United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - Report

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII or PFII) is the UN's central coordinating body for matters relating to the concerns and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. There are more than 370 million indigenous people in around 70 countries worldwide. The forum is an advisory body within the framework of the United Nations System that reports to the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Jaya Ramachadran australia.to Friday, 23rd April 2010

Geneva (IDN) – The traditional knowledge and practices of about 370 million indigenous peoples in 90 countries around the world are increasingly being recognized as vital for conservation of nature and efforts to combat and adapt to climate change.

"Yet despite this recognition, indigenous cultures have been damaged more often than not by development policies that ignore their traditional sources of knowledge and cultural priorities and fail to respect their land rights," said the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) as its two-week session kicked off at the UN headquarters April 19 in New York.

The side events during the Forum include a special screening of the film Avatar and an exhibit in the UN headquarters lobby entitled 'Indigenous Peoples and Self-Determination'.

Ban Ki-moon told some 2000 representatives of indigenous peoples, member states and civil society groups attending the Forum that "the loss of irreplaceable cultural practices and means of artistic expression makes us all poorer, wherever our roots may lie".

The Forum was set up by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2000 to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to UN agencies, raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of relevant activities within the world body.

Headed by Vicky Tauli Corpuz from the Philippines, who shepherded a landmark Declaration of the UN General Assembly in 2007, the UNPFII comprises 16 independent experts appointed by ECOSOC, eight of whom are nominated by governments and eight by indigenous organizations in their regions.

Ban called on "all governments, indigenous peoples, the UN system and all other partners to ensure that the vision behind the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples becomes a reality for all."

The Declaration outlines the rights of the indigenous people and outlaws discrimination against them. Though non-binding, the declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

"Elsewhere, your cultures are being distorted, commodified, and used to generate profits which do not benefit indigenous people, and can even lead to harm," Ban said.

Indigenous peoples make up five per cent of the world’s population, but some 33 per cent of the world’s poor, according to State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, released in January 2010 and the first UN report of its kind.

The report pointed out that they are displaced by wars and environmental disasters. "The weapon of rape and sexual humiliation is also turned against indigenous women for the ethnic cleansing and demoralization of indigenous communities; indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and deprived of their resources for survival, both physical and cultural; they are even robbed of their very right to life."

On the other hand, the Report noted, of the some 7,000 languages being spoken today, more than 4,000 are spoken by indigenous peoples. Language specialists predict that up to 90 per cent of the world’s languages are likely to become extinct or threatened with extinction by the end of the century.

Taking all this into account, 143 UN member states adopted the Declaration. But the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – where sizable numbers of indigenous populations live – opposed.

Australia reversed its decision in 2009 following the change of government. But apparently a lot remains to be done. Despite recent advancements, an independent UN expert called on the country’s authorities March 9, 2010 to develop new social and economic initiatives and to reform existing ones to allow respect for cultural integrity and self-determination.

"Having suffered a history of oppression and racial discrimination, including dispossession of lands and social and cultural upheaval, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples endure severe disadvantage compared with non-indigenous Australians," said James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

In his report issued following an official visit to Australia in August 2009, the Special Rapporteur said that the so-called Northern Territory Emergency Response – a Government plan rolled out in 2007 to address problems faced by Aborigines, particularly women and children – contains problematic features from a human rights standpoint.

The programme continued in 2008, while Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a national apology to indigenous peoples and called for a genuine partnership between the Government and indigenous communities to move towards a future "based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility."

In his report, Anaya recommended indigenous participation in the design, delivery, and monitoring of programmes, and promoting culturally-appropriate programmes that incorporate or build on indigenous people’s own initiatives.

"Governmental programmes must secure just social and economical well-being for indigenous peoples, while advancing their self-determination and strengthening their cultural bonds," Anaya said.

On the opening day of the Forum in New York, New Zealand said it was dropping its opposition to the UN Declaration. Agencies reported that, in announcing on April 19 that New Zealand was reversing its position, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples made clear the support was subject to his country's law taking precedence.

National legal and constitutional frameworks, he said, "define the bounds of New Zealand's engagement with the aspirational elements of the declaration."

The UN Declaration potentially puts in question much of the land ownership in countries, such as those that opposed it, whose present population is largely descended from settlers who took over territory from previous inhabitants.

The U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice said April 20 Washington was reviewing its opposition to the Declaration, in a gesture to Native Americans who support the sweeping but non-binding document.

The Declaration says indigenous peoples "have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used and acquired." The U.S. officials said at the time -- when the Bush administration was in office -- that the text was unclear and that those who drafted it had failed to seek consensus.

