United Nations Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues 2011 - Report 1

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

Indigenous Forum Needs to Implement Recommendations

IPS, May 16, 2011

There are still gaps between what we recommend and what happens in reality, Dr. Mirna Cunningham, chair of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), told reporters Monday.

"There are many really important issues this year to discuss, but for me the most important thing at this session is, that we define, how we find mechanisms to implement our recommendations", she told IPS after the briefing.

Cunningham, an indigenous Miskito from Nicaragua and former member of the national assembly of Nicaragua, was elected as chair of the tenth session of the UNPFII, which takes place from 16 to 27 May at UN Headquarters in New York.

More than 1.300 delegates are expected to attend this meeting with its special regional focus on indigenous peoples of the Central and South America and the Caribbean. "The UNPFII is an important body for indigenous peoples, because it brings government, UN agencies and indigenous people’s delegates together," Cunningham said.

One of the main tasks of this year’s session will be to review the recommendations the UNPFII has made during earlier nine sessions. Additionally, will focus on the implementation of UNPFII recommendations concerning economic and social development, the environment and free, prior and informed consent.

Altogether the UNPFII made almost 300 recommendations in its previous sessions. About half of these recommendations have been implemented. "But this year also new themes are on the agenda," Cunningham said, adding, "A very important topic will be indigenous peoples’ right to water."

Indigenous peoples’ right to water does not only mean free access to safe drinking water. Water is also an important part of indigenous peoples’ spirituality and traditions. However their right to water is not adequately recognized yet in national laws and policies.

The UNPFII will also discuss opportunities relating to the Rio Plus 20 process and to evaluate how this concept relates to the worldview of indigenous people and their development.

Every two weeks, one indigenous language dies
Another important issue during the current session will be to consider how indigenous languages can be kept alive. "Every two weeks, one indigenous language dies", said Edward John. He is an indigenous leader from Canada, where in only a few years, he said, at least three indigenous languages will be left to die, from approximately 50.

UNPO Members Speak Out At Event On Resource Extraction

Held during the 10th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), this event addressed contentious issues surrounding the development of energy resources in indigenous regions.

Unrepresented Nations Peoples Organization 17 May 2011

The extraction of global resources has grown more or less steadily over the past 25 years. The expanding population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, places increasing demands on food, water, energy and land resources. The effect of the increasing use of these resources on the earth’s climate and environment is a frequent topic of discussion in spaces ranging from the centers of international power to popular media outlets. However, the effect of the development and extraction of valuable resources on the lives of indigenous peoples in many regions of the world is frequently absent from such conversations.

In the context of indigenous populations’ systematic exclusion from political and economic power, how can indigenous people assert their rights? This event, co-hosted by UNPO and Society for Threatened Peoples, highlighted some of the major issues facing indigenous populations in relation to the extraction of natural resources on their lands. It also explored the reasons why actions to oppose such extraction projects are often unsuccessful, and attempted to outline what can be done to hold governments and corporations accountable to international standards of human rights.

Jill K. Carino, Cordillera Peoples Alliance Vice-Chairperson for External Affairs, opened the event by discussing the experience of the indigenous Ibaloi and Kankanaey people of Benguet province, Cordillera Region Philippines with mining and dam projects. Ms. Carino outlined the serious impacts that these projects have had on the land and water of the people.

Karim Abdian, Executive Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization followed by discussing the exploitation of the vast oil resources of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) province by the Iranian regime. Mr. Abdian highlighted the fact that while Ahwazi ancestral lands produce over 4.5 million barrels of oil daily- 90% of total Iranian oil production- indigenous Ahwazi-Arabs live in abject poverty and receive no part of the billions of dollars in annual revenue generated by this resource. He brought to light the systematic political exclusion of the Awazi Arabs and their resulting absence from Iranian governance structures, including those governing the extraction of resources and distribution of benefits.

