States Discuss Implementing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee discussed ways to fully implement Indigenous peoples’ rights, highlighting the role of Indigenous people in protecting biodiversity, and the need for indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to conservation initiatives as well as development.

Advisors presented a road map for consultations with Member States and indigenous peoples, in a process towards a UNGA resolution on ways to increase Indigenous peoples’ participation in UN processes on matters concerning them.

17 October 2016: The UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Third Committee, which addresses social, humanitarian and cultural issues, discussed ways to fully implement indigenous peoples’ rights. Also on indigenous peoples’ issues, advisers outlined the way forward for consultations, beginning at the conclusion of the Third Committee’s work for the 71st session, in December 2016.

In the Third Committee’s annual one-day debate on the rights of indigenous peoples, UN Member States discussed two notes of the UN Secretary-General, the first on the status of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples (A/71/228) and the second transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples (A/71/229). Their discussion highlighted the role of Indigenous people in protecting biodiversity, and the need for indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to conservation initiatives as well as development.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, presented her report, which highlights ways to protect indigenous peoples’ rights, noting that conservation efforts have infringed on their rights through forced displacement, killings, and loss of livelihood opportunities and culture. Mexico, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, stressed the value of involving indigenous peoples in the design, implementation and monitoring of conservation initiatives. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) said indigenous peoples are “the true custodians of biodiversity,” and highlighted FAO’s support for the development of National Indigenous Peoples Action Plans in some South American countries, including Honduras.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) warned that a growing number of indigenous languages face extinction, and called on CARICOM’s indigenous populations to prevent the erosion of their oral traditions and philosophies. CARICOM also called on the UNGA to declare 2018 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. South Africa highlighted its establishment of the Pan South African Language Board, which includes measures to promote the use of indigenous languages. She called for elaborating a Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which, she said, could help protect indigenous peoples from transgressions by business corporations. China noted that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 2 (ending hunger) and SDG 4 (quality education), require protecting indigenous peoples’ rights through raising incomes, securing land rights, and increasing education access.

The debate also addressed the participation of indigenous peoples in UN processes on issues affecting them, with several governments calling for measures to increase such participation. Denmark said indigenous peoples should have their own category of representation at UN meetings. However, Russia called for “a balanced approach” to indigenous participation at the UN, and Canada highlighted the need for reconciliation at the national level, noting its own efforts to re-engage with indigenous peoples on issues most important to them.

Prior to the Third Committee debate, advisors to the ongoing UN consultation process on ways to increase indigenous peoples’ participation issued a formal letter outlining the way forward. Following a round of consultations during the UNGA’s 70th session, the four advisors issued a draft text that is expected to form the basis of a UNGA resolution to be adopted during its current, 71st session. In their letter of 13 October, the advisors propose that further consultations take place after the conclusion of Third Committee deliberations, in New York. The proposed consultation dates are: 14-15 December 2016; 30 January-1 February; 27-28 February 2017; and during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) session convening from 24 April-5 May 2017.

The four advisors – Kai Sauer, Permanent Representative of Finland, Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Permanent Representative of Ghana, James Anaya (North America region), and Claire Winfield Ngamihi Charters (Pacific region) – were appointed by UNGA 70 President Mogens Lykketoft and facilitated discussions on the topic with Member States and indigenous peoples’ representatives. The consultations resulted in a compilation of views and examples of current good practice on relevant venues for indigenous Peoples’ participation, accreditation, and speaking rights. The advisors were reappointed by UNGA 71 President Peter Thompson in September 2016 to continue with consultations, and an informal briefing on the process took place at UN Headquarters on 3 October 2016, in New York, US. [Summary of Third Committee Debate] [Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the status of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples (A/71/228)] [Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples (A/71/229)] [Letter from Advisors] [Consultation Process] [Compilation of views on possible measures necessary to enable the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in relevant United Nations meetings on issues affecting them, and of good practices within the United Nations regarding indigenous peoples’ participation (A/70/990)]


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