Press Releases

    Background Release

    13 May 2002

    Historic Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Breaks New Ground for World's Indigenous Peoples

    NEW YORK, 10 May (UN Headquarters) -- The inaugural meeting of a new United Nations body, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues -- which will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday, 13 May, in Conference Room 2 -- will bring together indigenous leaders and civil society from all parts of the world. This is the first time that indigenous voices will be heard at such a high level by the world Organization. The new Forum represents an historic advance in indigenous peoples' efforts to reach the ear of the international community and make their needs and concerns known. While they have made steady progress at the United Nations -- from their first approach to the League of Nations, to the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the subsequent establishment of the International Decade -- the creation of the Forum as a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council is a breakthrough achievement.

    To date, over 900 indigenous peoples from all regions of the world -- from the tropical forests of Amazonia and Central Africa, the Pacific Islands, East Africa, the Arctic, the Australian desert and the temperate regions of the Americas, Inuit, Tuareg, Saami, Maori, Mapuche, Igorots, Aboriginal people, Native Americans, Kuna and many other peoples -- have registered to attend the Forum and take the opportunity to raise their voices in the two-week meeting. All who attend may make statements to the 16 members, and through them, to the world. The establishment of such an entity has long been a goal for indigenous peoples, and was first suggested by the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.

    Never before have indigenous peoples served as "independent experts" on a United Nations body, and this Permanent Forum, composed of eight "indigenous experts" and eight experts elected by the Economic and Social Council, will report and make recommendations directly to the Council. Each member will serve for a three-year term, with the possibility of serving one additional term. The independent experts will not function as representatives of their peoples, but rather in their own capacities. The selection process, particularly of those nominated by indigenous groups, requires broad regional consultations with indigenous groups around the world.

    The mandate of the Forum is to advise and make recommendations to the Economic and Social Council on economic and social development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health. In addition to advising the Council, the Forum has been asked to raise awareness, promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous issues within the United Nations system, and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues. It will meet once each year for 10 working days. States, United Nations bodies and organs, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and organizations of indigenous people may participate as observers. At this 2002 session, under the agenda item, "General debate", it is expected that all observers will be allowed to make short statements. Future practice regarding statements by observers has not yet been determined. Among the items on the provisional agenda is "Adoption of rules of procedure", which rules are expected to apply to future sessions.

    The Forum was established on 28 July 2000 by the Economic and Social Council, on the recommendation of the Commission on Human Rights. The distribution of governmental seats is based on the five United Nations regional groups, with three additional seats rotating among the regions. This term, the three regional groups of Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Europe and Asia each have two seats. Indigenous people have nominated their candidates on the basis of seven geo-cultural regions that they have devised to more accurately reflect cultural regions, with one rotating seat.

    The opening session of the Forum, scheduled for 11 a.m. on 13 May, will be webcast live, at During the two-week session, a new Web page devoted to the Forum will be developed. For the address, check "recent additions" on the UN Home Page at

    To date, only 15 of the 16 members of the Forum have been designated:

    Indigenous-nominated Experts Government-nominated Experts

    Antonio Jacanamijoy Yuri A. Boitchenko

    (Colombia) (Russian Federation)

    Ayitégau Kouevi Njuma Ekundanayo

    (Togo) (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

    Willie Littlechild Yuji Iwasawa

    (Canada) (Japan)

    Ole Henrik Magga Wayne Lord

    (Norway) (Canada)

    Zinaida Strogalschikova Otilia Lux de Coti

    (Russian Federation) (Guatemala)

    Parshuram Tamang Marcos Matias Alonso

    (Nepal) (Mexico)

    Mililani Trask Ida Nicolaisen

    (United States) (Denmark)

    Fortunato Turpo Choquehuanca (final expert yet to be announced)


    For further information, please contact Ellen McGuffie at (212) 963-0499, e-mail:

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