25 May 2006

Indigenous Forum Discusses Ways to Better Implement Recommendations from 2002 - 2004 Sessions

NEW YORK, 24 May (UN Headquarters) -- Having devoted the bulk of its fifth session to frank interactive dialogues with representatives of the world's indigenous peoples and experts on their needs, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today looked inward, searching for ways to better implement the recommendations on issues that emerged from its first three sessions (2002-2004).

Before the Permanent Forum's 16 members was an analytical paper (document E/C.19/2006/9), which identified factors that had both facilitated and impeded implementation of the recommendations, as well as suggestions on how the Forum could more effectively carry out its mandate: provide expert advice on indigenous issues to the Economic and Social Council and the wider United Nations system; raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous issues with the United Nations system; and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.

According to the paper, the Forum, at its first three sessions, had made some 295 recommendations in all.  Some of those recommendations had been or would be submitted to the Economic and Social Council in the form of draft decisions for action, while others would be taken note of by the Council, or considered by it, because of programme budget implications.  The remainder of the recommendations from the Forum's earlier sessions arose from international workshops held on specific and especially demanding issues, following the decisions of the Forum.

Forum Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Philippines introduced the paper, which she had worked on with fellow Forum member Wilton Littlechild of Canada.  The two had clustered the recommendations under four categories. The first was "information and knowledge generation, management and dissemination", which, among other things, called for the convening of information seminars, research projects, data collection and disaggregation, and the establishment of databases and so forth.

The second cluster, "increased and effective participation of indigenous peoples in various global, regional and national processes and mechanisms", included increasing the participation of indigenous peoples, and called on various intergovernmental bodies to establish advisory or consultatory units for indigenous issues within institutions. The third category, "development, popularization and dissemination of education and awareness-raising materials", contained several guidelines developed by agencies to see how widely the recommendations were being disseminated or put in place by indigenous peoples.

The last category of the recommendations concerned "shifts in paradigms and approaches to development and in the formulation of conceptual frameworks, policies and guidelines, and setting up projects to reflect those shifts".  Most of the recommendations that fell under that category had all been implemented, she said.  When the two had looked at facilitating factors, some of the programmes were already being undertaken.  Also, there were very strong focal points within the various agencies pushing for the implementation of those recommendations and working closely with members of the Permanent Forum.  There was also the factor that members of the inter-agency support group collaborated to push for the implementation of recommendations.

As for obstacles, she said the common constraint was the lack of financial resources, especially if those recommendations did not fall within the programme budget. The Forum had also noticed that there was a lack of awareness of indigenous peoples' issues among United Nations staff, senior management officials or governing bodies who made key decisions.  The call for a shift in paradigm was one of the issues that were not so easy to implement, because many of the agencies and most Governments were still working within the framework of dominant development.  So, a lot of effort still needed to be done to shift the paradigm, she said.

When indigenous groups took the floor to comment, a representative of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegation said that there was an integral connection between the implementation of the recommendations that arose from the Forum's first to third sessions and the panel's mandated responsibilities.  He told the Forum that, while the analytical note was comprehensive, one thing that kept indigenous and tribal groups from following, or even hearing, about work being done on their behalf, was the United Nations complex organizational structure.

He suggested that the Forum request its Secretariat to prepare a compilation document that contained specific information about the indigenous-related work of the United Nations agencies, programmes and funds to make it easier to not only track the status of the implementation of relevant initiatives, but to make it easier for indigenous peoples to get access to general information about the United Nations and the Millennium Development Goals. He added that the compilation could also include links to relevant United Nations Web sites and focal points.   

Among the members of the Permanent Forum addressing the topic, Hassan Id Balkassm of Morocco said that implementing the recommendations that emanated from the panel's meetings was of paramount importance, so, he could understand the disappointment of some of the speakers.  But, he stressed that, while the Permanent Forum could advise on, and even press for, such implementation, national Governments held the keys to putting the recommendations concerning their indigenous peoples into effect. The Forum, as well as the wider United Nations, should do more to raise awareness among Member States about indigenous issues.

Forum member Otila Lux De Coti of Guatemala said the panel should continue to review recommendations with a view to implementation. It was important for States to stop basing themselves on a single culture.  Indeed, cultural and linguistic diversity needed to be emphasized, along with other priority recommendations that emerged from the Forum's meetings.  Multiculturalism was important, so that States could be "States for all", not just for the dominant cultures.  She added that the collective statements from indigenous peoples today had referred to the administration of justice.  States must put an end to political and economic impunity.

Earlier in the day, the Permanent Forum wrapped up its series of thematic discussions, with representatives of indigenous communities, tribal groups and experts on indigenous peoples' needs.  Most of the speakers called on the Forum to continue advising Governments on a range of indigenous concerns, including the full participation in decisions that affect them, for their women and youth to get prioritised, and for development policies to be oriented towards them.

Another issue that emerged today was the notion that "progress" led to forced assimilation.  Several speakers said that such assimilation was accompanied by the massive loss of traditional and tribal culture.  Calling for the respect for the equal rights and self-determination of all peoples, several indigenous representatives recounted their struggles towards self-identification, and urged their respective Governments to end what they saw as policies of exclusion, relocation and discrimination.

Several speakers also called on warring factions inside their countries to look for ways to end their conflicts, which were having a devastating effect on indigenous peoples, particularly women and children.  Others urged Governments to ensure that the needs of indigenous communities were being served by the Millennium Development Goals, which include lower rates of HIV/AIDS, curbing poverty and hunger, promoting health care and ensuring universal primary education, all by 2015.  Another key objective was to protect and promote the human rights of indigenous women, children and youth.

With the Goals in mind, some speakers reminded the Permanent Forum that United Nations agencies should be working with indigenous peoples to measure indicators that were specific to their life quality.  They stressed that "wealth" for indigenous peoples was not determined solely by how many "dollars" they earned in a year.  Indeed, the Earth, their animals, traditional lands, waterways and other natural resources were their wealth.  And, since many of their traditional lands were rich in natural resources, they were deeply troubled that their local Governments turned a blind eye, while global timber, oil and gas, mining, and fishing mega-corporations were exploiting or destroying at alarming rates.

The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday 25 May, to continue discussing its future work.

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