Women from the Brazilian delegation attend an indigenous event during the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December 2023. COP28/Mahmoud Khaled - Photo: 2024

Landmark Indigenous Rights Declaration Has Yet to be Transformed into Reality

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK | 18 April 2024 (IDN) — The designation “Indigenous Peoples” is in itself a challenge, said Bolivian Vice-President David Choquehuanca addressing the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters, convened to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The outcome document of the historic meeting, in which over 1000 indigenous delegates, Heads of State and Government, UN officials and national human rights institutions participated, reaffirmed their commitment to promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous People.

The outcome document voiced support for implementing the landmark UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, which prescribed minimum standards for the recognition, protection and promotion of these rights.

“To begin (with), we have to recognize that passively, we’ve allowed ourselves to be baptized with the name of Indigenous Peoples,” Vice-President of Bolivia said, opting instead the terms “ancestral indigenous peoples” and “Mother Earth peoples”.

Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples participate in UN events “as disintegrated bodies, sapped of our energy and lacking structure” because “Eurocentric, anthropocentric and egocentric approaches” are favoured over the “cosmobiocentric approaches” they hold dear.

“In these trying times, where peace is under severe threat, and dialogue and diplomacy are in dire need, let us be an example of constructive dialogue to honour our commitments to Indigenous Peoples,” declared the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Dennis Francis.

Over the past decade, the international community has taken important steps to improve the well-being of Indigenous Peoples, safeguard their cultures, and expand their participation at the UN.

But “deep chasms” continue to exist between commitments and real achievements on the ground, warned Mr Francis—a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who has served as his country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York since 2021. He was elected on 1 June 2023 to serve as President of the United Nations General Assembly at its seventy-eighth session, beginning his term on 5 September 2023.

Prevalence of poverty, inequality and abuse 

The UN General Assembly President reflected on the past 17 years, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which promises to leave no one behind, and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), which aims to both preserve these languages and protect Indigenous cultures, traditions, wisdom and knowledge.

“Despite these strides, Indigenous Peoples still are more likely to live in extreme poverty—still more likely to suffer from the adverse impacts of climate change, and still more likely to face dispossession and eviction from ancestral lands, as well as having unequal access to health and education, compared to other groups,” he said.

Furthermore, Indigenous women are still three times more likely to experience sexual violence in their lifetime compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.

“We must intensify our actions to translate the landmark 2007 UN Declaration into meaningful change on the ground,” he said.

Need to ensure intrinsic rights

Addressing the General Assembly, Li Jinhua, head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, warned that the lack of effective participation by Indigenous Peoples in development processes continues to be a major obstacle in advancing efforts at the national level.

However, with UN assistance, some governments have adopted national action plans and other measures to support the effective implementation of the landmark declaration on Indigenous rights.

He urged countries to establish concrete measures to recognize and ensure the intrinsic, collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right of self-determination and autonomy, as well as their historical property and cultural rights.

He called on Member States to close the persistent gaps in implementation through targeted interventions that are consistent with Indigenous Peoples’ own laws, customs and traditions. “More direct, long-term and predictable funding must also be part of the solution,” he added.

Towards full participation

With the Agenda 2030 deadline looming, the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, stressed the importance of including Indigenous Peoples in voluntary national reviews on progress towards sustainable development.

She called for special attention to Indigenous women and girls, “the custodians of our traditions and insights into sustainable living”.

Ms. Ibrahim also called for recognizing Indigenous-led initiatives, including from the 2013 Alta Conference in Norway, which shaped the UN World Conference held the following year.

“We reiterate the Alta call for establishing mechanisms at the UN for our full participation and advocate for the urgent appointment of an Under-Secretary-General for Indigenous Peoples,” she said.

She added that in Indigenous communities, every voice is heardfrom wise elders to those just starting to speak.

“Let this inclusivity be mirrored in all forums in the United National and multilateral processes, as well as within Nations, embodying the openness and hospitality that is inherent in Indigenous traditions,” she said.

Indigenous peoples account for most of the world’s cultural diversity. Throughout the world, there are approximately 370 million indigenous peoples occupying 20 per cent of the earth’s territory. It is also estimated that they represent as many as 5,000 different indigenous cultures. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Women from the Brazilian delegation attend an indigenous event during the COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December 2023. COP28/Mahmoud Khaled

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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