The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - Ambitions and limitations
SEPTEMBER 1st 2003
RESOURCE CENTER FOR THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Presentation by the
Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,
Mr. Ole Henrik Magga
Ever since the Haudenosaunee Chief Deskahe in 1923 and the Maori Chief Ratana in 1924 came to plead their cause at the League of Nations, there has been an intesive activity amongst the leadership of indigenous peoples, aiming at a recognition of our peoples within the UN system. However, when the World Council of Indigenous Peoples was established in 1975, the realization of our dream of our peoples being accepted by the UN family, still remained as something far in the future. But last year we were finally welcomed into the UN family.
2. The Forum and its mandate
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established by United Nations´ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2000 and its first annual session was held at the UN Headquarters in May 2002, and the second session from May 12th to 23rd this year. The Forum has the following mandate:
The Permanent Forum is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Permanent Forum will :
- provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the Council, as well as to programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations, through the Council
- raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the UN system
- prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.
The Forum consists of 8 members nominated by indigenous organizations and 8 members nominated by the governments from these 7 regions: Asia, Africa, Russia, Europe and the Arctic, Pasific, South-/Central- America and North America. These are the members: Antonio Jacanamijoy, Colombia, Ayitegau Kouevi, Togo, Wilton Littlechild, Canada, Ole Henrik Magga, Norway, Zinaida Strogalshikova, Russia, Parshuram Taman, Nepal, Mililani Trask, USA, Fortunato Turpo Choquehuango, Peru, Yuri A. Boitchenko, Russia, Njuma Ekundanayo, Congo, Yuji Iwasawa, Japan, Wayne Lord, Canada, Otilia Lux de Coti, Guatemala, Marcos Matias Alonso, Mexico, Ida Nicolaisen, Denmark and Xiaomei Qin, China.
Forum members serve in their personal capacities as independent experts for a period of three years. Our term expires December 31st 2004. Decisions are made by consensus. The Forum is open to all indigenous peoples´ organizations, regardless of their consultative status with the ECOSOC, as they may participate as observers in the meetings of the Forum.
A secretariat unit, with a staff of three employees, was established by the end of January this year within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at UN Headquarters in New York. Three more positions are expected to be established at the secretariat in the next year’s budget.
What is new and special with this body?
- The Forum is permanent and its position is at the highest possible level within the UN system.
- The mandate is very broad, in fact all the mandated areas of ECOSOC itself. New York has been selected as the location for the secretariat in order to make it clear that the Forum deals with more than human rights, which until now have been associated with indigenous peoples´ questions within the UN system.
- The Forum shall provide for a previously lacking holistic approach towards indigenous issues in the UN system. It shall seek to guarantee that all UN bodies, in all their activities, take the particular needs and concerns of indigenous peoples into account. The United Nations has until know not adequately addressed indigenous issues. Even though the situation of indigenous peoples has attracted more attention during the last couple of years, all available statistics show that our peoples still remain among the most marginalized populations in the world. Thus, the United Nations has increasingly come to recognize that there is an urgent need to take a more overarching approach towards indigenous issues, that it is necessary to consider the specific situation of indigenous peoples in all its activities.
- In this forum, indigenous peoples and governments for the first time meet on a more equal basis. The Permanent Forum constitutes a recognition by the international community that without the participation by the indigenous peoples themselves, it is not possible adequately to address the particular needs and concerns of our peoples. This way, The Permanent Forum symbolizes a new kind of partnership between indigenous peoples and governments and constitutes a landmark event in the struggle for recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.
2. The work of the Forum
The Forum makes its recommendations to the UN system in the form of a report. Some of the recommendations go directly to the following ECOSOC meeting that particular year. Others are directed to other UN agencies. At the sessions of the Forum, representatives of indigenous peoples, governments, the Forum members - and not least important - representatives of UN agencies, are engaged in concrete dialogues In my opinion, these interactive dialogues have been the most fruitful moments of the first two sessions.
Most of our work this first year has consisted of establishing good working relations with ECOSOC, UN agencies, governments and international organizations. Since our time is limited here, I will mention just a few examples of initiatives taken by the Forum.
