had sought to engage the Government, but the efforts had failed to resolve the conflict.  Despite claims by the Canadian Government that it would fully adopt the Declaration, the principle of free and prior informed consent had not been historically honoured.  Land claim agreements had a history of extinguishing indigenous rights.  He urged the Government to acknowledge the rights of the indigenous people in order to achieve peace.

SVEN JÜRGENSEN (Estonia) said the outcome document of the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples included deliverables for the United Nations and it had taken those mandates seriously, with the launch of the action plan for achieving the Declaration.  The participation of indigenous representatives in relevant United Nations forums that addressed institutional issues was important and Estonia had been among those supporting the establishment of such consultations.  The future of Finno-Ugric peoples was an issue Estonians followed closely, often with concern.  Through the Kindred Peoples Programme, now in its fourth cycle, the Government would allocate €1.27 million for cultural and education projects.  More broadly, Estonia would continue to support the United Nations Fund on Indigenous Populations, he said, noting that communication among indigenous groups would be essential for preserving languages and cultures, efforts that should be supported by all Member States.

EMINA DZEPPAROV, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People of Crimea, said she was a former journalist who had been forced to leave in 2014 to fight for her people.  It was a fight that had once involved her grandfather in 1944, a man who had devoted his life to return Tatars to their homeland, and her father, half a century later.  The annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014 was crucial, as the indigenous Tatar population was a target for oppression due to their opposition to the taking of their homeland.  Today, Crimea was a “stolen land” and “a peninsula of fear”.  Since 2014, arrests had been made on ethnic and religious grounds, and the independent media had been shut down, with the only Tatar television channel, a symbol of cultural and language recovery, forced out.  In two years, 21 people had gone missing, with some found dead and tortured.  Hundreds of houses had been invaded, with searches not aimed at finding something but rather, used as official instruments to terrify people.  The Tatar Mejlis, which embodied the right to self-determination, had been declared an extremist organization, and on 6 May, 50 armed people invaded a Crimean Tatar settlement, where people were demanded to undergo personal identity verification.  She called on indigenous peoples to provide moral support to Crimean Tatars.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA VELÁSQUEZ (Peru) said his Government recognized that the Forum was a platform to exchange views and ideas about indigenous issues, such as health, education, culture, human rights and economic and social development.  Peru was home to about 55 indigenous groups, which spoke 47 different ancestral languages.  Their knowledge, culture and languages were transmitted from one generation to the next.  Peru was working to promote social equality and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights.  In 2011, Peru had passed a law on the right to prior consultation, which made it the first country in the region to comply with ILO Convention 169.  Peru had carried out 23 consultative processes on topics such as hydrocarbon, mining, as well as the forest and health sectors.  The State had also engaged in activities to promote better communication with indigenous peoples, including a training programme for translators and interpreters in 35 ancestral languages.  The Government also created a registry of people in isolated areas and whether initial contact had been made to provide specialized attention and facilitate the establishment of protection measures for those indigenous groups.

MIKAELA JADE, Tribal Link, said indigenous lands, waters and subterranean environments were not commodities, but rather, intrinsic parts of peoples’ identities and livelihoods.  She decried the collapse of those natural resources, as well as the displacement, militarization, drought, contamination and evaporation of rivers, streams and lakes experienced by indigenous communities.  Furthermore, the education in non-indigenous society was not appropriate for indigenous peoples’ culture of learning and teaching.  In implementing the Declaration, she urged States to reaffirm their commitment to article 7 on the collective rights for freedom and enjoyment of human rights, and to provide annual follow up in the Forum on human rights, lands and education.

JORGE JIMÉNEZ, Director-General of Social Development, Ministry of Foreign Relations of El Salvador, associating himself with CELAC, said that, in July 2014, article 63 of the Constitution was ratified, ensuring that indigenous ethnic, cultural and spiritual identities would be maintained.  A draft policy on indigenous peoples, which contained provisions for their economic, social and political development, took a multi-ethnic approach which indigenous peoples were in the process of validating.  National institutions were engaging in activities to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights, including the Health Ministry, which was implementing a multicultural policy.  The Institute for Agricultural Transformation had a policy for equality and non-discrimination that aimed to uphold indigenous rights.  El Salvador was taking an aggressive approach to raising awareness about ancestral and traditional cultures.

