Third Committee Reflects on Indigenous Peoples Participation
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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During the UNGA's discussion on indigenous peoples, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stressed that policymaking must be participatory and address the underlying causes of poverty, including the denial of self-determination.

El Salvador, for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), urged greater participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making, including by facilitating more inclusion of indigenous leaders in UN meetings.

China stressed that specific arrangements for enhancing participation of indigenous peoples in UN meetings must be in line with the UN Charter, and respect Member States’ sovereignty, territorial integrity and political unity.

12 October 2017: Representatives of governments and the UN system discussed issues related to the links between recognition and inclusion of indigenous peoples and the promotion of peace, human rights and sustainable development, during a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). Speakers highlighted that equality, financial inclusion and access to fair financial tools are essential to ensuring dignified lives for indigenous peoples.

The meeting took place on 12 October 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said some Member States still fail to recognize indigenous people, which denies indigenous people their rights as enshrined in international human rights law. She explained the main threat for indigenous peoples is legislative gaps, especially related to encroachment by extractive industries and infrastructure megaprojects, adding that indigenous peoples are the victims of 50 percent of all extrajudicial killings and require access to justice.

Indigenous peoples account for five percent of the global population and 33 percent of those living in extreme rural poverty.

Tauli-Corpuz further stressed that policymaking must be participatory and address the underlying causes of poverty, noting that even though indigenous peoples account for five percent of the global population, they comprise 33 percent of those living in extreme rural poverty. She also recommended repealing the illegalization of traditional production and making the education system more sensitive to indigenous peoples’ history and knowledge.

In the ensuing discussion, Belize, for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said Caribbean States incorporated traditional indigenous-led initiatives across the agricultural fisheries and tourism sectors, as they value indigenous peoples knowledge about biodiversity, crop productivity, sustainable land use and conservation. He called on governments and donors to increase their support to the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, explaining that the Fund is instrumental in ensuring that indigenous communities can participate in international mechanisms, such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Human Rights Council.

El Salvador, for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), urged all relevant international agencies to foster greater participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making, including by facilitating more inclusion of indigenous leaders in UN meetings. A youth delegate from Mexico expressed regret that no agreement had been reached on a new category of participation for indigenous peoples during UNGA’s present session.

China stressed the lack of a global consensus on the definition of “indigenous peoples”. He noted that not all countries had indigenous peoples, adding that specific arrangements for enhancing participation of indigenous peoples in UN meetings must be in line with the UN Charter and respect Member States’ sovereignty, territorial integrity and political unity.

Norway, also for Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, said the Nordic countries strongly support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and especially its emphasis on the right to self-government and participation. He noted the Declaration’s key principles are included in the new Draft Nordic Saami Convention (an agreement reached by Finland, Norway and Sweden in 2017) and submitted to the three Sami Parliaments in those countries.

With CELAC, the Nordic countries stressed that the situation faced by indigenous women and girls is “particularly severe,” explaining that they often face complex human rights abuses and sexual violence.

The Nordic countries and the EU called for protecting human rights defenders working to protect the social and economic rights of indigenous peoples, who are vulnerable to violence and killings. The EU said that the EU Council conclusions on indigenous peoples, adopted in 2017, recommend prioritizing such threats.

Mexico, for the Group on Friends on Indigenous Peoples, observed that indigenous peoples are often overrepresented among the poor, illiterate and unemployed.

Brazil recognized the need for disaggregated data and for indicators on indigenous peoples’ rights. Colombia recognized the need to respect the autonomous rights of indigenous communities and said that several such communities in Colombia are already administering their education systems.

Nicaragua noted that, through a law on medicine, indigenous peoples’ knowledge was being integrated in the field of health. Guatemala said its health programmes sought to preserve traditional health practices.

Canada announced that the government was undertaking a review of all relevant laws to better respond to the needs of indigenous communities and to understand how they viewed and defined self-determination, explaining that the right to self-determination is a guiding principle in Canada’s work with indigenous peoples.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) cautioned that indigenous peoples are often denied custodial rights to their lands and management of their natural resources, which places them in a vulnerable position. She said FAO’s work plan on indigenous peoples focused on advocacy and capacity development and includes indigenous youth and women. She said FAO is finalizing a global campaign on indigenous youth and women, which built on leadership schools it had established in India, the Philippines, Peru and Bolivia.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said it is crucial for employers and workers to come together to design roadmaps to protect indigenous peoples’ rights. He said ILO is increasingly addressing indigenous peoples’ issues through its Decent Work Agenda, which focuses on the economic and social rights of indigenous women. [UN Press Release][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Draft Resolution on Indigenous Peoples’ Participation][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Indigenous Peoples Day]

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