Both before and during this year’s session, we had reports about atrocities committed against the Pygmee people in DRC and the Kuna people of Panama and other violations of basic human rights of IP. We urge the UN system to take appropriate action and I, together with my colleague from DRC and other members of the Forum, had a meeting with the president of the Security Council about these questions.
Both at the session in 2002 and 2003 the Forum called upon the states to adopt the draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples before the end of the Decade of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples. As you know, the Working Group on the Draft Declaration will have this years meeting this month in Geneva and it will probably be the most important meeting in its’ work so far.
The Forum recommended this year to the General Assembly to declare a second International Decade of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples after the end of the current Decade in 2004. There will probably be a review of the outcome of the Decade. Many people and organizations seem to expect that we will take a leading role in this review process. Since the Decade is not our initiative and we have not been able to influence its’ organization and work, it does seem natural that we should take this responsibility.
The Forum recommends that the Economic and Social Council, taking into account that in 2006 five years will have been completed since the first session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and given the increasing importance of indigenous issues at the international level-and since ECOSOC will do the 5 year review of the Permanent Forum that year-, decides to devote the high-level segment of its’ substantive session of 2006 to indigenous issues.
The Members of the Forum regard the work concerning data-collection and disaggregation as the most crucial initial step in establishing a clear picture of the state of the world’s indigenous peoples. It has become apparent that in many parts of the developing world there are no reliable statistics on indigenous peoples and all to often, in the developed world, our statistics of social disadvantage are masked by much larger national populations. The Forum identified this first step as a building block for the future work of the Forum and regarded it so crucial that we have asked this to be funded from the regular budget of the United Nations.
We have decided to make indigenous children and youth a focal point of our work in the years to come. The Forum has recommended that UNICEF shall give indigenous children special attention while coordinating the implementation of the programme of action decided during the 2002 Special Session, and that a Special Rapporteur on indigenous children shall be appointed. On our request, the Committee on the rights of the child will convene a Discussion Day on the Rights of Indigenous Children September 19th this year in Geneva where two of my colleagues will participate.
Since we are not supposed to take over any responsibilities of any UN agency, we generally recommend that all branches of the UN system formulate development policies for indigenous peoples that affirm their identity and include the participation of indigenous citizens so as to highlight and initiate programmes and projects based on the perspective of the indigenous way of life.
The Forum has decided that it will seek to issue an annual State of the World Report on Indigenous Issues. In order to be able to establish effective ways of cooperation and interaction with other UN bodies – and to identify good and bad practices - the Permanent Forum will seek to evaluate how such bodies have previously dealt with issues relating to indigenous peoples. To provide for a holistic approach towards indigenous issues, the Forum has also requested that the UN organizes regional consultations between indigenous peoples, governments, UN agencies and the Forum members. Moreover, the Forum will seek to organize technical seminars on topics such as treaties and health. In this context, the Permanent Forum has also requested WHO to establish an Indigenous Peoples Health Advisory Group. These are just a few examples of the proposals, objectives, recommendations and areas of possible future action.
The forum made some 20 recommendations on this years special theme “indigenous children and youth”, 20 on economic and social development, 13 on environment, 20 on health, 11 on human rights, 11 on culture, 10 on education. In addition, more than 10 recommendations dealt with methods of work and future activities of the Forum.
Just to give you an impression of the kind of recommendations we make, let me first quote from the report from our fist session:
Indigenous peoples demand the right to keep and develop their distinct characteristics, their cultural traditions and their customs.
The Permanent Forum stressed the importance of respect and protection of traditional indigenous knowledge and heritage; the contribution of traditional knowledge in matters to do with spirituality, the environment and the management of natural resources within the ecosystems; objectively favouring the synergies between local traditional knowledge and modern science with indigenous participation.
(PFII) Requests Governments (to) include in their programs and plans and in their educational and cultural policies the contents of indigenous knowledge, indigenous spiritual and religious traditions, indigenous customs and ceremonies as well as indigenous history, vision of the cosmos, philosophy and values. The rights of indigenous peoples to their sacred sites and ceremonial objects and to the distribution of their ancestral remains should be respected. They wish to have their cultural properties returned to them, particularly if these properties were taken without their permission.
