27 May 2002
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Concludes Historic First Session; Secretary-General Says World's Indigenous Peoples 'Have a Home' at UN
Report to Economic and Social Council Recommend Establishment of Forum Secretariat in New York
NEW YORK, 24 May (UN Headquarters) -- As it closed its historic inaugural session in two meetings filled with music and ceremony, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommended this afternoon that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) establish a secretariat for that Forum, attached to the Secretariat of the Council.
According to the text of its draft decision one, (document E/CN.19/2002/CRP.6), the secretariat would assist the members of the Permanent Forum to fulfil their mandate by implementing the approved programme of activities. The activities would be funded from the regular budget. That decision was one of four contained in the Forum's report to the ECOSOC.
At the first meeting today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said to all the world's indigenous peoples: "You have a home at the United Nations". Indigenous peoples, he said, had hopes, rights and aspirations that could and must be addressed by the Organization, as well as knowledge and skills that could help the international community in its goals of development and peace.
Indigenous peoples, he said, had already served as a valuable voice for traditional knowledge, collective rights and environmental custodianship. With the convening of the Forum, their priorities would now take their rightful place on the Organization's agenda. It was entirely appropriate that indigenous peoples, including many victims of discrimination and the poorest of the poor, now had a platform. He pledged his strong support to their cause and concerns.
In closing remarks this afternoon, Chairperson Ole Henrik Magga of Norway said that the first session of the Permanent Forum had been a success. It was evident from the testimonies heard during the last two weeks that indigenous peoples remained among the most marginalized in the world. They continued to suffer from the wrongdoings of the past, when their territories were colonized and their voices went unheard.
"We must never give up our fight for equality and justice", he stated. But, for the Forum to become a true vehicle for the advocacy of indigenous rights, it was essential to remain action-oriented and focus on the solutions, rather than on the problems and on a new kind of partnership between indigenous peoples and governments. Finally, he pleaded for the establishment of a secretariat, along with adequate political and financial support.
"Please do not let the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues become another example of discrimination against indigenous peoples, as the only United Nations body not provided with regular funding," he ended, before punctuating his remarks with a traditional Saami song.
The mandate of the Permanent Forum, composed of eight indigenous-nominated experts and eight experts nominated by Governments and elected by ECOSOC, is to advise and make recommendations to ECOSOC 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 peoples may participate as observers.
Over the course of its first two-week session, the Forum discussed such topics as the integration and mainstreaming of indigenous issues throughout the United Nations system, fundamental freedoms and human rights of indigenous peoples, and respect for and protection of indigenous intellectual property and traditional knowledge.
The Forum, attended by nearly 900 people, noted in particular the multiple discrimination faced by indigenous women and children, as well as the impact of violence, conflict and militarization on their situations. In its final report it called ECOSOC's attention to its priorities in the areas of human rights, education and culture, the environment, and children and youth.
According to the other draft decisions incorporated into the report (document E/CN.19/2002/CRP.7) the ECOSOC would, by decision two, authorize the provision of summary records for the public meetings of the Forum.
By decisions three and four it would decide to hold the second session of the Forum in the period April to May 2003 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, and to authorize an informal intersession meeting of Forum members prior to that meeting.
Also making closing remarks this afternoon were the representatives of Denmark and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as Ivan Simonovic (Croatia), President of ECOSOC, and the Chairpersons of the Indigenous Caucus and the Working Group on Indigenous Rights.
Indigenous-nominated experts of the Forum are: Antonio Jacanamijoy, (Colombia), Ayitégau Kouevi (Togo), Willie Littlechild (Canada), Ole Henrik Magga (Norway), Zinaida Strogalschikova (Russian Federation), Parshuram Tamang (Nepal), Mililani Trask (United States) and Fortunato Turpo Choquehuanca (Peru).
Government-nominated experts are: Yuri A. Boitchenko (Russian Federation), Njuma Ekundanayo (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Yuji Iwasawa (Japan), Wayne Lord (Canada), Otilia Lux de Coti (Guatemala), Marcos Matias Alonso (Mexico) and Ida Nicolaisen (Denmark). (A final expert is yet to be announced.)
