For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1667
Release Date: 8 August 2000
Assembly President Stresses Importance of Indigenous Peoples in Efforts
To Bring Peace, Promote Sustainable Development, Eradicate Poverty

 NEW YORK, 7 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message of General Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia) on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which will be observed on 9 August:

On this sixth observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we acknowledge the estimated 300 million indigenous peoples in more than 70 countries world wide.

It was the growing international awareness of the situation of the world’s indigenous, or first, peoples, and their invaluable contribution to societies, which led the General Assembly to proclaim 1995-2004 as the International Decade for the World’s Indigenous People, and to observe, during that period, 9 August as the International Day.  In proclaiming the Decade, the Assembly specified that a primary goal should be the strengthening of international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous peoples in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education and health.

This year’s theme is “Indigenous Children and Youth”.  The issue of children is close to my heart, and I have made the situation of the world’s children, particularly children in armed conflict, the centrepiece of my Presidency.  Indigenous children and youth represent the future of their peoples everywhere.  Yet, studies show that they constitute a disproportionate sector of children in difficult circumstances and face some of the greatest threats to survival.  It is reported that, in some countries, indigenous children and youth are targeted for forced recruitment into armed forces and suffer the negative effects of armed conflict; that they are at greater risk of abuse and exploitation; and that they experience large-scale displacements, repression and discrimination.  In addition, they suffer from extreme poverty; have poor health and educational services; have higher suicide and incarceration levels; and are at the lowest rung of pay scales. 

This International Day 2000 is an occasion to reflect upon and better understand the situation of indigenous children and youth by focusing global and national attention on their vulnerability, and to consider effective ways of contributing to solutions.  I, therefore, wholeheartedly endorse the specific attention being accorded to this vulnerable group.

On numerous occasions, and at United Nations conferences throughout the 1990s, on the environment, human rights, population and development, social development and women, Member States have validated the contribution of indigenous peoples.  They incorporated the protection of the heritage and culture of indigenous societies into their conference goals; recognized the precarious situation of indigenous peoples, often characterized by discrimination and oppression; and recognized their unique contribution to the conservation of biological diversity and sustainable development.  Most importantly, Member States reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to the economic, social and cultural well-being of indigenous peoples.

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights went a step further, recommending that the General Assembly proclaim the International Decade, and consider establishing a permanent forum for indigenous peoples within the United Nations system.  In adopting the programme of activities for the International Decade, the Assembly identified as one of its main objectives the establishment of the forum.

Last month’s decision by the Economic and Social Council to establish a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues marks a watershed for the representation of indigenous peoples in the United Nations system.  It means that, henceforth, indigenous representatives, not representatives of Member States, will be able to voice their concerns directly to the Council. 

The United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations has, since its establishment in 1982, functioned as the main interface between the United Nations and indigenous peoples, bringing their concerns to international attention.  The Working Group reviews national developments pertaining to the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, and develops international standards concerning the rights of indigenous peoples.  However, the worthy cause of indigenous peoples must not be used for political interest and vendetta. 
Today, as we mark this International Day, and midway through the International Decade for the World’s Indigenous People, let us remember that we need indigenous peoples in our midst as part of our global efforts to bring peace, promote sustainable development, eradicate poverty and strengthen democracy, as well as to preserve cultural diversity.

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