Hector Huertas of the National Union of Indigenous Lawyers of Panama (Kuna Yala) and Chair of the Indigenous Caucus of the Organization of American States (OAS) provided his perspective on some possible ways forward. Mr. Huertas presented a legal overview of international complaint procedures, focusing particularly on the OAS and UN systems.

Following the main presentations there was time for questions and discussion, leading to a lively exchange about building effective indigenous movements to oppose resource development projects which violate their rights, possible opportunities for advocacy initiatives within the international system and mechanisms for indigenous recourse in cases of past or ongoing harm and rights violations.

** Ms. Azelene Kaingang was also scheduled to take part in the event, presenting the case of indigenous resistance to Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam. However, Brazil blocked this prominent human rights advocate from attending the UNPFII. Ms. Kaingang was expected to address Brazil’s “legal missteps surrounding the hugely controversial hydroelectric project” (Earth Peoples Brazil Bars a Critic from UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues).

UN launches first global partnership to advance rights of indigenous peoples

UNISEF 20 May 2011

The first global UN inter-agency initiative to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples was launched today on the occasion of the 10th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The initiative, called the United Nations-Indigenous Peoples’ Partnership (UNIPP), is a commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and calls for its full realization through the mobilization of financial cooperation and technical assistance.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the initiative and urged all countries “to support this new initiative so that it can fulfill its potential to turn the Declaration’s principles into reality.” He noted that “indigenous people suffered centuries of oppression, and continue to lose their lands, their languages and their resources at an alarming rate."

“Despite these obstacles” he said, “indigenous people make an enormous contribution to our world, including through their spiritual relationship with the earth. By helping indigenous peoples regain their rights, we will also protect our shared environment for the benefit of all.”

The aim of the UNIPP is to secure the rights of indigenous peoples, strengthen their institutions and ability to fully participate in governance and policy processes at the local and national levels, including conflict prevention in regard to ancestral land and use of natural resources. Many indigenous communities are witness to exploitation of these lands and resources by extractive industries – in many cases without regard to their rights.

The Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum, Mirna Cunninghan, said the partnership was “an important step in the efforts of indigenous peoples everywhere to fully realize their human rights. We look forward to our continued work with the UN so that the voiceless will be heard and that we can bring about dignity and respect for the diversity of our cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations.”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention (No. 169) adopted in 1989, are widely recognized as the key international instruments for promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

There are more than 370 million indigenous peoples in some 90 countries accounting for 15 percent of the world’s poor and one-third of the 900 million people living in extreme poverty. Indigenous people also tend to experience low levels of education, increased health problems, higher crime rates and human rights abuses.

Globally, indigenous children are less likely than other children to be in school and more likely to drop out of school. Indigenous girls are at even greater risk of being excluded from school. Furthermore, indigenous children often face a lifetime of discrimination and exclusion, deepening their disadvantages and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

The newly launched UNIPP will help address these problems and other social, economic and political issues by working with governments and indigenous peoples’ organization through various means including training, promotion of dialogue, the establishment of consultative processes, legislative review and reform, as well as conflict prevention.

UNIPP brings together the experience and expertise of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Over generations, indigenous peoples have developed highly specialized knowledge, livelihood strategies, occupations and cultures, which are closely linked to lands, territories and natural resources. In the context of today’s crisis, indigenous knowledge is critical to the search for new solutions, which link human development, human rights, peace and environmental sustainability.

Indigenous peoples are in a unique position to contribute to addressing the most pressing environmental and social challenges of our time. Their partnership is an essential requirement, and something which UNIPP seeks to promote.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

For more information, contact:
Janine Kandel, UNICEF New York
Tel: + 1 212 326-7684

Kevin Cassidy, International Labour Organization (ILO), New York
Tel: +1 646 707-2956

Carolina Azevedo, UNDP New York
Tel: + 1 212 906 6127

Ravina Shamdasani
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Geneva
Tel: +41-22-9179310