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, terming the first session of the Forum "historic", proclaimed to the world's indigenous peoples, "You have a home at the United Nations." Those peoples, he continued, had hopes, rights and aspirations that must be addressed by the Organization, as well as knowledge and skills that could help the international community in its long sought goals of development and peace.
Indigenous peoples, he said, had already brought up vital new issues regarding traditional knowledge, collective rights, environmental custodianship and other areas. They had served as a valuable voice in gatherings dedicated to those issues, including the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro and the Conference against Racism in Durban.
With the convening of the Forum, he said, indigenous issues had taken a rightful place on the Organization's agenda. It was entirely appropriate that indigenous peoples, including many victims of discrimination and the poorest of the poor, now had a platform.
There would be many difficulties ahead, however, and he congratulated participants for an excellent start in navigating them. All parties must be convinced to increase their attention to indigenous issues; and the Forum must determine its role in wider United Nations goals, to which indigenous peoples had so much to contribute.
There was a wide diversity of individuals and groups present, he said, but there were also strong communalities, including respect for the natural world, spirituality, elders and women. One in 20 members of the human family were members of indigenous communities, and he had no doubt that, as new members of the United Nations family, they would make immense contributions. He pledged his strong support to their cause and concerns.
The Chairman of the Indigenous Caucus called on Member States, on behalf of indigenous peoples of the world, to embrace the Forum and become more involved. The Forum needed their participation in this important phase in indigenous affairs.
The representative of Denmark noted that the report of the Forum was concise and its recommendations were easily understood. He hoped that the Economic and Social Council would act by consensus on the proposals and recommendations contained in the report.
The representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that the Forum's establishment had been the result of the tireless efforts of indigenous peoples themselves. She looked forward to working in partnership with indigenous peoples, governments and civil society to take forward the recommendations resulting from the session.
ERICA IRENE DAES, Chairperson of the Working Group on Indigenous Rights, stated that indigenous peoples could contribute to national, regional and international development. They needed to be assisted in making that contribution.
The Secretary of the Forum read out a statement regarding the programme budget implications in connection with the recommendation to establish a secretariat for the Forum. He said that the Secretary-General would study the recommendations on a secretariat for the Forum and would submit a formal statement on programme budget implications to the Economic and Social Council.
In his closing remarks, Chairperson OLE HENRIK MAGGA of Norway said that the first session of the Permanent Forum had been a success. It was evident from the testimonies heard during the last two weeks that indigenous peoples remained among the most marginalized in the world. They continued to suffer from the wrongdoings of the past, when their territories were colonized and their voices went unheard. In many cases, the discrimination and mistreatment continued. Indigenous peoples were among the poorest of the poor. They were engaged in an ongoing battle for the continuous existence of their cultures. Their traditional lands, waters and natural resources were exploited for the purpose of capital gain, from which they rarely benefited.
"We must never give up our fight for equality and justice", he stated. For the Forum to become a true vehicle for the advocacy of indigenous rights, it was essential to remain action-oriented and focus on the solutions, rather than on the problems. The Forum was historical, in that, for the first time, indigenous peoples and governments met on a truly equal basis to address mutual concerns. For too long, the international community had failed to realize that only by working together could the wrongdoings of the past -- and those that continued to occur -- be finally remedied. Past experiences showed that without the full, equal and effective participation of indigenous peoples themselves, it was not possible to adequately address their concerns.
The Forum, he said, symbolized a new kind of partnership between indigenous peoples and governments, and it was extremely important that it become a success. He was deeply concerned about the fact that the Forum had not yet been equipped with its own secretariat. The Forum had recommended that such a secretariat be established in New York, directly linked to the ECOSOC secretariat and funded through the United Nations regular budget. He pleaded to all States, organizations and other interested parties to provide the Forum with adequate financial support.
IVAN SIMONOVIC, (Croatia) President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Forum was going to be a success. Although the Forum was only born two weeks ago, not only had it already begun to walk, but it had begun to run. He assured the Forum of the full support of the Council in its endeavours.
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