And here are two of our recommendations from this years session word by word:
25. The Forum, deeply concerned about the harmful and widespread impact of armed conflict on indigenous children, recommends that the Committee on the Rights of the Child make recommendations on the situation of the human rights of indigenous children involved in armed conflict, taking into account the principles and norms contained in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
46. The Forum recommends that the Secretary-General, through the Economic and Social Council, prepare a report on the implementation of chapter 26 of Agenda 21 and other relevant chapters, such as chapter 36 and 15, that focus on how the Commission on Sustainable Development, in conjunction with secretariats of other environmental bodies (Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Environment Programme, Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Forum on Forests, UNDP, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) etc.) are implementing those chapters for indigenous peoples in their work, and that the report be submitted to the Forum at its third session.
After many meeting with representatives of the World Bank (including vice president Ian Johnson, the Forum and indigenous leaders, The World Bank is launching an initiative, called the “Grants Facility for Indigenous Peoples,” in three parts (amounts for fiscal year 2004):
- Financial support for strengthening the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (US$150,000).
- A targeted pilot program of capacity-building for indigenous leaders in the Andean region of South America (US$100,000).
- The Grants Facility (US$350,000) to provide grants to indigenous organizations worldwide for a range of development-related activities. The objective of the Grants Facility is to help fulfill a vital development need of indigenous communities by offering them a direct opportunity to design and implement sustainable development programs based on their cultural preferences.
This is a more concrete outcome of our work. Even if the amounts are not too impressive, the initiative is a part of a new dialoque we have entered into with the World Bank. I see this and many other initiatives from our side and the responses we have had so far, as a starting point of a new development which hopefully can lead - little by little - to more influence from indigenous communities on their own life.
The theme for our Third Session in 10 to 21 May 2004 will be “Indigenous Women”. I would like to invite you all to come up with ideas how we can deal with this theme in the most fruitful way.
More information on the Forum and the report from this year’s session can be obtained from our web-site http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/pfii/.
3. Future challenges
The Forum is a first and foremost a body for dialoque between indigenous peoples, UN agencies and states. The task of mainstreaming indigenous issues across the inter-governmental system is enormous and we need all these three parties to assist us so that we together can face the challenge of the mainstreaming of indigenous issues, which surly must be borne by the whole UN system. Our mandate deals mostly with the UN system itself. But we can not work only in the international level. We need to have focus also on the practices within states. The challenges are many. The most serious one is certainly that many governments refuse to recognize the very concept of "indigenous peoples". This is especially the case in Africa and Asia. These are the most serious limitations to our work. We also feel the difficulties within the UN system when it comes to resources and staffing.
We have had too many reports of violations of basic human rights, including extrajudicial killings and involuntary disappearances. There is discrimination in the criminal justice system, forced displacement, extreme poverty, a danger of extinction of isolated indigenous communities, and there is a continuing threat to indigenous cultures and indigenous lands that indigenous peoples still suffer. But now that indigenous peoples have a place within the family of nations, as UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan said in his speech to the Forum in 2002, we look forward to a more constructive partnership with States and intergovernmental organizations. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is a vehicle that will allow us to gain higher profile and come closer to the end of exclusion and discrimination and have our human rights respected.
With the First and Second Sessions of the Permanent Forum behind us and the establishment of the Permanent Forum’s Secretariat at United Nations Headquarters, I am pleased with the substantial progress that has been made towards initiating the integration of indigenous issues within the system of the United Nations. We look forward to working closely with UN agencies, funds and programmes to strengthen the pace of change in international and national policies. We also look forward to having progressive discussions and dialogue with Member States to that end so that the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals also benefit the lives of the more than 370 million indigenous people on this planet.
To sum up, I would like to underline that with the creation of this Forum we have managed to establish a high-level body within the UN system. The Forum has a mandate to cover a broader range of issues related to indigenous peoples than any other existing body within the UN system. We are taking a new step in the process of recognition of indigenous peoples as peoples equal to other peoples in the world. Its creation and intended function is truly unprecedented within the United Nations. We are well aware of the challenges and limitations. Indigenous peoples are too often forgotten by governments and the international community. Visibility and equality are closely linked. Open resistance is not the worst thing. Neglect is in fact much worse. But we still insist on focusing on the possibilities.