PATROUS ESHO GEORGES, Assyrian Aid Society, noted the persistence of genocidal acts targeting indigenous peoples in Iraq and Syria, which had greatly increased since 2014, resulting in killing, displacement and involuntary mass migration.  It was apparent that the objective of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was to systematically wipe out the cultural heritage of indigenous Assyrians by destroying artefacts thousands of years old.  Criminal acts were ongoing the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq, most of which was occupied by Da’esh, and the towns and villages situated in the Iraqi Kurdistan region had become a battlefield for fighting between the Turkish army and Kurdish fighters.  The Iraqi Government had approved the criminal acts committed by Da’esh against the Assyrian Christians.  As that amounted to a genocide, he demanded a number of actions, including the creation of an internationally protected zone for the indigenous peoples in the Nineveh Plains; support for the indigenous peoples there to regain and safeguard their lands; plans to stop the ongoing destruction and targeting of antiquities; and a plan to provide indigenous peoples the necessities to return to their righteous lands.

ANA CAROLINA RODRÍGUEZ DE FEBRES-CORDERO (Venezuela), associating herself with CELAC, said Latin America and the Caribbean had set an excellent example in which the words and actions of indigenous peoples were being strongly defended.  Venezuela owed an historic debt to indigenous peoples, which had suffered genocide and the plundering of their land and wealth by colonizers.  Since the adoption of Venezuela’s Constitution in 1990, the country had made sustained progress in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, including their worldview and history.  Indigenous peoples in Venezuela had become full actors with a voice and vote throughout public life.  The Constitution contained a full chapter devoted to the rights of indigenous peoples, including their social, political, economic and cultural rights.  Indigenous peoples had a right to the lands that they had historically occupied.  The Government had set up a language institute to preserve and promote indigenous peoples’ languages and ensure that education policies existed based on indigenous values and cultures.

Mr. LOPEZ, Congreso General Guna, highlighted a new programme his people had launched that focused on traditional knowledge.  There were plans under way to increase and expand that programme next year.  It was essential that individual cultures and ways of life were maintained so that future generations would have that knowledge at their disposal.  The Guna had organized and fought against the Zika epidemic and developed a programme for food security, which was especially important given the ongoing impacts of climate change and the negative effects on the agriculture sector.  The Guna had launched small community projects, which were eventually expanded into large-scale community-based undertakings.  The Guna had also focused on restoring and maintaining traditional and ancestral knowledge, including in the area of medicine.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) said countries should seize the 2030 Agenda as an opportunity to intensify implementation of the Declaration, with a focus on indigenous people’s poverty alleviation, education, health care and housing, as well as on protecting their unique culture, languages and lifestyles.  He welcomed the system-wide action plan, expressing hope that all United Nations agencies would promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples in developed countries.  China did not have indigenous peoples, but firmly supported promotion of their rights.  The indigenous concept was a product of colonial history.  A distinction should be made between native and indigenous peoples, while expansion of indigenous peoples’ participation at the United Nations should be in line with the Charter, in order to ensure States’ sovereignty and political unity, and to maintain the intergovernmental nature of the Organization.  China would work with the group of advisers appointed by the General Assembly President and promote consultations on expanded participation at United Nations conferences.

ROSALEE GONZALES, Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, welcomed advances at the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which accepted empowerment of indigenous women as a theme at a forthcoming session.  Territories throughout the Americas continued to be militarized and exploited for natural resources, she said, denouncing such militarization and defending peaceful demonstrations as an option to report on such violations.  Criminalization of the continent’s indigenous peoples had made their leaders vulnerable to death.  She asked the Forum to denounce statements that perpetuated a war against the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights.  The Forum should carry out a study on genocide perpetrated against indigenous peoples, pressing the United Nations to create a fund for indigenous women and youth.  Implementation of the Declaration required inclusion of all indigenous peoples located within nation State boundaries.

RACHEL O’CONNOR, Assistant Secretary, Strategy Policy and Coordination Branch, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia, stressed the value of the important work undertaken by the National Human Rights Institution and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner in monitoring and reporting on the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Recognizing that economic development often led to improved social and cultural outcomes, Australia was committed to creating an environment that stimulated indigenous peoples’ economic empowerment.  To that end, the country’s indigenous procurement policy set out mandatory annual procurement targets for Government agencies to award contracts to indigenous businesses.  In the first six months of the policy, direct and indirect contracts valued at more than $91 million were awarded to 250 indigenous businesses.