But, addressing the Forum, Rice said she was "pleased to announce that the United States has decided to review our position" on the document.

"We recognize that, for many around the world, this declaration provides a framework for addressing indigenous issues," she said, noting that Native American leaders had encouraged President Barack Obama to re-examine the U.S. stance.

"There is no American history without Native American history," agencies reported Rice saying. "America cannot be fully whole until its first inhabitants enjoy all the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and dignity. Let there be no doubt of our commitment. And we stand ready to be judged by the results."

Canadian authorities have repeatedly acknowledged plans to endorse the Declaration. The Canadian government said in a speech in March 2010 that it would take steps to endorse the UN declaration "in a manner fully consistent with Canada's constitution and laws". Indigenous groups have urged the government to embrace the human rights instrument without conditions or limitations.

Commenting the reviews, World Politics Review's Juliette Terzieff writes: "Of course, a UN declaration is non-binding and has no real legal status on which affected communities could launch judicial challenges. Many countries have signed on to the instrument with public caveats on how and to what extent they will adhere to guidelines.

"But it does create a framework and an international standard. Also, such a broad consensus on a politically delicate issue bodes well for the future of joint action on other common concerns."


9th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)New York - 19 - 30 April, 2010
Special Theme:

Indigenous peoples: development with culture and identity; articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Provisional Agenda

  1. Election of officers.
  2. Adoption of the agenda and organization of work.
  3. Discussion on the special theme for the year, "Indigenous peoples: development with culture and identity: articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples".
  4. Human rights:

    (a) Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

    (b) Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people and other special rapporteurs.
  5. Half-day discussion on North America.
  6. Comprehensive dialogue with six United Nations agencies and funds.
  7. Future work of the Permanent Forum, including issues of the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues.
  8. Draft agenda for the tenth session of the Permanent Forum.
  9. Adoption of the report of the Permanent Forum on its ninth session.

8th Session Report of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - 18th to 29th May, 2009 - UN Headquarters, New York

Debate on indigenous peoples and forests among highlights of annual UN forum

30 April 2010 - United Nations News Centre

The relationship between indigenous peoples and forests was among the major issues discussed during a two-week forum at United Nations Headquarters that wrapped up today, with participants voicing concern about the impact on lives and livelihoods of deforestation, extraction activities and large-scale building projects.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is "still very much concerned about the continuing eviction of indigenous peoples from their forests," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the Forum since 2005 and former chairperson.

"This issue is really a very emotional issue for indigenous peoples, especially indigenous peoples in tropical rainforest countries."

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous activist belonging to the Kankana-ey Igorot peoples of the Philippines, told a news conference that evictions were taking place in many indigenous communities due to the expansion of bio-fuel plantations, conservation programmes such as national parks, wildlife reserves and biosphere reserves, and the expansion of extractive industry operations.

Next year is the International Year of Forests, and the Permanent Forum has to play a very active role to present cases from around the world, said Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, who has been appointed by the Forum to prepare a special report on indigenous peoples and forests.

Carlos Mamani, the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, said the 16-member body will be adopting recommendations on the issue of indigenous peoples and forests which it will then forward to next year's session of the UN Forum on Forests.

"The forests of indigenous peoples have suffered nefarious consequences due to extraction activities but also because of colonialism," he noted.

At its current session, the Forum also voiced its grave concern about the increasing expansion of the building of mega-hydroelectric dams.

"We call on States to implement the World Commission on Dams report, which contains many of the standards that we think States should adhere to, in particular that the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples should be obtained before any dam project is designed or brought into their communities," said Ms. Tauli-Corpuz.

New Zealand's announcement on the opening day last week that it is reversing its decision and supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was another highlight of the current session.

The landmark document outlines the rights of the world's estimated 370 million indigenous people in areas such as culture, identity, language, employment, health and education, and outlaws discrimination against them.

New Zealand was one of four countries - the others being Australia, Canada and the United States - that voted against the declaration in 2007. Australia reversed its decision last year.

Mr. Mamani said the Permanent Forum welcomed in particular the announcement by the United States that it will begin the process of reviewing the declaration with a view to supporting it, as well as a statement from Canada along the same lines.

Some 2,000 indigenous representatives convened in New York to take part in the Permanent Forum's ninth session, which focused on the theme of "Development with Culture and Identity."

The Permanent Forum comprises 16 independent experts, who function in their personal capacities and serve for a term of three years. Eight of the members are nominated by governments and eight are nominated directly by indigenous organizations in their regions.