TINA NGATA, speaking on behalf of Hinerupe Marae, said that never before had the Earth been so gravely ill.  Conventional science had confirmed what many indigenous peoples had known for some time — that the severity of the condition called for bold, immediate action.  Brave leadership was required, she said, stressing that the next United Nations Secretary-General must be confidently supported by indigenous peoples.  She noted with concern that the nominee from New Zealand had cited the leadership of that country as a credential for the role of Secretary-General, when that same leadership had overseen multiple abuses of indigenous rights.  That same candidate, in opposition to the Māori, had refused to sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, labelling it divisive, “unimplementable” and incompatible with New Zealand’s Constitution and legislative arrangements.  That track record was of extreme concern, she said, recommending that the Permanent Forum impel the United Nations to specifically consider responsiveness to indigenous rights as criteria for the role of Secretary-General.

LEIA RODRIGUES (Brazil) said her country had put in place national legislation to improve the well-being of indigenous people, taking into account the specificities of their cultures.  A special secretariat for health had been established and thousands of professionals were working to guarantee specialized attention to health issues, bearing in mind their traditions and customs.  The Government had stepped up measures to compile and process data related to indigenous peoples to enable better public policy planning.  The suicide rate among indigenous peoples in the country was much higher than that of the wider population and namely involved young men and boys.  Brazil was carrying out a number of social assistance initiatives to address the phenomena and had added traditional practices to the conventional medical services that had been employed to deal with that situation.  The health and education of indigenous populations was a priority, as was the protection of indigenous languages, which faced a number of complex challenges.

TAWERA TAHURI, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, called on the Forum to re-evaluate the decision to dissolve the global and regional caucus statements and reinstate their priority to speak.  It should urge States to stop using police militarization on indigenous nations and instead, allow the full, equal and effective participation of indigenous peoples in decisions affecting their lands, self-determination and rights.  Indigenous peoples had a sacred relationship with their lands and a duty to protect them.  Yet, companies were entering their territories unlawfully, without free, prior and informed consent, thereby side-stepping the original peoples holding the underlying title to them.  She rejected the Rio+20 definition of the “green economy”, stressing that a collaborative definition should be created with indigenous peoples and that the platforms for engagement with States on water regulation, among other things, required review.

LOTTIE CUNNINGHAM, Centro por la Justicia y Derechos Humaos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua, said collective human rights violations were a constant reality along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.  Following progress in recognizing their land rights, their human rights situation had begun to deteriorate, as Nicaragua had failed to complete land demarcation and titling, which would have recognized the peoples’ rights to territory.  Last year had seen increased attacks by settlers on indigenous peoples, forcing the displacement of 3,000 people who had become refugees in neighbouring communities and in Honduras.  Since 2013, 28 people had been killed, 38 wounded and 18 abducted, 3 of whom had not yet been found.  She urged Nicaragua to start a land title regulatory process with priority given to lands that were in conflict and to relocate settlers.  Nicaragua had not responded to requests from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on those issues, nor had it started dialogue with affected communities.  The Rama and Kriol people in the autonomous region of the Caribbean were to have signed a lifetime lease, however, consultations that should have involved free, prior and informed consent had not been carried out.

PATRICIA WATTIMENA, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, issued a number of recommendations to Member States, including:  that they recognize and promote the historical role and contributions of indigenous peoples in protecting and conserving the environment; develop and/or revise and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, their environment-related legislation to ensure the respect and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples; review and revise discriminatory laws, policies and programmes on traditional and sustainable livelihoods and occupations; and develop targeted and specific programmes in partnership with indigenous peoples in supporting their sustainable conservation and resource management practices.  She went on to highlight several critical areas that were impacting the rights of more than 270 million indigenous peoples in Asia, including the narrow approach to environmental conservation and protection and the conversion and exploitation of indigenous peoples’ land and resources.

NESHA XUNCAX CHE, speaking on behalf of the Council of Western Mayan People of Guatemala, expressed concern regarding systematic violations of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples as a result of the implementation of the extractive model, which included mining, hydroelectric projects, petroleum and monocultures — all without the consent and without prior consultation of the Western Mayan people.  Since 2010, the group had been deeply outraged at the social destabilization that companies such as Hidro Cruz Water Development Projects had caused in collusion with the Governments of their territories, which had resulted in deaths, unlawful detentions, repression and militarization.  She also expressed deep concern about the systemic violations of due process by the justice system in Guatemala in relation to political prisoners.  She therefore issued a number of demands, including:  the immediate release of several political prisoners; protection for human rights defenders and community leaders; respect for the decisions of the peoples; and the annulment of mining, hydroelectric and oil licenses authorized in their territories without consultation with indigenous people.